After a profitable Friday in the tipping chair, Tony Calvin returns with a pair of big priced selections for the ultra-competitive £1m Ebor Handicap at York on Saturday...
"The maestro runs two here in True Self and Max Dynamite, and I had trouble deciding between the pair, let alone their 20 opponents."
I'm not sure I am sold on the idea of a £1m Ebor - I appreciate sponsors and racecourses can do what they want, but pumping money into the top end of the sport, while others down racing's food chain compete for two grand seems unnecessarily extravagant - but the cash has certainly delivered a high-quality clash.
And a truncated 22-runner handicap with a weight band of just 8lb, so it is basically a big-field Group 2 contest in all but name, and a devilishly-difficult one to solve too, let's not kid ourselves.
Get Mullins on side
Raheen House has been the buzz horse for the past week or so and connections have made no secret of the fact that this has been the plan all season - indeed, William Haggas said as much in May - but this course winner (he has track form figures of 123) has gone up 5lb for his two good efforts here this term and it's a stretch to think he has that much up his sleeve now.
It is interesting to note that he would have got in here off his campaign-starting mark of 106, so perhaps Haggas has campaigned him too openly.
King's Advice has been the handicap story of the season and this teak-tough battler is actually 1lb well-in, despite his 4lb penalty, while Ben Vrackie, despite a dismal effort last time, was another on my short-list of 12.
No, it's shit-or-get-off-the-pot time - that must be the fourth time I have used that phrase this year, but it's a cracker, so I make no apologies - and I want Willie Mullins on my side in a staying handicap.
The maestro runs two here in True Self and Max Dynamite, and I had trouble deciding between the pair, let alone their 20 opponents.
So I am tipping them both in the 15:40 despite ground concerns.
Tactical speed gives Self a True chance
Many will pigeon hole True Self as needing a lot more cut than she will encounter here - though more watering looks inevitable if the forecast is correct, so feel free to over-do it, Mr Derby - as she blew out on fast ground last time and all her best form has been on good to soft or worse.
That is an obvious concern but it couldn't have been solely the ground that saw her run so abysmally in a Group 3 at Leopardstown last month (she finished second on her only other start on good to firm) and connections have always thought she was a speed horse who wouldn't mind decent ground, too.
And she looked pretty pacey when winning over 1m2f at Newmarket last season, so that tactical speed will stand her in good stead here.
We know she stays 1m6f well, and indeed she is less exposed than most at this trip, while a handicap mark of 110 could give her some wriggle room, too. She was rated 110 in Ireland after that Newmarket win, and seemingly 112 here after her winning Gowran Park reappearance.
She may not be quite battle-hardened enough for the task in hand, but back her at 34.033/1 or bigger.
Dynamite could explode onto the scene at a huge price
Max Dynamite has no secrets from anyone at the age of nine, but a price of 30.029/1 or bigger on the exchange is more than a touch insulting.
I think it would be a mistake to label him a back number as it was only in November 2017 that he was finishing placed in his second Melbourne Cup - and he was only touched off by stablemate Thomas Hobson in a Doncaster Cup last year - and he could still retain enough ability to suggest a mark of 110 is workable (was rated 117 at his best) over a trip that suits him well.
The stamina dial again went to zero in the final two furlongs when he finished third to Cleonte in the 2m5f Queen Alexandra in June but he shaped as if retaining much of his zest there, though obviously an exercise stroll at 1/7 over 1m6f at Killarney last time told us little.
He also has winning course form, having taken the Lonsdale Cup here by 4 ½ lengths back in 2015, and the ground will hopefully be okay for him.
The fact that he wears cheek pieces is interesting, as they didn't appear to do much for him here last August, but who are we to question Willie?
Barsanti came close to being a third play in the race as he is unexposed at this trip - he has raced over it just the twice, both seconds over course and distance - is 8lb lower than his peak and appeals as the horse for whom first-time blinkers could really suit (smooth traveller who often finds less than expected).
But forget the million smackers, three tips really would be extravagant. I'll take two big prices against the field in a really trappy race to solve.
Step up in trip set to suit
A £125,000 pot has bizarrely failed to attract a full field for the Melrose at 14:25 but it's another tough-to-solve handicap all the same.
