A 20/1 angle in the Hell Nook Handicap
Killybegs Warrior is too big to ignore
Read Tony's expert analysis below
The long-range forecast suggests that the whole of the UK is in for a dry, warm week, but the Dante meeting at York underlined why tracks need not over-react and over-water.
Even in the face of quick ground and the deaths of Creative Force and Dubai Instinct on the Wednesday - the former having a very quick turnaround from the week before, and the latter having his first start since July 2021- York put only 2mm on overnight.
Sure, it is easier when it is a flat track and there can be a trade-off with regards fast ground against numbers of runners, but I genuinely think the vast majority (and probably all), of punters want to see racing on natural, quick ground, especially in summer, and in that regard York was a triumph, to pardon the pun, in standing firm and letting nature largely dictate affairs.
The owners and trainers bought into it too, and it was a great three days of racing.
They can have another go this week as York is one of four tracks providing 10 races for ITV's schedule on Saturday - the others being Haydock, Goodwood and the Curragh - and it is predictably a pretty low-key day, with Epsom looming.
That may be a touch harsh with the Irish 2,000 Guineas taking place but that and Haydock's Temple Stakes are the two only early-closers, and the Curragh classic is the only race that I have seen ante-post betting for.
Mind you, that was ripped up, and put in the bin, on Monday when Al Riffa was ruled out of the race.
We will find out on Tuesday afternoon whether the Newmarket 2,000 Guineas winner Chaldean will try to double up this weekend - it looks likely that he will be going straight to Royal Ascot, though connections may be tempted now as he would be a firm odds-on poke if running - so we will concentrate on the domestic action here.
Of the 10 ITV races, half are handicaps, and Haydock also accounts for five races of the terrestrial broadcast.
Good ground expected at Haydock
Anyway, a quick weather watch before we kick on with the betting.
The ground at Haydock is currently good to firm (good in places) and they have already been liberally watering in advance of their three-day fixture starting on Thursday.
They put 10mm on last Friday, the same amount was put down on Monday, and I imagine that won't be the last of it.
Goodwood are currently good ahead of their two-day meeting starting on Friday - no mention of watering there yet, but it would seem inevitable, as the next update will mention good to firm - and York are good to firm (good in places), and they have been "irrigating with 3mm overnight to maintain conditions."
The Curragh is good, good to firm in places, with selective watering on the round course.
Having looked at the nine UK races in some depth, I have to admit that very little appealed.
York's 5f handicap at 14:40 and the 1m6f Fillies' Group 3 at 15:25 were easily dismissed - the former will probably be unfathomable even after we get all the info on Thursday morning (Korker is the predictable favourite at 5/2 but he is an expensive horse to follow), and the latter is surely Mimikyu's for the taking if she is fit and well on her seasonal debut, as a price of 11/10 suggests - and I fared little better with Goodwood's two ITV races.
Actually, that isn't quite true. The 1m2f Listed race on the box at 13:30 looks too difficult for now, though Mujtaba is a strong favourite at 7/4, but Yacowlef was comfortably my first port of call in the 18-strong 7f handicap at 14:05.
Okay, the handicapper upped him as much as he could have done for a ½-length win at Newmarket last time (6lb), but the runner-up ran well in defeat last weekend and they pulled well clear of the third.
That victory came on soft ground but he handles good ground, he has finished third (of 18) and first in two starts at this track, and hopefully there will be plenty more to come after just seven outings.
He has a lot going for him and I thought the Sportsbook's 7/1 was fair, though the doubt for me was whether they will risk him on good to firm again. His two efforts on it so far have been okay, notably his York run, but not his best. And apparently he is not straightforward.
On to Haydock then, which carries much of the burden of ITV's coverage on Saturday.
I didn't think the layers were going to price up the 0-75 1m4f handicap at 13:15, which would have disappointed me as I wanted to see if they were as optimistic about Candy Shack's chance as I was.
And they didn't. So I was disappointed.
However, I will make the early case for Candy Shack for later in the week if she rocks up at Haydock, which is by no means certain as I will come to.
She started this season off a seemingly workable mark of 82 after a couple of solid efforts in maiden company at three, but the market disagreed at Kempton on her return and she ran accordingly, finishing eighth of nine at 28/1.
However, she ran a lot better at Goodwood last time, despite finishing only seventh of 11 and beaten 8 ½ lengths, as she looked to be coming with a fair challenge 2f out, only to falter and weaken soon after. She has come down 6lb for her two 2023 runs, though and a mark of 76 considerably underplays her 2022 efforts.
The first-time tongue-tie may give a clue to why she didn't go through with that effort last time but, for ante-post punting purposes, there is a bigger downside. The biggest downside, in fact, aside from the fact that no-one has priced the race up...
