Ante-Post Value – The International Handicap
We’ve already covered the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot on Saturday, so now it’s time too look at the handicap that will be preceding the big one. It’s stupidly competitive and won’t be easy to solve, especially as the draw hasn’t been announced yet. Knowing what the straight track at Ascot is like, there’ll be a bias to being very high or very low, so it’s important.
I’ll play blind for the moment, with current 8/1 favourite Horsted Keynes the obvious one to look at first. He has the profile of a likely winner of this sort of event, as he’s a lightly-raced progressive sort who probably hasn’t shown us his best on the racecourse yet (could be above handicaps).
The son of Giant’s Causeway arrives here on the back of a cracking effort at Royal Ascot, where he finished three-parts of a length behind Louis The Pious in the Buckingham Palace, and that’s a massively encouraging performance. The amount of ground he made up inside the final couple of furlongs was impressive as well and anyone who backed him could easily claim that he’d have won granted a slightly better sit throughout the race (had been positioned right out the back early on).
He’s all set to run off just 3lbs higher and has obviously solid claims, but that was undoubtedly the day he was fully wound-up for and connections will have to hope that it hasn’t left a mark. The five-week gap between races isn’t terrible – much better than the three-week gap before the Bunbury Cup, which he was all set to line up in until the ground went against him – but I’m sheepish enough given his previous with going well when fresher than this and at the current prices in a field such as this, it doesn’t take much to be misplaced in order to deem the risk too large. That could be idiotic on my part as he may be a Group horse in a handicap, but I don’t want to play ball at single-figured odds. It’s just not tempting.
Ayaar (12/1) is a horse that some shrewd judges have got a lot of time for (Dean Ryan, we’re looking at you!!) and the now Luca Cumani trained 4-year-old appears to be in the form of his life, that despite being beaten on all three of his outings. However, he ran an absolutely storming race in the Royal Hunt Cup over a mile here last time out, finishing a 3-length fifth of 28 despite a less than favourable middle draw and plenty misfortune during the race. Under Frankie Dettori, the colt was badly hampered when picking up and did remarkably well to finish as close as he did, finding plenty for pressure afterwards and not shirking the issue as he would have been entitled to do. A mile isn’t his optimum distance either in my opinion, with 7f suiting best, and there’s every chance that he’s going to be on the premises. Again, however, the price is tight and I’m not too keen on his pilot these days!
Bronze Angel, also 12/1, is a really talented sort on his day and will be 3lbs well-in if turning up. He won a big-field handicap around York ten days ago but in the context of this, is going to have to step up a lot more. The return to 7f won’t cause him any bother and he’s clearly in great knick, but not the most appealing. Gabriel’s Lad would have some sort of chance on his Victoria Cup win over the C&D two starts back and isn’t completely discounted. The problem with him is that he’s now rated 110 and surely there are a few in here with more attractive marks. Abseil could be lively but has something to prove after his Bunbury Cup flop, whilst Buckingham Palace winner Louis The Pious is weighted to his best.
Plenty of others could, and probably should be mentioned, but the first of my two shout-outs will go to Belgian Bill (12/1) for George Baker. Having been subjected to a monster on-course gamble in the Royal Hunt Cup, a race he won in 2013, the 6-year-old was mightily unlucky in-running, failing to get any run through despite travelling sweetly on the bridle. He finished in seventh place, beaten only 4-lengths, and had no race at all. That could be a positive for this as he’ll remain a fresh horse (only had two starts this season) and the jockey booking of Ryan Moore is one that catches the eye in no uncertain terms. Another big run is clearly expected by his connections and the drop in trip shouldn’t be an issue at all. With a proper race-pace to sit off (will need a good draw near speed) and a bit more luck in-running, he could go close and is likely to be shorter than the current price come the off.
Pastoral Player (25/1) is the other that I like and he’s worthy of a small bet as well. He’s not getting any younger and is plenty exposed enough to be considered for a race like this, but shaped really well in the Buckingham Palace and is clearly on a workable mark if you go back far enough (rated a stone higher two years ago). Although only tenth at the Royal meeting, he was beaten by where he was drawn and, indeed, finished first of the 6 to race in the far side bunch. That would suggest the 7-year-old is on his way back to something like peak well-being and this C&D clearly suits, especially as he won a big handicap over it off 2lbs higher in October 2011. A bit like Belgian Bill, he’s going to need luck with both where he’s drawn and during the race, but most of the simplistic things you’d be looking for are already in place (C&D, mark, ground, etc) and we’ll hope to get fortunate with the rest.
Selections for the International Handicap (3:15 Ascot; Saturday, 26th July):
Belgian Bill – 12/1, available with five firms.
Pastoral Player – 25/1, available generally.
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