Tag Archives: Kentucky Derby

Lockinge Stakes 2021

There is a special place in my heart for the Lockinge Stakes. The reason is as simple as obvious: Paco Boy.

He’s the one that made me fall in love with flat racing. The most incredible moment of his illustrious career came quite clearly in the 2010 Lockinge Stakes. Visually it was such was such an enormous performance.

Richard Hughes with balls the size of footballs. Paco Boy, overcoming early keenness, still travelling like a dream on the bridle approaching the final furlong marker. Stunning. Beautiful. Unbelievable.

The 2021 renewal of the Lockinge Stakes looks a good one. A competitive one – at least for the minor placings.

Because Palace Pier stands head- and shoulders above the rest of the field. The betting market isn’t wrong when it gives him a 60%+ chance of adding a third Group 1 to his tally.

The four-year-old colt looked as good as ever on his seasonal reappearance last month when making 115 and 116 rated horses look like class 6 handicappers. He left the disappointment of British Champions Day firmly behind. A race he still managed to finish in third place despite losing a shoe.

Palace Pier’s 114 topspeed rating is – not surprisingly – the highest on offer in this field. A performance achieved on heavy ground. Therefore the rain won’t stop him today.

Aiden O’Brien saddles Lope Y Fernandez – the second highest rated horse in the field. Clearly a talented individual, he started the season well with a fine effort in a listed contest at Leopardstown. His overall win record isn’t impressive, though. Yet to win at the highest level, he only found three times the winners enclosure in 13 starts and hasn’t run beyond a 97 topspeed rating. Not good enough.

Progressive Top Rank, a recent Doncaster Mile winner, is six from eight. Not impossible that he can improve again. He’d have to take giant steps to challenge the favourite, though.

Light raced My Oberon is on the up too. The drop to a mile shouldn’t be an issue. The ground is a question mark and the fact remains in six runs he hasn’t been able to achieve an adequate topspeed that in my book is required for this level.

I can only see two horses able to make this a race: Century Dream and Safe Voyage. The latter enjoyed the best year of his career as a seven-year-old in 2020. Three victories, including two Group 2 races and a fine third place in the Group 1 Prix de la Foret.

Even though he won the Boomerang Mile at Leopardstown last autumn, I have a few concerns over the mile trip, particularly in soft conditions.

That won’t be an issue for Century Dream. He posted a career best when winning the Celebration Mile at Goodwood last year where he achieved a 110 topspeed rating. Clearly the more rain the better for him. He wasn’t able to win a Group 1 yet, though ran with plenty of credit in a number of them.

Century Dream shouldn’t be good enough to pose a real danger to Palace Pier. Nobody in this field is. He is, nonetheless, a huge price and overpriced, certainly from ad an each-way proposition. If the price would drift out further for Safe Voyage he also would become a viable each-way alternative.

Nonetheless, it’s impossible look past Palace Pier. He is in a different league to all the others here. Baring a accident, I can’t see him getting beaten here. Will it be as impressive as Paco Boy in 2010? Unlikely.

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From a pure betting perspective I have a fundamental interest in the King Charles II Stakes (2:40pm) at Newmarket this afternoon. This looks a intriguing contest. You can’t ignore the impression Bellosa made over course and distance four weeks ago.

At given prices I reckon there is significant juice in the price of the Gosden horse Fundamental. He is beautifully bred and has ran to 92 topspeed rating already when landing a strong contest on the Chelmsford polytrack last month. He followed up with another promising display in the Greenham Stakes.

That performance is much better than the bare form may suggest. Fundamental raced rather uneconomical, making a big move on the outside of the field from six to four furlongs out using a lot of energy and buying ground when it wasn’t really advantageous to so in such an aggressive manner.

Whether 7 furlongs is his trip remains to be seen. But Fundamental has shown enough speed and may enjoy the slower ground here. He’s overpriced at 9/2 and above on the exchanges.

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Preakness Stakes: the second leg of the American Triple Crown tonight. Leaving the doping controversy aside, the question from a racing perspective is: can Medina Sprit follow up?

Fair to say he got the run of the race in the Kentucky Derby. A pretty clear run to grab the lead after the start and unchallenged for the lead throughout. While some of the fancied front-runners didn’t have it so easy. He’s one to take on here, no doubt.

