National Hunt 2018/19: An ante-post look at the Cheltenham Festival

Until the introduction of Champions’ Day, the Cesarewitch was the conventional season-ender of the Summer’s flat racing festivities. For me therefore, it is a perfect opportunity to look ahead to the jumps. Predictions this fsr in the future are wrought with danger and so here I pick three horses for each of the Cheltenham Festival’s four championship races: the likely winner (injuries aside), the intriguing challenger and the dark horse.

Champion Hurdle:

Winner: Buveur D’Air

The only reason I can think of for his narrow margin of defeating Melon this year was that he’d not been forced to engage top gear prior to Prestbury Park. Having defended his title, however, and with novice chasing plans shelved until his crown comes under serious threat, Buveur D’Air is still the horse to beat. He is blessed with a turn of foot but I don’t remember seeing a slicker hurdler of timber. He gains lengths at each obstacle and if Nicky Henderson were to find some more demanding targets, if that is possible, of course, the seven-year-old looks set to dominate the market for Tuesday’s spectacle yet again.

Challenger: Samcro

Now.

We do not know yet whether Jesus on hooves is being aimed at a novice chasing campaign or a tilt at the Champion Hurdle. Michael O’Leary and Gordon Elliott are keeping their cards firmly pressed against their chests but I would suggest it is more than likely that Samcro will be given at least another season over hurdles. The Gold Cup is the long term aim but I was very taken by his Neptune win in March given he lost a shoe and didn’t really stay. He has so much raw ability and looked in control in the Champion Hurdle at Punchestown until coming down late in the day. His reputation still proceeds him in spite of some already commendable achievements but he looks a superstar and can serve it up to the favourite, if he isn’t that himself, in this discipline.

Dark Horse: We Have A Dream

Five-year-olds don’t have a great record in the Champion Hurdle (Katchit was the last winner of that age in 2008). However, this Henderson juvenile was outstanding all season. Like Buveur D’Air, he hurdles so sharply and his opening two victories at Doncaster displayed immense promise. He followed that with two victories in unfavourable soft ground before hacking up in a Grade One at Aintree in April. He missed the Triumph Hurdle, which I’m sure he’d have won, and though caution must be taken after Defi Du Seuil’s disappointments of last season, We Have A Dream is a horse to follow in the coming months. A decent preparation could set him up for a big run next Spring.

Champion Chase:

Winner: Altior

It is impossible not to tip Altior for the Champion Chase. He is unbeaten over obstacles, never seriously being threatened in the process and is simply quicker than any other horse currently in training. His jumping is sound at worst, electric at best and though this division is comfortably the strongest, he would still take all the beating. He was unable to run until February last season and was still firmly on top come the festival and so who knows what a peak fitness Altior with a full season’s racing may do.

Challenger: Douvan

Two years ago, Douvan had the equine world at his mercy, seemingly unstoppable. Since then, he has broken down when 1/4 for the Queen Mother in 2017, fallen when leading in the same contest earlier this year and been run ragged by stablemate Un De Sceaux at Punchestown. Rich Ricci and Willie Mullins are still confident that Douvan’s full potential has not been realised and based on the pre-Altior days, he could still be a phenomenal champion. It may even help that he now has something to prove and he will be the stable’s no.1 when the time comes for battle. Altior vs Douvan is still the most mouthwatering clash imaginable and I pray both make it to Cheltenham in top condition.

Dark horse: Great Field

Like Altior, Great Field is unbeaten over fences though he is yet to set foot outside of Ireland. Indeed, he has only ever raced five times over the larger obstacles although he has improved with every start, culminating in an astonishing success over Doctor Phoenix in which he was over twenty lengths clear on the bridle racing into the straight. The winning margin was a length and a half after he was all but eased down before the final fence so his potential remains completely untapped. Injury hindered his previous campaign but there is no doubt that if he avoids harm at home, Great Field will be aimed at the highest level.

