ELITE -: York 2.25: 1 ABOVE THE REST @ 14/1 / 15 GET KNOTTED @ 9/1 / 17 ACES @ 14/1 – 1pt e/w
(Sky / WH / Victor / PP / Fred all go odds to 5th)
The Saturday just before Royal Ascot is, understandably, a little bit short of real top quality action in terms of the grade of races but there is no shortage of competitive races with York, in particular, attracting some decent fields given the current poor weather and consequential deterioration in ground conditions.
One of the races with a large field is this 7 furlong class 2 handicap and there are plenty of bookies offering enhanced place terms on the race.
There are 3 horses competing here who contested this race last year and they include the first 2 home on that occasion.
The winner was ABOVE THE REST who, despite being top weight, runs here this time off a 2lb lower mark than he did then.
After a winter in Meydan, he opened this season with a win in the listed Lady Wulfruna Stakes at Wolverhampton in March, beating a decent field, but has finished down the field in each of his 3 subsequent runs. That said, there were signs that he remained in form in his last run, at Thirsk, and his finishing position of 7th looks worse than it actually was. He got badly hampered during the final stages of that race, when looking to make a challenge, and had to be snatched up on the run to the line. His way of running always lends itself to the risk of being caught up in traffic like that but this wider track, where they are likely to fan out a little more after the bend, should help. The ground may be the biggest concern, as he has been pulled out a few times when the ground has been soft, but he has won in the conditions and providing it does not get too testing he should take his chance. His price is big enough to take a punt that he handles conditions. He is a former winner of The Bunbury Cup, off a mark just 1lb lower than this, and has won on the all-weather off higher marks too.
The horse who finished just behind ABOVE THE REST last year, in a fast-finishing 2nd place, was course specialist GET KNOTTED. In 14 previous outings at this venue, the Michael Dods’ trained 7 year-old has won 3 races and finished in the frame on a further 6 occasions. His only previous run on a soft surface here resulted in a victory, last July, whilst on ground officially described as Good to Soft his 3 runs have produced 1 win and 1 place. He is clearly a horse well suited to this track and he does like having a strong pace to chase, something he did not get in this race last year. His wide draw, out in stall 20, should not be the inconvenience it could be for others as he likes to be dropped in and produced with a late burst. He did win 3 races over a mile earlier in his career but he has raced mainly at 6 and 7 furlongs in the last couple of years and this 7 furlong trip seems to suit best. He is 3lbs lower than 12 months ago, so is 1lb better off with the winner, and is also 3lbs below his last winning mark. His trainer has a good record here and Paul Mulrennan, who recently rode his 1,000th career winner, has been in good form in the past fortnight and has ridden the horse to 4 of his 7 career victories. It is difficult to see him finishing outside the top 5 here in my opinion.
The current favourite is ALJADY and he is one of a trio entries here for Richard Fahey. This 4 year-old is very lightly-raced, with just 6 career starts, but this has been the plan for him since he finished a good 3rd here in May. That was his first run since being gelded over the winter and, although it was over 6 furlongs, he stayed on well doing his best work towards the line. He had 4 of today’s opponents in behind him that day and there is no reason why he shouldn’t confirm the form with them. That race was run on good to firm, and underfoot conditions will be much different here, but he did win his first ever start on soft ground so should handle it. All of his wins have come at 6 furlongs, however, so, although shaping like he needs the step up, he has to still prove himself over this far in this ground and, with a couple of prominent newspaper tipsters putting him up, his price has shortened somewhat in the past 24 hours so I prefer to go with others at bigger each-way prices.
Another horse trained by Richard Fahey is GREAT PROSPECTOR and he was of much interest to me when analysing the form for this race. He does have a bit to prove at this distance, as his only career win so far came over 6 furlongs, on debut 2 years ago to the day, but he does have decent form in the book. His last run came over this distance, in soft ground, at Haydock in April when he finished a good 3rd behind Safe Voyage. He was beaten just 3 lengths by a horse, now rated 113, who has franked the form with a couple of excellent wins since including last week’s John of Gaunt stakes. He has finished 2nd in a listed contest, at Redcar, and races here off just 94, which is the same mark as in that Haydock race, so has to be taken seriously.
