Speculative bids for Victoria Cup glory

Yesterday was a difficult day with lots of non-runners and poor conditions. Today is likely to be similar with slow ground conditions, which probably won’t make for great viewing.

The selections yesterday at Chester saw place money return mostly. Rita’s Boy (11/2) finished 2nd, Showboating (9/1) ran on from the back for 3rd. There was a winner in the final race of the meeting. Storm Force Ten (9/2) made all under Edward Greatrex to win in awful conditions. Hopefully you got on at that price as he ended up going off the 100/30 favourite.

Today I’m going to have a look at some of the feature races across the cards.

2:35 Ascot

Agent Murphy (5/1) looked an improving sort from his four starts as a three-year-old. He stepped up in trip on each start. In his final start of last season he was 3rd over course and distance on good to firm ground. If the rain has come it won’t inconvenience him, as he has recorded wins on slower ground. In his race here the front two got the run on him but he stayed on strongly to take 3rd ahead of Astronereus, who went on to win at Newmarket last week. He was too keen early on in the race but if he settles he looks the one to beat. Agent Murphy is making his seasonal reappearance and Brian Meehan has had his horses tuned up at the start of the season, so he looks the value. Winter Thunder also makes his seasonal reappearance. In his last race in October he won over this trip at Newmarket beating Fire Fighting, who has been 2nd behind Chester Cup winner Trip To Paris and 3rd behind Collaboration in recent races. Felix Mendelssohn is the interesting runner having his first race for David Simcock after moving from Aidan O’Brien. One to watch if there is market support.

Advice: Agent Murphy (5/1) each-way

2:55 Lingfield – Derby Trial

Christophermarlowe (8/15) should maintain his unbeaten run stepping up to 1m4f. His dam was a Grade 3 winner at this trip and he has showed signs of progression from two to three. His stablemate Kilimanjaro has a mountain to climb in the handicap to get close. Bartholomew Fair looks like the one to follow him home. You can discount the 7th place last time out at Newmarket as he was found to have had a foot problem. An expensive yearling, who does have big-race entries in the future so will have to perform well to keep them. Luca Cumani has had his horses fit at the start of this season and will be looking give the Aidan O’Brien pair something to worry about.

Advice: Reverse forecast of Christophermarlowe & Bartholomew Fair

3:25 Haydock – Swinton Hurdle

This is another race where you can throw a dart to try and find the winner. Last year’s front two are both entered in this race again. Ballyglasheen (20/1) was the winner in 2014 off the same mark as he runs off today. He has disappointed since then but Paul Moloney returns in the saddle and the visor is put back on, which he also wore when winning. He looks a good each-way price back off a fair mark and on the soft ground he won on last year too.

Barizan was 2nd last year and is off a falling mark, now just 1lb higher than last year. He has been racing on the flat without much success. Vodka Wells is an interesting runner. He won a week ago at Hexham and has gone up 7lbs, which Garry Lavery offsets with his claim. He is likely to be ridden prominently and may find some improvement to go close. Handiwork finished well in the Scottish Champion Hurdle when 4th behind Cheltenian. The Gollings five-year-old is showing signs of improvement after that Grade 2 run can go close and continue his upward curve.

War Sound has a good relationship with Ciaran Gethings have won two from three races when partnered together but may need to find more on these terms. Arzal has disappointed in these sort of races previously when pulled up in the Imperial Cup and 6th in the Betfair Hurdle. Cheltenian is an inconsistent performer but did enough to win the Scottish Champion Hurdle. He was 2nd in the Betfair Hurdle when staying on after Violet Dancer made all. Could be back in the grip of the handicapper. A big field and a strong pace should better suit Song Light, as it might help him settle. He took a keen hold at Plumpton when 5th last time out and if settling quickly could be the hold-up horse to watch stepping up in grade.

Advice: Ballyglasheen (20/1) each-way

3:45 Ascot – Victoria Cup

The first big field handicap of the season, so you had better get those darts ready to see where they land. The draw could be crucial but it is a guessing game to whether a high or low draw will be more beneficial. Here are three with each-way chances.

One of the unexposed types is Speculative Bid (14/1), who is searching for a hat-trick after two wins over this distance at Kempton. He has form over a mile on heavy ground last May in a maiden, so he has the stamina to do his best work and he’d appreciate a strong pace, so he can use his extra stamina. His two victories so far this season have seen him go up 12lb but he could still improve further for going back onto turf suggesting there could be more to come. He beat Outback Traveller last time out, who re-opposes him here. But the Noseda horse has gone up in the handicap for 2nd place effort and that’s why I’m siding with the in-form Elsworth horse.

I put Baraweez (20/1) up when he ran in the Lincoln, he made headway but only managed 8th. That trip was a mile and his best form comes back at this 7f trip. It is no surprise there is early morning money for this Brian Ellison horse, as he is a trainer in form. If the ground cuts up it won’t be a problem as he won a handicap at Galway on soft ground. He is a better price than the first shout and showed potential last year at this trip, if he replicates that then he should get into the frame. There of course will need to be some luck in-running as he is a hold-up horse and will be doing his best work late.

Baraweez and Colm O'Donoghue after winning at the Galway Festival. From Irishexaminer.com

Baraweez and Colm O’Donoghue after winning at the Galway Festival. From Irishexaminer.com

Lulu The Zulu (40/1) makes his seasonal reappearance here and won a Class 3 Conditions Stakes at Doncaster on soft ground in October. On his next outing in a Class 2 Handicap at Doncaster too, he finished 2nd off the same mark as he is on today. If he can replicate that run he looks a little overpriced. He has been 2nd in a number of fair sized handicaps and made a positive impression when stepping up in class last time. With Ryan Tate being able to take 3lb off like his last two starts his mark could look lenient as this seven-year-old looks a model of consistency.

Dream Spirit looks dangerous on his first start of the season if replicating his best form. Heaven’s Guest was a winner last time out over this trip off the same mark and has potential. Zarwaan is another unexposed sort and stepping back down to 7f could make him an interesting contender after his 6th in the Lincoln 42 days ago.

As I said it is a wide-open race with lots that you could argue have the potential to go well here. Those mentioned above are just a few.

Good Luck!

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