After a massive 23 runners declared at the early stage for this competitive handicap that opens up our Channel 4 delights for the afternoon, we have ended up with a decimal friendly ten to deal with, which in theory ought to increase our chances of finding the winner. Hugo Palmer trains our first suggestion here as his three year old colt Strong Steps (5/1) gets in off bottom weight of eight stone exactly, and will feel he has been let loose carrying so little on his back. Unraced as a juvenile he is obviously a backward sort, but has won once (at Chelmsford over this mile) and placed twice three times, so we know the son of Aqlaam is pretty consistent. Last time out he finished (you guessed it) second to Anya at Kempton when mugged close home, but the trouble is he has been put up six pounds for winning the princely sum of £1395.62 place money, and they wonder why the temptation is there to mess about with a horse for a better rating?
Amazingly, Secret Art (7/1) is the only entry who won last time out, and we need to include William Knight’s five year old on our short list for that very reason (a horse in form is a good thing in our opinion). His win was more workmanlike than exhilarating as he led and had to battle back after being overtaken late in the race but a big heart is no bad thing in a race horse and he is one to consider but only if the race cuts up badly by off time in our opinion. Barry Hills seems to be enjoying his second coming as a racehorse trainer and class is permanent but even he is struggling to get a win out of Algaith (11/2) this season for some unknown reason. Two all-weather wins as a two year old, both over seven furlongs, the last one by an easy five lengths boded well for his future but he is yet to bother the judge in two attempts this season. Time has proven that taking on Golden Horn in a Listed race gave him zero chance of success when a well beaten (thrashed) last of seven but he did run a lot better when beaten less than three lengths by Lightning Spear at Salisbury (after being blocked in his run), with the winner going on to finish second to Arod in a Group Two at Ascot. The handicapper hasn’t relented a solitary pound unfortunately but he does get the three-year-old allowance and could be the surprise package with Dane O’Neill in the saddle.
Azraff (6/1) seems to be one of those horses you need to catch on a good day after flattering to deceive on more occasions than we care to remember. Three second places and a fourth this season must have the immaculate Marco Botti tearing his hair out with frustration, with even blinkers failing to bring about a change in fortune, yet if you look way back in his form then a handicap rating of 91 could even be seen as generous. The way he took a Class Two nursery at Newcastle as a juvenile promised better things with another year on his back but so far that is not to be – though with the yard in better form now are you brave enough to bet against him turning things around this afternoon because we are not so sure that we are? Lastly, Emirates Skycargo (11/2) may have been lumbered with an uninspiring name, but that hasn’t stopped him winning a couple of races on the polytrack, one each at Chelmsford and Lingfield. His turf exploits are yet to see a victory with a third place at Newmarket, only beaten a nose and a neck by Mutassayid off a rating of 100 (later promoted to second place). Sadly for connections, they picked up £3,850 for the place but also went up four pounds, which tempted Godolphin to have a look at a Listed race – big mistake though, as he ended up stone cold last. Dropped back to handicap class here, he has chances at his very best but needs to put his last run behind him to be seriously considered.