It may prove far easier today at York to extract money from the pockets of those who can afford it in order to give it to those who need it than to remove funds from bookmakers' satchels. The Knavesmire hosts the 33rd Timeform Charity Day which has, over the years, raised more than £3m for good causes and although, with Royal Ascot starting on Tuesday, this weekend's sport is short of quality in depth, quantity is not lacking. The afternoon's feature, the William Hill Trophy, is a 20-runner three-year-old sprint handicap that has not produced a successful favourite for 12 years, no single-figure winner since 1992 and bookies' benefits at 33-1, 25-1 (three times) and 20-1 since.
The last market leader to triumph, 9-4 shot Sheikh Albadou, could, in view of his subsequent record - Nunthorpe Stakes and Breeders' Cup Sprint - be considered the definition of a good thing. Other good-class horses to have flagged up their future in what is one of the most valuable (a £75,000 purse) contests of the season for three-year-old sprinters have been Roman Warrior, Dowsing, Cadeaux Genereux and Orientor, who all won, and Hever Golf Rose and Coastal Bluff, who were second.
Mostly, though, the competitors remain as handicappers, albeit smart ones, winning when the human version gives them the chance. There are some trends in evidence, mostly negative - horses carrying nine stone or more tend not to win - although none definitive.
Horses, however, cannot read analyses and even if a coin comes up heads 20 times in a row, the tail that shows 21st could be the start of another sequence. No horse has ever won today's feature on its seasonal debut but one who could change that is Flying Express (3.10). Barry Hills has known from the start of the season that he would have to wait for the son of Air Express, who won two out of three as a juvenile but has taken time to furnish his frame. It is a tough call to win a race like this on a handicap debut but it is almost superfluous to say that Hills will have taken that into account when committing Flying Express, the sort of horse who could just be a cut above average, to the fray.
Tim Easterby sent out Artie to record a 25-1 shock 12 months ago and is three-handed in his bid for a double. Dazzling Bay earned the statistical kiss of death (favouritism) by confirming the promise of his previous run, when he caught something of a tartar in Tarjman (since a winner at Epsom and entered in the July Cup), with a spirited success in another valuable bookmaker-sponsored contest at Newmarket last month. The son of Mind Games looks more straightforward now than last term, when he earned the dreaded Timeform squiggle for his tendency to wriggle under pressure, but the last horse to win both races was one of the calibre of Cadeaux Genereux 15 years ago. Brantwood, blinkered first time, and another potentially classy seasonal debutant, Wahsheeq, can prove best of the rest.
Grand Passion looked ready for the step up to 10 furlongs when he won the Esher Cup at Sandown in April, showing a decent turn of foot so to do. But it seems folly to oppose anything trained by Sir Michael Stoute at present and Statement (3.45) will equally be suited by a drop back in distance after a promising opening to his three-year-old campaign. He will also enjoy York's wide-open acres better than whizzing round Catterick.
Aidan O'Brien, poor fellow, is finding his options for juveniles in ordinary races back home in Ireland becoming increasingly curtailed as the number of contests open to very expensive auction purchases dries up. Before the cream of the Ballydoyle youth team, which has a 35 per cent strike-rate overall and 50 per cent in Britain, led by Old Deuteronomy, get down to serious business at Royal Ascot, there are a couple of sighters today. One Cool Cat (4.15), a son of Storm Cat who cost a cool $3.1m, can show the benefit of experience at York and his paternal half-brother Tumblebrutus (2.50), a full-brother to Giant's Causeway, can gain some experience at Sandown.Reuse content