The wait is almost over for one of the most anticipated events of the year, with the Berkshire Bonanza of Royal Ascot kicking off next Tuesday. But before all that, we have another Saturday of entertainment in store, as the ITV crew head to York, Sandown, and Chester for a competitive afternoon of action.
Handicapping fare dominates the TV Schedule, but we also have a couple of Listed Class contests in store in the pedal to the metal Scurry Stakes from Sandown, and the York highlight of the stamina-sapping Grand Cup. Here we pick out our best bets in each of the seven contests on offer as we bid to boost the betting balance ahead of the Royal Ascot spectacular.
2:00 Queen Mother’s Cup Handicap
Class 3, 1m4f
One of the biggest events of the season for the female amateur jockeys kicks off the action. Bollin Margaret seems likely to prove popular for Tim Easterby, having finished in the first two in her three most recent starts, with the Ian Williams-trained Dream Harder another consistent sort towards the head of the market. Of those at bigger prices, the appropriately named Yorkshire Lady makes the most appeal, with the possibility of improvement as she steps up to this trip for the first time.
However, the filly for us is the Adrian Paul Keatley runner, Kihavah. This one arrives right at the top of her game, having won over hurdles on her most recent outing and, more significantly, over this course and distance two starts back. She’s up 5lb for that one-length verdict, but that seems perfectly fair, whilst her proven ability to carry a big weight may count for plenty in this, with the majority of the field saddled with 10st+.
2:15 Aspall Cyder 1728 Handicap
Class 2, 1m
Our first contest from Sandown sees a nice mix of established handicappers and potential improvers in another wide-open heat. Helm Rock tops our shortlist of those with more experience, having run a cracker to hit the frame in his last two starts.
The two to catch our eye in the unexposed category are bottom-weight Bodorgan and Michael Bell’s Baltimore Boy. Bodorgan ran well behind a useful sort on his comeback at Haydock and could go close if stripping fitter for that outing, but we just prefer Baltimore Boy. Ignoring his seasonal return at Doncaster, in which he was all but pulled up, he has been beaten by only a combined 3½l in two runs over this trip. That’s solid enough form in regard to this, but those efforts can be upgraded significantly, as he missed the start rather badly on both occasions. In the hope that those stall issues have been rectified, he looks worth backing to at least hit the frame.
2:35 Sky Bet Handicap
Class 3, 7f
We head backack to the Knavesmire for another tricky handicap puzzle. David O’Meara’s Darkness heads the betting and has been knocking on the door of late – finishing second in his two most recent starts. Left alone on a mark of 88, he holds obvious claims. As does Eligible, who showed a liking for this track and trip when landing a Class 4 contest last time out and doesn’t look harshly treated off a 3lb higher mark.
Whilst we respect the top two in the market, there are a couple to catch the eye from an each-way perspective, with both Snash and Admiral D beginning to look very attractively handicapped. Having been rated as high as 97, Admiral D looks dangerous getting in here off 88 but has taken a slight backwards step in his past two outings following an encouraging return in April.
It is, therefore, Snash who gets the vote. Now fully 17lbs below his peak career rating, Snash disappointed on his first two starts of the current campaign but showed some signs of life when running on into fifth at Hamilton last time out. Up in trip and possibly running into form, he is worth an each-way investment at a big price.
2:50 Molson Coors Scurry Stakes
Great State is proving all the rage in the opening Listed class contest of the day, and that’s really no surprise, considering he has won each of his three most recent starts and impressed when scoring at this level at York last time out. That success does mean he will carry a 3lb penalty, which could make life tricky with a host of potential improvers lurking amongst the opposition.
Last-time-out winners Perdika and Tajalla are the obvious alternatives to the jolly, but at around the 3/1 mark, they haven’t been missed by the market. We prefer to try and nick a bit of place money at a big price, and the one to be on is the Karl Burke filly, Lady Hamana.
One win from seven starts doesn’t look particularly attractive at first glance, but, if we zero in on just her two outings over this trip on a quickish surface, a more compelling case can be made. A winner on the Tapeta at Wolverhampton, she then went down by just 1¾l in the Group 3 Cornwallis Stakes at Newmarket last season on good going. With her two outings this season coming on very soft ground and over 6f, we are happy to draw a line through those as fitness exercises and can see her outrunning her odds to hit the frame.
3:05 Sky Bet Race To The Ebor Grand Cup Stakes
We stick to Listed company in this next contest but move right up in trip as the stayers take to the track. Israr is just shading favouritism but looks short enough on his first crack at this trip – particularly as he gave best in the closing stages over 1m4f last time out. Quickthorn makes slightly more appeal but may find conditions a little too quick.
Roger Varian’s Divine Jewel stands out amongst those at bigger prices, but the one to get the vote is the 2021 winner of this race, Roberto Escobarr. Hailing from the yard of William Haggas, this Galileo gelding missed the whole of last season due to injury but has looked as well as ever upon his return. An encouraging third on comeback at Wolverhampton, he then landed the Group 3 Henry II Stakes at Sandown last time out. He does have to cope with a penalty on this drop in class, but that is factored into his price, and he can go close under Tom Marquand.
3:20 Edinburgh Gin Seaside Handicap
Class 2, 7½f
Just the one race from Chester amongst the TV offering. Tafreej and Saxon King bring the strongest recent form into the race, but drawn in stalls 8 and 10, respectively, may find themselves in an uphill battle given the strong bias towards those drawn low.
Three of the four editions of this to have been run to date have gone to a runner emerging from stalls 1-4. The quartet occupying those positions this year are Lunatick, Sophia’s Starlight, Reidh, and Royal Dubai. Sophia’s Starlight and Royal Dubai both arrive in form, having won last time out but are facing a step up in grade and a switch from the all-weather respectively. With Lunatick needing to bounce back from a strange performance at Wolverhampton, the Richard Fahey runner Reidh gets the vote. Placed in two of his last three outings, he doesn’t quite see out a mile, but this slight drop in trip, easy track, and an ideal draw could combine to see him hit the frame at very rewarding odds.
3:40 Oakmere Homes Supporting Macmillan Sprint Handicap
Class 2, 6f
The biggest field of the day rounds out the TV card as 22 go to post in this pedal-to-the-metal sprint handicap. The Stuart Williams-trained Quinalt is enjoying a remarkable season and duly heads the betting on the back of four successive wins. Returning to the track at the back end of April with a mark of 59, he’s now up to a more challenging 85. Nevertheless, he may not be done improving yet and makes the shortlist. As does Redemption Time, who took a big step back in the right direction last time out, and may be suited by this step up from 5f.
A decent case can be made for a whole host of these, but the one who may be a little underestimated in the market is the Archie Watson runner, Garner. Raced only three times to date, he won his maiden at the back end of last season when with the Harry & Roger Charlton operation. Returning to the track at Lingfield at the beginning of the month, he made short work of the field in a novice event on his yard debut, looking like a horse capable of performing at a higher level. This is clearly much tougher, but we wouldn’t be surprised if he had a little extra up his sleeve on his first outing in a handicap.