Well Done Fox the right price at Sandown
We have a somewhat quiet Saturday in store with Listed and handicap races the best on offer as all the top horses are waiting around for Royal Ascot which kicks off on Tuesday.
The weather has been terrible both here and across the water over the last few days but organisers are confident that the ground will dry out beforehand. So there's a strong possibility of good ground on the opening day.
As for today, the going is expected to be on the softer side of good in a number of places, including Sandown and York. While I'm not saying you should avoid favourites on softer ground, proceed with some caution and do your homework when the ground is unseasonal.
Wind, rain and poor racing conditions can hamper all horses both good and bad, and while the better horses should still have an edge over inferior rivals, less-than-perfect conditions can minimise their advantage. That's borne out in the stats for the last decade or so. If we use the fate of the favourite as a guide to how reliable the form is under certain conditions, a few things stand out.
Generally, in non-handicap Flat races, the favourite has a strike rate of 40 per cent, and if blindly backed you can expect to lose about six cent for every euro staked on average to SP. But if you sort the data by going, it gets harder to make any money in poor conditions and the strike rate on soft to heavy ground is the worst of all at 33 per cent - with an average loss of 31 cent per euro bet, which is huge. The next worst is heavy ground, which also shows big losses for the favourite.
Interestingly, the best ground of all for backing favourites in non-handicap Flat races is firm, with a strike rate of 50 per cent and a profit of seven cent per euro staked on average. But because of watering, firm-ground racing has become quite rare with only 367 taking place since 2008.
Of course, if a horse is proven on soft or heavy ground, that's another story - but it's often worth trying to identify horses which are unproven on poor ground and opposing them. I'll be left with egg on my face if he actually wins today, but one such case this afternoon might be Street Parade, which seems short enough at around 4/1 in the Listed opening Randox Health Scurry Stakes at Sandown (2.05).
He's never raced on anything worse than good ground. Don't get me wrong, he has the form in the book to win a race like this, and Stuart Williams' gelding won his latest handicap race in good style back in May. Although he has struggled in the past in Listed and Group company, so there's still some improvement needed on that recent success.
Instead, I'm siding with Richard Hannon's Well Done Fox, which is expected to go off at around 9/2. He's got a couple of Listed wins under the belt, albeit on better ground, and he wasn't disgraced when placed in both Group Three and Group Two company last term.
He was last of seven on his seasonal debut in a Group Three at Ascot last month, but I'm willing to overlook that piece of form as he simply seemed a little rusty. With that run under the belt he should be in good shape today and while he's also unproven on ground this soft that's built into his price which seems quite generous.
Of the rest, Leodis Dream is another for the shortlist. While he came last in a handicap last time out, he has excuses as he got off to a terrible start - but he'd won his previous five races, three of which were handicaps, and they were across a range of ground conditions. He's unproven at Listed level but he'll be poised to take advantage should Street Parade or Well Done Fox fail to fire.
At York, Austrian School makes appeal at around 100/30 for the Listed Sky Bet Race To The Ebor Grand Cup Stakes (3.0) for Mark Johnston under PJ McDonald. Mekong will probably go off as favourite and Michael Stoute's charge finished second to Dee Ex Bee in a Group Three recently, with Austrian School behind in third. There was only a head separating them though so the 6/5 about Mekong here seems a little tight to me.
That was over two miles and they drop back to 1m 5f today which may suit both. Crucially, both horses act on soft and heavy ground and on my reckoning there's very little separating them this afternoon so in a case like this,it has to come down to price - giving Austrian School the nod.
Another one at York which seems overpriced is Moraawed, which has been chalked up at 13/2 in the early markets for the following Pavers Foundation Catherine Memorial Sprint Handicap (3.35). Roger Varian's gelding is improving all the time and remains unexposed.
Do the double
There’s something in the gut that makes you uncomfortable opposing Kilkenny in the hurling, but upsets can and do happen and I think they are far too short at 8/13 away at Wexford Park this evening. Both sides hammered Carlow – but this could be closer than the market suggests with two draws for Wexford otherwise, and a win and a loss for the Cats. This is no longer the lopsided fixture it once was, and I’m taking a chance on Wexford at 7/4.
The Reg Griffin Appreciation ebfstallions.com Maiden Stakes at York (4.05) involves a bit of guesswork as there are a number of unraced entries, but Historic catches the eye here and could be hard to beat around 15/8. The Godolphin colt made a promising start to his career when fourth of eight in a novice stakes race at Yarmouth recently and while he raced a little greenly, he will have learned a bit and is expected to improve on that run.
Trained by Ed Dunlop, Alternative Fact has winning form on soft ground from a couple of years back, but he hasn’t got
his head in front since and has struggled with a mark in the mid-90s.
Following a couple of poor runs at Kempton and Doncaster lately the handicapper has finally relented and eased him back to 89. And it’s interesting to see him back down to a mile – his last winning distance – for the Randox Health Handicap (3.15 Sandown).
This race looks quite open, so 25/1 is a nice each-way price in a 12-runner contest, and it will be interesting to see how the market pans out with five runners priced below 10/1 last night.
2.05 Sandown: Well Done Fox
3.0 York: Austrian School
3.15 Sandown: Alternative Fact (e/w)
3.35 York: Moraawed
4.05 York: Historic
5.0 Sandown: Nette Rousse