An interesting race is in store as always and with four winning favourites (or joint favourites) in the last ten years, a punter friendly one as well, though working out who will come on top in 2016 is as tricky as ever. According to the official handicap Mark Johnston’s Bear Valley (9/2) is the one they all have to beat, with a rating of 95 putting the son of Manduro at least eleven pounds clear of his nearest rated rival. After two second places over this sort of trip at Beverley or Haydock, the penny appeared to drop next time out at Epsom when running away with his maiden by an easy couple of lengths from Hurricane Rush. He followed that up with a four length romp from Monataire at Goodwood in a valuable nursery. Although this is clearly a step up in class, he may yet take it in his stride if he keeps on improving at a rate of knots.
With Hugo Palmer having a season to remember no race preview could be complete without a mention of Best Of Days (5/4), the Godolphin owned son of Azamour who has a one out of one race course record so far. He made his debut at Sandown over this seven furlong trip and cruised up to the leaders before putting six lengths of daylight between himself and his ten pursuers, stretching clear with the minimum of fuss, and if he builds on that he could well go on to be pretty decent indeed and a long term classic hope. If that is the case (and the betting suggests it may be), then this is little more than a stepping stone on the way to bigger and better things and we have to side with him here in the hope he is a real superstar in the making.
Courage Under Fire (7/1) is an interesting contender if only because he is in the care of Aidan O’Brien, though you would have thought that he had others in his care with better chances. Still a maiden after four races, he looked distinctly ordinary until last time out when they threw him in to the Group One Phoenix Stakes at The Curragh. He ran on into second, four lengths behind stable companion and latest superstar Caravaggio but two and three quarter lengths in front of the rest of the field. With fast ground put up as the reason for his improvement, connections will be hoping the rain stays away from the York track so that he can put up a serious attempt at victory today.
To round things off, The China Racing Club coughed up a massive 450,000 Guineas for Lockheed (5/1) at the Tattersalls Sales and will be hoping the son of Exceed And Excel (yep, another one) can go on to get a few more pounds back towards that here. After a promising debut when second to Seven Heavens at Ascot over six furlongs he tried this trip at Goodwood and took his maiden by half a length from Ray’s The Money, and although he obviously needs to find an awful lot more to compete now, William Haggas is an expert at improving his horses slowly and there may be a lot left in the locker for future races.