2.00pm Epsom – Investec Private Banking Handicap Stakes (Handicap) Class Two – 1m 2f 18yds
Three-year-old handicaps are notoriously tricky to solve with any amount of improvement possible (but never guaranteed) as the horses slowly mature and get the hang of exactly what is expected of them. With three winners already in the last ten years it seems pretty obvious that Sir Michael Stoute has worked out exactly the right sort for this race, and this year it looks like he will be going for it with Poet’s Word (5/2) who seems likely to have Ryan Moore in the saddle – just like the pre Ballydoyle days. A lightly raced son of Poet’s Voice (no surprises there), he had the obligatory one run at two when fourth to St James Palace Stakes entry Mootaharer at Newmarket before connections had him put away to spend the winter dreaming of bigger and better things. Reappearing at Chelmsford over a mile he ended up a one paced third, after which he was stepped up to this mile and a quarter trip at Nottingham where he won pretty comfortably by over two lengths from joint favourite Muntahaa with the rest string out behind, making the race look a whole lot better than your average maiden. A rating of 87 does not look particularly generous on what he has actually achieved, but he seems sure to keep on improving ad we will be surprised if he isn’t somewhere near the head of the market this afternoon.
With the Stoute horse possibly poor value we will head off to an each way option in Mark Johnston’s Soldier In Action (20/1 Each Way) who has the added benefit of Adam Kirby in the saddle. The combination has worked wonders for punters over the last five years with 24% strike rate and level stakes profit and they will be hoping to improve those figures with this son of Solider Of Fortune who won the Coronation Cup here in 2008. The cut in the turf has arrived at exactly the right time in our view as he scored first time out this season at Doncaster under similar conditions, and although he is twelve pounds higher today that he was back in April, we can ignore his last run when eased after being badly hampered, and is better judged on a good second to Red Verdon at Chester the race before.
We all know by now that Hugo Palmer is a trainer on the up and up as proved by the 2000 Guineas victory of Galileo Gold this spring and he has a real live wire here in the thrice raced Banish (10/1) who could well be a handicap snip off a rating of just 84 today. Unraced at two it seems fair to assume he is a backward sort, yet he finished second in his first two races over seven furlongs at Lingfield on the all-weather before getting off thee mark when stepped up to a mile at the same track. On breeding (he is by Smart Strike out of a Danehill Dancer mare), there is every reason to think he may be even better stepped up to this trip and if that assumption is correct, then he may be very well weighted this afternoon.
Paul Henderson is not exactly a household name in the training ranks but he clearly knows his job and has already got three wins out of Medburn Dream (12/1) this season, including here over a mile plus in mid April. Naturally, the handicapper has noticed those efforts and he races today off a mark twenty-two pounds higher than when his winning run started which will make his life that much more difficult. He made all the running last time out at Chepstow for a comfortable success but has been put up nine pounds more for that, and unless the step up in trip negates that weight rise, it may well be that the handicapper has him firmly in his grasp.
To end our original five against the field, we have High Grounds (16/1) who is dropping back in to handicap class after a couple of efforts in Group Three contests without success. After hacking up by six easy lengths at Lingfield on his debut he looked like a horse going places and was upped in class to the Sandown Classic trail when a distant third to Midterm and then finished fifth (beaten nineteen lengths) behind Derby favourite U S Army Ranger in the Chester vase over a mile and a half where he pulled too hard to ever have any chance. He does appear to be a bit of a character but if he does settle, this represents a serious drop in class and with the stable in good enough form he has as good a chance as any in our book.
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