The John Smith’s Cup has formed part of the “Super Saturday” package in recent years, but one of the biggest handicaps of the year is taking place a week later this year and has far less domestic competition this weekend.
For well-documented reasons, the prize-money has slipped to £60,000 – the winner alone has picked up double that in recent renewals – but that will not prevent a maximum 22-runner field from being set to line up on Saturday (2.30pm).
The draw will no doubt play a part in the mile-and-quarter feature with those occupying a low gate perceived to be at an advantage.
A single-figure berth is certainly no disadvantage but it is rarely that straightforward. Alacrity from the gate is the most crucial factor and a high draw need not be a barrier to success.
Turn back the clock and watch renewals of the John Smith's Cup from the 1970s
Indeed, in the past seven renewals a runner drawn 20 or higher has won or been placed on five occasions and Farraaj showed what was possible in 2014 when quick away from stall 22 and winning with a bit to spare.
One angle I always look for in such tight handicaps are runners ridden by apprentices because their claims can tip the scales in more sense than one.
Chaumiere won the race twice in the 1980s
Between 2006 and 2011, six successive renewals were won by horses ridden by jockeys claiming between 3lb and 7lb, even though they only accounted for about 20 per cent of all the riders taking part.
The trend has not continued but it is still worth keeping in mind, especially with so many capable claimers on the scene. Five apprentice jockeys have rides on Saturday.
Below are five runners on my shortlist, in the order preferred.
Trainer: Saeed Bn Suroor. Draw: 6. Odds: 12-1.
Unraced at two, Great Example progressed well last year, losing his maiden tag at Ripon and landing a handicap at Nottingham.
It was his final two runs, when edged out at Goodwood and Newbury, which marked him down as one to follow.
On the first occasion he was collared close home by Le Don De Vie (a solid yardstick) and on the second he was nailed in the finale strides by Caradoc after trading at the minimum price of 1.01 in-running on Betfair.
He gets a 1lb pull with Caradoc, who is also respected, but it’s really 4lb because the excellent Cieren Fallon, fresh from riding the July Cup winner last weekend, will be on his back. Great Example could also be open to more improvement than most from three to four and fresh is a good time to catch many of the trainer’s horses.
Trainer: Roger Varian. Draw: 17. Odds: 10-1.
He remains low mileage, having had only eight starts, and stuck to his task willingly when scoring at Doncaster last time.
A 5lb rise heightens his task but there might easily be more to come and I fancy York’s long straight will suit this galloper, who has hinted a mile-and-a-half may be within his compass.
Fifth Position failed to figure when well-fancied for another hot handicap last year, the Cambridgeshire, but that was probably something of a shock to his system. He is now more the finished article and has more experience to call on.
Trainer: Andrew Balding. Draw: 4. Odds: 12-1.
Back-to-back winners of the race are rare but Prominent (1970-71) and Chaumiere (1986-86) have shown it can be done.
Pivoine won with authority last year and, only 2lb higher, there is no reason why he will again not put up a bold show.
He has been unable to add to his tally in the intervening 12 months but has been quite highly tried, including twice in Grade One company abroad when not disgraced. His defeats in small-field, muddling contests on the All-weather this year are easy enough to overlook.
Trainer: William Haggas. Draw: 7. Odds: 14-1.
Looked a good prospect when losing his maiden tag in a big field at Windsor in the spring of last year but proved expensive to follow afterwards – letting down favourite backers four races in succession before bowing out for the year with a tame display at Newmarket.
However, the four-year-old son of Camelot, gelded since last year, did not always get the rub of the green and I’m convinced he still has the weapons to land a big handicap. He’s certainly not badly weighted, being 1lb lower than when an eye-catching third in a simarly competitive contest at Glorious Goodwood last summer.
He lacks a recent run but I’d imagine William Haggas has had this race in mind for a while. The trainer landed the 2011 and 2013 renewals with similarly lightly-raced four-year-olds.
Trainer: Andrew Balding. Draw: 22. Odds: 14-1.
I’d imagine plenty will quickly look elsewhere after his subdued effort in the Duke Of Edinburgh last time, when he beat only one home.
However, he also ran poorly at Royal Ascot last year and it may well be that the track and/or softish ground simply does not suit him.
Take out those Ascot runs and his record is hard to knock, including his third in the Cambridgeshire in September. He’s able to run off a 1lb lower mark and with William Carver easing his burden by another 5lb he must again have place claims at the least.Get your free Racing TV fleece - the latest in our range of high-class Racing TV merchandise! Click here for more details.
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