A full field of 22 runners and a purse worth an impressive £200,000 naturally makes this one of the most competitive handicaps of the year so far.
Form from various trips and numerous tracks is represented as some of the best trainers in the country go in search of a huge Saturday win, but on closer inspection of the field it seems there is a sensible bet to be had in this year’s race and we will simply hope for a fair price come the off on the Knavesmire.
At least a dozen horses are in with a winning chance on paper, but all things having been considered we rate the below six high enough to be included on our John Smith’s Handicap shortlist:
The winner of the Royal Hunt Cup for this column; he was said by his trainer to not be 100% ready and to not have come into his coat before Ascot so we should expect some improvement here at a course we know he likes, but this is incredibly competitive and so having gone up in the weights and coming from stall 24 he really does have his work cut out for him this time around.
An inside draw for a horse who is bang in form and loves these conditions is always a good thing and he had to make the shortlist, however these races so often go to improving types whereas Jim Boyle’s runner has been kept going all season so far and it’s hard to see him suddenly being able to produce an extra 5lbs or so that would see him win this prize.
My Lord And Master
William Haggas’ runner has been off the track since November but should be spot-on for today. The 5lbs claimed by Cieren Fallon looks to be a genuine advantage weight-wise and we can’t forget that this horse has excellent course and distance form, albeit on soft ground.
He’s clearly well-handicapped and significant money for him should be noted, though he has only won once in his life and may yet prove himself to just need this run.
Another top contender with a wide draw much like Afaak, but again this horse can’t be ruled out and it could prove to be a shrewd move of Charlie Appleby’s to have booked Jamie Spencer, a jockey noted for hold-up runs and clearly from stall 23 this one will need to be dropped out the back.
They don’t always come from far behind at York though and it’s arguable that this horse likes more testing tracks, so while on the numbers he rates a serious chance his day may just come elsewhere, perhaps at Newmarket in the Cambridgeshire.
John Gosden, while also being a Group 1 master responsible for the likes of Enable and Too Darn Hot, is incredibly adept at prepping horses for these big handicaps and has shown he knows what it takes to win them at York after claiming a 1-2 in the Ebor last year.
His Stylehunter was not far behind Afaak in the Royal Hunt Cup on ground much softer than ideal, while it seems obvious that a mile-and-a-quarter is his real forte.
His form is among the best on offer here and crucially he can improve in the conditions making him the most sensible play on paper for sure.
What’s The Story
Keith Dalgleish’s runner has a serious chance from stall 1, so long as that inside draw doesn’t mean him running into too much trouble early in the race and him getting too far back on this galloping track.
Despite running badly last time behind Afaak and Stylehunter, his form overall is progressive and he loves it at York, though he did have exactly the same draw in this race last year when he ran a little below-par in finishing sixth.
Any money for My Lord And Master should be noted, while it’s a real shame to see the likes of Setting Sail and especially our boy Afaak having been handed very wide draws.
If he can produce his real form rather than a re-run of last year’s event, Keith Dalgleish’s What’s The Story has a serious chance at a tasty price but all things considered the percentage play in this race is definitely John Gosden’s STYLEHUNTER and he is taken to land the £124,500 first prize.