She is also in at Pontefract on Friday and Goodwood on Saturday, so I couldn't have tipped her anyway. That was a waste of time that was then, sorry.
Aintree winner Fennor Cross is a fascinating runner in the 18-runner 2m handicap at 13:50 and fast-ground lover Themaxwecan will have his conditions in the same race (providing they don't get very jiggy with the watering), but Fennor Cross is clearly far too short at 2/1 and I suspect the inconsistent Themaxwecan will be pretty much his current price of 20s on Friday morning if the field holds up for this pot, and with extra places, too (it is ¼ 1,2,3 now).
Law Of The Sea looks to have got off very lightly with a 1lb rise for his 1 ¾-length fourth in the Chester Cup but, like Fennor Cross, a price of 4s is no bargain at this stage.
The case for him is strong, though.
He went off 40/1 in the Chester Cup, despite the handicapper having dropped him a generous 8lb for just two runs in Dubai, but he may have gone very close for winning if getting the breaks at Chester. His jockey basically couldn't ride him in the final throes of the race.
This is a horse who was rated 102 after his four-length fifth in the 2021 Queen's Vase on quick ground, and he can race off just 91 here with that Chester run under his belt.
He wouldn't have a rock-solid profile but it is certainly an attractive one given that mark.
The problem - and there is often a problem or two when it comes to ante-post betting - is that Ian Williams also has another two in this race, and that has to be of some concern.
However, this looks such a good spot for Law Of The Sea that he surely has to be given his chance and, while I don't read too much into early jockey bookings, William Buick's name already appears alongside the horse. But he is a pass at 4/1 for now, even if he is my number one pick.
However, I went back and had a look at this race and I am going to put up Charlie Johnston's Themaxwecan win-only at 20/1 with the Sportsbook.
The reason being is, having looked at the race again, I reckon the race has the potential to really cut up.
In alphabetical order, the following are at least double-entered this week: Carzola (the Sportsbook's 5/2 second favourite), Diamond Bay, East Asia, Ehteyat, Firstman, Hydroplane, Mountain Road, Sleeping Lion (due to run at Sandown on Thursday), Tides Of War and Traila.
That is a sizeable percentage of the 18 entries, and Fennor Cross has never raced on anything officially quicker than good (though he handles that very well).
Themaxwecan has solely this option this week and, while he is an in and out performer, he will get his ground and he is only 1lb higher than when winning on good to form at Ascot in August.
He hasn't really excelled in two starts here but that doesn't bother me (they actually came off marks of 102 and 94, and the fifth off 102 wasn't at all bad, in fairness) and I expect him to put a poor return run at Musselburgh on good to soft behind him.
Looking at the shape of the race, he is a bet at 14/1+, but try to get that 20s.
Aidan O'Brien, fresh from his success with Bertinelli, has another 3yo handicap entrant in the 1m contest at 14:25 in the shape of Age Of Kings, and, in its way, this looks every bit as hot as last Saturday's Newbury prize won by his stablemate.
Killybegs Warrior, another Johnston horse, may be more exposed than most but if he makes a quick reappearance after his 5 ¼-length sixth in the Dante then he could be a major player here.
He clearly massively outperformed expectations there as a 100/1 chance and dropped back to a mile will definitely suit this forward-goer.
I was amused to see that the yard won this handicap in 2013 and 2017, and on both occasions the horses made all. Killybegs Warrior could easily make that three in terms of run-style and finishing position.
However, will he turn out again so quickly? Probably, given the stable, but it is not a given. There are also a lot of lurkers in here but I am going to have a small win-only bet on him at 20/1 with the Sportsbook.
He went up 2lb for that Dante sixth to a mark of 102, which seems fair and he also had a sighter of the track when narrowly beaten under a penalty here last July. And that York run wasn't a one-off as he had earlier posted a good third in the Feilden Stakes.
Rest of the Haydock card
The Sandy Lane Stakes at 15:00 is of Group 3 standard at least but neither that, or the aforementioned Temple Stakes, looks a betting heat at this stage.
The early betting for the Sandy Lane sees Bradsell as the 5/2 joint favourite alongside Little Big Bear, but 7/2 Cold Case, 9/2 Mischief Magic and 6/1 1,000 Guineas third Matilda Picotte , to name just three others, give this race enviable depth. But the market looks too defensively priced to get involved.
The Platinum Queen looks a touch too short at 11/8 in the Temple Stakes, given that it is her return (and her first start for Roger Varian) - one firm made her their 4/1 joint third favourite on Monday, which was cut into 3s - but this is a race that can easily be revisited on Thursday.
Have a good week.
I hope Charlie Johnston has one, too.