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The Ebor preview

The eponymous feature of the festival is the time-honoured Ebor Handicap, and as always, it's a tough one to decipher. Here's my attempt...

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Betfred Ebor Handicap
Heritage Handicap, almost 1m6f, £285,000
1535 local, 0035 AEST


Soldier In Action - classy 4yo who is on the verge of stepping up to Group class at a rating of 109. Ran on well to win a Class 2 handicap at Glorious Goodwood, nailing it right on the line. One quirk of his form is that his last few wins on the flat have been on the undulations of Epsom & Goodwood. Does he need that to maintain concentration or is he just so well-balanced he can win anywhere? Tough task at the top of the weights but he's earned his mark and is used to the impost. Trainer Mark Johnston has overcome his York hoodoo with two winners this week and going well with 19% winners in the past fortnight. The Ebor has improved in grade so much in recent years, it's only 9lb from the top to bottom so I'm not overly concerned about his mark. Trends followers will be up in arms as almost every winner of the past 35 years carried less than the bottom weight here. Winning form is more relevant, and it's only 4lb higher than at the end of his 3yo season. Big price.

Lord Yeats - sharp improver this term, rising 20lb in the ratings in three runs. Disappointed at Goodwood after leading in a small field. Won here back in May, but off this mark in the richest handicap in Europe, I think this might prove a step too far this time around.

Winning Story - Godolphin 4yo who won the All-Weather Championship marathon at Lingfield on Good Friday. Well supported in the Queen Alexandra at Royal Ascot and sat right on the pace but was gone at the 2f. Had a break since and back to 1m6f here. Lightly raced on turf, yet to prove he's as good on it as the more durable surface. Can't have him.

Scarlet Dragon - won on this day last year (the 4.40) and was knocked around as horses made their runs in the John Smith's Cup two starts back. This distance is new territory for him but shouldn't be a problem having won both his starts at 1m4f. Has a nice turn of pace when given his rein and Hollie Doyle has never missed a place on him in three starts (twice in similar size fields). Drawn nicely in middle of the field and is right in contention for this.

Elidor - third attempt at this race, ran second last as topweight last year but was third to Mutual Regard in 2014. Third in the G2 Curragh Cup last start, staying on well in a race set up for backmakers. Ronan Whelan retains the ride after that run but I can't make much of a case for him. His official rating has barely moved for his past 11 races, that's not the profile of a big handicap winner.

Clever Cookie - grand old campaigner who has won a few races here over the years, but on the decline now and I just don't see the race being set up for his grinding style.

Battersea - fourth last year off 2lb higher when he drew wide and came from the back of the field, posting a career-best RPR. This year he gets the advantage of handy 5lb claimer David Egan and two of the last three Ebors have been won by 5lb claimers. Not won in his past six but never far away and his RPRs have been consistent. Must be in contention.

Ivan Grozny - dual purpose galloper in the hands of Willie Mullins who won this back in 2009 with Sesenta. Was favourite for this race last year before injuring himself on the way to the track. Last time out he was brought down at the first in the Galway Hurdle. The stable have always rated him highly but with such a plethora of high-class jumpers, he has been hard to place without taking on one of Mullins' stable of superstars. He's not here for owners' tickets, the trainer is a genius and Jim Crowley rode a double yesterday. In contention but the vibes aren't quite as strong as last year.

Top Tug - twelfth in the race last year and up 6lb since, as a result of being in the money at all bar one of eight starts in 12 months. Possesses a nice turn of foot if held up for the right run. Drawn two which is probably a slight negative but has a solid chance.

Natural Scenery - consistent mare who loves a staying trip. Sixth in the AWC Marathon at Easter, the only time she has been beaten further than 3.5l since her debut as a 2yo. Ran a close second in the Northumberland Plate last month, ahead of a few of today's rivals. Eddie Greatrex taking off three pounds won't go astray, she'll it up on the pace and grind away. The question is whether she is good enough to take the bigger prize.

