Crunchsports.com's guide to the Great St Wilfrid Handicap at Ripon on Saturday afternoon (due off 15:30 BST) courtesy of Bettingpro.com tipster Ross Aylward...
The Great St Wilfrid Handicap at Ripon is always a competitive affair and this year's renewal is no exception, with 20 runners set to go to post.
All have a chance of sorts and the wide-open nature of the race is reflected in the betting, with most bookmakers going 8/1 'the field', but the following look to have the strongest claims:
One of the least exposed horses in the line-up, the four-year-old has shown progressive form this season and produced a career-best effort when finishing fifth in the Steward's Cup at Goodwood on his latest outing. Before that he'd landed a minor four-runner contest at Haydock, bringing his strike rate to five wins from 12 starts, and he ran far better than his finishing position of ninth suggests in the Wokingham Handicap at Royal Ascot three starts back as he had the worst of the draw. Still well-handicapped off a mark of 97, one senses he has a big sprint handicap in him and his trainer Richard Fahey excels with this type of horse. A worthy favourite.
Put in as 9/1 favourite by sponsors William Hill when betting opened, a position he now shares with Alben Star, the four-year-old advertised his claims when landing a big 5f handicap at Ascot last month from 17 rivals. He's only 3lb higher here and sneaks into the bottom of the handicap with just 8st 7lb on his back, so must come into the reckoning if he can cope with the extra furlong. His trainer Richard Guest reckons it will suit him and is adamant he's improved again since Ascot. The drying ground is also in his favour as he likes to hear his hooves rattle.
Has not got his head in front since this time last year, when winning over this trip at Newmarket, but showed he was coming to hand when finishing third in a valuable handicap at Ascot last time. That was over 7f and as he was leading going into the final furlong before running out of steam in the closing stages, he should be suited to the drop back to 6f. Harry Bentley, who claims 3lb off his back, taking his weight down to 8st 6lb, was on board last time and also steered him to victory at Newmarket, so he clearly knows how to get a good tune out of the four-year-old.
Richard Fahey's second-string on jockey bookings - 7lb claimer George Chalinor takes the ride - but comes into this race as one of the form horses, having landed the Steward's Cup consolation race at Goodwood last time. He clearly likes that idiosyncratic track as he was landing that race for the second time, but he has Ripon form in the book too, with one of his eight wins coming over course and distance. The handicapper has clobbered him with an extra 10lb for his Goodwood exertions, but much of that is negated by his rider's claim and he gives the stable a strong hand.
LOUIS THE PIOUS
One of four Kevin Ryan-trained runners in the race, the four-year-old has been campaigned mainly over 7f this season, but ran his best race when dropped back to 6f last time, finishing second in the Goodwood race won by Johannes. While that signalled an imminent return to the winner's enclosure, he's been raised 4lb for that effort and his current mark of 97 is a full 14lb higher than his last winning one. He also lacks a run at Ripon and that is an even bigger negative as it's definitely a venue that doesn't suit all horses, with the runners having to negotiate more bumps and ridges than a BMX track.
Another Kevin Ryan inmate and officially the best horse in the race with a rating of 108, which means he carries top weight of 9st 10lb. Like his stablemate, he has been alternating between 6f and 7f and finished third over the longer trip on his most recent start at Chester. Over 6f, he probably needs a fast run race to produce his best - as evidenced by his Ayr Gold Cup win last season off a 3lb lower mark - and he looks sure to get that on Saturday. He seems to go in any ground.
Showed he was at the top of his game when winning at the course only last week on what was his second run of the current campaign. That was a welcome return to form as he was out of sorts for much of last season when suffering from a bone chip, and the operation to remove this during the winter has clearly done the trick. His latest win was over the minimum distance but his trainer Robin Bastiman feels he is better over 6f and another big run can be expected, providing the ground doesn't dry out too much as he seems more effective on soft ground.
The six-year-old may be more exposed than the majority of his rivals with 25 runs under his belt, but looked as good as ever when finishing third in the Bunbury Cup at Newmarket last time, his first run back from nearly a year off. Blasting out of the gates, he quickly bagged the stands' rail and was never headed on that side. Unfortunately for him it was the wrong side to be but similar tactics here over this furlong shorter trip (he was leading overall at the furlong marker at Newmarket) could make him difficult to catch. All ground comes alike to him.
Others to Consider:
Last year's winner Pepper Lane has clearly been trained for a repeat and he renews rivalry with old-stager Tax Free (11th), while you have to respect the chances of Es Que Love, the only three-year-old in the race and representing the massively in-form stable of Mark Johnston. Bosun Breeze finished third to Singeur last time and that is not the only time he has run well at the track, which makes him dangerous to rule out.
It's time to get off the fence and having identified which horses have the best form chance, I'm going to narrow them down further using the draw. In the past, a low draw (far side) has proved advantageous but that wasn't the case 12 months ago, when the first three all raced stands' side from gates 17, 20 and 19, which points to Johannes (17) and Our Jonathan (19). With the most pronounced bumps and ridges occurring in the middle of the track, though, a draw against either rail will do and ALBEN STAR has the tactical speed to take advantage of his berth in stall three. He can be a little free but is getting the hang of racing and I would expect him to lie third and fourth before striking for home entering the final furlong. Bosun Breeze (stall two) looks the one for the forecast.