Racing: Oggi can heal wounds

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The Independent Online
If Thursday at Royal Ascot is Ladies' Day, then the Friday is surely Losers' Day, when smart punters who are showing a profit after the first 18 races retreat from the battle in a warm haze of self-congratulation, and those with losses to chase steel themselves for a final, desperate rearguard action.

There can, in truth, be little other reason to speculate on the Wokingham Handicap, six furlongs of utterly unpredictable bump and bustle, but as the bookmakers are only too aware, a substantial proportion of the nation's backers are in just such an unfortunate position. Since the Wokingham is the only handicap on this afternoon's card, meanwhile, there are few opportunities to perform the corrective surgery that their bank balances require.

A further complication is the rain which arrived at Ascot yesterday, turning the ground to good, and with more apparently on the way, the turf could soon be of the gluey consistency which seems a speciality of this course. This would, however, offer assistance in assessing the effect of the draw, since soft ground at Ascot tends to favour those on the stands side, and since most of the pace in today's race - in the form of the likes of Selhurstpark Flyer and Bollin Joanne - is already in low-numbered stalls, this is probably the side to concentrate on.

Take recent form into consideration, meanwhile, and the field condenses into a fairly manageable shortlist, with Bollin Joanne and, above all, OGGI (nap 3.45) the ones to catch the eye. Oggi may be six years old, but he has improved steadily throughout the season and his only reverse in three outings came when he started from an unfavourable draw at Newmarket. Although he is in stall 16 this afternoon, Ray Cochrane will probably tack across to the stands side, and at around 12-1, Peter Makin's sprinter could well be salvation with a leg at each corner.

Sprinters also form the principal supporting act in the King's Stand Stakes, with an 18-runner field almost as difficult to dissect as that for the previous race. Ya Malak, a winner at Epsom on Derby day, has returned to the form which carried him into second place in the Nunthorpe Stakes at York two years ago, and Alex Greaves, his jockey, may well become the first female rider to win one of Royal Ascot's Pattern events, but Almaty (4.20) is a better bet to get the visiting American, Gary Stevens, off the mark for the week.

An intriguing renewal of the Hardwicke Stakes marks the seasonal debut of Lady Carla, last year's Oaks winner, with the 1996 Breeders' Cup Turf winner, Pilsudski, among her opponents. At around 10-1, though, a far better bet is Busy Flight (next best 3.05), who was not quite a match for these as a three-year-old but seems to have improved with age, while Panama City (4.55), Contrary Mary (2.30) and Old Rouvel (5.30) will also go to post with obvious chances.

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