Stayers Hurdle:

Winner: Faugheen

I, along with many others, was calling for the Machine’s retirement after he finished down the field in the Champion Hurdle. Yet back he bounced, storming away with the Punchestown Stayers, retaining all the old force and style. It is easy to forget that Faugheen won the Neptune at the Festival as a novice and so the stamina was always there. Now he is ten, it is only being fully realised. The age is both a positive and a negative for he must remain enthusiastic to be competitive at the top but he was so far clear at Punchestown that the title is there for the taking, especially without a superstar in this field.

Challenger: Identity Thief

It appeared that Henry De Bromhead’s charge had lost interest in the sport after failing to shine over fences. Three below par runs preceded an encouraging runner-up spot in a Group Three prior to Cheltenham. Neverthless, nobody expected him to finish fourth in a Champion hurdle, nor follow that up with a flying success in the Liverpool Stayers from Wholestone. The extra distance brought out the old Identity Thief and then some and he can be forgiven his performance behind Faugheen at Punchestown given it came just twelve days after Aintree. He is now a dual Grade One winner and a campaign in the stayers division may continue to bring the best out of him. Long may it continue and I hope he serves it up to Faugheen in March.

Dark Horse: The World’s End

In 2017, The World’s End cruised into contention, looking all over the winner, in the Albert Bartlett novices, eventually won by this year’s Stayers Hurdle winner Penhill. He came down three out before gaining some compensation at Aintree. Thereafter, in his first full season in open company, he proved disappointing for Tom George, failing to place in five attempts and finishing only seventh behind Penhill in the aforementioned Stayers. However, he raced on ground unfavourably softer than good on each occasion last season and if a bit of luck arrived regards the ground, we may see a much improved specimen. There is no doubt the ability is there and prizes could soon follow.

Gold Cup:

Winner: Might Bite

Presenting Percy looks a real danger after his stellar novice performances last term but Might Bite continues to ooze more class than his current counterparts. His second to Native River was arguably his most impressive run last season as the ground was too soft for him to swagger up the hill. He still won the King George despite the cut though and was still able to waltz away with the Aintree Bowl despite it coming just four weeks after Cheltenham. If the rain stays away, he will be the marker by which the best are measured. I suspect few have the ability to surpass him.

Challenger: Sizing John

I’m not deliberately avoiding Presenting Percy but he’s too obvious a challenger and the forgotten horse, without being a “dark horse,” is the 2017 Gold Cup hero. He was not himself when walking home a distance behind Road To Respect in the Christmas Chase last season and with injury ruling him out of the remainder, Sizing John has both a crown to reclaim and fitness to regain. He’d previously proved the toughest nut to crack, having been unbeaten over further than 2m4f before his Christmas aberration and 14/1 may look great value if he returns to peak form.

Dark Horse: Terrefort

Another Henderson inmate but this French import is the reverse of Might Bite in terms of ground insofar as he much prefers the heavens to open. He’d previously appeared an unlikely stayer when second to Shattered Love in the JLT at this year’s Festival but he subsequently won impressively at Aintree when defeating the admirable Ms Parfois. He stayed every yard that day and so the extra furlong plus the daunting hill of the Gold Cup would now seem less of an issue for the grey. Terrefort has disappeared even from below the radar of many with other novices stealing more spotlight but ignoring him is a risky business.

There we have it. I’m hugely excited for the days ahead, when National Hunt replaces the flat on our TV screens. Bring on Cheltenham and may all my predictions prove worthless as long as the races are as thrilling as ever.

