The Craven Stakes may be the day's richest race but jumps fans won't care two hoots about that
This afternoon’s Craven Stakes looks one of the most open renewals for years with bookmakers struggling to find a favourite.
Ladbrokes have Luca Cumani’s White Lake as their clear 3/1 market leader but you can get 5/1 with Hills, who have landed on Moheet as their 11/4 jolly. Barry Hills’ Nafaqa is clear 7/2 best with bet365, who go 4/1 on Aidan O’Brien’s War Envoy, who has the benefit of a spin on the all-weather. It could change massively of course and strong market support for any of the quartet would be significant. My own feeling is that White Lake will overturn Doncaster St Leger meeting running with Nafaqa and may be good enough to land this, although I’m not sure I’d want to bet on it. I’ll take a watching brief.
One who could be worth a few quid is Roger Varian’s MUQTASER in the closing 1m2f handicap (5.40pm). I was impressed with the way he won his Newcastle maiden last season, which was following on from a promising Ascot effort, and he looks the type who couldn’t make up into a Listed class three-year-old. He handled cut in the ground when winning but his trainer, who describes him as a “big, strong horse and light on his feet”, reckons he’ll be better on good ground like today’s. Varian also reports him to have “wintered well” and, while I’m sure that comment also applies to several of his rivals, he looks sure to go well. One more positive: the stable has a healthy 20% strike rate in April for a £1 level-stakes profit of over £40 since 2005.
But that’s enough of the flat, especially as we have a cracking Cheltenham card to bet on and a chance to savour Tony McCoy around the Prestbury Park circuit for the final time before he retires. The ride he gave MINELLA BOUND when scoring on Jonjo O’Neill’s gelding at Doncaster in February was vintage stuff as he never gave up on him having looked a lost cause for much of the race, and the promising seven-year-old could well give the champ a winning ride to go out on. The handicapper has raised him just 6lb for that effort and the application of blinkers may also eke out some more improvement, although that’s not to say he’s ungenuine – more like hard work.
He meets the Doncaster runner-up Western Jo on 1lb worse terms for a one and three-quarter length beating and that horse is also blinkered first time. However, having looked certain to score at Donny at one point, he may not be one to trust and confirmed that impression with a mulish display at Bangor last time, when almost planting himself at the start. He looks to have plenty of ability, but the selection is the braver horse at the finish and will be suited by today’s slightly stiffer stamina test, while he’ll be all the fresher for a 57-day break since his last run. I like him a lot.
AP can’t possibly win the extended 3m1f handicap chase (5.00pm), for the only reason he doesn’t have a ride, but Paddy Brennan looks to have an excellent chance as he teams up again with Tom George’s A GOOD SKIN, whom he steered to victory at Ludlow last time. A three-quarter length winning margin at the Welsh track doesn’t do the six-year-old justice as he was travelling strongly and four lengths clear of the runner-up Loose Chips when brushing through the last, and the ground would have been as soft as he can handle. He’s a proper good ground horse who is almost certainly capable of advancing his current 130 rating and today’s bigger field in which should be a more truly-run race should see him in an even better light. His stable remains in excellent form.