Mamba Noire ready to pull off a surprise
Twenty years ago, the Giles Bravery-trained Diamond White won the Sweet Solera Stakes under jockey David McCabe at a price of 25/1, but the two-year-old fillies' race is not one that the bookmakers have enjoyed a whole lot since.
The following 19 winners were all priced in single figures, and seven of the last ten were favourite or joint-favourite. A pretty good race for punters then, and at the time of writing, Richard Fahey's Dance Diva is the most popular in the early markets for this year's renewal at odds of 11/4 (3.40 Newmarket).
But that's a little too short for me and I'm going against the crowd with Mamba Noire at 8/1 or thereabouts.
A Listed winner at this course in July, Dance Diva was a five-length second to Nyaleti last time in the Group Three Princess Margaret at Ascot in a race where the good-to-soft ground was possibly responsible for her losing her unbeaten record.
While collateral form is not quite as simple as measuring distances beaten, Mamba Noire got to within a half-length of Nyaleti when third in a Newmarket Group Two last time out - so using Nyaleti as the yardstick, Dance Diva might have a little bit to find with the selection.
While Mamba Noire is unproven on today's expected soft ground, her trainer Ken Condon reckons her mid-division placing in the Group Two Queen Mary at Royal Ascot was down to the fact that the ground was too firm although in fairness, she wasn't expected to be a realistic contender by the markets at 33/1.
If she does like the ground, it's another tick beside her name where a possible negative goes to Dance Diva and I'm quite surprised to see such a disparity in the prices.
While her pedigree suggests speed, Condon said her jockeys have been saying she'll appreciate the step up to seven furlongs as she's been finishing quite strongly - and I've a gut feeling this race will be a lot closer than the market suggests.
Colm O'Donoghue gets the ride and may have the most to fear from Richard Hannon's Mayyasah under Sean Levey. The Al Shaqab-owned filly got her career off to the perfect start when winning her debut novice at Newmarket in July despite being lukewarm in the betting, and is likely to progress further.
At Haydock, a chance is taken on Spark Plug, which I'm hoping to back at 13/2 or higher if I can get it in the Group Three Betfred Rose Of Lancaster Stakes (2.30). He looked a little out of his depth at this level when finishing third of seven at Newmarket back in April but it was his first race of the season after a seven-month break so he may have been in need of the run.
The six-year-old is best judged on his latest piece of form where he beat a couple of smart horses in a Listed race at Sandown under Ryan Moore, and is worth another chance at Group level for trainer Brian Meehan under Pat Smullen.
Laraaib also catches the eye around 7/2. Owen Burrows' three-year-old colt is progressing nicely and is now unbeaten in three starts although this is a big step up from handicap company so we'll find out just how good he is as he takes on a few seasoned horses on different terms.
A little later at the same venue, Sea Of Grace is the pick of the bunch in the Fillies' Listed Betfred TV/EBF Stallions Dick Hern Stakes (3.35), priced in the region of 6/4.
Rated 109, which is 9lb clear of Lincoln Rocks, she sets the clear standard here based on her second place in the French 1,000 Guineas in May.
While she could only manage fourth to Roly Poly in the Group One Falmouth Stakes at Newmarket in July last time, there wasn't a huge amount in it and she was around three lengths behind the winner crossing the line.
This is a significant step down in class and I'm surprised to see William Haggas' filly trading odds-against. It's also worth noting that she won a Group Three for John Oxx this time last year and she acts on the expected good to soft ground.
I'm not a huge fan of the Shergar Cup, a competition in which jockeys join teams and compete for their region, similar to the Ryder Cup in golf.
I don't like to complain, and racing sometimes needs an injection of fun like this - but I find the races, six handicaps in total, quite difficult from a betting point of view so I mostly treat it as a novelty event rather than something to try make money from.
However, one horse has caught my attention for an each-way bet this year, namely Great Hall in the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup Challenge Handicap (2.15 Ascot), available yesterday evening at 12/1. A winner last October off a mark of 95, Mick Quinn's gelding hit a high of 103 but has struggled in his past few races, so the handicapper has finally begun to loosen his grip.
He comes here with a rating of 91 which is a few pounds lower than his latest victory, and I'm confident that Fran Berry can steer him into a place at the least.
Niblawi also has strong claims and put in a career best when second in a competitive handicap at Ascot last time, although he's up 4lb for his trouble so a price of 3/1 makes little appeal in an open-looking race.
2.15 Ascot: Great Hall (e/w)
2.30 Haydock: Spark Plug
3.35 Haydock: Sea Of Grace
3.40 Newmarket: Mamba Noire
5.10 Lingfield: Hats Off To Larry