Not much made an impression from off the pace that day. The one who did and clearly caught the eye was Midnight Bourbon. He got badly bumped and squeezed right after the gate opened and had his route to a more advantageous position blocked.

He settled well off the pace, forced wide. Whether it was the smartest ride by rider Mike Smith to give so much ground away is debatable. Perhaps no other ride would have made any difference.

It wasn’t plain sailing to fight for space when turning for home either. Midnight Bourbon showed guts and fought for a gap entering the home straight. The bird was flown at that point, nonetheless he ran on well enough until eased in the final furlong.

His Derby trial performances, while not super impressive, where promising and the form franked. He’s a huge runner in the Preakness this evening from a good draw, in a smaller field and a much better chance to be up with the pace. At 8/1 he’s a good price in my book.

Favourite Horse: Rachel Alexandra

Favourite Horse: over the next weeks I am writing a series of articles about horses I hold dear to my heart. Classy miler Paco Boy kicked off proceedings in part I – next up is a “filly for the ages”. 

Normally US racing on dusty dirt isn’t quite my cup of tea. Yet here on dirt it happened: a race I’ll never forget. It’s the 1st of May 2009, an unusually scorching hot day – I remember it vividly, sweating in front of the laptop in a stuffy living room.

Late evening, I’ve got a grainy stream from Churchill Downs: post parade for the Kentucky Oaks. This ridiculously short priced favourite heads the field – I throw a bit of money on Flying Spur, the second favourite. Not the wisest investment as it turns out.

Rachel Alexandra is three to one on in the betting. Little did I know about her at this point in time. Minutes later the whole racing world will know about her. Hard on the bridle she destroys her six rivals by 20 lengths – the widest winning margin in the Kentucky Oaks ever:

The “super filly” goes on from here proving this otherworldly performance wasn’t a fluke. She takes on the boys in the Preakness Stakes. Odds are staked against her: no filly has won the second leg of the Triple Crown since 1924. Rachel Alexandra usually enjoys to run from the front but has been dealt the widest draw on this day.

Yet jockey Calvin Borel gets Rachel Alexandra across to lead wire to wire: “And the filly did it!” screams an excited Tom Hammond in the commentators box. The first filly to win the Preakness Stakes, doing so she’s defeating Kentucky Derby champion Mine That Bird.

Rachel Alexandra becomes a star that shines beyond the boundaries of horse racing. She features in “Vogue” magazine and a legion of fans follow her every move – so do I, although from far away. Still, those Saturdays in the summer of 2009 – “Rachel Saturdays” – are cherished memories to this day.

Only six weeks after the Preakness she romped home in the Mother Goose – only three rivals in her way, though leaving a multiple Grade one winner more than 30 lengths behind, nearly breaking Secretariat’s track record, if not for being heavily eased in the final furlong.

Another almighty performance against the boys in the Haskell Invitational Stakes – she makes it look so easy, beating Belmont Stakes champ Summer Bird by six lengths on a muddy track, again running an incredibly fast time, despite the conditions, becoming the second filly in history to win the race,

A final ‘hallelujah’ in September saw Rachel Alexandra write history – once more – as the first filly to land the Woodward Stakes. This time in a dramatic finish, holding off the late charges from high class rivals after setting grueling early fractions from the front in her usual style. It leaves commentator Tom Durkin stunned as he concludes his call “She is, indeed, Rachel Alexandra The Great!”.

2009 was her year: Unbeaten in eight races, five Grade 1’s – each for every month from May to September. She beats the boys in the Preakness, Haskell, and Woodward – her spectacular three-year campaign is probably only matched by Sea The Stars on the other side of the globe!

That intense year took a toll on Rachel Alexandra. The next season she clearly wasn’t the same filly. Five more races, three of them end in defeat. She never reached the same heights again. After another shock defeat in August 2010 Rachel Alexandra is retired to become a broodmare.

She produced a colt and a filly but it turned out she wasn’t suited to the breeding game. She nearly died in the aftermath of the delivery of her second and final foal, Rachel’s Valentina.

To this day Rachel Alexandra has a loyal fanbase and they come to visit her at Stonestreet Farm. Once a year the “See Rachel Day” provides opportunity to those who are lucky enough to win a ticket to be invited to spend some time with the “Super Filly”.

