This weekend in July is traditionally the one when the tired old industry people moan the most about three decent meetings being on the same day - Ascot, Newmarket and York. It's an argument I really don't get. They are all at least two hours' drive from each other, they can cater for a wider audience. Who says when you pay your money to go into one track, you can only bet on the racing there? It's a ridiculous argument. It's the middle of summer, schools aren't out yet so most people outside the industry are still working a full week - racing on Saturdays simply must be of higher quality than during the week so the majority of people can bet on it. There's room for a few festivals, but as great as they are, they have to be the exception. The general public simply doesn't have the available time to bet on racing on weekdays 52 weeks of the year.
If racetracks actually worked together and promoted cross-venue betting, rather than leaving it to the betting shop in or behind the stands, life would be far better for punters. That means having bookmakers offer other venues, providing sound and vision so punters can follow it. I couldn't care less about seeing seven replays of the race just finished, or ads for the sponsor, or even worse, fashion segments or presentations. The industry survives on punter spending - how about putting heads together to actually encourage it instead of being so protective of it? What is wrong with having 10 minutes between decent races? This happens every single Saturday in Australia, without any issue.
Now, it's on with the show. The John Smith's Cup is the highlight of the programme at York, and making his debut to preview the race is the shrewd but taciturn @RightJudgeIAm.
The John Smith's Cup
Heritage Handicap, Class 2, £150k
1m2f88y (why such a stupid irregular distance?)
Saturday 11th July 2015
1525 local 0025 AEST
This is one of the most valuable and prestigious handicaps run in the Northern racing circuit, worth £93k to the winner and run over 10 furlongs. It is a highly competitive race usually won by a rising, lightly-raced type with excellent recent form in top class handicap company. Here I'll be looking at the runners and determining whether they fit the well-established profile well enough to be considered for a bet or, preferably, whether I can rule them out with confidence.
I love to look at long term trends that have stood the test of time because they give the most confidence and fortunately we have one here. It is over 40 years since a horse older than 5 years old won this race and that is good enough for me. With a stat like that against them I won't be entertaining the older horses here and there are seven of them which is a great start. There is always the chance that one pops up but I really can't bet like that, so I am ruling them all out.
Ideally, you want a horse that has won in at least a Class 3 race and at 10 furlongs although I would not rule out a horse that had won at nine furlongs and was having his first try at ten. Master Carpenter, Homage, Odeon, Voice Of A Leader, Nancy From Nairobi and Extremity all fail to fit this key, long-term characteristic so they won't be appearing on my short list.
The useful thing is that by narrowing in like this I've already reduced my list of possible bets down to just nine runners. Hopefully, I'll be able to eliminate a few more as I go along. The next characteristic the winner is very likely to share with previous winners is being 'lightly raced' which is a typically ambiguous racing term. What does that mean in practical terms? For me, once a horse has run in 12 or more handicaps then I'd say you were no longer lightly raced. I might let a horse off if he had 15 runs in a handicap but shown significantly improved form in the last two or three starts. Fire Fighting is one such horse, he's had over 20 starts in handicaps and has climbed so high that he finds himself off a BHA mark of 110 and carrying top weight. He is running really well in good races and could conceivably win this one and hats off to him if he does because he faces an almighty task. Sennockian Star and Master Of Finance both have a good few too many runs and are passed over for this race on that account.
This then leaves me with a still quite long short list of the following runners:
Clearly this needs to be shortened even further so let's look at each runner in a bit of detail.
Battalion: William Haggas trained runner which is a positive as the trainer has a good record including a 1st-2nd in this race two years ago; last run was 119 days ago when sixth in an AW Group 3 race. Now, winners of the John Smiths usually come in on the back on strong, recent high-class handicap form so it will be a surprise to me if even the brilliant trainer can get this one to win.
Collaboration, First Flight and Mount Logan finished ninth, seventh and fourth in the Wolferton Stakes at Royal Ascot, a Class 1 Listed handicap of very high status and also run at 10 furlongs. It was a bit of a slowly-run race but I would be surprised if the form were reversed so I would not want to bet Collaboration or First Flight.
Arab Dawn and Ajman Bridge were first and second in the Duke of Edinburgh Stakes also at Royal Ascot with Arab Dawn prevailing by half a length. This time round Arab Dawn must carry a 5lb penalty and you would mostly expect the form to be reversed. Arab Dawn is a very smart horse though and 10 furlongs may well turn out to be his optimum trip and I note he is the current favourite in the betting so is clearly fancied to defy the penalty.
Final Short List
Top of my list is MOUNT LOGAN, at 4 years old he is the perfect age and he brings top class handicap form with him. In my opinion he should have won that race at Royal Ascot and, therefore, be carrying a penalty but due to terrible luck in-running he arrives here off the same BHA mark. Not only that but master trainer Luca Cumani has booked crack apprentice Kevin Stott who takes another 3lb off. Not significant you say? Not true, six of the last ten renewals were won by horse ridden by claiming jockeys from just 18 runners (priced below 16/1), way above the strike rate you would expect. For me, he should be carrying 10 to 12lb more than he is and has clearly an outstanding chance of gaining compensation.
Second on my list is a stablemate of Mount Logan, AJMAN BRIDGE, who I believe took a major step forward at Royal Ascot and arrives in the form of his life. Experienced in these types of races he is well suited to the demands and looks certain to run a huge race again. Stable jockey Adam Kirby knows him well and I will not let him run unbacked.
Finally, I have to keep ARAB DAWN on my side. He ran third on seasonal début at Newmarket in a race that has worked out exceptionally well and based on that was a selection next time when he won. I don't like the penalty he carries (one winner carried a penalty to victory in last 10 renewals from 20 to try) so all I'll do is bet him to return my other stakes if he wins or in other words, 'he's my saver'.
I hope you've enjoyed this run down on the key characteristics likely to be shown by the winner of this prestigious and very competitive race and that it stimulates you to think carefully about your own selections before you bet them. Does your selection really stay 10 furlongs? Has he managed to win a decent race in at least Class 3? What's his recent form like? Once you have all these elements you should be able to bet with confidence.
Good luck whatever you bet & fingers crossed whatever wins ticks most of my boxes so I can remain confident when next year's renewal comes round. Thanks for reading.