The Wokingham Handicap is invariably Ascot's race of last resort, and while the bookmakers have suffered several reverses over the last two days, most have paid out with a grin, confident that the Wokingham will save them. Thirty runners will arrive at the finishing post only marginally further apart than they were when the stalls opened six furlongs back down the course, and those who take a logical approach cannot even rely on one side of the course being favoured, since the early-paced horses seem to be spread evenly through the field.
An interesting fact, though, is that 10 of the last 15 Wokingham winners have been returned at 16-1 or less, a trend which, if it were repeated today, would remove two-thirds of the field from the argument. This is, after all, not just any sprint handicap, and the winners tend to be steered towards Ascot from an early stage of the season, a point which is inevitably reflected in the market.
That said, backing Humbert's Landing, the favourite this morning at around 8-1, would be an unforgivable act of folly given that at least five horses have an equal claim on the book. Three who stand out are Astrac, Castlerea Lad and NO EXTRAS (nap 3.45), who finished third, beaten two short-heads, in the race last year. At the early odds, Gary Moore's runner must be worth an interest at 22-1 with William Hill, if only because he seems to have been pointed towards today's race ever since his near-miss 12 months ago.
In the card's other valuable sprint, the King's Stand Stakes, it is hard to see beyond Mind Games (4.20), although a similar comment applied to Lake Coniston in the Cork and Orrery yesterday and he contrived to be beaten. There is better value to be had in an unusually strong renewal of the King Edward VII Stakes, in which Don Corleone (next best 4.55) can surprise the more exposed runners, Classic Cliche and Pentire.
A less impressive assortment will pound around the 12-furlong course a couple of hours earlier in the Hardwicke Stakes. Zilzal Zamaan was an impressive winner at Chester last month but will be vulnerable over this very different course and it may be significant that John Hills, who saddled Broadway Flyer to finish fourth to Zilzal Zamaan at Chester, sends out Wind In Her Hair (3.05) against the favourite today.
Several races billed as two-runner contests have gone elsewhere already this week, and the pattern may continue in the Windsor Castle Stakes. Tadeo (2.30) should be backed to beat Applaud and Polaris Flight, while New Reputation (5.30) may arrive home first in the Queen Alexandra Stakes, the longest race in the Flat campaign, shortly before the security guards turn out the lights.