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Most of this six-runner field have been racing against each other all season and while Daraam has done nothing wrong in four outings this year – including a cracking fourth in the John Smiths at York – I am not sure he will be able to give the weight away to SKY DEFENDER.
Like most of his middle-distance handicappers Mark Johnston’s charge is a hardy sort and takes his racing well, but has just been too high in the ratings to record a sixth career success. He was a long away behind the top weight at York, but was more inconvenienced by the way the race was run from the rear of the pack – a pattern at the Knavesmire in so many big field handicaps this season.
He has a massive 13lbs pull with the Owen Burrows’ charge here and the handicapper has given him an outstanding chance of returning to winning form off a mark of 94. I actually make Finest Sound a bigger danger. Unexposed over 10 furlongs (his second start at the trip), he showed that the distance holds no fears for him with a cracking third of eight behind Good Birthday at Doncaster and there should be more to come from him.
There is a lack of pace in this small field, Class 4 handicap and it could be that Paul Mulrennan will have his own way up front aboard top weight Arctic Emperor. The three-year-old remains a work in progress and is steadily beginning to learn to relax in the early part of his races having been quite free through his first four outings.
He is a naturally exuberant young horse and Paul is unlikely to fight him through the first quarter mile, so may well let him go on at an even gallop. He is hugely respected being the most unexposed charge in the line-up, but if he does go on here that could prove the perfect scenario for the lightly-raced CASILLI at the bottom of the weights.
The talented Joanna Mason seems to get on really well this four-year-old filly, who has a very fair record here of 11431. This is by far her most difficult task to date at the pear shaped track, being raised into a fair Class 4 event, but if she does get the pace in the race to run at then she could defy her recent 3lbs rise to a mark of 73.
Several of these seasoned handicappers figure off very attractive marks on their very best form and are dropping back down to Class 5 level after disappointing campaigns so far in 2021.
Top of that particular category has to be top weight King’s Pavilion, winner of a Class 3 event off 87 in 2019, but unraced for nearly a year. Still, he has gone well fresh in the past and even if slightly easier conditions would be preferable, he is a danger to all off his current mark of 75 if ready to go and retaining the majority of his old ability.
The very lightly-raced Dark Spec and frustrating light weight Motarajel are also rightly feared, but this could finally be the turn of IRV to strike gold for the first time since July 2019. Since then, Irv has been placed off 82, but more recently has plummeted down the weights and now finds himself off a career low rating of just 67.
Although he has run well at York before, the stiff Pontefract track has always been his favourite preserve, so Beverley should set up well for him and there were signs at Haydock Park two outings back that his turn was just around the corner.
There’s a really disappointing turnout for this valuable Group Three event, although it has to be said there were so many other alternative races this weekend for horses originally entered in this race that the BHB need to rearrange the race make-up for this time of the year.
Tactics will obviously play a huge part in such a small field, but Richard Fahey’s charge TORO STRIKE is versatile in that respect and as long as he doesn’t repeat his free running antics from the Lennox Stakes at the main summer meeting, then the son of Toronado has very solid claims here.
It is also worth noting that he has only been able to race on a fast surface over this intermediate trip just the once in his career and that resulted in an emphatic 2-and-a-quarter length success over Motakhayyel in a conditions race at Thirsk. He simply bounced off the firm surface that day showing a tidy turn of foot to boot.
Tactical takes a drop in class after never landing a blow in the Hungerford Stakes at Newbury behind Sacred and this is much more his level, but he is priced up accordingly. Meanwhile, course and distance winner Rhoscolyn looked desperately unlucky not to reel in Maydanny in the big Golden Mile Handicap at the Glorious festival after meeting trouble in running from the top of the home stretch. He would ideally want a bit of juice in the ground, but his course record alone entitles him to maximum respect in a below par renewal.
The pivotal filly in this concluding contest has to be the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Maytal. In six career starts she has looked far from straight forward, if talented, and the visor is finally applied.
She certainly did nothing wrong at Salisbury last time out, but seemed to be dossing through the final quarter mile, almost waiting for a bit of company and by the time Nell Quickly laid down her challenge, she couldn’t respond. This beautifully bred daughter of Sea The Stars has also looked as though she would be suited by a sterner test of stamina and I would expect Ryan Moore to have her at the sharp end throughout this mile-and-a-half affair.
With confirmed front runner Quenelle D’Or and Bubble or Burst (suited by racing prominently when winning well at Pontefract last time out) in the field as well she may not have her own way up front, but that would certainly suit the selection down to the ground.
Henry Candy’s charge BY STARLIGHT only landed successive handicaps off 72 and 74 earlier this season, but has since stepped up her game by running Sayyida and then Southern Voyage close at Newmarket and Ascot respectively. Best suited by coming from off a good pace at this trip, the make-up of the race may well be perfect for her and I expect in the in-form David Probert to hold her up for as long as possible before delivering a winning challenge inside the distance.
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