There are shades of King's Advice in recent rapid improver Land Of Oz and a fair few other progressive types, notably First In Line, as is par for the course for this 3yo 1m6f handicap.
But I am going to play it safe to a certain extent with an each way play, four places, on Eminent at 13/2 with the Betfair Sportsbook. He just looks very solid.
His season is one of steady improvement, shaping as though a stiffer test would suit when third in the 1m4f King George V handicap at Royal Ascot, which made the step down to 1m2f next time a shade puzzling.
But, back up to 1m4f last time out at Goodwood, he again shaped as though this 1m6f test would suit, and a 1lb rise in the weights is understandable as the fourth was nearly three lengths away.
He is by Sea The Stars out of a dam that boasts 2m+ stamina in her pedigree, so you'd have to think this 1m6f trip will be right up his strasse.
I'd have Zaaki as the fav in Strensall
Tricky seems to be the order on the day at York on Saturday, as you can give a chance to all the six runners in the Group 3 Strensall Stakes at 13:50. Escobar has a lot on at the weights but the course winner comes here in rude health and definitely can't be discounted.
At the time of writing, all-weather tool Wissahickon heads the market on his first start since April and that is a touch surprising.
It's not my kind of race but Zaaki would be my idea of the right favourite, as the 7f experiment didn't work in the Lennox last time and his earlier efforts at and around this trip mark him down as the one to beat and odds of around 11/4 in places look fair.
It was interesting to hear Ryan Moore say in his Betfair column that the horse is working well in the lead-up to this race, as you rarely hear him comment on homework. Make of that what you will.
Byron may well yet be backed if he drifts
It doesn't get any easier in the Group 2 City Of York Stakes at 15:00 but Laurens is pretty easy to resist at around 5/2 given the depth of the field.
The temptation was to give Cape Byron another chance after a disappointing run in the July Cup as, for all his excellence (and top-notch speed figure) in the 6f Wokingham, he clearly stays this trip well and this easy 7f could be ideal for him.
Given the level of opposition, and that Newmarket run, I was expecting a bit bigger than 11/2 though - he is as short as 9/2 in a place - so I am happy to pass.
If you want an interest though, he would be my choice, and I may yet back him if he drifts out to 7/1+.
I'll leave it there for York, but I'll give you a quick spin through my thoughts on the Racing TV-only races, for all the markets are just forming for these contests at the time of filing early on Friday afternoon (hence no firm recommendations).
I don't have any opinion in the Roses Stakes at 16:10 but three that interest me in the 1m2f handicap at 16:45 are recent scorers Furzig and Mikmak, and Star Archer.
The latter is particularly interesting on his first start for Mick Easterby, having been bought out of Hugo Palmer's for 20,000gns last October.
The fact that he makes his seasonal debut here suggests he may have had an issue or two - unless ole Mick has been very patient at aiming him at this £43k-to-the-winner contest - but the handicapper has dropped him 4lb for the absence and 1m2f on decent ground is ideal for this once highly-regarded 5yo, who finished second on his debut here in 2016.
If you are looking to get out of trouble in the last, then best of luck as it is a 20-runner apprentice 5f handicap at 17:20.
Pass The Vino has an obvious chance after his second to a well-handicapped horse at Ascot - a 3lb rise for that run was fair enough - and you can ignore my old mate Alfie Solomons' run at Goodwood as he blew the start and never had any chance from his draw thereafter.
But it's a race you can easily leave alone.
Not tempted in by Goodwood's TV races
There are also a couple of small-field conditions race at Goodwood on ITV, and neither of these have tempted me in.
Sods law, Duke Of Hazzard has blossomed ever since I tipped him at a huge price when he ran fifth in the Jersey - though I suspect the blinkers may have more to do with his progress since, than spiting me - and the market has obviously not missed his claims in the 14:05.
The following 7f Group 3 Fillies' Prestige Stakes holds about as much appeal as "Go Sober For October", so just the three York plays.
Back Eminence at 13/2 each way, four places, at 13/2 with Betfair Sportsbook in 14:25 at York
Back True Self at 34.033/1 or bigger in 15:40 at York
Back Max Dynamite at 30.029/1 or bigger in 15:40 at York