In this week's column, Kevin Blake admits the transition between flat and jumps season can make life difficult for bettors but this hasn't stopped him from getting stuck into Saturday's big race at Doncaster...
"That Came From The Dark turned what had looked a competitive sprint handicap into a procession in winning by three-and-three-quarter lengths was clearly impressive, but it was the style that he did it in that was especially taking. If one knew nothing about him and just watched that race, few would have correctly guessed that it was his first ever start at the minimum trip."
A tricky time
The transition period between the end of the turf season on the Flat and the beginning of the winter action over jumps is traditionally a tricky one for bettors.
Many horses on the Flat have been on the go all season and the back-end of the campaign can bring more testing ground conditions than they are accustomed to. Thus, the formbook isn't perhaps as reliable a guide in these last few weeks of the turf season than it can be earlier in the campaign.
Meanwhile over jumps, there is always a certain amount of 'guesstimation' about how fit the horses are on their return to the fray which brings its own difficulties in assessing races.
However, it goes without saying that every race run at this time of year will have a winner and we'll have a crack at finding one in the Doncaster Handicap on Saturday.
The first thing to note here is the weather. At the time of writing on Thursday, the ground at Doncaster is good-to-soft, but there is significant rain forecast to arrive from 15:00 on Friday all the way into Saturday morning. While it is always hard to estimate these things, with the ground being quite sodden after rain in recent weeks, it seems fair to assume that it will end up being at least soft and possibly even more testing than that.
Many of the runners in this five-furlong handicap are older horses that tend to drop in the weights, get their turn to win and then return to the wilderness until they drop in the weights again. While a few of those that fit that bill in this contest are off reasonable marks and are proven on a testing surface, my preference is for the younger brigade of three-year-olds, with there being five representatives of that age group in this field.
The relevance of it to the wider sample can be debated, but it is a fact that this has been a good year for three-year-olds in valuable sprint handicaps, with the Stewards' Cup, the Portland Handicap and the Ayr Gold Cup all being won by runners of that age.
Took off again in no uncertain terms...
There are a couple of appealing prospects amongst the younger contenders on Saturday, but preference is given to the Ed Walker-trained Came From The Dark (pictured). The son of Dark Angel is certainly bred to be better than a handicapper. He is from the family of Pipalong and realised 480,000gns as a yearling.
It can't be said that he looked likely to prove to be good value in his initial starts, but since he has entered handicaps this year he has found progression. He proved his ability to handle testing ground when gaining his first win on what was a heavy surface at Haydock back in June. He seemed to hit a bit of a plateau after that, but he took off again in no uncertain terms when dropped to five furlongs for the first time at Haydock in September.
That Came From The Dark turned what had looked a competitive sprint handicap into a procession in winning by three-and-three-quarter lengths was clearly impressive, but it was the style that he did it in that was especially taking. If one knew nothing about him and just watched that race, few would have correctly guessed that it was his first ever start at the minimum trip.
A proper turn of speed...
He absolutely tanked through the first half of the race and when he was unleashed he showed a proper turn of speed to put the race to bed before the furlong pole had been reached. The style of his performance was one which strongly suggested he will be a much better horse at the minimum trip than at further.
The handicapper had his say after that to the tune of a rise of 10 well-earned pounds, but that wasn't enough to stop him nearly following up at Ascot last time. Contesting what was a stronger handicap, Came From The Dark didn't travel with quite the same strength as he had the time before, but having raced much closer to the stands side than the others involved in the finish, he still finished off his race very well to be beaten just a neck.
While Came From The Dark is now off a 3lb higher mark, the return to what is likely to be more testing ground is sure to suit. Given that he is still so unexposed at the minimum trip, the possibility of there being more to come from him is clear. Gerald Mosse seems to get a particularly good tune out of him (two wins and a second from three rides on him) and his draw looks reasonable given where the likely pace is situated.
All told, Came From The Dark is quite an appealing prospect for the Doncaster Handicap. While the early 9/1 on the Sportsbook quickly disappeared in midweek, anything at around the 8.07/1 mark on the Exchange will be worth taking.
For more weekend tips from Kevin, check out this week's episode of the Racing...Only Bettor podcast