Conditions look ripe for Scottish win at Haydock
I was having a few jars with a pal of mine this week by the name of Brian Fitzpatrick. Now Brian has been to more race meetings than I've had hot dinners so he knows a couple of things about the nags - and I noticed he had a picture of the Shergar on the wall.
That got us talking about the Shergar Cup, a jockey competition across the six cards at Ascot today.
I'm not one for complaining generally and I like to see new initiatives in racing, but we both agreed that the reason it hasn't captured the betting public's imagination in the way it should is because each race on the card is a handicap: usually the most difficult type of race to figure out.
Unlike other sports, betting is an integral part of racing and if you lay on a card in which bookmakers are likely to benefit, punters simply won't warm to it - it's as simple as that. Last year, for example, not one favourite won.
When I see a picture of Shergar, I'm often reminded of the late great racing writer Richard Baerlein, who named his house after the legendary horse. Following a win in the Classic Trial at Sandown in 1981, Shergar was 8/1 to win the Derby and Baerlein declared that: "Now is the time to bet like men!"
Baerlein certainly knew a good price when he saw it and Shergar was eventually backed all the way down to a winning SP of 10/11. What Baerlein would make of the Shergar Cup we'll never know, and I certainly won't be betting like a man at Ascot this afternoon - although there is one horse which catches the eye around 14/1 on which I'll chance a pony (€25) each-way in the opener.
Having been both gelded and given a wind operation, Ninjago had a tough enough winter according to his trainer Paul Midgley and connections were delighted to see him hold his form reasonably well in some big-field handicaps this term, albeit without monetary success.
Racing off 101 the last three times, the handicapper has had his measure and it began to show in a highly competitive Stewards' Cup last week in which he finished well down the field.
But the assessor has finally relented and dropped him down to 97 for today, which is his lowest mark in three years.
That lets him slip in right at the bottom of the weights and the six-year-old, which was once trained by Richard Hannon, can finally finish in the money having frustrated his backers for so long.
Union Rose is another one to watch for Ronald Harris under Silvestre De Sousa. He lost a lot of ground when hanging right at Ascot last time which saw him settle for fifth place, but he's a decent sort when he stays out of trouble and a mark of 97 looks about right.
But, as mentioned, the Ascot card looks quite tricky so my biggest bet of the day comes from Haydock which hosts the Group Three Betfred Rose Of Lancaster Stakes (3.45) for which John Gosden's Foundation has been chalked up as joint-favourite in the early markets around 15/8.
I'm a little surprised at that short price considering he finished last of 16 runners in the French Derby last time and I'm keen to take him on, with the other fancied runner Scottish.
A son of Teofilo, connections plan on taking the gelding to Australia later this year provided he keeps up his good run of form and trainer Charlie Appleby, who took over from Andrew Balding this season, has said he is "very pleased" with his charge going into this afternoon's race.
Scottish pulled a muscle a couple of weeks ago which meant he had to miss Goodwood but he's over his trouble and this is an excellent chance to get some Group-winning form under the belt before he heads down under.
Twice a Listed winner, he's yet to make an impact at this level but he did finish second in a Group Three at Goodwood last year on similar ground to today's good-to-firm, on which he seems to thrive.
This is also his favourite trip so if he fails to fire today there can be no excuses afterwards and on all known form, he's got 2lbs in hand over nearest rival Gabrial.
That horse is priced in double figures in the early markets which is a little surprising considering he's also a Listed winner although his odds reflect that he's a miler at heart and rarely runs over this trip.
Arab Spring looks the biggest threat to the selection around 4/1. Sir Michael Stoute's gelding has won five of his eight races to date including a Group Three although the fact that he hasn't been seen in 436 days is an obvious concern. One to watch for now.
A son of Rock Of Gibraltar, Sennockian Star looks an each-way steal in the nine-runner Buy, Breed And Train In Germany Handicap (3.50 Newmarket), priced around 8/1.
While Mark Johnston's gelding has now gone 17 races without a win, he's been placed a few times and was third in a very competitive handicap at Ascot recently.
His last win was in a handicap at Chester last year off a mark of 93 but the handicapper has eased off since and the six-year-old is now 10lbs lower, and gets in today near the bottom of the handicap for a racing weight of 8st 11lbs.
That's actually his lowest rating in a few years and I'll be very disappointed if he doesn't go close. Likely favourite Spanish Squeeze is the obvious danger around 7/2.
Hugo Palmer's gelding has a 3lb claimer on board which should help a little, although punters were left out of pocket in his latest race when he finished last of seven runners despite a big gamble which pushed his odds as low as 9/4.
Andrew Balding's Passover is also worth a mention, having run a career best to finish second on soft ground at Windsor last month.
1.15 Ascot: Ninjago (e/w)
3.15 Newmarket: Easy Victory
3.45 Haydock: Scottish
3.50 Newmarket: Sennockian Star (e/w)
4.15 Haydock: Gershwin