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Friday 31st May 2024

Friday Freebie: Future Group Class Performer Appeals In Competitive Handicap

Friday Freebie

Last week’s preview was almost spot on but we had to settle for places for both selections.

Whenthedealinsdone was the sort of price I expected (although quite weak before the off) and he had to wait for his run so did well to get 4th on the line. He wasn’t an unlucky loser but he was probably value for finishing 3rd.

I was amazed that Antiphon was priced up at 12/1 early and it was no shock that those odds shortened. He was perfectly placed throughout and ran an excellent race to finish 2nd.

I must confess, I didn’t fancy the winner at all and I didn’t even mention him in my write up. He hadn’t shown much form on turf and all his wins had been on the all weather but someone fancied him as he was backed from 16s down to 7/1 before winning pretty well.

The trio I nominated as my preferred three in the race finished 2nd, 3rd and 4th, so it was one of those races where a well backed outsider comes and spoils the party. That’s not uncommon in these big field handicaps.

This Week’s Race

It’s Oaks day so the racing is excellent and Epsom will be the subject of this week’s preview. As usual though, I’m dodging the classier racing in favour of one of the ultra competitive handicaps.

The 2.35 at Epsom is an excellent race but I’ll be having a different bet if the ground is good to soft than if the ground is fully soft so I want a bit more time before getting involved in that one.

The 3.45 at Epsom is an equally strong race, if not stronger (despite a slightly smaller field) and there is one I’ve been tracking for a little while running in this one.

Epsom Pointers

A low draw is better here on good ground but on softer ground high draws seem to have the edge, for all there haven’t been a huge number of 10f races on soft ground so that data is open to debate.

In terms of pace, patiently ridden runners do better over this course and distance on soft ground than they do on fast ground but last season in particular, on softish ground, it was very hard to make up ground here over many distances.

On soft ground they normally come over to the near side rail in the straight and it can be a big advantage to hug that rail rather than challenge wider.

Favourites Seem To Hold Decent Chances

At the time of writing there are three main favourites and they are City Streak, Bolster and Liberty Lane and there is very little between them in the betting.

City Streak is just about holding favouritism and he certainly deserves to be near the head of the betting. The race he won last time out at Chester was a fair bit weaker than this but it did come on good to firm ground when the horse has previously shown a liking for plenty of cut underfoot. A 3lb rise for that is more than fair.

Before that he was runner up on seasonal debut over this trip at Bath on heavy ground. The 3rd has come out of that race and won easily and City Streak won’t have been fully wound up for that after a break so he’s clearly in excellent form so far this season. He’s run well at Chester and Goodwood previously so he seems to suit this sort of course which is an added bonus.

He only got up on the line last time out over an extended 10f and his previous win had come over 12f at Ascot so he does have a decent amount of stamina and off a career high mark he certainly won’t want to hit any trouble in running as he might not quite have the turn of foot that some others have in the race.

I’m slightly surprised that Bolster isn’t the clear favourite here given his profile. He’s only run five times in his career and he’s unbeaten in three runs on good ground or softer.

The form of his first win was certainly nothing special but on his first try at 10f, in novice company, he beat a subsequent 89 rated filly by over 6 lengths, giving that rival 12lbs. The runner up has subsequently improved for another couple of furlongs but that was still clearly very decent form.

He ran no sort of race on good to firm ground on his next two runs before moving from the Crisfords to Karl Burke, who inherited an injured horse. Burke has worked his magic though and Bolster won comfortably on soft ground over this trip at Pontefract on stable debut. The 4yo enjoyed the run of the race but that has proved a good race with the 3rd and 4th both winning next time out, and the 5th placing in a hot York handicap whilst also probably not fully staying the trip.

Bolster has gone up 5lbs for that win but that rise seems solely based on the winning distance and doesn’t account for the strength of the race so he still looks well handicapped.

He’s since been a non runner twice on account of faster ground and it’s interesting that this 102 rated colt was due to run in a Group 3 last time out but wasn’t risked on good ground. Connections clearly think very highly of him and there will be no issues with the ground here.

Bolster’s stablemate, Liberty Lane, is also well fancied but is a bit more exposed. He was fancied as a potential Derby horse last year but after two poor runs in the early summer on fast ground he was next seen in mile handicaps.

He appreciated softer ground when getting his first win of the season at Doncaster in September, needing every single yard of the mile to get back up on the line against a well treated rival.

He started this season as a strong fancy for the Lincoln on his favoured ground but he didn’t fire at all. He put things right next time out on good ground in the Suffolk Stakes, appreciating the step back up in trip. He’s gone up 5lbs for that win which might be a little harsh, especially with the form yet to work out, but the extra furlong and softer ground here could be enough to counter that penalty.

Ground Doubts For Plenty

There seem to be plenty of ground doubts about the next lot of horses in the betting.

Derry Lad remains well handicapped and is worth keeping in your trackers. He won a couple of Sunday Series races last summer that worked out really well but he found heavy ground against him following those efforts and then didn’t fire for some reason in another similar race at Sandown.

After finishing the year over hurdles, he again didn’t fire on soft ground at Cork last month but he was a huge eyecatcher a couple of weeks ago at Naas, rattling home for 3rd over a completely inadequate mile (won over 12f last season).

The horse has won on soft ground before and even finished 2nd and 3rd last season in heavy but those efforts were off lower marks but the fact remains he’s been beaten on his last seven runs on soft or heavy, often when well fancied, often off much lower marks. On good ground he’d have been a strong fancy but if he can finish 4th/5th in this ground that will rate a decent effort and he’d be one to back next time on better ground.

