A field of twenty go to post, making this seven furlong handicap at Ascot on Saturday a big puzzle to solve. Our tips and betting preview can be found below.
IN SUMMARY: Birchwood returned to form on his latest start when third in the Betfred Mile at Glorious Goodwood and a repeat of that performance would see him going close in this off only three pounds higher. Preference is for SQUATS, who was fourth in this race last year off two pounds lower but he arrives here in good form for William Haggas, whose yard is flying. He won easily at Newbury on his penultimate start before a very respectable eighth at Chelmsford where he never got a clear run from a poor position. Off one pound lower in a bigger field he should be able to be covered up and delivered late, with lots of room to operate up the straight here.
1 FIRMAMENT – Second in this race last year for David O’Meara off seven pounds lower, but he ran well off this mark when last seen to finish third at York in a similar race. He goes on softer ground and a repeat of that performance would see him thereabouts, though he doesn’t win very often and is likely to find at least one too good in this.
2 REMARKABLE – Finished second in a competitive race at Newbury on his penultimate start in softer ground, with excuses in the Gigaset International on his latest start over course and distance. He’s now three pounds higher than his Newbury run so further improvement is needed as he looks high enough in the weights now. Each way claims on the basis he’ll handle the ground better than some.
3 BIRCHWOOD – Had been solidly out of form for a year before springing back to life on his latest start to finish third in the Betfred Mile at Glorious Goodwood, too keen early on. A drop back to seven furlongs looks sure to suit and he’ll relish the softer ground, so another big run looks on the cards off only three pounds lower. Jamie Spencer retains the ride and he’s the main danger to our selection.
4 TOP SCORE – Has the ability to figure at this level but he’s not been putting it all in of late, only beating one rival in total in two big field handicaps over course and distance the last twice. He weakened rapidly on his latest start in the Gigaset International and he’s impossible to fancy here despite the brilliant form of his yard.
5 SQUATS – Finished fourth in this race last season for the in form William Haggas yard and he arrives this year in great nick, easily winning a handicap at Newbury two starts ago. He was tanking along at Chelmsford on his latest start but never got a gap after the back straight, simply having to sit and suffer while still full of running. Off the same mark he looks very well treated for a big run and with softer ground fine, he should take all the beating.
6 EARLY MORNING – Finished second at Haydock three starts ago behind a runaway winner and he was four pounds higher there, but returned to bigger fields he’s been slammed the last twice. He never looked likely to get involved in a weaker race at the Shergar Cup when last seen and although this drop in trip should suit, he’s hard to fancy on balance and others are preferred.
7 RAISING SAND – Two wins from two starts at Ascot for this Jamie Osbourne trained five year old, who booted clear on his latest start in a Shergar Cup race. He’s now dropped in trip which should be fine as the softer ground will make it more of a test and he couldn’t be discounted for a place under Dougie Costello, as he clearly loves the Berkshire venue.
8 VON BLUCHER – Third in this race twelve months ago off a one pound lower mark and he’s held his form reasonably well since for Rebecca Menzies, finishing third at York on his latest start. He relishes a good slog so the softer ground is welcome and although he’s vulnerable for win purposes off this mark, he couldn’t be discounted for a place.
9 DARK EMERALD – Now nine pounds below his mark when placing at Newbury in July 2016 but he’s been well held in all his runs since and it’s hard to be confident despite how well treated he is. He was tailed off at Windsor on his latest start and although he was snatched up at the start, he was always struggling and it’s impossible to make a case for him.
10 BREAKABLE – Front-runner who usually runs his race at this level for Tim Easterby, placing on his last two runs in races similar to this. He kept on stoutly behind a breakaway pair at Chester on his latest start and a repeat of that performance should see him going close here, but more is needed for win purposes. Handicapper is in charge and he’s definitely vulnerable for win purposes.
11 EL HAYEM (NON RUNNER) – Won a valuable handicap at Sandown on his penultimate start, the Coral Challenge, before running with credit off four pounds higher in a tough race at York two weeks ago. A repeat would see him hit the frame, but if the ground goes soft there has to be question marks on the ground front. Hard to rule him out but others are more solid.
12 MASHAM STAR – Bounced back to his best when last seen to win a good prize on the all weather, but that was only seven days ago and a busy campaign may just catch up to him here. He’s always been a better horse on the all weather and returned to the grass, he looks in the handicappers grip and could only be touted with an outside each way chance.
13 MIJJACK – Won a seven furlong handicap on softer ground in very comfortable style three starts ago, running well on his latest start in Class 2 company to be narrowly denied in the Gigaset International over course and distance. He’s only four pounds higher here and with further improvement likely, he looks sure to be involved on his favoured ground and has to be respected.
14 BERTIEWHITTLE – Won at Doncaster last month where a strong pace helped him lead in the shadows of the post, though he wasn’t as good when only twelfth at Goodwood when last seen. He remains competitively handicapped on the best of his form, but this nine year old looks vulnerable for win purposes against some improving horses.
15 SUMMER ICON – Two wins from twenty-four starts and she arrives here with a point to prove after some poor runs in a plethora of different races. She was only fifth in a Class 3 Handicap at York two starts ago and this is a much tougher race, with her latest heavy defeat in Listed company not inspiring. Conditions and the trip will be fine, but you’re taking a leap of faith to back her.
16 LUALIWA – In form and progressive three year old for Kevin Ryan who won at York on his penultimate start before a narrow defeat over course and distance on his latest start. He’s only two pounds lower here and a return to seven furlongs on truly soft ground will see him in an even better light. David Egan takes off a very useful three pounds and he looks sure to be involved for the placings.
17 HEAVEN’S GUEST – Course and distance winner who hasn’t been firing for a while now, with his last effort of any note being a second at Newmarket way back in July 2016. He weakened very tamely over course and distance on his latest start and although he’s well weighted at this stage, he’s far too risky for our liking on this occasion.
18 GLORY AWAITS – Has hit the frame on three of his last four starts, but those were in weaker races than this and the handicapper looks to have him where he wants him at present. This is much tougher than his latest third at Yarmouth last month and others make far more appeal.
19 SHADY MCCOY – More than capable at this level on a going day but he alway seems to find his way into trouble, as proven by his eighth in the Gigaset International over course and distance where he was awkward from the stalls and never got a run at things. Much the same can be said of his latest Goodwood run and the softer ground is unlikely to help, so others are readily preferred.
20 QEYAADAH – Consistent sort who doesn’t win very often, touched off by Bertiewhittle on his latest start at Doncaster. He’s a pound higher now in a much tougher race though and he has far more to prove than most of his rivals. He should be fine in ‘soft’ ground, but improvement is needed and he doesn’t look good enough to win this.