There was something special about Rachel Alexandra as a race horse that made me follow her with passion throughout her career, but especially that magic summer of 2009: the white blaze across the face, you could easily make her out among a bunch of other horses. An athletic, strong body and beautiful bay colour; alert and all heart when it mattered most, galloping her rivals into submission from the front.

I want to end this piece with a recommendation to sit back, relax and enjoy this wonderful homage on Rachel Alexandra and her biggest victories – it still gives me chills, even after watching it probably a hundred times by now. Rachel Alexandra: a filly for the ages!

A Weekend To Remember

What a roller-coaster week. Culminating in an emotional and dramatic weekend that included a 16/1 winning selection for the 1000 Guineas as well as a winner in the Kentucky Derby that was no winner half an hour later and a superstar on the other side of the globe far too few people have heard of yet!

Throw in a couple of unlucky 2nd places and a 2000 Guineas result that left me wonder “what if” and you’ve certainly got a few days to remember!

2000 Guineas: What Draw Bias?!

Horses loading for the first Classic of the 2019 flat season, a last few words from Johnny Murtagh on ITV: he’s now leaning toward Magna Grecia based on his observation of the existence of a draw bias in favour of the stands-side.

A few minutes later Twitter was running hot as Magna Grecia passed the line in front of everyone else, indeed. The colt trained by Aiden O’Brien – of course – won the battle of his small group on the stand-side, far away from the rest of the field, comfortably. And because his side was always ahead throughout the race he won the 2000 Guineas rather comfortably in the end.

My selection Skardu ran a massive race and finished 3rd, winning the race in his much larger group. I guess, ideally we wouldn’t have this discussion now and instead we’d have seen a “fair” race. But this is racing. Happened in the past. Will happen again.

Whether there was a draw bias I am not so sure. Most likely there was a pace bias, though. And this had the most profound impact on the outcome of the race. This is certainly something that occurs any given day. If you’re drawn close to the pace and you follow it you always have a better chance of winning than not.

Smarter people will be able to explain all the exact reasons behind it in greater detail than I can or want right now. But that is a racing fact.

On balance I believe – at least over 1 mile – there is little between Magna Grecia and Skardu, and possibly Madhmoon. Will we see a re-match at the Curragh in a few weeks time? Magna Grecia is bound for the first Irish Classic. Wouldn’t it be nice to see these three meet there again? I’d love to see that!

Derby Delight Turns Sour

I live for these big races. The anticipation building over the whole day leading up to the moment when the gates crash open – pure excitement!

Normally I’m neither too high nor too low watching bred and butter racing, regardless of betting, the winning or the losing. Big races get my blood flowing, though.

Getting up at 3am in the morning for the Melbourne Cup? No bother. I can’t sleep anyway because of all the butterflies in my stomach!

The Kentucky Derby is one of my favourite races of the entire year. The occasion, build-up and atmosphere transported thanks to the outstanding NBC coverage is simply stunning.

No different this Saturday night. I was cheering home my selection Maximum Security with passion – surely the neighbours enjoyed it too – pumping the first in the air as the colt crossed the line ahead of everyone else. And who wouldn’t? A 9/1 winner in the Kentucky Derby is something to shout about!

Then the dreaded words: “objection lodged…. hold on to your tickets”. What follows are replay after replay dissecting ever aspect of the final three furlongs of the 145 Kentucky Derby. It was obvious Maximum Security was the best horse in the race. The runner-up Country House had no right to be upset with the result. He wasn’t impeded at all!

But it was also obvious Maximum Security impeded other horses when shifting around when turning home. It could resulted in a pretty bad situation on a different day.

Taking that into consideration I can understand the disqualification. And given the strict US rules it probably was the right call in the end.

On the other hand, whether it is truly a fair call to take the race away from the horse that was quite clearly the best one in the race, because of shifting around in an incredibly tight situation, racing on the limit at the end of a tough contest, doing so on a sloppy surface….

After all these are animals, not robots who run straight on rails as if they’d be pre-programmed machines.