Haunted Dream ran well in many good handicaps last season but he’s difficult to win with and he remains 10lbs above his last winning mark. Four of his five wins have come on the all weather, leaving him 1 from 18 on turf, and his sole turf win came on good ground. He ran decent races last season (when well placed) in a couple of good handicaps run on good to soft but he’s even higher in the weights now trying the softest ground he’s ever encountered. There will be other days for him to run well.

I Still Have Faith has won on good to soft ground but has generally run his best races on faster surfaces. He didn’t really seem to get home in heavy ground over this trip last season and he’s perhaps at his best over slightly shorter trips and almost certainly on better ground. He’s also done his winning in lower grades and there are class worries for him too. He’s been an early shortener in the betting but I’m not entirely convinced.

Loyal Touch disappointed at York last time, having run so well at Chester the week before, and he now finds himself 2lbs higher on much softer ground. He also holds an entry at Ripon on Thursday so if he runs there, he’s unlikely to also take up this engagement.

Alan King’s Paradias was a winner for my service (and this column) last year and he’s probably still well handicapped even though he’s still 4lbs higher. He’s never seemed to perform on soft ground in the past though, good ground seems perfect for him.

Two That Could Outrun Their Odds

King’s Code ran a blinder to finish 2nd behind handicap blot Botanical at York recently and a 2lb rise in the weights doesn’t completely rule him out here. He’s a firm ground Bath winner and although he’s disappointed a couple of times in testing ground, he has also won on heavy ground previously at Chester. Whether or not he gets home in this ground over this trip is a question mark but he’s far from impossible to build a case for at a nice price.

At similar odds, course and distance winner Sweet Reward could run well. He was 4th in this race two years ago and he won over this trip on soft ground at Goodwood last season by 5 lengths. That win has seemingly left him poorly handicapped but he’s run well off similar marks in a couple of competitive handicaps at Newbury this season. He’s only ever placed in one class 2 handicap from seven attempts though and that would be a major concern for his backers.

Other Mentions

Last week’s winner didn’t even get a mention, so to avoid a repeat of that I’ll quickly run through the remainder of the field.

Lord Melbourne has won over this trip in heavy ground so conditions won’t be a problem. Class could be though, as that was only a class 5 handicap and it looked a weak one at that. He’s since moved to Ralph Beckett but it’s unlikely he can improve the horse sufficiently in such a short space of time to be able to win this. He’s also 2lbs out of the handicap here.

Killybegs Warrior is an inconsistent type who was well below par behind City Streak last time out. He’s capable of much better than that run and he was a decent 3rd on soft ground at York last season so does handle cut but all three of his career wins have been gained on Newmarket’s July Course and it would be a shock if he isn’t being lined up for a fourth win there this summer.

Mysterious Love is the complete outsider here and despite only beating two runners home at Windsor last time out, he wasn’t beaten very far. He’s won on heavy ground before and most of his form is on softer so his last run can probably be marked up considering it came on good ground. The market thinks he’ll beat nothing home here but it wouldn’t be a massive shock if he could finish in mid division here and he might make a little appeal elsewhere soon in testing ground given he’s due to drop 3lbs after this.


The market order here seems pretty accurate and it would be no surprise if the race is dominated by the market leaders. A slightly unoriginal conclusion unfortunately.

It will be interesting to see how the earlier races on the card play out and it may be worth holding your bets until not long before the off. It would be no surprise to see the pace holding well on this card and if the front runners have been dominating early on, that could really help narrow this down (for all most the market leaders could be ridden prominently).

Over the last 15 years you’d have done very well backing high drawn runners when the going is soft over this course and distance and on that basis, assuming the ground is a bit too soft for Derry Lad, the obvious one to be backing is City Streak from stall 9. His form figures in 10f handicaps read 22231221. With that in mind, backing him each way at around 5/1 is arguably a no brainer and perhaps the bet that should be recommended.

The harder they go early, the better it is for City Streak and there could be a decent early gallop on with Killybegs Warrior, Bolster and Loyal Touch (if he runs) all guaranteed to be up there with Liberty Lane and Sweet Reward also possible pace angles.

That doesn’t mean they’ll all try to cut each other’s throats on the front end though and the one I’m struggling to get away from is BOLSTER. He’s unbeaten on good or softer ground and he looked as good as ever when winning well on seasonal debut in a race that has thrown up subsequent winners. He’s very much the ‘group horse in a handicap’, like Botanical, who won so well in these colours at York recently.

He’s certainly not going to get as easy a lead as at Pontefract but he doesn’t have to lead and can be slotted in just behind the pace if it looks like they are all trying to get a positive position early.

More of a worry is the draw. On good to soft ground there seems only a slight edge towards higher numbers but on soft ground the lowest few stalls have performed really poorly and Bolster will be breaking from stall 3 here. However the sample size is pretty small and the ground will probably be pushing good to soft come race time on Friday anyway so it’s perhaps not a massive worry.

The high draw bias also doesn’t seem to make much sense. If Bolster was going forward from stall 14 here he’d probably be in an almost identical position as he will be after a furlong from stall 3 here, but he won’t have to work as hard to get there with his low draw. So it stands to reason that a low draw should be preferable for him.

Bolster looks the best handicapped runner in the race and being on the speed seemed an advantage in most softer ground races here last season so he’s the selection, for all it’s a risk backing a horse that has been fragile in the past at a course like this. Softer ground will hopefully help with that though and confidence would be increased slightly if front runners are doing well in previous races.

At around 5/1 I’d be looking to go win only, as he’s probably going to win easily or completely bomb out, whereas if I was backing City Streak he’d have definitely made strong appeal to be an each way bet given his profile.

It’s City Streak who is rated the main danger and he can follow the selection home. Derry Lad is the one to keep an eye on with regards to next time out, with fingers crossed he doesn’t get too close in this to spoil his future price.

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