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York - Betvictor.com Hcp preview

The Ebor Festival gets underway at York later this week, four days of fantastic action and for a change, it's unlikely we will be too worried about the weather!

Our regular Yorkshire-bred contributor, Jack Milner, @JJMSports, is first up to the plate, with a look at Wednesday's tricky staying handicap.

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Betvictor.com Handicap

The two mile (and 88yds) handicap is one of, if not the most open and exciting handicap of the meeting, barring the Ebor itself. Never mind some of the sprints, this takes tactical aplomb, and will be a game of craft and guile. Full of illustrious pedigrees, handicap plots, and National Hunt animals, it is the proverbial minefield. The only real and thorough way to assess the field, is to go through it runner by runner. Officially titled the BetVictor.com Handicap, hopefully it brings me a bit of an omen, and gives me something of a home field advantage.

Dazinksi won the race last year for Mark Tompkins, who excels with these ong distance handicaps, and Dazinski is just 1lb higher than his winning mark from last year. Paul Hanagan is once again booked, and he has steadily improved his form as the season has gone on, but the quality of that form has him wanting in a classier field than last year. Tompkins also has Mystery Star, but it is hard to fancy him, he has not won over the course, nor the distance, and without a win to his name for nearly two years.

Deavuville Flyer was behind Dazinski that day, and can’t see him reversing the form, after a lacklustre season. He was laboured when running in a race that featured Eagle Rock, Itlaaq, Herostatus, Reem Star and French Hollow last time out, and the form of that race on paper, looks poor, with all five subsequent runners being unplaced. I can’t see the winner coming from any of those runners.

It is hard to fancy horses from stables that are out of form, and as such I can’t fancy any John Dunlop horse over the festival, operating this season at an 8% strike rate, and not a single place from four runners at York this season, Downhiller can be eliminated. Although, I think I said the same about taking Brian Meehan runners on at Royal Ascot, and although a poor one, he still got Most Improved to somehow win the St James’s Palace Stakes.

Very Good Day is a course and distance winner, but seems well held by the handicapper. Raised 7lb for a course and distance win last month seemed to have halted his progression when last of fourteen runners in a mile and six furlongs handicap at Goodwood, and based on that run, and his mark, there are others better off. Similarly poorly handicapped is High Office, who although finished a career-best fourth in the Northumberland Plate, has patchy form over inconsistent distances and conditions, and looks open to unexposed rivals. One of which is Olympiad who is a rare runner for Dermot Weld, and has impressive form as a two year old ahead of subsequent group winners Quest for Peace and Saddlers Rock. He was all out to win a mile and a half Gowran Park maiden, winning by a nose; however that was his first run for nearly a year. He flopped next time out on heavy going at Galway. He does however remain unexposed, and could get better on decent ground.

Western Prize has solid form behind Montaser, Mount Athos and others, and stayed on well in his first foray over two miles last time out to suggest more improvement is to come. However a 4lb rise and the stable form dropping off is a worry, operating at a strike rate of 17% in May to July has slumped to 10% so far in August. Never Can Tell ran an eye-catching race last time out behind Hurricane Higgins at Goodwood, and that could have put the Cesarewitch winner spot on for this, although rated 100, he has the burden of top weight on 9'7.

The three horses left are all from the National Hunt sphere, and it is usually the stereotype that those horses come here fitter and tougher than their flat counterparts, we shall see. Nicky Henderson’s Cape Express was behind Never Can Tell at Goodwood, but didn’t seem to handle the pace of the race, and struggled to get home over the extended trip. That being said, the seven year old has won his last three novice hurdles, over the simmer, admittedly at short prices. Ashbrittle returns from finishing eighth in The Ascot Stakes that should have sharpened him up after a 94 day absence, and was slightly hampered turning for home, so improvement could be on the cards. However his best form has come on soft and the form of that race at Ascot has had only three runners placed from twenty four subsequent runs. Countrywide Flame is a very interesting runner for John Quinn, and the Triumph Hurdle winner has a lenient weight of 84. Never unplaced last season, his form over hurdles read 1212312, the last four runs in Grade 1 level.

A real mixed bag, and with a field this strong, there will be a lot of pace in the race, which will mean there will be an emphasis on stamina and jockeyship. Never Can Tell immediately makes the shortlist given his ability to handle big fields with strong pace in, and Frankie Dettori, while not the force of old, excels at big meetings and big occasions. Olympiad could have lots of improvement to come, and will surely come on for better ground, given his pedigree, and how unexposed the colt is with only four starts to his name. Countrywide Flame is the real dark horse, with his old sparring partner Grumeti doing well when switching codes earlier in the summer. What is encouraging is how the yard are hitting form at the right time, and with stamina proven, will be there or thereabouts at the finish, providing he is fit and fresh.

Never Can Tell
Olympiad
Countrywide Flame

The Yorkshireman – Jack Milner, @JJMSports

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