It all happens so fast, there are 150.000 people screaming, horses and riders fighting for space, whips flying around…. it’s racing, not chess. These things happen in the sport and the question that needs to be raised in these type of situations is: did the winner got an unfair advantage and did the runner-up lost because of this situation?

The answer is unequivocal NO in this instance.

Ultimately I feel Maximum Security should have kept the race. What a fairytale it would have been. A horse thought to be so bad he started his career in a $16k claimer, going to win the Kentucky Derby…..

The Best Ever? 

South Africa as produced a lot of fantastic race horses over the years. The likes of Variety Club or Igugu come to my mind, in particular. But there is a new kid on the block and he could be the best there ever was in South Africa – some already suggest!

Well, one thing is for sure: Hawwaam is an incredibly exciting colt, with a turn of foot you rarely see produced in such stunning manner. How he races away from his rivals in the closing stages, like it’s the easiest thing in the world, is nothing short of breathtaking.

I took note for the first time – and was immensely impressed –  when Hawwaam stepped into Grade 1 company for the first time in the SA Classic earlier this year as he arguably exploded in the final furlong putting a handful of lengths between himself and the rest in a matter of strides.

He followed up on Saturday in the Grade 1 Champions Challenge when stepping up to the 10 furlongs distance and he couldn’t have been more impressive. How often do you see a horse in a top-level contest travelling hard on the bridle approaching the final furlong and then shooting clear under hands and heels? This horse is special:

On to the Durban July now? He surly will go off a warm favourite. And only luck or the lack of can stop him there I reckon.

How great would it be to see this superstar travel the world?! And what a shame that it remains so difficult for South African horses to travel. In turn it means far too few people get to know these classy horses that race on the other side of the globe.

Wayne Lordan Defies the Stats

He was 1 for 42 rides in the UK for Aiden O’Brien and his mounts went off a 25/1 average SP – Wayne Lordan couldn’t have been an unlikelier hero in the 1000 Guineas today – at least judged by the numbers.

Riding the least fancied of the Ballydoyle string once more, Hermosa was a largely ignored runner coming into the race. You could back her at 20/1+ this morning.

I missed those massive prices, but still got 16s with only a few hours to go to the race when making her my sole selection for the 1000 Guineas.

All credit to Wayne Lordan, though. What superb ride: incredibly brave, at the same time keeping it simple, bouncing the filly out of the stalls sending her straight to the lead, knowing Hermosa would likely stay all day and night long.

And she did! She was gutsy, stuck to her guns when challenged and won well in the end. A supremely well bred filly, adds another big race success to her superstar family, given she is a full-sister to Group 1 winners Hydrangea and The United States.

It brings a hectic week to an end. I had 30 bets. Way too many. I go carried away on Monday in particular but was bailed out by New Show at Windsor, thankfully. 4 winners & 120pts profit this week – the highlight obviously Hermosa.

A week of what would have been. 10 placed horses, multiple of those beaten in tight finishes on the line. A winner in the Kentucky Derby that was taken away half an hour later.

Well…. onwards and upwards. 

Preview: Kentucky Derby 2019

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11.50pm Irish time: gates crash open for the 145th Kentucky Derby! The Run for the Roses is the longest running sporting event in the United States. This years edition appears to be particularly wide open in the absence of recently withdrawn ante-post favourite Omaha Beach.

As a consequence you can make a case for plenty of horses. Bob Baffert remains to have a strong hand, of course. Though, I fancy two horses that seemingly sail a little bit under the radar at the moment.

War Of Will – his stock has significantly fallen since a disappointing effort in the Louisiana Derby. Disappointing only on paper, though. Watch the start of the race and you see how he looses his footing soon after leaving the stalls, pulling a muscle as a result.

That aside, since switched to the dirt, he won three races on the bounce, including two graded contests. He did so in fine style, running away with the races once entering the home straight.

He’s been a high class juvenile on turf last year, runner-up in the Grade 1 Summer Stakes and finishing  good fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.

If you’re willing to excuse the last run – he was 4/5 favourite, telling something about the expectations for this colt – you’ll see a classy, progressive individual, who’s taken really well to the dirt – and who has, as a little bonus, local form as well as form on a sloppy track.

Drawn right next to the rails can be a struggle, however he has early speed to overcome this task. Obviously, a different question is whether he can make the step up to Grade 1 company and has the stamina to stay the Derby trip.