The Prix de L’Arc Preview

Europe’s crowning contest returns to Longchamp for the first time since 2015 as the continent’s champion middle distance runners go head-to-head. For the second year in succession there is no Derby winner and yet the sparkle remains with John Gosden’s Enable out to prove she’s the best once again. Here are the proposed runners:

  1. Defoe: Early season promise has failed to continue and he has come up short in all three previous Group Ones including when a supposed warm order the last twice. His second to Best Solution is not bad form and this is an open each-way betting contest but this is the strongest field he’s ever face by some margin and he looks up against it especially from stall 18. 2/5
  2. Salouen: Even though everything went right at Epsom, his second to Cracksman in the Coronation Cup is still good form and he’s made the frame in all bar one of his five starts this season. He hasn’t won for nearly two years but he enjoys the big occasion and with a favourable enough draw, its not beyond reason to suggest he could place again. Lively each-way at 66. 3/5
  3. Capri: Last year’s Irish Derby and St Leger form has worked out wonderfully and he was likely turned out again too quickly when second last in this twelve months ago. he’ll be fitter than his latest start but even an improvement back to his best leaves him something to overturn with Waldgeist. Jockey bookings have him as Ballydoyle’s number two and there’s no doubts about his staying power. Still unlikely to be good enough.
  4. Way To Paris: Gerald Mosse is an inspired booking after a great season and though Antonio Maricalis’ horse has been within three lengths of Waldgeist every time they’ve met this season, there has been little to suggest he can overturn that form regardless of conditions. Not unworthy of lining up but unlikely to break the top half. 2/5
  5. Waldgeist: Fulfilled previous promise this season with four straight wins. Hadn’t beaten a lot before victory in the Prix Foy last time out in which he beat a number of rivals today going away but the draw hasn’t been overly kind. He is on a roll but stamina will be truly tested in what will surely be a strongly run contest. Others preferred at better prices. 3/5
  6. Cloth Of Stars: Not at his best this season and would like soft to appear in the ground description at least partially. That said he’s been on the periphery of a big run and is highly consistent. The Fabre team may well have been preparing him for this race after his excellent second in this last season and his stamina will probably be seen to full effect. Would be no surprise whatsoever to see him bounce back to his best and outrun his odds here. 4/5
  7. Talismanic: Another Fabre/Godolphin inmate with a performance in him. Won the Breeders Cup Turf last season and has two wins this season but there is a chance that America is the aim once again. His preparation for this won’t have been taken lightly but form with Waldgeist looks less likely to be overturned than by stablemate Cloth Of Stars. Not discounted but no surprise if this wasn’t taken overly seriously. 3/5
  8. Tiberian: Beat Talismanic twice last season and William Buick riding is a plus but little else to get excited about. Has never shown in Group One company and his form this season is a long way below what’s required. 1/5
  9. Clincher: Japan will send a conqueror to win this race one day but Yutaka Take’s mount will not be the one. Entitled to improve for his first run in Europe when last of six in the Prix Foy but he’d have to have sprouted wings in the meantime to land this. Plum draw enables him some respect but may need the others to fall. 1/5
  10. Enable: Looking to become the second filly this decade to go back-to-back in this race and only the eighth to ever win it twice. Prep run was outstanding after so long off and though this will be her first experience of turf in over a year and her Longchamp debut to boot, she still looks to be a class apart. Kinder draw than her three nearest challengers in the market and difficult to see her being beaten. 5/5
  11. Neufbosc: Disappointed in the Prix Niel last time which is why he can be found at 50/1. Not beaten far by Kew Gardens in the Grand Prix de Paris but that form is dubious for a Group One and Aidan O’Brien’s inmate looks to have improved beyond that. Could give a good account but one of the least likely winners. 2/5
  12. Patascoy: Understandably a popular each-way call, his second to Study Of Man in the French Derby, form which could well be overturned due to the draw, alongside lines in his pedigree, suggests that this trip should be little to worry about. Only beaten by a rejuvenated Knight To Behold on his most recent run, he looks a reasonable enough price to be chanced especially with Olivier Peslier onboard. May want it a touch softer but in the mix. 3/5
  13. Kew Gardens: Capri combed in this when coming off the back of St Leger success last season but Kew gardens has had an extra week’s recuperation and was arguably rewarded with a kinder race than expected when victorious at Doncaster. Already a Group One winner over this trip in France, he may prove the biggest danger as though the draw has done him few favours, he’ll be dropped out the back. Has a stablemate to ensure a strong pace and ground conditions ideal. Highly respected. 4/5
  14. Study Of Man: May as well start from the Louvre such is the horror of drawing stall 19 of 19 in the Arc and though he is a French Derby hero, his two runs since have dulled the previous sparkle. The trip is questionable for Pascal Bary’s colt too and very difficult to see him involved barring a huge career best. 2/5
  15. Louis D’Or: Monstrous run when third in the French Derby but that’s as good as it gets. Never won on turf, one win in thirteen starts. Surprise if he’s not in the bottom three. 1/5
  16. Hunting Horn: Taking his best form into account, he seems the most likely to cause the upset. Ran away with the Hampton Court at Royal Ascot and nosed off by Brundtland in the Prix Niel, in which Neufbosc was behind. He battled tenaciously that day so doubts about the trip should be eased and he’s not disgraced himself in any of his globetrotting appearances. Still has a fair bit to find but if his name is in the mix under two furlongs out, it would be no surprise. 3/5
  17. Nelson: If he weren’t a pacemaker, he may well prove classy enough to place mid-division. Seventh despite front-running duties and late trouble in the St Leger but almost certainly here to set it up for Kew Gardens. 1/5
  18. Magical: By Galileo, so a chance this trip could yet suit but this couldn’t be any tougher for her first venture beyond 1m1f. Has had the class to be involved over a mile on most of her starts this season even though she strikes me as a mile-and-a-quarter filly so she could be a surprise package but it would require trust beyond which I’m willing to grant her. 2/5
  19. Sea Of Class: Proved she was out of the top drawer when storming clear in the Yorkshire Oaks, won last year by Enable before heading to Longchamp, but this is a further step up. The draw has been unkind and her first experience of a big field still gives her a lot to prove. Her famous sire won this nine years ago and it is in her blood but she may be better placed tin twelve months time. 3/5

