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Hambleton Stakes preview

Another new writer for the York Dante Festival, it's welcome aboard to Stephen Keene, @untilnextyear. A black-type handicap race in the UK is quite a rare commodity whereas in Australia, we have plenty of them. None of this save all the chocolates for the bluebloods in five-horse fields malarkey! And like a proper handicap, it ain't gonna be easy to flush out a winner. Over to you Steve....

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Hambleton Stakes

A quick word of warning before I begin – I do tend to have a little more luck with lower grade fare than this sort of race. It is often easier to strike out several horses, while identifying a few well-handicapped sorts at half-decent odds.

However, if that hasn’t put you off this article before it has even began, there is a lot to be said for proper quality racing. There is a good chance the majority of the runners are being run to win, rather than being run for some future goal. There are fewer perplexing plots. And quality races with a bit of history often have some interesting trends to look at.

Yet here is another word of warning. It is very easy to back-fit trends according to your own prejudices and preferences. Trends can be a great way of narrowing down a field but I’ve learnt to my cost in the past that they are not the be-all and end-all. Still, I’d be daft not to look at some of the trends here. If nothing else they show the type of horse likely to win the race, and the profile of the horse owners will set up to win the race – a subtle distinction, but hopefully a useful one.

As seems to be the case with a few of the handicaps at York this week, 4 year-olds have a great record in this race. By my count 10 of the last 16 runnings have been won by a 4 year-old. In the last 10 years around 25 per cent of the 4 year-olds entered in the race have either won or placed. This is a pretty positive stat consider 4 year-olds have only made up around 13 per cent of the runners over that period. While I can’t guarantee a 4 year-old will win, they certainly need to be watched closely.

I’m not usually one to focus too much on the draw, but it is notable that the last eight winners have come from a single-figure stall – 3, 4 and 8 have multiple successes. I took a look at the stats for all races over a mile at York and this trend seems to hold up – low draws have done pretty well over the last 10 years, although the bias might have become a little less pronounced in recent times. It is also worth keeping an eye on the weather. Horses drawn high in races over a mile at York seem to have a really bad record in soft ground.

The market doesn’t ever seem too far off in this race. In the past 10 years every winner has come from the top five in the market. While I’m always a little wary of market-based stats, I think I’d be foolish to ignore this one. You have to go back to 2001 for a winner at double-figure odds, so we might not be making our fortune in this race.

So, that is probably enough groundwork for us – now to take a look at some potential eye-catchers in the field.

Fort Bastion, Beacon Lodge, Marcret, Prince of Johanne, Moran Gra, Dance and Dance, St Moritz and Balducci are all on marks either the same as or lower than their previous last winning mark. It is hardly a short-list, and if you add to it those ripe for improvement (hello four year-olds…) then you can see this is a pretty tough puzzle to crack from purely a handicapping perspective. However, Fort Bastion is the only four-year old on an obviously good mark so has to go on the shortlist.

It is hardly a novel angle, but strong course form isn’t going to hurt. Navajo Chief, St Moritz (a previous winner of this race), Justonefortheroad and Anderiego have all won at York before. Although age is not on his side, this bodes well for St Moritz considering his half-decent handicap mark too.

Both Ryan Moore and William Buick have excellent records at York. As much as I wouldn’t follow any jockey blindly, I think their bookings on Fort Bastion and Sound Hearts respectively are worth bearing in mind.

So, enough waffling for now – who is going to win?

I think Fort Bastion is the standout in the race – meets a lot of trends, an excellent jockey booking and a good draw. He also has an entry in the Queen Anne at Royal Ascot – this might mean we’re on to a good thing, or it might mean he is not yet primed up to win. A first run after a long break, for a new trainer, might be a question-mark too. Yet 7-1 looks to be a fair price for a horse that could be considerably better than anything else entered in this race.

Sound Hearts might be worth a slightly smaller bet at 8-1 – another horse who meets some key trends, has a good jockey on board and is drawn well. If you’re looking for a bit of each-way value I wouldn’t put you off St Moritz at 16-1 as there is every chance of him running a big race. I’ll probably throw a few pennies at the three above in combination forecasts and tricasts too, although more out of hope than expectation. Obviously the ground is a worry so I won’t be going in too heavily on any of my selections, but I’m hopeful we’ll see something pretty good from Fort Bastion.

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