We’ll find out. Crucially, the talking of the track is he’s flying at the moment, having worked really well leading up to the big race. At a big price he’s a rather easy choice for me today.

Maximum Security – By no means I am an expert if it comes to US racing, nonetheless I struggle to understand why this colt isn’t closer to the top of the market than he is. Sure, he started his career in a cheap claiming race, but ever since winning on debut he’s kicked on to new heights, culminating in the Grade 1 Florida Derby victory.

Unbeaten in four starts, it seems his recent top level success is questioned because Maximum Security lead from the front, setting slow fractions. That certainly is true and will be different today, but on the other hand, simply from a visual perspective, one could hardly been more impressed with the way he put the race to bed in the end.

On the clock he ran the last three furlongs in less than 36 seconds – easily. According to Beyer Speed Ratings, he’s ran twice to a rating o 100 or higher already. Not other horse in this years Kentucky Derby lineup has shown that sort of speed.

Early speed will lead Maximum Security to the front or near to it from a good draw. Once he’s there, how he’ll react being hard pressed, going potentially fast for a long period, over a trip he’s uncertain to stay – we’ll find out turning for home whether he’s a Derby horse.

On the plus side: Maximum Security has shown in the past he doesn’t need to lead, and he has form on a sloppy track as well.

Selections:
5pts win – Maximum Security @ 9/1 Coral
5pts win – War Of Will @ 20/1 MB

PREVIEW: Belmont Stakes – Justify a Triple Crown Winner?

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An almighty task on hand, the chance to become an equine legend beckons at the end of it – Justify has to defy history one more time to land the Triple Crown!

Still unbeaten, the Scat Daddy colt only started his racing career in February this year. He’s come a long way since then. Memorable victories in the Santa Anita Derby, the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes bring him here to this day, the day where it’s all on the line.

We all want to see a Triple Crown winner. And we may do so today. It’s so difficult to achieve, such a tremendous ask for a three year old colt who’s still learning his trade. Three grueling races within four weeks; different trips, tracks, underfoot conditions, going against some fresh and not so fresh, inexperienced and race hardened rivals.

If history tells us how difficult it is to win the Triple Crown then we must saviour the opportunity to witness the second one of these historical achievements within three years. Amercian Pharoah broke through this barrier that latest decades. Who’d have thought we might see one again so soon after?

So, the question everyone is asking: can he do it???

No. He can’t. My heart wants it. My head disagrees.

There are a few much smarter brains than I am out there who brought compelling arguments forward for and against. What sticks out for me personally is Simon Rowlands take on the race as he uses striding analysis to understand how Justify’s performances to this date compare to other notable Triple Crown winners.

His comparison and the facts uncovered are comprehensive. They tend to agree with my less so analytical thoughts: Justify is all speed. Or mostly speed. His pedigree doesn’t scream “I want a trip” either.

Don’t get me wrong, he impressed me in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, no doubt. The way he looks, the way he moves, the way he goes about his business.

Today is an entirely different race, though. Different conditions. An additional two furlongs. Against opposition that didn’t have to compete in all three Triple Crown races. Some of these may have a bit more left in the locker plus a few of the rivals Justify will meet today are likely to appreciate this marathon trip quite a bit more than he likely does.

Lest to forget: Justify needed to go all out for a while now – on the go since February – each month one important race for him to contest and be at his best. That must take its toll.

if it doesn’t- and if Justify can overcome all of these hurdles then he truly is a special horse, one that warrants to be mentioned in line with the best – make no mistake about that.

Okay so, if not Justify, who’s then going to win the Belmont?

Well, I take a punt. He’s not the most obvious one, he may not be good enough after all. Regardless, I do sense that Free Drop Billy is overpriced. He hasn’t won a race this year and only managed to get places in a couple of Grade 2- and 3 contests. He ran in the Kentucky Derby like his price suggested: rotten.

BUT there is a big but: Free Drop Billy is a Grade 1 winner already, nonetheless. He landed the Breeders’ Futurity Stakes at Keeneland as a juvenile. He also was a fair runner-up at this seasonal reappearance this year in February behind Derby third Audible. He clearly has class.

