Ascot has become a horses-for-courses track and both selections for Saturday's International Handicap have run well there previously.
It is with some trepidation that I tackle the fiercely competitive International, the big betting race at Ascot on Saturday, as it’s been a graveyard for favourites and big-priced winners are the norm.
It’s yet to go the way of the favourite since its inception and four of the last six winners returned at 40/1, 25/1 and 33/1 twice. So, while it’s easier to make a case for those near the head of the market, it could pay to delve a little further down the betting list and I’m hopeful I’ve found a couple who could outrun their big odds.
The first one to grab my attention is the Clive Brittain-trained BRAZOS, who is a standout 33/1 with Coral at the time of writing. I can’t see that lasting as he ticks a fair few boxes in that he has solid form in big-field handicaps over this specialist trip of 7f, including a win here last May, doesn’t look badly treated on a mark of 101 and is potentially well drawn in stall 28 – the last four winners were drawn 15 or higher and the 2013 hero Galician exited from stall 29.
I’ve also got one eye on the weather with heavy rain forecast for Friday, which will almost certainly change the going from the current “good to firm.” Crucially the selection has shown on more than one occasion that he likes to get his toe in, with both his wins coming on a slower surface, and the ground was riding soft when he finished third at Chester on his most recent outing. His trainer hasn’t exactly been banging in the winners of late, but that’s the only real negative and his odds provide ample compensation. Robert Havlin rides.
The other one to back, albeit at a shorter 16/1, is the Mick Channon-trained LINCOLN, who has some eye-catching form and will have the assistance of the soon-to-retire Richard Hughes. After winning on his last two starts last season, he made his comeback in the Lincoln in March and ran as if his backside was on fire, eventually fading into next to last place. It was no surprise then to see more patient tactics employed on his next start in the Victoria Cup, run over track and trip, and he ran a blinder to finish a half-length second (of 26) to Speculative Bid, whom he meets on 3lb better terms here, yet that horse is clear favourite.
Soft ground won’t be a problem either – he’s twice won with plenty of cut – and the draw has potentially been kind too as he’s been handed stall 29, which is right against the stands’ rail. With plenty in favour, it’s a surprise to see him priced at 16/1 with bet365, who are offering five places instead of the standard four. I can’t see him being out of the frame and confidence would be increased if the forecast rain materialises.