One horse who has been waiting for the ground to come in his favour is FLYING PURSUIT. This 6 year-old has run some nice races for this service in the last 12 months, winning in July and gaining a couple of each-way returns in the autumn, and it has always been when the underfoot conditions have been on the easy side. He is another regular at York, running 10 times so far, and has won twice and been placed a further 3 times. Conditions are clearly in his favour here but I’m not sure the step up to 7 furlongs is really what he wants. He has only attempted the trip twice in his career and all of his good form is over 6 furlongs. He is only 1lb above his last winning mark but he is probably one to track here with a return to the shorter trip on his favoured soft or good to soft ground, possibly back here, the time to really take some interest.
The pace-setter in this race looks likely to be LOVE DREAMS. He is a typical hardy Mark Johnston horse and this will be his 6th start in just 6 weeks. He made all at Beverley last Saturday and has, generally, been running consistently well this season. He has gone up 4lbs for that win, and this looks to be a stronger race, but should make another bold bid here. He has won on soft ground but was declared a non-runner at Chester last month on account of the deteriorating ground so he probably won’t want it too testing.
HYPERFOCUS is another in-form horse and he, also, won recently at Ripon when making all over 6 furlongs in good to soft ground. He has run well so far for his new stable, having switched from Hugo Palmer before the start of the season, and is only 1lb higher here but has limited form over 7 furlongs.
Another running consistently this season is KAESO. He has been steadily progressing for the past 2 years and, following a victory at Chester last time out, now finds himself on a career-high mark of 93, having been 27lbs lower just over 2 years ago. Prior to the Chester race he ran an excellent race to finish 3rd in The Victoria Cup at Ascot and that form puts him in with a chance here. Connections are hoping to go back to Ascot next week for The Royal Hunt Cup but he may need the 3lb penalty for winning this in order to get in. He has winning form on soft but has not raced on it much in his career so far.
LORD OBERON has been well supported in the market during the week and he is another who is lightly raced, having had just 9 career starts. In those races, however, he has won 3 times and finished 2nd on another 4 occasions. He is very consistent and goes well on soft or heavy ground. His last run was just a week ago at Haydock, over 6 furlongs, where he finished 2nd staying on well. Whilst that was a promising run, it was in very testing conditions and this is a quick turnaround for the horse.His trainer, Karl Burke, did, however, train the winner of this race in 2016.
An interesting contender here, at nice double-figure odds, is BLIZZARD who runs for Ralph Beckett. She is the only filly in the race and is another lightly-raced 4 year-old, with just 8 career starts, and she is making her seasonal reappearance here. Her last run came last November when she won a listed race at Fontainebleau in soft ground. That was over today’s trip and she had previously run well in similar conditions at Ascot in another listed race. The trainer is in excellent form currently and he has a very good record with horses running at this track so she is not easily dismissed.
In the end, however, for a third dart in the race, I think ACES could be primed to run a very good race here. This 7 year-old only joined Ian Williams at the start of last season and quickly showed he had taken to his new surroundings by winning twice last June. He was previously trained by Charlie Hills but then spent almost 3 years in France, where he gained 2 of his 5 career wins. Both of these victories came on on soft ground.
His form rather tailed after those 2 wins last summer but he showed improved form first time up this season at Chester, in soft ground, when finishing 4th. His last run was just a week ago when he found himself out-paced early on at Newmarket, on good to firm ground, and finished only 9th. The softer ground here and the extra furlong could see him to better effect and Ryan Moore, who rode him last week, did not give him a hard time in the closing stages of the race. It is interesting that Moore is once again on board here and he has won on the horse before – at Newmarket in the second of those wins last June. The cheekpieces that were tried for the first time last week are soon discarded but the tongue-tie, which was worn in both those victories last year, is retained. He runs off 2lbs lower than last week and is now back down to 3lbs below his last winning mark. He holds an entry in The Wokingham next week but the more likely target could be The Bunbury Cup next month if he manages to win here. He is a nice each-way price and is worth taking a chance on with the enhanced odds on offer.