Wednesday 3.15pm: Sussex Stakes – Vatican City
All the talk for the main event of the week has been about Siskin and Kameko and there is no doubt that the two Guineas’ winners are smart milers, but everyone seems to have forgotten about Vatican City.
It always makes me laugh when pundits and punters alike both conclude that because a horse finishes well over a shorter trip that the logical answer is a step up in distance.
The context of the Irish 2,000 Guineas is so important. Vatican City was given a moderate ride that day, stuck on the rails with nowhere to go when the race began in earnest. It was hardly a devilishly fast run race, but when Siskin quickened clear down the outside the race was done and dusted.
Beggy finally got VC out with 170 yards to go and he made giant inroads all the way to the line, but that effort was misleading, and created the impression to many that he needed further, a deal further than a mile.
On breeding a mile and a half was always a shot in the dark, and O’Brien missed the bullseye on this and consequently he was never competitive at Epsom. I suspect in time the International would have been a better race for the son of Galileo and 10 furlongs could turn out to be his optimum trip (Irish and Ascot Champion Stakes may well be on the agenda), but granted a fast run race and a better ride here I think his odds are way too big and he merits an each-way play despite only two places up for grabs.
Finally on a point of value I think Wichita could also be underestimated in the betting. He probably possesses the most physical scope in the field and needs to be wound up from some way out so expect him to lead the field around the final turn and try and burn the finish out of his rivals; I just hope his chance is not sacrificed as an out and out pacemaker.
Wednesday 4.20pm: Theo Fennell Handicap – Zhui Feng
It may not be one of the feature handicaps of the five-day meeting, but this seven-furlong event remains as competitive a race at the trip at class three-level that you will find all season.
Again a good draw is nearly always imperative, (box three is perfect) but with a drying day on Tuesday and Wednesday a given I think that the former Royal Ascot winner Zhui Feng could be worth a second look.
That big race victory in the Hunt Cup saw him raised to a mark of 106 after which he won a Listed race at Windsor, but 16 races later the son of Invincible Spirit is still waiting for win number six of his career from 40 outings. A fair fourth to Bell Rock on his seasonal debut was followed by a down the field run in the Hunt Cup where he led until the quarter mile pole before folding badly into 21st place.
As you expect though his handicap mark has finally fallen to an acceptable level of 90 and if he manages to secure the fence position early on then I wouldn’t rule out a return to form with several good runs to his name at the course off much higher marks.
Thursday 3.45pm: Gusbourne Nursery Handicap – Bonnyrigg
This juvenile event is the one race about which I cannot draw up a starting forecast with any confidence, but it merits a mention in this week’s column because I am very keen on the Andrew Balding-trained Bonnyrigg, whatever the price.
This son of Zoffany really impressed me when staying on strongly to win on only his second career start at Newmarket over six furlongs, just getting the better of Majd Al Arab right on the line. That race was run at a good even tempo, but it goes without saying that the selection is crying out for a step up in trip.
It is true that the third and fourth home that day haven’t exactly cemented the form since, but the fifth and last horse, Commonsensical, ran really well in a novice at Haydock Park over seven furlongs next time out.
As stated in a number of my previews here I will be hoping that Andrew Balding’s charge is granted a fair crack of the whip with a good draw, but I do feel that his opening mark of 77 could underestimate his talent.
Friday 2.45pm: Golden Mile Handicap – Baltic Baron
This is always one of the most competitive mile handicaps of the season which requires not only a well-treated charge, but plenty of luck in running and a good draw to boot. Last year the winner, Beat Le Bon had a dream run through from mid-division and ended up an impressive winner.
However, the likes of Escobar, Seniority, Baltic Baron and Game Player were all stopped at least once from the quarter-mile pole. The selection was an eye-catcher in the Royal Hunt Cup and on the back of that run was stepped up to 10 furlongs in the John Smiths at York. However, he could never get a shot at the leaders there and despite bred to get that kind of trip, eight furlongs in a fast run race remains his optimum set-up.
He looks an interesting each-way play here along with Willie John who I am willing to give one more chance to. Roger Varian has always held this gelding in high esteem, but he has been very difficult to keep right with only the eight runs in three years. He was reportedly showing all of his old zest before also running in the Hunt Cup. However, that outing was a likely throw away run from the start, being drawn on the wrong side (stall four) on ground simply not quick enough. With a fair weather forecast from Tuesday the ground is almost certain to be on the fast side by Friday.
Granted a nice box I know that Varian thinks he is better than his current mark of 100 and he looks well worth a backup bet at a decent price. Of course, he needs luck in running in this always rough race, but is still unexposed unlike the majority of his rivals.
*All prices quoted are ante–post and prices & intended running plans can change at final declarations. If your selection isn’t declared for the race you lose your stake when placing an ante–post bet.
Goodwood Festival tips summary
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