Our racing tipster is turning to the Flat action at Ascot and Pontefract in search of some value.
The Punchestown Festival continues this afternoon and the feature Gold Cup (5.30pm) looks at the mercy of Cue Card, following the defection of Don Cossack.
Colin Tizzard’s star chaser is no bigger than 8/13 (bet365) to follow up his impressive Aintree success with his main challengers now being Djakadam and Don Poli, who finished second and third respectively in last month’s Cheltenham Gold Cup. I’m of the opinion (like most people) that Cue Card would have won that race had he not fallen three out and, while he’s got to jump round here and was beaten 15 lengths in this race 12 months ago, I see no reason to oppose him.
But given his prohibitive odds I’m turning to the Flat fare at Ascot for a value bet (or two) and a couple stand out, starting with the Marco Botti-trained DHAHMAAN in the Pavilion Stakes over 6f (due off 3.55pm).
The betting for the Group 3 contest is dominated by Aidan O’Brien’s Washington DC, a Royal Ascot winner last term and successful over 7f at Dundalk on his reappearance, and Hugo Palmer’s Gifted Master, a comfortable winner of a class 2 over this trip at the Newmarket Craven meeting. Given the latter horse is penalised 3lb and is probably better over an extra furlong, the O’Brien runner is preferred of that pair. However, he’s priced accordingly at around 11/8, whereas the selection is each-way value at a double-figure price.
The son of Kodiac was unraced at two but he quickly made up for lost time by winning three of his four starts during his three-year-old campaign, including a Listed race at Doncaster on his final outing under today’s Frankie Dettori, and was far from disgraced when beaten into second behind the smart Donjuan Triumphant at York in October. All three of his turf runs (form figures 121) came on ‘good to soft’, so he won’t mind today’s conditions one bit, and the in form Botti reports him to be a much stronger horse now having done well over the winter.
The Newmarket handler has the Commonwealth Cup in mind (providing the ground is suitable), so this outing over track and trip and against a few others who are Royal Ascot-bound looks a good test of his credentials. While he may have something to find on the ratings, his current mark is based on a small sample of just four runs and he has the scope to better it and make up into an exciting sprinter. Hopefully, he can show that today with conditions in his favour.
The second bet is running in the closing apprentice handicap over 1m – the easiest race on the card! The betting tells you it’s not – bookmakers are going 8/1 the field – but Andrew Balding’s PEARL SPECTRE looks to have as good a chance as any.
A dual winner at two, he left the yard to be prepared for the Kentucky Derby only to pick up an injury, which then kept him off the track for over a year until reappearing for Balding at Kempton last December. He cut little ice on that occasion but has gradually been finding his form since, culminating in victory in a Southwell handicap (1m) at the end of March.
While the bare form of that win is nothing to get excited about, his trainer (writing in a recent Stable Tour) was hopeful it will have brought him on again, describing him as a “talented horse with a lot of ability” who is “well handicapped”. In which case there is every reason to think he can be very competitive this afternoon under talented 3lb claimer Rob Hornby.
I’m a real sucker for stable form and one trainer who can do little wrong right now is Charlie Fellowes, who has six winners on the board already this term from just 18 runners (33%) – 2/5 (40%) on turf. That’s a clear pointer to his ZAIN EMPEROR who so nearly added to the tally when finishing second at Kempton earlier this month, going down by just a neck to the well regarded Viscount Bardfield with the well backed favourite in third.
That looks solid form and it was a big step up on what he’d shown in three starts as a juvenile. The handicapper thought so too as he has raised him 5lb to a mark of 74, but I’d be very surprised if he wasn’t a good deal better than that and, hopefully, he can prove me right in this afternoon’s 6f handicap at Pontefract (4.50pm) from what looks a nice draw in stall two. Providing the ground doesn’t deteriorate from the current ‘good’, I rate him nap material.