Free Tips Friday: Sam Darby’s Race Preview (complete)

Sam’s free tips friday…

Two Against The Field In Competitive Ascot Classified Stakes

It was a decent run last week from Safe Voyage, who ran into the places, and his effort deserves to be marked up. It transpired that coming from off the pace that day was impossible – every single winner on the card made all! With that in mind Safe Voyage did very well to finish 4th with no horse passing him from further back.

My main angle with Safe Voyage is that I want to back him around a left handed bend and I’m guessing his next run, and final run of the season, will come in the Balmoral at Ascot over the straight mile. He did place in that last year but I wouldn’t make him a bet this time around.

He’ll be 11 next season so it remains to be seen if he’s retired at the end of the season or races on – he’d likely win again if racing next season but it would probably be nice if he was given a well deserved retirement.

Ascot The Focus This Week

There is some very decent racing at Ascot on Friday and a couple of races caught the eye, including the 6f handicap (5.05pm) but that looked far too difficult, even for someone like me who loves a competitive handicap!

Instead I’m looking at the 3.22pm at Ascot this week which is a mile Classified stakes, for horses rated 90 or below.

Plenty To Not Like

There are quite a few that I do like in this competitive race, but a fair few that I’m not keen on and I’m going to rule a few out first.

Dawn Of Liberation would probably win this on his Chester run from May but his other four runs this season have been pretty awful and there are no hints that he’s likely to bounce back to form here.

Sterling Knight is a sprinter and I have no idea what he’s doing in this race, perhaps the owners just fancied a day out?

Sweet Reward has been nailed by the handicapper recently and a mile on quickish ground is likely to be too sharp for him, even at his best.

Stormbuster ran okay in a decent race at Windsor a couple of starts back but he doesn’t look especially well treated and he’ll need the first time visor to really work if he’s to get his head in front.

Raising Sand is a horse I love but he’s 11 and has been off the track since May. He actually ran well enough first time out this season but he’s never won after this sort of absence before and he’s 3lbs badly in at the weights because of his rating of 87.

Those are the easier ones to put a line through and that would rule out almost half the field.

Question Marks Over Some Of The More Likely Candidates

Hickory has run some excellent races here this season and I tipped him last time out when 3rd in a race that wasn’t run to suit (on ground that was probably too fast) and he did well to finish where he did that day, with the winner coming out and landing another decent race since. It’s not out of the question that he’ll stay this extra furlong here, especially on this ground, but he doesn’t look to be crying out for it and he’s possibly more like his speedy dam than his 10f sire.

Dayofourlives was a (dead heat) winner over course and distance last time so commands respect as it’s always nice to have course form on your side when running at Ascot. He’s lightly raced so could still be improving but I’m not sure the 7 runner handicap he won last time out was that strong – the horse he deadheated with is a reliable yardstick but one that hadn’t won in 3 years. There are likely to be others in here that are better treated and I suspect Daysofourlives is likely to finish somewhere between 3rd and 5th.

Metal Merchant is proving difficult to win with at the minute and he didn’t do a lot when hitting the front last time out at Newbury when finishing 2nd. He’s a consistent horse but he’s probably better with more cut in the ground and if this was a handicap he’d be a couple of pounds better off with a fair few of these. There might be other races later this season where he has a much better chance.

It’s the trip that is a slight question mark for Jeff Koons. He has a likable profile and seems to enjoy ground that is on the faster side but his last two runs have come at 10f and he needed every single yard (and inch) of the mile when he led on the post to win a novice stakes in July. This isn’t guaranteed to be a well run race and he could end up being tapped for toe here, for all he’s likely to continue progressing with more racing.

That Leaves Two…

It’s an open race and I’m not ruling out all those above but I think the best two chances lie with Florida and Orbaan, who come into this race with very different profiles.

Florida hasn’t always run in line with market expectations but he’s got some excellent form to his name. On his final run as a 2yo he beat the now 96 rated Merlin The Wizard by over two lengths off level weights with the 80 rated Wall Game almost 6 lengths back in 3rd. That suggests Florida can rate much higher than his current mark of 89.

Last time out Florida was a winner at York in another good race. The runner up, Theme Park, didn’t frank the form this week at Kempton but that was in a steadily run affair that wouldn’t have suited him. In that same race Real Gain was 3rd and he won last weekend by over 5 lengths and the 4th finished 2nd the next day, looking as though unsuited by the drop back to 7f on that occasion.

Florida has run his fair share of disappointing races and you wouldn’t fancy him here based on his 3rd in August at Kempton off 85. However he might just be a horse that takes a bit of getting fit and his two poorer runs this season have been after absences. If building on his latest York win he’s clearly going to be tough to beat, especially as he’s a prominent racer and this might not be the most well run contest.

Orbaan is one I’ve been waiting on for most of the season. He started the season a bit high in the weights and he always takes a few runs to get going so it was always likely he was going to drop a bit in the handicap before finding a suitable opportunity. He’s been quite poorly placed though in the second half of this season which means he’s finishing 2023 on a very good mark.

He won last season’s Golden Mile at Goodwood in easy fashion off 87 before following up in a similar race type to this over Ascot’s 7f when rated 95. He got within a short head of winning a 7f handicap at Goodwood 13 months ago off 99 and he finished the season with a good run over this course and distance in the Balmoral Handicap off 100 when 5th.

So he looks well treated in a race like this now, even if he is rated 1lb below the ceiling (only Dawn Of Liberation and Sweet Reward are rated 90 in this anyway). His chance isn’t dependent on last season’s form either. In this year’s Golden Mile he was beaten 5 lengths into 9th but that doesn’t tell the whole story as he was rated 96 that day and was drawn in stall 19 which is pretty much impossible to win from. Others who ran well from high draws in that race were Perotto who was 7th from stall 13, he won next time out, and Dual Identity who was 11th from stall 20, who won next time out by over 4 lengths.

Since then he’s run okay at Sandown, which is a course he never goes particularly well at, and not been beaten far when held up in a race that suited those on the speed at York. Then he was behind Hickory here in a steadily run race on ground that was probably fast enough.

He showed much more last time out, tried in first time cheekpieces, dropped back to 7f at York. He did well to get up for 5th in a 17 runner race when the other horses in the first 6 were all near the pace early.

Around his beloved Goodwood he’d be a near max bet. Ascot doesn’t seem to suit so well but he’s won here and run a few good races in defeat and a reproduction of a couple of runs here last season would be enough for him to land this.

Final Verdict

No market at the time of writing but I’m under the assumption that this is a competitive enough race that everything will be ‘backable’ in some form or another. I’d be shocked if the first three in the betting aren’t Florida, Daysofourlives and Jeff Koons, probably in that order. Hickory might be slightly shorter than Jeff Koons given he’d be a warm order over 7f and is proven here so that’s probably the first four in the betting.

This isn’t a race I want to get too heavily involved in as course position could be slightly unpredictable and there always tends to be some sort of bias going on at Ascot but my opinion is that FLORIDA is the most likely winner and ORBAAN is likely to be the ‘each way value’.

Value is obviously subjective and suggesting anything might be value before the market is formed is difficult to do. In terms of having a bet on this I’m looking for at least 3/1 on Florida (I’d make him roughly that price) and probably 7/1 on Orbaan (I think he’ll probably be a little bigger than that). I’m happy to back both if they both meet that price threshold.

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Please note that these articles are written shortly after final declarations so any prices, whilst available at time of writing, are subject to plenty of fluctuation. There will hopefully always be value in the content and some of the shortlisted horses even if the main selection has shortened considerably.

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