Lydia Hislop: Don't fear the favourites
Lydia Hislop takes an in-depth look at the Betfred Cambridgeshire and believes there is value in taking on the likely favourites.
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The most striking thing about the market for the Betfred Cambridgeshire, at the time of writing, is the extent to which it is dominated by horses that are said to need cut in the ground. With times from the opening day endorsing the official going description of good, good-to-firm in places, and drying conditions forecast, it's going to be all change.
The two most favoured by the market, Top Notch Tonto and Ascription, are both in the seeking-rain camp. They also have in common the advantage of being well-treated within the terms of this race, having both posted career-best efforts since the weights for this celebrated handicap were framed.
"His third in the John Smith's Cup was a career-best performance and I suspect his wily trainer has had this race earmarked since then. At around 33/1, this tough and versatile horse is greatly under-estimated by the market."
Find out below which horse Lydia is talking about...
Top Notch Tonto - who, painted by nature as he is, could get film work as the lead apache war-horse if this racing game ever pales on him - is due to be raised a whopping 13lb when the official handicapper can get hold of him properly.
Like many a horse, he has been improved for the switch to Brian Ellison's yard but particularly reveled in rain-softened ground when winning a Group Three last time. It may sound counter-intuitive but this is a tougher assignment, not just because underfoot conditions are different. An extra furlong is an unknown, too.
Ascription is due to race off a 7lb higher mark in future and is now emulating the talent displayed by his half-siblings, not to mention playing a leading role in young trainer Hugo Palmer's breakthrough season.
His win at Doncaster was a marked step forward and his pedigree suggests that stepping up to nine furlongs will hold no fears. I'd be less dogmatic about his ability to handle a faster surface but, like Top Notch Tonto, he is no certain runner without rain.
The chances of Chapter Seven - unlucky to bump into an unexposed three-year-old at Newbury last Saturday, when conditions were at last ideal for him - have definitely been impaired by the prevailing weather. Fielding against these three - watch them land the trifecta now - offers up some over-priced rivals.
This leads me to the draw, partly because the outsiders I fancy are drawn at almost each extreme. It's too soon to judge whether there might be a bias on Newmarket's Rowley Mile this week, but the stalls allotted at the 48-hour declaration stage have seen the majority of the pace drawn low.
Pacific Heights in 5, Nine Realms in 6, Forgive in 10, Arsaadi in 11, Marcret in 12 and Boonga Roogeta in 14 have all made the running either habitually or recently. The highest-drawn of the out-and-out front-runners is Area Fifty One in 26, although Ascription in 29 and, to a lesser extent, Strictly Silver in 32 can race prominently.
All that far-side pace is good news for Tres Coronas, whom David Barron has conjured to be better than ever this season. He'll be staying on strongly for the rising ground of Newmarket's final furlong. His third in the John Smith's Cup was a career-best performance and I suspect his wily trainer has had this race earmarked since then. At around 33/1, this tough and versatile horse is greatly under-estimated by the market.
Others to fear that are drawn low are Pacific Heights, the last horse to make the cut for this race and likely to progress even further here, and Educate, who was stone-cold unlucky not to win a fiercely competitive Haydock handicap on his penultimate start.
Forgive is another to eye warily because the trip looks ideal and she still seems progressive, especially if her clear second to Lanansaak at Ascot last time out can be believed. Check out the winner's performance in a Listed race at Newmarket on Friday for further evidence.
But I've had the Cambridgeshire in mind for Red Avenger ever since his excellent second to Broughton at Glorious Goodwood two runs ago. He shapes as though the in-between trip of nine furlongs might be spot on for him.
Rain detracted from his chances, raised to Group Three class to boot, at York last time. That means conditions should be spot on here. I love the booking of Gerald Mosse and wonder whether he might ride his strong-travelling and tough mount relatively positively to offset any pace concerns and to suit this track.
The main threat on his side of the track comes from his peers, fellow three-year-olds King George River and Code Of Honor, who both also hint at being well-suited to the cadence and distance of the Cambridgeshire.
King George River has already auditioned over the course-and-distance, finishing second to Andre Fabre's Prix Du Jockey-Club winner and Arc possible, Intello, in the Feilden. His third to Short Squeeze at York last time was encouraging for a step back up in trip.
Code Of Honor managed simultaneously to post a career-best effort at Goodwood last time and to shape again as if ten furlongs stretches his stamina slightly. He is a big threat.
Seek Again, proven at the track and open to improvement, and last year's winner Bronze Angel, bidding to become the first horse since Prince De Galles in 1970 to win back-to-back Cambridgeshires, are also in with a shout.
A final footnote: seeking to enhance an already excellent season, William Haggas means business with a six-strong attack in this race and it's hard to dismiss any one of them. The betting doesn't agree but I suspect Fury, who did second best of the stands'-side horses with an interrupted run in this race last year, will far out-run his price.
What a glorious race this is, one of the iconic sights of British racing: 35 horses, thundering over the bumps and rises of the expansive Rowley Mile and any number of contenders classy and gritty enough to be the first to the finishing line. At 15:50 on Saturday, we'll know we're alive.
Lydia Hislop's Cambridgeshire 1-2-3-4:
1 Red Avenger
2 Tres Coronas
3 Code Of Honor
4 King George River