Ante-Post: The Totepool Challenge Cup
Heritage Handicaps are difficult to get to grips with at the best of times and Saturday’s Challenge Cup, run over 7f at Ascot, is typically competitive and hard to call. The market hasn’t done too badly in recent renewals, with the last four winners scoring at 9/1 or less, and this time it’s the William Haggas trained Prince’s Trust who is getting the approval of punters at this early stage.
The former Richard Hannon in-mate has obviously had his problems but, after more than a year off the track, made a winning start for his new trainer in hilariously impressive fashion over 7f at Yarmouth. There, he defeated a useful sort in Flow by nearly 4-lengths and although the form is yet to receive a winning boost since, it does look solid based on the efforts of those in behind.
In normal circumstances one could be worried about the bounce factor when it comes to a horse who was previously off for so long, but Haggas has given his charge six weeks to get over the race and as such it shouldn’t be a huge issue, assuming there haven’t been any problems in the mean time. Cam Hardie being booked is a plus as he’ll offset 3lbs of the rise inflicted by the handicapper but the horse is now rated 100 (up from 88) and that’s a potential sticking point in my opinion.
We don’t know how good he could be so I won’t state anything as fact, but this will demand a hell of a lot more than said Yarmouth success and the 12lb rise should be hard to overcome, especially now that he’ll be tackling a big field of hardened handicappers for the first time. To win, he’ll have to be a potential Group performer and whilst he probably is based on the visual impression created six weeks ago, quotes ranging between 6/1 & 8/1 hardly leave much to the imagination. I think he’s a really nice prospect and there’s no doubting that he’s with the right yard in which to really thrive on his racing and improve with experience, but on this particular occasion I’d rather look elsewhere on price grounds.
American Hope is another who has come in for strong support in recent days and he’s an 8/1 shot generally. There’s an air of mystery about him following a below-par effort when last seen at Goodwood in August but plenty went wrong in-running there and those who are willing to forgive might well be onto something. That’s because he’s returning to the scene of his two best runs as he finished sixth in the Britannia Handicap at the Royal meeting when drawn on the wrong part of the track (won his mini-race on the far side) and then finished a neck-second behind Mange All (a useful sort) five weeks later, that despite racing too freely and getting a more prominent ride than is ideal for one with his attributes.
Both of those runs came over a mile, a trip that’s evidently not a problem, but the way he can travel through a race and quicken up would suggest that 7f is possibly his optimum and the quicker gallop they tend to go over this shorter trip is another solid help to him as well. If everything pans out for him in-running and he follows the right horses at the right times, he’s sure to be on the premises when the going gets tough and he should have more than enough ability to go close off his current mark of 104. Whether he’ll win, however, has to be a worry given his reliance on so much falling his way and the overriding feeling I get is that he’ll find some way to get beaten. That could be wrong and stupid, but hopefully not!
Course specialist Redvers is on the RFM Horses To Follow list for races exactly like this and it would hardly be a surprise to see Ed Vaughan’s charge bounce back to something like his best now back at his beloved Ascot. Everything happened too quickly for him at Ayr last time out when he contested the Silver Cup and that’s hardly a surprise as the tempo of sprinting was always likely to take him out of his comfort zone/rhythm far sooner than ideal. That’s pretty much what happened, plus he didn’t have a great draw to work with, and despite being well-supported in the market all he could muster was a mid-division finish. Better can be expected now but his new mark of 98 kicks in for the first time and defying that against some progressive sorts won’t be one bit easy. He will literally have to run the best race of his life to win and 10/1 about that happening doesn’t get the juices flowing much.
HIGHLAND ACCLAIM is the one that I am being drawn towards and although it’s never going to be too easy for a 3-year-old taking on his elders, this David O’Meara trained son of Acclamation has no shortage of experience in similar scenarios and is plenty tough enough to get involved once again. Things didn’t really pan out for him when he lined up in the Ayr Gold Cup two weeks ago, as despite racing in the main group he was further back than ideal and simply shaped as if the test on offer wasn’t demanding enough when it came to stamina. He seems to get this seventh furlong well and ran a cracking race on his penultimate start when fifth over this C&D, flashing home to be beaten by just a half-length.
On that form, he has to do a little better in order to justify his selection ahead of runner-up Redvers but the 1lb swing is a little help and that was only his second outing in a 7f event, never mind handicap. There was also reason to suggest that he was unlucky having missed the break before getting switched to race towards the near side rail and he was quite keen to go along with that, so Daniel Tudhope taking over from Sam James is a definite positive as well. Anyway, I just get the impression that there could be more from this young, improving sort and despite a career-high mark of 100 in place, I’m hopeful that he’ll get heavily involved. Winning it will be tough… but he may well be capable of doing exactly that.
Selection for the Totepool Challenge Cup (3:50 Ascot; Saturday, 4th October):
Highland Acclaim – 10/1, available with a few firms.
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