You would have liked to have seen a tad more entries in the Ascot handicaps on Saturday, but the ground is currently soft and unlikely to dry out too much at this time of the year – mind you, next to no rain is forecast this week – so hopefully we get minimal withdrawals come Thursday morning.
High class renewal
There has been an exchange market up and running on the GBP105k Betfair Exchange Trophy for a while now, and it promises to be a high-class renewal once again.
Okay, we don’t have recent Fighting Fifth winner Not So Sleepy going for a hat-trick in the race, 16 entries is already five shy of the maximum field size of 21 and Goshen heads the weights off just 153, but it is packed with lightly-raced progressive youngsters, many of which will rate much higher than their current marks in the not-too-distant future.
Which means trying to find the winner is pretty tough from my betting perch. Nobody will be in the least surprised that the last-time-out winners West Cork and Samarrive are vying for favouritism with current 4/1 Sportsbook jolly No Ordinary Joe – the last-named may have finished third to West Cork in the Greatwood but he arguably shaped better given he raced far too keenly – but, ranged from 4/1 to 11/2, surely those three take out too much of the market in percentage terms.
And, even more importantly, what scope do they have for shortening in the next few days? Precious little, I’d have thought. If you fancy them you are probably better off backing if and when they have been confirmed at 10am on Thursday morning.
Of course, one can argue the same of the rest of field given their collective chances, especially as none of the 15 have alternative entries this weekend. I can’t recall ever having looked at a race on Monday and seen a similar scenario.
Has to be the play
Right, let’s get down to what I fancy at the current prices.
I think you can safely throw out Soaring Glory‘s last-of-four to Onemorefortheroad at Newbury last time as the small-field clearly didn’t play to his strengths there, and I am convinced he is much better than his mark of 149. I was very taken by his win here in October.
He is definitely a betting option at 12/1 win-only on the exchange but Benson has to be the play at 16/1 each way, four places, with the Betfair Sportsbook. If you want to back him win-only on the exchange, he trades at 18.5 at the time of publishing.
Now, I expect this field to largely stand their ground (for the reasons explained above) and, as such we may even get five places with the sponsors on Saturday, but I want him onside win and place given the profile of the horses he is up against.
Sure, he doesn’t have the handicap upside of a few of these – though this will just be the 6yo’s ninth hurdles start, so he is hardly exposed – but what he does have is a winnable mark, having been dropped another 3lb for two runs this season.
On the face of it, few would expect him to reverse form with Samarrive on their showing at Sandown nine days ago, as he finished 13 1/2 lengths behind the winner, who could well have a lot more to offer.
But Benson is 13lb better off, and I saw enough in the closing stages of that race, and perhaps the betting beforehand, to believe he could be at his peak here.
Granted, we saw the Benson we all know and accept throughout the race, in that he doesn’t race too kindly for his jockey and needs plenty of stoking, but, given his strong-finishing style, I would have thought his backers would have been getting reasonably excited two out.
He was in touch on the inner, but he found himself in a pocket soon after, his jockey had to switch, only to nearly fall off at the last when his mount jinked late and took it awkwardly as a result. As it was, Lee Edwards still regathered the horse to grab fourth on the run-in.
This horse has one long sustained run in him – as we saw when he won at Sandown last season, and when finishing like a train, after being tailed off at one point, when fourth to Not So Sleepy (pictured) and Buzz off a 4lb higher mark in this race last year – so events certainly didn’t unfold ideally last time, and the late drift in the market on him was also a touch curious, though I am not suggest anything untoward at all.
I thought he would go off favourite there, given the support for him in the previous 24 hours, but he was strikingly opposed near the off and went off at a Betfair SP of 6.94, and he was even bigger a minute or so before flagfall, too.
Maybe this race was the short-term plan all along – it is worth GBP105k after all and, as Samarrive showed, the handicapper would have had time to re-assess him before this had he won there – and, if it was, a falling mark of 133 should make him very competitive. Maybe connections remembered the fact he went up 10lb for the win in that Sandown race before finishing fourth here afterwards.
All his best form has come on heavy, so unexpected rain would be a plus, and his moody style means he is probably never too far away from spitting the dummy out, but I think 16s underplays his chances a touch.
I don’t normally do pace maps at the five-day stage but I have here (as I expect most of the 16 to run) and we have forward-goers in here with Onemporetheroad, Global Citizen and Llandinabo Lad, and it will be just peachy for Benson if they go hammer and tongs from the outset.
And, given his lazy run-style, I just wonder whether Dr Richard Newland will be tempted to try him in headgear on Saturday to make him travel more sweetly.
However, accoutrements or not, Benson is worth a small each-way tickle at this stage. I assume he will be a runner health and fitness-permitting, even if he would prefer deeper ground, but 14s is the lowest I would go to back him.
Hopefully the owners, Pump and Plant Services Ltd, will be celebrating another big handicap hurdle winner at Ascot come 3.45pm on Saturday, having won a valuable race here in 2018 with Jenkins.
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