Its not a betting race if you’re looking for a winner as ENABLE is not value at odds-on. Nevertheless, she’s still the winner in my eyes. Cloth Of Stars and Kew Gardens look like the most dangerous opposition while at big prices, Patascoy and Hunting Horn could also go very well.

  1. Enable
  2. Cloth Of Stars
  3. Kew Gardens

2018: The year the best horses didn’t win the Classics

Sometimes the best don’t get their just desserts. Greg Norman never won the Masters, Crisp the Grand National, England the 2018 World Cup. A current case in point is the 2018 Classic generation on the flat racing scene.

Every winner of the five Classics has deserved their victory on the day. All have been in control passing the winning post but, if every race was run again, conditions the same but with an absence of injuries, there could so easily be five different winners.

Yet, this year started with seemingly the best horse winning decisively, setting up realistic aspirations of the first Triple Crown in nearly fifty years. Saxon Warrior powered to victory, putting the 2000 Guineas to bed in a matter of strides. The world was at his feet.

Saxon Warrior was today retired without winning another race having remained unbeaten with his bombastic victory at Newmarket. His form figures were incredibly consistent thereafter, reading 43232 but they’re not the numbers of a champion.

There were two horses in behind Saxon Warrior at Newmarket that, in hindsight, were likelier winners. Masar, in third, won the Derby but was perhaps caught on the wrong side of the track as was Roaring Lion in fifth. John Gosden’s grey is the more deserving of alternate history’s 2000 Guineas after taking the Eclipse, Juddmonte International and Irish Champion Stakes, as well as third in the Derby. In all of those races, he finished ahead of Saxon Warrior.

The 1000 Guineas was even more extraordinary and with the weakest winner of the five. Billesdon Brook was the rank outsider at 66/1 with no form prior, or afterwards, suggesting she could possibly win. Sean Levey rode the race of his life and the spoils went the way of Richard Hannon’s team.

In behind, both Magical and Happily have proven very useful milers and Alpha Centauri was absent. She did at least gain compensation in Ireland but Laurens is certainly the most unfortunate loser of this particular piece. She was the runner-up who, had she seen the winner coming, would surely have toughed it out for victory. Since then, she’s won the French Guineas and a memorable Matron Stakes in which she downed the supposedly unbeatable Alpha Centauri.

