It is invariably a challenge writing a betting preview for these competitive handicaps and today is no exception with the standard mix of improvers, and those looking to rekindle past glories.
Just like every other punter in the land we are keeping our fingers crossed that at least sixteen of the seventeen declared actually run so we can get paid the extra places for each way purposes, and as we are on big priced option Firmdecisions (33/1 Each Way) we were bound to say that! Trained in Hertfordshire by Dean Ivory, the six-year-old will be ridden by Robert Winston for the third time, as he finally steps up to a mile for the first time. A son of Captain Rio, he has now won five of his thirty career starts, all over seven furlongs and invariably when running on late, which begs the question of why they have waited until now to try the extra furlong. He has won off a rating of 91, just a pound lower than he has to shoulder today, and will have come on for his comeback run when last at Newmarket but at odds of 12/1 suggesting he badly needed it, making him decent each value in our book at the price.
Ed Walker has one for the more interesting entries with Ghalib (14/1), a consistent son of Lope De Vega whose wins have all come over six furlongs, though he did run well over the mile last time out at Yarmouth when beaten half a length by Light And Shade. He made the running and was headed before fighting back nearer to the line, showing plenty of height. Faster ground today may help him get home over the mile today but it won’t be easy in this sort of field, and he’s one to consider under the capable hands of Atzeni.
Meanwhile, trainer David O’Meara has won two of the last four runnings of this contest including last season with Birdman, and this year he will be represented by Firmament (7/1) who has a bit of improving to do if he wants to match the exploits of his predecessor. A win at Newcastle on the new all-weather surface on his return caught the eye, but that was off a rating of 85, after which he was beaten a neck by Strong Steps after getting squeezed at the start off a mark four pounds higher. He is up two more pounds today which makes life difficult, though he is reunited with Daniel Tudhope as opposed to Shelley Birkett and if he can get away on level terms he could put up a pretty bold showing.
No doubt the national papers will have a long list of varying betting tips for this race and one that seems sure to be pretty prominent is the Richard Fahey trained Gabrial’s Kaka (9/1) who has been in amazing form of late with wins at Ayr and Chelmsford as well as second places at Chester (twice) and Newbury. Sadly, those efforts have not gone unnoticed by the handicapper who has put him up to 96 this afternoon, though that is still only a solitary pound higher than his best winning mark of 95 at Newbury back in 2014. He was value for a bit more than the official head win last time out after meeting a bit of trouble in running so may not be handicapped out of things just yet, and still looks to have a solid each way chance at the very least with George Chaloner in the saddle once again.
Every punter knows that ignoring any Sir Mark Prescott horse in a handicap can be financially draining, and in Celestial Path (16/1) he has a classy four-year-old who may well have a lot left to offer over this season and beyond. This will be his ninth racecourse appearance but the first time he has ever raced in a handicap, with a maiden win at York first time out and a Listed win at Haydock in 2014, but no more victories since in six races, though they have included a fifth in last season’s 2000 Guineas to Gleneagles. This season he has been seen in Listed races when fourth in Cologne and fifth at Epsom, but those have seen him drop eight pounds from his highest rating of 110, and if he runs to his best form there is little doubt he could be seen as well handicapped here and a class horse as well.