As the music fades at the start of Channel 4's broadcast from the Knavesmire today, one of the presenters will doubtless utter the time-honoured phrase, "we have four very competitive races for you this afternoon". This, as all students of euphemism will know, actually means, "we have nothing but handicaps for you this afternoon", and those who prefer a higher class of racing must wait for the Irish Oaks at the Curragh tomorrow.
When handicaps are as intriguing as the Magnet Cup, though, there can be little cause for complaint, and with an overnight declaration of 17 runners almost guaranteeing four places for each-way bets, this is a contest which deserves considerable scrutiny.
Best of all, the two horses which head the market, Arctiid and Lakeline Legend, are both talking horses who have yet to win anything more important than a maiden. In such a tough, and possibly rough, race, experience will be an important asset, and anyone who believes value is the key to betting will be itching to take them on.
There are several in today's field with both experience and form in top handicaps, but only two start the morning at a single-figure price. Spirito Libro, who finished third at 50-1 in Sandown's Hong Kong Jockey Club Handicap, and Tertium, runner-up to Yeast in the Royal Hunt Cup, will both go to post with every chance, but at the early prices - and bearing in mind those four places - there can be only one choice.
SEVENTEENS LUCKY (nap 4.15) goes well at York, has a very fair weight and finished third in a strong handicap last time out. He might ideally prefer a slightly faster surface, but when any number of bookmakers are offering him at 25-1, it is a chance worth taking.
The remainder of the televised card is less inviting, though Keston Pond (next best 3.05), who has competed over both six furlongs and a mile recently, must stand a good chance over what may now be his ideal trip of seven furlongs.
Celeric, the Northumberland Plate winner, will be a raging favourite for the rated handicap, but this is a trickier contest than it might appear. Sanmartino (3.40), who ran very well over an inadequate trip at Royal Ascot, returns to the course and distance of his Ebor success last year and is a worthwhile alternative to the market leader.
A similar comment applies to tomorrow's Irish Oaks, which at first sight is simply a lap of honour for Lady Carla, who won the Oaks at Epsom last month by an astonishing nine lengths. Henry Cecil's filly, unbeaten to date, will certainly be a worthy favourite, but it is never wise to take a short price when a dark horse such as Shamadara (4.20) lurks further down the field.
Those who feel that this year's Oaks was an unusually poor renewal will want to take a chance on Alain du Royer-Dupre's French challenger, who is by Kahyasi, the 1988 Derby winner, out of a half-sister to Shergar, and was the convincing winner of a Group Two prize at Longchamp last month.
Should Lady Carla fail tomorrow, it will prompt a rapid rethink for Coral, who yesterday made her the 5-1 third favourite when opening a book on the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot two weeks today. Pentire, narrowly beaten by Lammtarra 12 months ago, is their 7-2 favourite, with Shaamit, the Derby winner, available at 4-1. Swain is another 5-1 chance, while Classic Cliche is 8-1 and Halling on 12-1.
That the dual Eclipse winner is at double-figure odds is down to doubts about his stamina, but it is worth recalling that the brilliant Mtoto, another to win the Sandown race twice, overcame similar concerns to win the 1988 King George. The most extraordinary offer, however, is the 33- 1 against Farasan, who looked a potential Group One performer at Doncaster earlier this year and endured a dreadful run in the Grand Prix de Paris, his only subsequent outing. He is held in the highest regard by Cecil, his trainer.
The King George winner will be acknowledged as the best middle-distance horse in Europe, but the world title will surely remain with Cigar, who will tonight attempt to equal the modern American record of 16 straight wins in the $750,000 Arlington Citation Challenge in Chicago. The local layers make him a 1-5 chance to do so.Reuse content