Laurens was absent from Epsom, although she would eventually try to her hand at middle distance, but the Oaks this year must go down as one of the weakest in living memory. Forever Together was the correct winner on the day but both Sea Of Class and Lah Ti Dar would surely have been victorious if Epsom restaged the fillies’ contest. Aidan O’Brien’s horse is likeable and could yet give a good account at Longchamp in the Arc but would only have placed if the aforementioned duo had been fit enough to run.

The Derby is perhaps the most difficult to argue a case for an absentee or vanquished loser. Masar proved he had the ability to defeat a staying plodder in Dee Ex Bee and the stamina to outlast Roaring Lion and Saxon Warrior. Once more, it is the flying grey who gets the verdict as in my opinion, the O’Brien pacesetters ensured a strong gallop from the outset to play for Saxon Warrior’s supposed stamina. It never showed. As such, Roaring Lion was always set to struggle but in a kinder contest (to be a little polemic, this race is an example of where, I believe, trainers should be handed a maximum quota of runners as the O’Brien brigade can be far too dominant at times) his sheer class may have won the day and a second Classic. Masar, cruelly, is denied by a rapidly diminishing short head.

Roaring Lion has become a star but alternative history would have handed him two Classic belts to add to his own triple crown of lower-middle distance contests. Another star may have been born in Lah Ti Dar in the St Leger as well.

She was outmuscled and outmanoeuvred by Kew Gardens who had the brutal knowhow required to knuckle one’s way to the front at Doncaster. Lah Ti Dar was too slow to respond to Frankie Dettori’s urgings but finished well and stayed the trip effectively. Had she seen just a few more racecourses, or indeed rivals, she may have plundered the prize but there will likely be more to come as a four-year-old as she’ll hopefully stay in training.

So, to recap, these are 2018’s counterfactual Classic heroes and heroines, marking a treble for John Gosden:

2000 Guineas: Roaring Lion

1000 Guineas: Laurens

Oaks: Sea Of Class

Derby: Roaring Lion

St Leger: Lah Ti Dar

This is an absurd practice, of course (Aidan O’Brien couldn’t possibly go a year without a Classic) but it puts sport in perspective. The best cannot always win on sheer ability. Sometimes an underdog outperforms (Billesdon Brook), a spell on the sidelines creates opportunity for another (Forever Together), or conditions fall for another at the perfect time (Saxon Warrior, Masar, Kew Gardens). It is not always the case in racing but without these surprises, it would be soulless and predictable. Better for our pockets and maybe our blood pressure but not our hearts and minds.

Thank you to 2018’s Classic generation. You’ve proved a timely lesson for racing fanatics countrywide.

The St Leger

As with all the previous Classics, I preview all twelve runners in the Doncaster St Leger, tomorrow at 3:35. There are a couple of potential superstars in the field but nevertheless, it could prove to be a very closely run affair.