That says he very much looks like a grinder. One who’s always going to get beaten for speed. He’s also one who is likely to get into his own in the second half of the year – so now! Free Drop Billy is May foal; normally these individuals need a bit more time.

Connections clearly felt that way after the Derby. They gave him time off. He bypassed the Preakness and comes here fresher than most. And there is the fact that he is a son of Union Rags – himself a Belmont Stakes winner – while also being a half-brother to multiple 1m 4f Stakes scorer Hawkbill.

Dare I say that Free Drop Billy looked excellent in his work this week leading up to the big race? I start to believe….

In saying all of this, Free Drop Billy needs to improve, needs to step up a good deal to be in with a shout. I feel there is a better chance for him to do exactly that than the betting suggests. I believe he is a lively place chance, at the very least.

Selection:
5pts Each/Way (3 places, 1/5) – Free Drop Billy @ 66/1 VC

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Photo: nytimes.com

Monday Selections: May, 7th 2018

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That was as rough as it gets! In brutal conditions on a muddy Churchill Downs oval Justify justified the favourite tag to land the 144th Kentucky Derby. The colt overcame the so called “Apollo curse” as for a mere 136 years no horse unraced at two was able to win the Derby!

My boy Mendelssohn lost every chance before it really began. The writing was on the wall when the heaven opened its gates as the more rain fell the less likely Mendelssohn was to enjoy the experience he was due to encounter.

As if that wasn’t enough already staked against him, right after the start Mendelssohn was nearly taken out by the cavalry of horses charging across from the wider gates. He didn’t break badly, yet he didn’t break quite fast enough either in order avoid it.

I found it interesting to read Aiden O’Brien’s comments afterwards. They were surprisingly insightful as even he seemed puzzled by the whole experience – he who’s seen so much already!

“There were nearly 160,000 people there, all wet, all screaming, the rain coming from everywhere. Everyone was jammed in and everyone had these plastic things [ponchos] on them.  Mendelssohn was just mind-blown by the whole thing. I’ve never experienced something like yesterday. It was just mad. That many people, that’s two cup final crowds together.”

Ballydoyle, though, haven’t lost faith in Mendelssohn to deliver the goods on US dirt. A bid for Breeder’s Cup Classic crown is firmly on the agenda for the colt later this year.

….

3.25 Bath: Class 6 Handicap, 5.5f

Top weight Chicago School has been disappointing since his return to the UK, though he had some valid excuses those last starts as he completely missed the break at Wolverhampton three weeks ago and was carried out to the widest outside turning for home at Lingfield before that.

In truth, those performances are in line with his last few starts at Dundalk, though, back in December he was still able to win a super competitive handicap at the county Louth track.

The interesting bit today is: Chicago School back on turf. Not since October 2015 have we seen the now five year old gelding on the green grass. The last time he was a a 74 rated individual, a mark back then he proved to be worthy of when finishing an fair third at Musselburgh.

Plenty of non-runners today at Bath due to the fast going. This could be an advantage for Chicago School. In his six career turf starts, in five of those the word “firm” appeared in some shape or form in the going description and three times he finished in the money.

So it is fair to assume his best is likely to come on firmish ground. His turf handicap mark off 58 could really underestimate his chances today, given he ran to much higher time speed ratings and RPR’s on turf in the past.

Jockey George Downing comes to Bath for this one ride and his record over the 5.5f trip here is excellent. That says, the latest forms Chicago School produced are slightly concerning as twice he missed the break. Let’s hope this does not become a habit and the return to turf rejuvenates him.

Selection:
10pts win – Chicago School @ 14/1 VC

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6.05 Windsor: Class 5 Handicap, 5f

Bottom weight Haveoneyerself looks poised for a big run with conditions he likes off a career lowest weight. The winter on the All-Weather didn’t really work out for him and on his seasonal turf debut over CD last month the heavy ground certainly annihilated his chances.

Judged on juvenile turf form, though, he could have a big shout today: he placed a couple of times in Novice races on fast going at the beginning of his career and eventually landed a nursery of a mark off 70 at Bath in August.

That is not a particularly strong piece of form, nonetheless, Haveoneyerself has dropped to 62 now which may underestimate him given he has ran to TS 66 already.

Selection:
10pts win – Haveoneyerself @ 7/1 Sky