The first major one-mile handicap of the season is upon us and, despite the downgraded prize money, the lack of a crowd and the addition of a consolation race, the anticipation for this event remains massive.
We should have a full field charging up Ascot’s straight mile and as always that’s quite a sight, with these six horses our idea of a solid shortlist of runners.
Last year’s winner at a very big price and for this column too, Afaak has a brilliant record in this race having also been runner-up in 2018.
Now a six-year-old but one who may well still be at his very best in the right conditions, Charlie Hills’ gelding finished last year off with a fine fourth on unsuitably fast ground out in Bahrain and while he comes into this year’s event on a 3lb higher mark than last time, that is completely negated by the claim of the excellent Cieren Fallon up top.
Even taking into account that he may not be quite as good as last year, at the weights with all things considered Afaak stands a massive chance of repeating his win of 2019 and he could once again be a very backable price.
Despite his odds Fox Power could well prove to be the best of the King Power Racing bunch in this race, Richard Hannon’s colt coming in race fit after four all-weather runs since December.
When beating Daarik in the Burradon Stakes last year at Newcastle he proved not only his ability, but his liking for a stiff mile and so if underfoot conditions are to his liking back on turf he could be handicapped well enough to put on a show.
Much like Afaak, Kynren is a solid six-year-old handicapper who has seen it all and done it all. David Barron’s charge took down his last big prize over this track on soft ground in the valuable seven-furlong bet365 Challenge Cup in October.
Conditions are fine then and he will demand his share of money in the betting market, however off this mark it will take just one thing to go wrong to leave him fighting for place rather than win money.
There naturally has to be some guesswork involved in attempting to handicap a horse having only his third career start in such a big race, but there’s no doubt that John Gosden’s four-year-old Poet’s Voice gelding has talent.
A belated maiden winner in February, Lord Tennyson followed that up with a very creditable effort when running second to Marie’s Diamond at Newmarket in the Paradise Stakes and while there should be a good amount of improvement coming, the race and the occasion may just come a tad quick.
A four-year-old with a classic improver’s profile, William Haggas’ grey will be popular and comes into this event on the back of a taking three-length handicap win at Newmarket.
While there are obvious positives then, it also has to be said that despite running second his effort behind Blown By Wind last year didn’t bring about the improvement we expected and that was on soft ground. So, considering his latest win came in quick conditions and he has been raised 8lbs there appears to be enough evidence to suggest today may just not be his day.
For some reason it feels as though this horse has been around forever, but as a five-year-old it’s possible his best days in such races as this are still ahead of him.
Ryan Moore is on board Richard Hannon’s gelding and he’s in form after a good seasonal reappearance, though there’s just a hint that he may have stood a more outstanding chance had the ground remained quick.
It’ll be fascinating to see how Lord Tennyson gets on in this race given that he’s all about supreme talent/potential but is hugely lacking in experience.
While being ahead of the handicapper is a pre-requisite in races such as this, they need to battle-hardened as well and that brings in Kynren and last year’s scorer AFAAK.
All of the son of Oasis Dream’s best efforts have come in race conditions just like these and, whether by luck or by judgement, he has the assistance of Cieren Fallon up top who claims a very valuable 3lbs instead of Jim Crowley and that could make all the difference.