Ordinarily, there would be a greatly oversubscribed Great St Wilfrid and a consolation race therefore to precede it.
This year however the consolation Silver Trophy has been scrapped due to a lack of runners, a real shame, and there have been only 15 declared for the main event too, four of which are out of the handicap.
We can’t blame prize money this time. Perhaps the heat wave? Who knows.
In any case, we won this in 2020 with Staxton and look to do the same thing again. With a reduced field on offer, we too reduce our shortlist from six to four, this being the lucky (or unlucky) quartet:
Al Simmo comes into this race on a hat-trick and given how relatively uncompetitive it is, you simply cannot ignore such a contender.
Steph Hollinshead’s mare won a good race over this course and distance back in the spring and she hasn’t really stopped improving.
She was sent to York after that to contest a very hot race indeed, one in which she was third to Gale Force Maya, a previous Newmarket winner who has since gone on to finish third to Nunthorpe contender Flotus and win again on the Knavesmire.
As if that wasn’t enough, Al Simmo has taken down two four-runner Newmarket handicaps in pretty easy fashion since then.
It’s hard to say whether or not she won those races because of the small fields or despite them, and she is 12lbs higher than when last winning here.
The progress she’s made is excellent however and her form is rock solid. Jason Hart is on board.
Blackrod carries the famous David Armstrong colours, but he’s been moved from one excellent yard to another having left Michael Dods for Ed Bethell.
A Newmarket winner in April for Dods, Blackrod has only run twice this season and ten times in all so we really don’t know where the ceiling is for this horse.
It’s almost sure we haven’t reached that ceiling, but whether he’s ready for further improvement right now remains to be seen.
Coming from stall 1 may also be a disadvantage for Blackrod, nobody can be certain of that until the race gets going, but all in all he has an outstanding each-way chance under Ben Curtis.
Very much of interest in this race is Emperor Spirit who travels to the Garden Racecourse from Archie Watson’s Lambourn yard.
As an in-form four-year-old and with only ten runs under his belt, this horse has a very attractive profile for this sort of contest. Even with that, we need to see some substance in the form and we do where this gelding is concerned.
Emperor Spirit was heading the right way as a two and three-year-old, reaching a mark of 89 before an enforced break.
After nearly a year out and a change of yards from the Gosdens to Watson, the son of Holy Roman Emperor won impressively at Chelmsford to immediately record a new career high.
He then ran second to Justanotherbottle (see below) and at Ascot to Epsom Faithfull ahead of subsequent winner Mitrosonfire, all form that reads very well.
He wasn’t so hot last time out but is nowhere near done improving yet, while these conditions look ideal as does his draw.
We know this horse is the right type, so considering he is a four-year-old with improvement to come, running here off a mark of 92 when he reached 89 over a year ago gives him a well handicapped look and he may be tough to catch under jockey PJ McDonald.
As we really like Emperor Spirit, it makes sense that one of his conquerors Justanotherbottle has to be included on this list too.
The combination of Kevin Ryan and Kevin Stott would always be one you’d have to sit up and take notice of in such races as this and indeed we have.
Justanotherbottle was a course and distance winner last month, has won ten career races for £236k, took down this very race twelve months ago and beat a key contender.
Now for the downsides. He’s eight years old now and may have peaked. He reached a mark of 107 in June but immediately found things tougher in his next two runs. He is also some 13lbs higher than when winning this last year and so repeating the feat would be really quite something.
In any case, he’s not out of this. Justanotherbottle is still a good each-way price and we couldn’t put you off having an interest.
A fascinating race despite the smaller than ideal field and the lack of a preceding consolation event.
The form of Al Simmo reads very well indeed, while she also comes into the contest on a hat-trick. Blackrod is quality, that we know, but may yet prove to have been drawn on the wrong side.
The one with the most ticks in the most boxes is undoubtedly EMPEROR SPIRIT, the four-year-old ultimately getting the nod to land the £51,000 first prize for connections.