Striking Spirit can rise in sprint
The 2010 Bluesq.com Stewards' Cup at Goodwood this afternoon has the makings of yet another thrilling sprint handicap.
In contrast to the highest quality Flat horses, year after year these second-class speedsters come back to take each other on.
And while you might think that familiarity would lead to some sort of established pecking order, the beauty is that the opposite is usually the case. Sooner or later, each of the more consistent operators get their turn, and that means there is often great value to be found in these five and six-furlong handicaps.
Today, eight of the first 11 home in last month's Wokingham re-oppose, with the vastly superior winner Laddies Poker Two a notable absentee. Genki, which led the far-side finishers at Ascot when taking sixth and which has since won a conditions race, is outright favourite to win this for a second year in a row.
Palace Moon, Noverre To Go and Rileyskeepingfaith, third, seventh and 11th respectively at Ascot, also feature prominently in the betting. However, the vastly underestimated Striking Spirit, Dandy Nicholls' 16/1 shot, is preferred for the win.
Unlike many of the others that ran at Ascot, Striking Spirit has not turned out in the meantime, and the suspicion is that Nicholls has been waiting patiently for the Goodwood showpiece, a race that he has already won twice since 2000. With the likes of Genki and Palace Moon having subsequently enhanced their profile, Striking Spirit has become something of a forgotten horse.
Granted, he is a few pounds worse off at the weights with some of his rivals now, but he would have been an impressive winner of the Wokingham had the Group-class Laddies Poker Two not been present. As it turns out, he now shoulders a five-pound penalty for the defeat, and that doesn't appear overly harsh.
While stall five may not be the best trap to come out of, the draw will matter little over a straight six furlongs if the horse is good enough. Striking Spirit, which has been brilliantly consistent this term with three seconds and a fourth from four runs, is expected to be just so.
Also at Goodwood, the 9/4 favourite Midday looks a pretty solid win option in the Blue Square Nassau Stakes, but Barshiba is put forward as a speculative each-way alternative at 16/1. With just seven runners, Barshiba will need to finish first or second for a return on your money.
However, David Elsworth's six-year-old has recorded some eye-catching efforts since being beaten five lengths by Midday on soft ground here 12 months ago. This season, she has been third to last week's King George hero Harbinger at Royal Ascot, before winning the Lancashire Oaks for a second time at the beginning of the month.
The form of that race has stood up well, highlighted by the third, Lady Jane Digby, scoring in a Group One in Germany. Barshiba will have her work cut out to win, but fast ground at Goodwood ought to suit her front-running style and she could be a bit of a surprise package.
Closer to home at Galway, Sunwake is fancied to build on its third-place finish at the Ballybrit course on Wednesday. Paul Gilligan's charge tackles the Freshways Handicap Hurdle over two miles and five furlongs this time, having not fully seen out three miles during the week.
Dermot Weld should take the maiden hurdle with Gentleman Jeff, and Ken Condon's Little Arrows is worth a look in the Low Low Handicap. A winner at the Curragh on yielding ground, an extra four pounds sees Little Arrows get in off just 8st 8lb now. If he handles the quicker ground, the extra weight may not be enough to stop him.
Best bet: Striking Spirit
2.25 -- Gentleman Jeff
2.55 -- Sunwake
3.30 -- McMonagle
4.00 -- Little Arrows
4.30 -- Enchanted Forest
5.00 -- Master'n Commander
5.30 -- Masdar