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Betfred Cambridgeshire Handicap (Heritage Handicap) (Class 2)
Always a fiercely competitive contest over the in-between trip of nine furlongs. A handicap that has given nightmares to bookies some years (Pasternak in 1997) but also to punters (Spanish Don won at 100/1 in 2004.) One of the strongest betting heats of the season, it is always a puzzle relished by punters, our expert 2017 Cambridgeshire Handicap preview is below.
Thirty five go to post so recent Sandown winner Thundering Blue needs a nice lift in the weights for that triumph to make the final cut, a seven pound rise for that would put him about 55th. If he does, then this rapid improver would have to be of significant interest given how much he has come of age this season. A pair of wins at this Class 2 level now, a huge field and strong pace is going to be perfect for his pounce late style. He is favourite in a number of books off the back of that win, if he gets in there should still be more to come.
The other horse vying for favouritism with him right now is the Mick Appleby trained Big Country. He has done all of his racing this season over a little further than this, although extra stamina reserves are no bad thing in this contest. He was fourth earlier in the season at this track behind Frontiersman who was placed at Group 1 level in the Coronation Cup shortly afterwards. He was found out close home over a mile and a half on that occasion but had the field working hard behind him from a long way out. It will be no easy task from a higher mark, but his form stands up to scrutiny at this level.
Born To Be Alive is inexperienced to be taking on a race of this nature, he was runner-up in a slightly lesser one at Glorious Goodwood over this trip. He thundered home having probably got a little far back in the field while Clifford Lee fought with him to settle. He backed that up with a smart runner-up in France, eventually having to give best to Godolphin’s Bay Of Poets in a Listed contest. Given that rival had only been beaten three lengths in a French Derby, it was an excellent performance for just his fourth career visit to the track. He has no strong ground preference and with a bigger field and strong pace here, he should settle a little better in the opening stages. That could mean that he improves past this level sooner rather than later.
The switch to soft ground saw a much improved performance from Ballard Down on the July course. The handicapper has hit him hard for that win, but he ripped apart a decent field, including Master The World who would win at Glorious Goodwood the next time up. That was just the tenth start of his career and only his third on turf so there should be plenty more improvement to come from him. The further they went the further he pulled clear in the closing stages so this extra furlong should suit him admirably and with the ground more often than not on the soft side of good at Newmarket at this stage of the season, he should have conditions in his favour as well.
Four of the last eleven editions of this race have got to the Classic generation and in Naval Warfare, Andrew Balding has a smart three-year-old to attempt to make it five in twelve. He was a fluent winner on the July course when last seen, that and a win at Leicester from a solid yardstick sandwiching a pair of poor efforts. He made all the running on the July course, enjoying bowling along in front at his own tempo. The way he hit the line there suggests that an extra furlong won’t be an issue for him although dominating such a big field won’t be easy. There should be further improvement to come from him and his age group are always worth considering.
Finally at a monster of a price is Battle Of Marathon who has finished last on all of his three starts so far in 2017. As a result he has dropped thirteen pounds from when he was fifth in the Royal Hunt Cup in 2016. He enjoys getting his toe in so conditions should be perfect for him and this nine furlong trip should suit well as he tends to be doing his best work late over a mile. Although he has shown no form this season, there is an easy excuse for that, he has raced without his usual cheekpieces, wearing a visor once and no headgear the other twice. Having had them missing, the re-fitting could spark him back into life and if that is the case, he shouldn’t be close to a 50/1 shot given the mark he is on nor his back catalogue of form.