15/09/23: Free Tips ‘Friday’ (Saturday!): Sam Darby’s Race Preview (complete)

Free Tips ‘Friday’…

Baryshnikov Gunning For First Win This Season

I went for Mattice last week at Haydock, suggesting he was a decent enough bet at around 10/1. I was shocked when he opened up at 25/1 with most bookies on Thursday evening but 25/1 soon became 18/1, 18/1 soon became 14/1, and before long 14/1 was 9/2.

Mattice ended up finishing 5th, a neck away from 4th which would have paid a place. If you got 25/1 that probably seemed a decent enough run but I was pretty disappointed as he had no excuses and I expected him to travel a bit smoother than he did with conditions to suit. He remains well handicapped but that run probably ends my interest in the horse.

Moving on to this week, I’ve been disappointed by the decs for the first two days of the St Leger meeting at Donny and even in delaying this column until Saturday’s racing, I’m still giving Doncaster a swerve in favour of Chester.

This Week’s Race Is Live On ITV

There are only two races from Chester being shown on ITV on one of those is the 2.40pm which is a 10 runner handicap being run over the extended 10f. The good thing about this race being televised is there is a full market to work with as I write this, the bad thing is that my fancy has already been tipped up elsewhere and the price has already shortened.

Given it’s a relatively small field I’ll go through each runner, in market order. This approach seemed to work a couple of weeks when we successfully backed Persuasion at Thirsk.

A quick note on the ground. It was good to soft, soft in places on Friday morning and I’d imagine it will be pushing good in places by Saturday afternoon. I’m not sure that Chester has managed to host a single meeting on fast ground this year and it’s been noticeable that on the softer ground this year that the runners have been challenging up the middle more often than not, reducing the need for luck in running compared to when they hug the inside rail on fast ground. That should be in the selection’s favour here as he needs plenty of luck in running!

So into the runners we go…

Sweet Reward

Prominent racer/occasional front runner who has been in good form again this season, winning twice and finishing runner up once from seven starts. His latest win was a comfortable one at Goodwood against a well handicapped rival who has run well off a much higher mark since but it’s open to debate as to whether that horse gave his running on soft ground on that occasion.

Either way, Sweet Reward is a 6yo that has raced 34 times. Before his run last time out he’s always looked a horse that gets anchored by the handicapper when he reaches a mark in the mid 80s. His latest win puts him on 90 and I refuse to believe he’s improved all of a sudden. Off this career high mark I expect him to struggle and I’m shocked that the bookies make him the early favourite. I wouldn’t have him any higher than fourth in the betting and I expect him to drift.

First Impression

Won well here last time out and goes well in these conditions but that looked a very winnable race. The 3rd probably didn’t like the ground and the 4th has been beaten further in two subsequent starts.

He’s gone up 5lbs for that win and whilst that doesn’t leave him impossibly handicapped he does look vulnerable (he has placed twice off 2lbs higher in the past, including a decent 3rd over this course and distance with similar underfoot conditions). It would be a surprise if he didn’t run well but he might find one too good.

Box To Box

Habitual front runner who has form figures of 11612 around Chester. The ground was perhaps a bit softer than ideal on his latest 2nd here off this mark so it’s not inconceivable that he can improve on that. The bare form of that 2nd shouldn’t be enough to land this though so he does need to improve though.

None of his form this season is particularly ‘hot’ but he’s generally held his form well. There is no reason why he can’t finish 3rd/4th at least in this, better if getting an uncontested lead.


I’ve chased this horse around this season and this is probably his best opportunity to win all season.

He has been a bit inconsistent , throwing in the odd shocker. His two poorest runs this year, other than seasonal debut where he was clearly nowhere near fit, have come at this venue. That’s perhaps a worry and there seemed no obvious excuse for his bad effort during the May meeting, however his latest run here came off a very steady gallop over the wrong trip so that’s easily forgiven. Before this season his course form figures were 1141 so it’s clearly a course that he handles.

Things haven’t gone his way this season but he’s hinted at running to his best a few times. He was impossibly placed on his second run of the season at Pontefract when 3rd to two well handicapped rivals off a 4lb higher mark and it was the exact same story at Redcar on his fourth run of the season off a 2lb higher mark when the ground would have been plenty fast enough for him.

He was beaten just a nose after that Redcar run, again on fast ground, off a 2lb higher mark than this, a very unlucky loser on that occasion against a winner that has won again since.

A drop back to a mile next time at Redcar didn’t suit but he still ran on into 3rd and the runner up has franked that form since. He then followed that up with quite a bizarre run at Ripon back up to his favoured 10f. He was extremely weak in the betting before the off and then was never really put in the race at any point.

His penultimate run was over the wrong trip here and then last time out, in a Racing League fixture, he was held up off an extremely steady pace again. He did well to get as close as he did and comfortably beat all those who raced in a similar early position to him.

Southern Voyage

A last time out all weather winner but that came a year ago and he’s since changed stables and spent a long time off the track. His best turf form is on much faster ground and this represents a drop in trip so it has all the hallmarks of a prep run.


He’s run some decent races this year and is probably still well handicapped if running at Brighton, where five of his six career wins have come. He did run well at Sandown last time out in a Sunday Series race but it wasn’t the strongest renewal and barring the comfortable winner there wasn’t much in behind. He’s capable on his day but might find a few too good.

Dark Pine

Was a neck 2nd here in May on soft ground and the winner has won again since off a 4lb higher mark with the 4th now racing off a 6lb higher mark so he’d have definite claims based on that run off a 4lbs lower mark here.

He was well beaten by Baryshnikov on his only 10f, softish ground run since but he too was inconvenienced by early position that day and his usual headgear was left off so it’s perhaps best to just ignore that run.

He needs to improve a bit on other form this season but most of those runs have come on ground that was probably too fast and he won his only other run around here so it would be no shock to see him run well at a price if this sets up for the closers.

Arthur’s Realm

He’s undeniably well handicapped (placed off 6lbs higher this time last year) and he’s reacted well to the addition of cheekpieces in recent starts, even if still struggling to get his head in front.

He’s very much on my list to back to this Autumn when the ground is on the soft side but I’m not sure he wants this far and I’m looking to back him over a mile. His time is coming but there will likely be others who are much stronger at the finish. Hopefully this run just gets him even more well handicapped for his next run at a mile.


Started the season in good form and handles the ground but she’s looked poorly handicapped on recent starts and connections seem to be looking for the step up in trip to get more out of her. She can be quite keen and I’m not convinced she’ll see this out.

Innse Gall

Won well at Ayr two starts ago but limitations were exposed when well enough beaten at York last time out. This race isn’t quite so deep but he remains on a career high mark and even if he runs to his best he’ll still probably finish in mid division.

Final Verdict

Probably the most frustrating runner in the field but the one I want to be with here is BARYSHNIKOV. He’s been knocking on the door for much of the season, is generally most consistent when there is some cut in the ground (without it necessarily being soft) and he’s barely had a race run to suit all season. The hope is that Box To Box, First Impression and Sweet Reward will help set this up for him.

He’s a general 13/2 at the time of writing, having been clipped across the board after Tony Calvin put him up this morning, and I think that represents just about a fair price so I’ll be backing him each way.

First Impression looks to be the chief danger whilst Dark Pine would be 3rd choice in this. Other than those Box To Box and Wisper can put pressure on the places.


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