THERE’S a terrific seven-race card at Ascot on Friday and there’s a heap of runners to get stuck into.
In the British EBF Valiant Stakes Fillies’ Listed (3.20), the John Gosden trained Nathra looks the one to side with given the likelihood for soft in the going description.
All of Nathra’s best form is on rain-softened ground, including her three wins, the last of which came over a year ago at Newmarket. But her best was yet to follow, running a massive race to finish second in a Group 1 contest at Deauville behind La Cressonniere, and ahead of two excellent Group winners in Qemah and Besharah.
Nathra’s fitness – and that of jockey Frankie Dettori – has to be taken on trust, but I’d be hugely surprised if Gosden’s four-year-old isn’t fully wound up and she can take full advantage of this significant drop in class. David Elsworth’s Tisbutadream keeps on improving and looks an obvious danger but the ground may have gone against her given her victories have come on good-to-firm turf or an all-weather surface.
Likely favourite Appeared looks worth opposing in the John Guest Handicap (3.55) given the five-year-old’s clear preference for firmer ground and he’s high enough in the weights off a new mark of 104.
The selection is Mark Johnston’s Galapiat, who is two from two in handicap company and remains unexposed in this sphere, with the booking of Ryan Moore a significant confidence boost.
This four-year-old colt won comfortably at Leicester on his first start for Johnston having left Andre Fabre, and then absolutely bolted up in a class three Epsom handicap on April 26 and upped 11lb for his troubles.
Johnston clearly thinks a lot of the horse as he ran in Group and subsequently Listed class on his past two starts, running well without being able to make a true impact against some high-quality horses, most recently when fourth at Goodwood on May 27, having every chance a furlong out but unable to quite reach 110-rated winner Second Steps.
Now able to race off a mark of 104, dropped back into a class two event, it’d be no surprise to see Galapiat prove too good for a relatively exposed bunch of handicappers.
Roger Varian once again takes advantage of UAE King’s weight-for-age allowance in the John Guest Brown Jack Handicap (2.45) and he should relish the step up to two miles and rates a good bet to land a hat-trick of wins, all of which have been tipped up in this column.
The final bet on the card is Shamshon, who makes plenty of appeal in the Neptune Investment Handicap (4.25) over five furlongs.
Sprinters with course and distance form are always my prefered angle into races like these, and Shamshon’s win here over 5f on soft ground back in October is the standout form.
Stuart Williams’ six-year-old was better than ever when a winner at Newmarket a fortnight ago, held up by Jim Crowley, who is back on board on Friday, collaring the leaders on the line.
Up just 3lb for that success, Shamshon can go in again at a track he loves, with likely pace-setters Just Glamorous, Pettochside and Copper Knight all drawn nearby.
Saturday’s feature at Ascot is the King George VI Stakes, but I’m struggling to find a worthwhile bet in the race, so we’ll switch attentions to the Gigaset International Stakes (3.00) where Flaming Spear has a massive chance for Kevin Ryan.
A non-runner a fortnight ago for the Bunbury Cup (Ryan blamed the lack of rain for his late decision), the five-year-old gelding is quite simply one of the most well-handicapped horses in training if he’s fit and ready to go.
Flaming Spear has been off the track since a scarcely-believable win at Newcastle in January, missing the break, hampered twice in running, last entering the final furlong and passing 12 rivals to get up cosily on the line.
It was an incredible success and a 4lb rise looks very fair, and he surely has his name on one of these big heritage handicaps over seven furlongs. With the rain having arrived over the past week, let’s hope it’s this weekend when it all falls into place under regular rider Robert Winston.