The traditional season closer on the flat, the November Handicap is as competitive as ever even in what has been a very unusual year.
Prize money may not be as good as it could have been, nevertheless there is over £34,000 available to the winner of this mile-and-a-half race, with the soft ground no doubt being just as important a factor as form.
Here’s our six-horse shortlist:
Trainer’s naturally bring horses from all around the country for this race, but it could be a runner trained only 40-odd miles away that has the most outstanding chance.
David O’Meara’s Eagle Court has won 3 of his five starts this season and seems to excel in soft ground. He comes into this race on a hat-trick but while his success means he is climbing in the handicap, he has plenty more to give now going up in trip to 1½ miles.
This greater test should bring out the very best in the son of Free Eagle and, even from a wide draw, he and Cam Hardie are going to be very tough to keep out of the frame under at the very least.
Jim Goldie’s runner is such an admirable horse. A Winton Cup winner at Ayr, second in the Northumberland Vase before stepping down to 1¼ miles to take the John Smith’s Cup on fast ground two years ago, he then got injured and missed 2019.
Despite that, being seven years old and having had more than 30 racecourse outings, he has won three of his last 4 races including two Group 3’s on soft/heavy ground and he is sure to give his running all over again. Rock solid, but perhaps not the best handicapped.
James Given’s former Aidan O’Brien runner didn’t live up to his billing in the Cesarewitch last time out, but for a number of reasons this race is a more realistic target for him and it’s one in which he can probably just about outrun his current handicap mark.
Doing that will always mean having a chance, but this is competitive and he may just not have enough in hand to actually go on and win. He has an each-way chance.
Another three-year-old drawn wide, Kingbrook should have plenty of time to get organised and after winning on soft ground at Newmarket recently over a mile-and-a-half should not be found wanting up the straight here. That said, he didn’t have a lot in hand at HQ and so his 6lb rise in the weights is not exactly ideal.
Hugo Palmer brings three-year-old Strawberry Rock for this race, and based on his first three runs between June and September he would have the sort of profile that would suggest his level of improvement would be enough for him to go close to winning this off his mark of 90 for sure.
However, after winning his handicap debut easily at Redcar, he was put into better company on softer ground at York last time and in truth was found wanting, which just tempers enthusiasm a little.
It’s not hard to imagine him being a 100+ horse on decent ground next season, but for now we can just about pass him by for a fellow three-year-old.
Based on his rate of improvement between last September and this September, Joseph Tuite’s Surrey Pride would have a massive say in this race.
But, while it may have been the very heavy ground that got him beaten as 2/1 favourite last time, in fact he has gone backwards twice now since his peak run at Chester and that just plants doubts into the punting brain.
Older horses Indianapolis and Euchen Glen are terrific yardsticks, but given their rate of improvement and the fact they also physically carry less weight in these conditions, the three-year-olds look more appealing here.
If the 1m6f trip was the reason Strawberry Rock was actually beaten last time then he re-enters calculations, however in our opinion he has his work cut out either way to get past the improving, proven soft-ground performer EAGLE COURT who also looks like he will relish this trip and has more yet to give.