Betfair Ambassador Hugo Palmer's string is in flying form at the moment, get his thoughts on all of his Saturday runners at Ascot, Kempton and beyond...
"He needs to go forward early to be competitive, and that hasn't been happening, but he has a chance to lead on the stands side from stall 14, which could be a big help."
Hugo Palmer on Afandem
Fajjaj is a colt I've always liked, and he has a very nice pedigree, being by Dawn Approach out of a half-sister to Kingman, both of whom were champions. He's doing everything right at home, and has been working well with winners, which is encouraging.
I'd not be sure how he will handle very soft ground and heavy rain would be a concern, but he's definitely a colt with a future and it's exciting to get him on to a racecourse.
Conversant is a good-looking son of Zebedee from the family of 2000 Guineas winner Night of Thunder, and cost a six-figure sum after breezing impressively at the sales. Unlike a lot of Breeze-Up horses, though, he's got a really good, natural head and isn't too fizzy.
He shows some knee action, and his pedigree suggests he'll cope with easy ground, but it's something of an unknown should conditions get testing. We're at the time of year where the weather plays a big part in proceedings, and while I'm anxious about further rain, I have a lot of juveniles ready to go, so we need to let them run; if he struggles on the ground, then it will be a lesson learned, and we'll avoid it in future.
Ended a frustrating run when scoring here on his penultimate outing, and I had to run him back quickly to qualify him for this, so that effort is best overlooked. It might be assumed he's best over seven furlongs, but James Doyle, who has ridden him twice at that trip, including for his win here, is adamant that he is crying out for a mile.
Tactics worked against him last time, racing too close to the lead without adequate cover, and I hope that they will go faster here, as has been the case in previous runnings of this race (it often seems the early pace in all-weather handicaps is directly proportional to the value of the race). Ideally, the leaders will go off hard and Mazyoun will get cover in behind before finishing over the top of them as suits his style. He has his quirks and does need things to drop right as stated previously, but granted a well-run race, he should need no excuses.
He's still in good nick having improved for cheekpieces this summer, and the form of his Newmarket third to Thundering Blue has been franked by wins for that one and Eddystone Rock at Sandown and York respectively. As a result, he's been raised another 2lb for standing in his box, but we can't complain, and he ran another good race at Goodwood subsequently.
Being out of a Montjeu mare, I've always thought he would improve again for tackling a mile and a half, and this race has been his target for a while. Testing ground and Ascot's stiff finish will mean he really must stay if he's to win, but he deserves his big weight, and I'm hopeful there's even more to come.
They're chalk and cheese, my pair here, with Aventinus straightforward and really consistent and Gulliver an enigma to say the least. The latter has always showed plenty, and there is no doubt at all that he could land a big handicap like this if he put it together, but there's simply no predicting when he might consent to do that.
He was beaten little more than a length at Windsor last time despite typically dropping to the rear early on, and gave the impression he would have been in front in another half furlong, so I'm hopeful that the stiffer track at Ascot will help him get there in time.
Aventinus has shown his very best form on the all-weather, but has also run well on ground on the easy side of good, so I'd be hopeful of a good run if the going doesn't ease too much. If it did turn very testing, then his participation may be in doubt. He's been running over seven furlongs, but is naturally forward-going and the drop to a stiff six shouldn't be a problem at all.
The suspicion continues to grow that Afandem, who did so well as a juvenile, just hasn't trained on, and he's certainly got a lot to prove on the balance of this season's form. He's hard to weigh up as he's never worked very well at home, and he's not showing much on the gallops at present, but he's beginning to get some help from the handicapper, and this represents a drop in class, so I hold out some hope that he will bounce back having slipped a stone in the weights. He needs to go forward early to be competitive, and that hasn't been happening, but he has a chance to lead on the stands side from stall 14, which could be a big help.
It's frustrating that he remains a maiden having made such a promising start in the spring, but he ran very well to be second to an odds-on shot in a Catterick nursery last time, and the winner made that form look better by winning a valuable event at York under a penalty. I feel he's well handicapped off a mark of 75, and having raced in better class contests on both nursery starts, should go close off the ceiling mark in this modest class 5 event.