  1. Dee Ex Bee: Would be the one to beat on his Epsom Derby second to Masar but has completely failed to kick on since then. Would benefit for some rain, which seems to be arriving today and is a likely stayer but on collateral form there are a number who should prove too good. 2/5
  2. Kew Gardens: In my opinion, the sensible bet and one to beat. Cruised to victory in the Queens Vase at Royal Ascot over this trip having been given no chance in the Derby due to tactics. Has since won a Group One in France and was third under a 5lb penalty in the Great Voltigeur at York. Old Persian won that under a 3lb penalty of his own but over this longer trip Aidan O’Brien’s charge looks the likelier stayer and could take all the beating. 5/5
  3. Loxley: Only Godolphin’s second string but is progressing nicely after successive victories at Deauville. He’d previously been second to Wells Farhh Go in the Bahrain Trophy but was outstayed at the finish which would be a concern as this requires an extra furlong’s getting. He has, though, won all three starts on soft so can’t be completely ruled out. 3/5
  4. Nelson: Looked a useful prospect as a two-year-old and started his Classic year with a fine victory in the Ballysax stakes. However, he hasn’t kicked on whatsoever and has been used as a pacemaker for more fancied stablemates on his last two starts. Likely, he’ll be used in that role once again and no realistic chance of him causing an upset. 1/5
  5. Old Persian: Only disappointment came when down the field in a strange running of the Irish Derby but he’s won on his three starts either side of that including in the King Edward VII Stakes at the Royal meeting and in the Great Voltigeur under a 3lb penalty latest. He got the run of the race that day and was finishing weakest of the front three and though he’s game, this stamina test may prove beyond him. Should give a good account without winning 3/5
  6. Proschema: Has been progressing in handicaps and regularly runs towards the top of the weights. Third in the Melrose handicap at York was solid and an improvement as he’d previously appeared unable to stay 1m6f but this needs a huge step forward against horses used to pattern company. 2/5
  7. Raymond Tusk: Ran a blinder in the Eclipse on just his third start and that proved to be too short a trip. Was unlucky in running in the Geoffrey Freer at Newbury when runner-up to Hamada but he finished very strongly. Question mark hovers about softer than good but he’s a probable improver and can be thereabouts. 4/5
  8. Southern France: Slightly unlucky to only finish fourth in the Irish St Leger trial but he’d been a fast finishing second to Kew Gardens in the Queen’s Vase so he’ll definitely stay. Only five starts on the board so fairly unexposed and he could be a wildcard, certainly for a place. 3/5
  9. The Pentagon: Was the Derby favourite as a two-year-old but has not delivered on that promise and though he may stay, others can be readily preferred even though his form is half decent given its been at a high level throughout though unlikely to be a pacemaker with two weaker stablemates in the field, so he’s been entered for a reason and his stable is now back in form. 2/5
  10. Zabriskie: Third in the Dante is by far his best showing to date but was last in the Derby and may not stay even if he isn’t used to set the pace. Can confidently say he’s got no chance. 1/5
  11. Lah Ti Dar: One of two fillies and probably the best horse in the race as she hammered her sex by ten lengths in the Listed Galtres Stakes. She should cope better than most with a bit of cut and connections are confident she’ll stay. I’m not so sure particularly as the pace from Ballydoyle will surely be a quick one to exploit any weaknesses in her stamina. May win anyway but this is a gruelling first assignment at the top level. 4/5
  12. Maid Up: Pipped by Pilaster at Goodwood over this trip before winning the March Stakes last month. Was supplemented so connections feel she’s up for it and no doubt she’ll last the trip but she needs to step up further on anything she’s shown to date and form not been overly franked. 2/5

KEW GARDENS wouldn’t want too much rain but he wouldn’t be overly inconvenienced by some give in the ground. He’s a Group One winner and guaranteed stayer and while he may not possess the class of Lah Ti Dar, this race should be run to his liking and he can tough it out. Raymond Tusk is next on the shortlist.

  1. Kew Gardens
  2. Lah Ti Dar
  3. Raymond Tusk

St Leger Day 3

Another each-way day today, with all three placing, two of which were 8/1 and 10/1. Still, that’s not good enough. My picks for tomorrow will win. I’m sure of it.

The Sceptre Stakes at 1:50 could well be perfect for Laugh Aloud, who will be fitter for her comeback run a fortnight ago but ANNA NERIUM has likely found her distance having won over this trip in this grade on her latest start. She’d previously failed to stay a mile as successfully but though she carries a penalty, she is a mature three-year-old and her mark would suggest she’s up for back-to-back victories.

The Flying Childers, a Group Two, is next up (2:25) and RUMBLE INTHEJUNGLE looks set to fire having recently been purchased by Cheveley Park. Richard Spencer had a winner today in Stay Classy and his charge’s victory in the Molecomb at Goodwood is the clear standout here though Legends Of War may prove dangerous down in trip now that he’s got the hang of racing at the top level.