Star Storm - winner of three starts from 15, but all of those were back in Sept/Oct 2015. Third in the Duke of Edinburgh at Royal Ascot, just ahead of Top Tug, and second at the same track a month earlier. Enjoys being tucked away for a late run, will find that difficult for gate 20 here. Positive jockey change to James Doyle but will get stuck on a limb here or much further back than he can acclerate from. Not out of it but from that gate without a win for almost two years, I think he's unders.

Arch Villain - not run for a year. Joseph Tuite did it a couple of years ago with Litigant but I can't have a horse first-up for almost two years taking the chocolates. Outsider of the field.

Nakeeta - likes coming second a bit too often for mine, five times (twice here) since his last win back in September 2015; eight times overall versus four wins. always thereabouts so perhaps just a tad high in the handicap. Callum Rodriguez taking off five pounds can only help his cause but drawn 18, there won't be much in hand having to work hard from there.

Dubka - lightly raced mare who was swamped wide and late in the Lillie Langtry at Goodwood after fighting off those who challenged her close by. Seemingly a little inconsistent this season, perhaps not liking the firmest of tracks, but in that case why would she run several times on them? Great chance if she runs like that day, not so much if like her previous run at Haydock. Not a simple task ahead for Josephine Gordon drawn 19.

Flymetothestars - impressive looking Sea The Stars 4yo. Antepost favourite who unusually has yet to start on turf, and apparently won't run if the track is too dry. Cruised up under a tight hold in the Northumberland Plate but didn't quite finish it off. Previous run, also at Newcastle, ran greenly and interfered with the runner-up. Drawn the car park which makes life a little tougher for him, but could also means he can sit wide, hopefully with a bit of cover. Huge hype on the horse, big task ahead for one so lightly raced, but could be up to it.

Wild Hacked - won a Class 2 handicap at Newcastle in April but form has tailed off a little since then. Went to Italy for the G2 Gran Premio di Milano last start, finishing midfield in what doesn't appear to have been a strong field. Nothing really standing out in his form to appeal.

Seamour - missed a run earlier in the week but fit to run here. Fifth in the race last year. Disappointed in the Northumberland Plate last month, a race he ran second in 2016, but his other runs since last Ebor were all placings. Stable seems to be a little off at the moment, after trifectaing a race at Galway at the start of August, all bar one of his last 15 runners have underperformed according to RPRs, most of them by quite a lot. This horse would have a chance normally but have to discount given ice cold stable form.

Maleficient Queen - rag of the field and out of form for most of the season. I'd be annoyed if I owned the next horse to be balloted out. Won five of her first six starts, but limited signs of form since. Did finish ahead of Pallasator (G2 winner), Battersea and Harbour Law (St Leger winner) in the Sagaro at Ascot in May. Needs more than first-time cheekpieces...

Magic Circle - won with a bit in hand here on Wednesday, earning a 4lb penalty to get into this race. Before that ran midfield in the Ascot Stakes (drew the carpark, ground very firm) and a close fifth in the Chester Cup, again from a terrible draw. Laid out for this, has won both starts at York and has also won on a quick back-up before. Big chance.

SUMMARY

A big pot handicap with a feast of chances, just the sort of race where there should be a huge trifecta pool with every combination paying four figures, and if an outsider creeps into the frame, even bigger. But there isn't because the tote in this country is an utter shambles, yet they sponsor this race. There'll be a pool, just not a very big one because there's no incentive for it. Instead you get bet types which tie up your funds all day and kill off race-to-race wagering. Idiots...

I'm going to put a line through a few of the leading chances, I can't put them all in while seeking a juicy return. Ivan Grozny, Dubka and Nakeeta will be ignored. Top chances go to Scarlet Dragon, Magic Circle and Soldier In Action. I'll add Battersea and Natural Scenery for second, with most of the field in for third.

1,4,20 x 1,4,7,10,20 x 1,2,3,4,7,9,10,11,16,17,18,20 - that's 120 lines for about 30p per line.

For those of you who like just a boring old win bet..

Scarlet Dragon
Magic Circle
Soldier In Action

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