Posting a career best on his latest start, SHARP DEFENCE broke his maiden on his latest start and should be able to build upon that on his handicap debut for John Patrick Shanahan. The in form team sent him to that maiden race at Salisbury eleven days ago where he comfortably took victory by two lengths and he has been given a mark of 83 on handicap debut, which could underestimate him as he’s still very much unexposed at the age of three with only five runs under his belt. Conditions are to suit and Sim Hitchcott takes the ride, so all signs point to a big run and he should make it two wins from his last two races in this.
Bought for 240,000 euros as a two year old, Richard Fahey’s Areen Heart was certainly bred to be a useful middle distance commodity and he has proven in his first three runs he has the ability to do just that. Finishing second on debut back in September when battling inexperience, he would go one better on his next run at Beverley when still looking very green but giving generously for pressure to keep on strongly and take the race. He returned this season over the same C&D on handicap debut, beaten a short head after being keen early on and he should definitely benefit from the run, with the handicapper perhaps being generous by only raising him 3lb. Conditions are to suit and he will have the assistance of Paul Hanagan once again, so he is another entitled to go close if taking another step forward and he has to be respected.
It looks likely that Hamdan Al Maktoum will be running more than one horse, with his retained jockey Jim Crowley siding with Richard Hannon’s Mutawatheb, with that looking likely to be the right choice on the form. Twice a winner last season for connections, he gained that second win at Doncaster on his penultimate start and final one of his two year old campaign where he was keen early on but still had enough in the tank to battle back gamely to win well. He was raised 3lb as a result but that wasn’t enough to stop him putting up another admirable display on seasonal reappearance when second at Chelsmford in March, clearly needing the run and being hampered at a crucial stage. Much better can be expected on this occasion and a one pound rise isn’t likely enough to stop him from going close from the front, though a soft lead is something he’s unlikely to get. Perhaps his biggest asset is his battling capabilities, as he’s game and all heart, not lying down when passed and you can be sure he’ll be battling back when someone comes knocking.
Another for top connections, John Gosden, Frankie Detorri and Kalid Abdullah have Via Egnatia entered into the contest and he will be making his handicap debut. Not showing himself to be anything above average on his first two runs for connections, he ran a brilliant race to win at Newmarket in October, making all impressively after showing a deadly turn of foot to ease clear. He returned this season at Newmarket with a below par effort, far too keen early on before weakening out of things tamely when ridden. He should benefit hugely from the run but he certainly will need to if he’s to be overcoming a mark of 99 handicap debut, which isn’t out of the equation as he is still very much unexposed for top connections. He’s another likely player if Frankie Dettori can get him switched off this time around, as his pulling will be an issue at this level.
Certainly not handicapped out of things, Tom Dascombe runs Arc Royal who will have the benefit of Jane Elliott taking 7lb off his back. A three year old by Arcano, he started to show his best two year old form towards the end of the season where he won a nursery at Chester in September and he matched that form in a better class when sixth at York. He returned this season at Pontefract where he was a respectable fifth and he built on that back up in trip when third at Beverley two weeks ago, with the handicapper dropping him another pound despite that fairly good effort. As previously mentioned Elliott removes 7lb off his back thanks to her claim and he’s only 4lb above his last mark regardless, with hope for better as he’s still lightly raced. He has good each way claims and deserves a second look for a yard in rude health at present.