The handicap at 3:00 could prove a Leger consolation for BEN VRACKIE. In receipt of 10lb for his age, he was a beaten favourite in a Goodwood Group Three over this trip but is worth another crack as he destroyed the opposition on his previous start. His mark should be fair enough to beat 2017 Ebor winner Nakeeta who is putting together some promising finishes as Iain Jardine prepares him for the Melbourne Cup.

Finally, in the Doncaster Cup (3:35), it is interesting that David Simcock has eventually stepped ALGOMETER up significantly in trip. He’d always shaped like a long distance horse but has never gone beyond a mile and three quarters. The ground will be sound enough for him and the field isn’t possessive of a top quality horse. Thomas Hobson is the likely danger for Willie Mullins.

St Leger Meeting Day 2

The final Classic has a number of stellar declarations but for two days prior, Doncaster hosts some top class fields during its flagship meetings. Below are my selections for today.

In the opening nursery, while Winter Light looks to have promise for Richard Hughes, STRICT TEMPO looks a better proposition at the prices. Currently around 10/1, her victory last time out has been penalised just 2lb and while this is of a higher class, she won takingly and can improve again to win this.

Anything could win the May Hill at 2:25 so that race is avoided but in the Park Hill at 3:00, PILASTER looks a worthy favourite. The horse she beat last time was supplemented for the St Leger on Saturday suggesting their meeting was a decent one and given that Roger Varian’s charge came out on top, she should have enough about her to defy a penalty especially as she remains relatively unexposed. The form dictates she should only be challenged by Horseplay, another penalised for recent performances.

A gamble is taken in the 4:40, the 1m2f handicap, on FINNISTON FARM, who is on a very generous mark based on his form from the start of this season. He was second in the Free Handicap of 6lb higher then and was fifth at Listed level on his sole start at this trip. He does have to bounce back from two below-par runnings most recently but the three-year-old allowance gives him another 6lb of leeway and he looks the pick of the Classic generation in this.

 

The Ebor Meeting Day 4

It’s been an incident filled meeting on the Knavesmire with the Nunthorpe, implausibly, decided by an even tighter margin than last year. I can have few excuses for having only two winners but the fact that I have only had a single loser (that being Angel’s Hideaway who was unlucky and unfit) is something to shout about as we enter the final day. Here are my selections as the richest British flat handicap comes under the spotlight.

In the opening Strensall Stakes, LORD GLITTERS is the comfortable pick. Mustashry has improvement in him and Threading likes racing at York, although both her wins have turned out poorly in the form book. David O’Meara’s grey meanwhile, has been placed at higher levels than this the last thrice and though he hasn’t win recently, it hasn’t appeared to be due to a lack of desire. This drop in class should see him on top and the extra furlong shouldn’t bother him as he usually comes from the back.

The three-year-old Melrose Handicap at 2:25, the untried are of significant interest. The fact that Heart Of Grace begins her handicapping career over this trip is intriguing but SUPERNOVA (NAP) asserted strongly at the end of a mile and a half last time and has only been raised 5lb. He is two from two this season and looks treated to continue his 100% record.

The Ebor holds my next tip but while all the rage has been for the Willie Mullins trained Stratum, DYLAN MOUTH won a Group Three over course and distance latest. He’d never appeared to stay this sort of trip prior but Dane O’Neill gave him a canny ride which suggests connections may know how to plan their race. The form of that victory is decent in comparison with many of these and he was once thought of as very high class. The mark in a handicap where every horse is rated over 100 shouldn’t be of too much concern.

My final selection comes in the 4:50 as though Pivoine has first time blinkers and was unlucky latest at Goodwood, he and SOCIETY RED look to have little between them. However, the latter is a much bigger price and has won readily over track and trip earlier this season. He too was hampered in the same race at Goodwood and a line can be drawn through the 0 in between races as he evidently didn’t relish stepping up in trip. He’s on a career high mark but has the profile to contend above it.