There remains the risk of thundery showers at Ascot on Saturday, but fast ground will be the order of the day for today’s seven-race card.
The classic generation have won three of the last four renewals of the prestigious 2m handicap and Star Caliber – the only 3-y-old in the filed – has only had four career starts and is the one to beat if his stamina holds. That is a big if though.
I was disappointed with the finishing effort of Australis in the Northumberland Plate – a race he finished runner up in 2020 – last month but he is rated 5lbs lower on turf and looks sure to go close. The each way vote, however, goes to Speedo Boy (2.30) who has been knocking on the door of late and won this corresponding race three years ago from a 6lbs higher mark.
The selection has finished runner up in his last couple of starts but has been raised 2lbs for finishing second at Chester last month. He is hardly a serial winner – his only previous turf success came in this race – but he is in good form, has his ideal underfoot conditions and William Buick is booked. He gets the each way vote at 13/2 with William Hill.
The feature race is the Group 3 Valiant Stakes, and it marks the belated reappearance of Indigo Girl (3.00) who was last seen finishing runner up in the Fillies’ Mile at Newmarket back in October. The selection – 6/4 with Boylesports – has not run on fast ground although she coped admirably with good ground in the May Hill at Doncaster the previous month. Her Group 1 winning sister Journey certainly coped well enough with fast ground. I thought the selection would be more of a 10f filly this term, but the Gosdens’ must feel this is a good starting point for the filly.
In recent weeks Valyrian Steel (3.35) and Grand Bazaar have been taken out of the same races at Royal Ascot and Haydock on account of the soft ground but there should be no such problems this afternoon.
Grand Bazaar finished third on his reappearance at Newmarket and that form has been franked by the subsequent efforts of the runner up Global Storm. He bounces off fast ground and looks sure to run a big race.
The nod does go to the Roger Varian trained 4-y-old however, despite the possibility he is going to be a better horse on the all-weather than turf. The selection – 7/2 with BetVictor – finished last of five on his sole turf start so far this term, but that was his seasonal reappearance when he was too free and failed to get home. He has won his last couple of starts on polytrack in the manner of a progressive colt, however, and holds an entry in the Ebor – as does Grand Bazaar – at York next month.
In the Newmarket opener I think Posh Girl (5.22) looks worth more than a second glance making her handicap debut. James Doyle takes over in the saddle on a filly who is the half-sister to five winners and begins life from what could easily be an attractive mark of 65. The selection was not knocked about when fifth over today’s C&D last month on her first start on fast ground. She gets the each way vote at 15/2 with 10Bet.
In the 2m handicap chase at Uttoxeter I think I’dliketheoption (3.15) will have the race run to suit and can swoop late for Jonjo O’Neill in the colours of JP McManus. The 10-y-old travelled well but faded close home over 2m 3f at Market Rasen last time and a return to the minimum trip will suit. He has not won since September 2018, but he is 19lbs below his last winning mark and gets the each way nod at 13/2 with William Hill.