Gulliver boasts a formidable record at York so Kevin Blake is backing him to strike again on Wednesday. Find out what else our man expects to play a starring role...
"When things go well for Gulliver he tends to run a big race, but when they don’t, he tends to be well out of contention. This tendency is an asset, as it generally leads to the handicapper showing him plenty of mercy."
Once again, the weather will be a key consideration for those looking ahead to York in the coming days. Rain of varying degrees is expected, with amounts varying with different forecasters. It is probably safe to assume that the ground will be on the soft side of good at the very least and that is the basis on which this column is penned.
The first race of interest on Wednesday is the Churchill Tyres Handicap (14:10) and I am siding with an old friend in the David O'Meara-trained Gulliver.
Gulliver loves the Knavesmire
The seven-year-old is just what you want in a sprint handicapper in many ways, in that when things go well for him, he tends to run a big race, but when they don't, he tends to be well out of contention. This tendency is an asset, as it generally leads to the handicapper showing him plenty of mercy and leads to him dropping back to a mark he can be very competitive off when things do fall right.
He currently finds himself in such a position as having bolted up over this course and distance off a mark of 102 as recently as October, a sequence of so-so runs on the all-weather during the winter has seen his mark drop from 109 to 100. He returns to the turf in this, but not just any old turf, as Gulliver would seem to have a particular affinity for this brand of Knavesmire turf.
He has raced here eight times, winning on four of those occasions. Six of those starts have come in fiercely-competitive sprint handicaps such as this and he has won three of them.
That is a formidable strike rate in such contests. It is also worth noting that when one only considers such runs on ground that was softer than good, his strike rate improves to two wins from three starts.
In short, he loves it here, particularly when the ground is on the softer side of good. As well as that, David O'Meara's horses now seem to be in much better form than they were when Gulliver was campaigning on the all-weather during the winter months. He looks to have a better chance than his current odds suggest.
Noon the Star in exciting field
The one that has been very popular in recent weeks for the Oaks and in the early exchanges in this market has been the Roger Varian-trained Teona. The daughter of Sea The Stars made a very promising debut behind the exciting Sea Empress at Newcastle in October and she returned to that track three weeks later to run out the wide-margin winner of a mile-and-a-quarter maiden.
However, it was notable just how anxious Jack Mitchell was to anchor Teona in the early stages of that race and she raced notably freely in his hands. Of course, that didn't stop her from bolting up on the day, but it suggests that she is far from the finished article and might not be the easiest. While she could get away with such inefficiency in maiden company, this is a different class of race altogether and it will be fascinating to see how she fares.
The one that makes appeal against her is the other exciting and largely unknown quantity in the field, the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Noon Star.
A regally-bred filly by Galileo out of Midday, she has won two of her three starts, most recently making a winning return to action in a fillies' novice race at Wetherby. She ran out the impressive winner that day and the form has been working out notably well since then, putting an even greater shine on it.
As much as anything, it was the way she shaped in that race that makes her appealing against Teona in this. In contrast with that rival, she was ever-so-slightly behind the bridle for much of the race at Wetherby and only produced her full effort when asked to. That sort of efficiency is much more conducive to success at middle distances than Teona's more highly-strung style.
If it comes down to a close-run thing, Noon Star's more efficient style of racing could be the difference maker. Whatever the result, it promises to be a very informative race.
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