Ardad offers value despite his recent flop
Any time I see a bookmaker putting out stories that they are running scared of certain horses at a festival and are afraid of getting cleaned out, I get the salt cellar and grab a good pinch to help digest the tale.
Bookmakers want us to bet, and if they can get us to bet in multiples, thus increasing the over-round (and their margin), all the better for them.
This week, I heard a few representatives of the old enemy give the 'running scared' line in relation to the likes of Ribchester, Churchill, Order Of St George, Caravaggio and Winter at Royal Ascot, which kicks off on Tuesday.
In fairness, a lot of damage would be done if most of those came in, but you don't need to do complicated bets to inflict some pain on the bookmakers at the top Flat meetings like Royal Ascot, where the formbook and the market are about the two best guides you could utilise when trying to predict the winner.
Of course, picking winners is one thing, backing them at the right prices to make a profit is another. But punters have had the upper hand in recent times: since 2008, there have been 80 winning clear-favourites at Royal Ascot from 247 bets, a strike rate of over 32pc, and a profit of nearly €17 to a €1 stake.
Six of the nine years produced a profit, and to give credit where it's due, the markets at the big meetings are robust, meaning you can get a decent bet on at a good price, with plenty of competition for your business.
However, it's interesting to note that if you backed only the so-called bankers during that period (odds-on horses), you'd have had 15 winners from 24 bets (63pc) but the profit was only 50c to a €1 stake.
While a profit is a profit, the risk of throwing the bankers into multiples is clear, and I'm reminded of the 2011 meeting, where just two of the three bankers won: Frankel at 30/100 and Await The Dawn at 4/6, with So You Think finishing second at the very short price of 4/11.
In 2016, Churchill won the Chesham (8/11) and Order Of St George won the Gold Cup (10/11), but multiple backers were let down earlier on in the meeting when A Shin Hikari (8/13) was last of six in the Prince of Wales and The Gurkah (4/5) runner-up in the St James's Palace Stakes.
The point is that a degree of caution is advised if you are going to rely on bankers in multiples at a meeting which has been good to punters. Although in case we somehow start to feel sorry for the bookmakers, let's remind ourselves that they got one of the best results all year when Wings Of Eagles won the Derby at 40/1, so fingers crossed we can get some of it back during the week.
As for today, I hope Ardad can help boost the betting pot around 9/2 in the Listed Randox Health Scurry Stakes (2.40 Sandown). Top-rated in the field at 106, John Gosden's colt won a Listed race at Royal Ascot as a juvenile last year, although I must admit that he can be unreliable and subsequently finished last of nine in a Newmarket Group Two.
His zig-zag form was on display once again in September when he won a Group Two at Doncaster, so he definitely has some talent in there, but catching him on the right day is the main problem.
Last month, he made his seasonal debut in a Listed race at York but could only finish fifth of six runners, so I can see why punters might be worried about backing him - but he was in need of the run and should improve now that he's had a pipe opener.
Even including his poorer races, he's the best horse here on all known form and the downsides are built into the odds, so he might be a bit of value.
At York, a chance is taken on Spark Plug, which was trading at 9/2 yesterday for the Best Western Hotels Ganton Stakes (2.55).
Trained by Brian Meehan, he traded below 1/5 in-running before finishing a nose-second to the useful First Sitting in a Listed race at Goodwood, but it was a somewhat messy contest in which the winner had an advantage so I'm not too concerned about the defeat.
Shortly afterwards on the same card, Golden Apollo is an interesting entry around the 9/1 mark for the Catherine Kinloch Paver Memorial Macmillan Charity Handicap (3.30).
He's in good form and won a decent handicap after six days off at Pontefract on Monday following strong market support, so it will be interesting to see how the betting pans out today.
He comes here with a 6lb penalty for that win but I reckon he could be ahead of the handicapper still and it may not be enough to hold him back.
The main worry is his busy schedule this term, but sometimes you have to turn them out quickly and strike while the iron is hot.
Duke Of Firenze will probably go off near or at the top of the market for the William Hill Scottish Sprint Cup Handicap at Musselburgh (3.10) but he struggled with a rating of 105 back in April so I'm not sure he has any room to improve off 107 today.
While he's in great form and won and placed in a couple of quality handicaps since April on 103, this is wide open and preference is for Jack Dexter, which was available at 25/1 yesterday.
It's a while since he won a race but he has dropped right down in the ratings to 92 and Phil Dennis' 5lb claim may just help him out.
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2.40 Sandown: Ardad
2.55 York: Spark Plug
3.10 Musselburgh: Jack Dexter (e/w)
3.30 York: Golden Apollo
3.50 Sandown: Glory Awaits (e/w)
5.0 Sandown: Bristol Missile