I took a couple of weeks off from looking at the racing in any great detail as I do struggle to stay as focused on the flat, with it not being my real love, and particularly after the comedown in quality after the Royal Ascot and Newmarket July meetings.
I just find it hard to get excited by average flat racing and, when that’s the case, it’s probably best to leave well alone. We did have some decent summer jumping last Saturday, but if anything that just had me hankering for the proper stuff in a few months’ time.
Anyway, we have a return to top quality Group One action tomorrow and a chance to renew focus on some decent racing.
Ascot 3:35 King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes 1m4f (Group 1)
Enable has been superb on her last few starts, picking up an Oaks double in great style. The first was a slight surprise as she beat the hot favourite Rhododendron and, despite looking like a formality, you have to admire the way she won the Irish Oaks. She looks the best of the three year old middle distance generation and you’d have to imagine she’ll be tough to beat with all of the allowances she receives. At 5/4 she is still backable but there is danger that she is getting too short and could therefore be opposable for betting purposes. She has been brilliant in her three wins this season but a question could be raised over ground if it rains as forecast tomorrow, whilst she hasn’t faced anything like the quality or strength she will at Ascot.
Highland Reel perhaps hasn’t always been thought of as top-class and has been one of the less glamorous of the Aiden O’Brien string, but that appears to be changing after picking up two more Group One victories in high profile races this year. He does have to concede a stone to the favourite and there are the natural concerns over the going for this quick ground lover, but he is top class, super reliable and will be a completely different challenge to that faced by Enable before.
As a full brother to Highland Reel, you’d have to imagine that there is more to come from Idaho and that he could mature late in the style of his brother. He’s been a bit disappointing at times but the way in which he won the Hardwicke suggests he might have turned a corner and he could still develop into a Group One performer. I think this might just be a level too far for him at this point though, with some top class opposition who are still a step ahead of him at this moment.
The way Ulysses travelled into the Eclipse a few weeks ago showed the quality he has. Plenty of the post-race talk of that race was about the runner-up, Barney Roy, which is very unfair on Ulysses as he looked a more than worthy winner to me. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is more to come from him as he has the profile of a late developer, but I couldn’t have him here as ten furlongs looks his trip and it didn’t look like an extra two furlongs was what he needed last time.
He isn’t a horse I have a great deal of love for but if the rain was to come, there was a bit of give in the ground and some of the leading protagonists pulled-out, Jack Hobbs would have to come into the equation. With the exception of a very different Highland Reel in behind, the form of his Irish Derby win looks incredibly poor and his other Group One performances do not look to be that strong – just look at the horses who finished in behind him. He has however run well at the course before and will appreciate some cut, but at 5/1 he looks like one of the worst bets of the season to me.
The Godolphin second string, Benbatl, looks a better bet with 20/1 still available. His form doesn’t look that strong but he does look progressive after following up a perhaps unlucky fifth in the Derby with a good win at Royal Ascot. He brings some form from softer ground with his second in The Dante and he doesn’t look a million miles behind the others, so must have a chance of hitting the frame especially when you take the weight allowance into consideration.
The remainder of the field do not look to have any real chance, unless something really out of the ordinary happened. It’s always nice to see horses come from more exotic climes but you couldn’t really give Sixties Song a chance, Maverick Wave will be a pacemaker, Desert Encounter did well to place in the Eclipse but should struggle to do so again here and My Dream Boat‘s win at Royal Ascot last year is looking like a bit of a freak result.
VERDICT: With the probability that Enable will shorten further it does bring each way betting in to play for others. There are still question marks remaining over potential ground, the fact that this opposition is of a higher quality and that she might face tactics set-up with the sole aim of beating her. Don’t get me wrong, she will be tough to beat and at anything around 5/4 is a great bet, but in the current market there are others who look a tempting each-way bet to nothing.
At the current prices HIGHLAND REEL looks far too big for me. There seems to have been a massive overreaction over the predicted conditions with the prospect of rain causing some to think it will be run in a bog and he has no chance; there might be some cut, but it shouldn’t be too slow. He is a completely different proposition to what Enable has faced before and looks overpriced, which even leaves him backable each-way as it’s hard to see him out of the first three if he runs.
At bigger prices, Benbatl could be a good each-way pick with 20/1 looking tempting.
Other Races on Saturday:
Ascot 3:00 – International Handicap 1m (Class 2)
Fastnet Tempest is current favourite and with plenty of prior experience in competitive handicaps at Ascot has the profile for this, whilst the drop back to seven furlongs will be much more suitable than the Royal Hunt Cup, in which he was a good ninth.
There are plenty of others who will have chances here, however, I am going to side with FLAMING SPEAR. There has been a lot of hype around this horse, which may go unfulfilled, but he comes here fresh and with a fairly decent record first time out and it’s hard to get away from how impressive he was at Newcastle in January. That performance gave the impression of a horse who has plenty more to come and could be some way ahead of the handicapper, so at 10/1 is worth taking a chance on.
Ascot 3:35 – HIGHLAND REEL @ 5/1 (Paddy Power)
BENBATL @ 20/1 (Bet365)
Ascot 3:00 – FLAMING SPEAR @ 11/1 (William Hill)