Value Bet Special: A Max bet
Ben Linfoot seeks out the ante-post value in the Royal Hunt Cup and the Wokingham Stakes at Royal Ascot.
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The two big early-closing handicaps at Royal Ascot next week will be hard enough to crack on the morning of the races themselves, when we'll have the draw, ground conditions and stable form to consider as well as the final fields.
Trying to pick a winner from around the 60 horses that make up the Royal Hunt Cup and the Wokingham is difficult enough with all of that information, but I do think a couple of horses are worth getting in the portfolio early despite the usual ante-post risks.
Without going into each race in too much depth at this stage I'll cut straight to the chase and advise taking the general 33/1 about Tim Pitt's SIR MAXIMILIAN for the Wokingham Stakes.
This horse looked a hugely-improved animal on his debut for Pitt at Chester last time, winning despite racing over the minimum trip which wouldn't be his optimum.
Things worked out well for him that day as he got a nice tow into the race due to pace on the inside of him, but there is little doubt he did it very easily and was going away at the line.
That bodes well for the Wokingham as the stiff six furlongs off a fast pace should play to his strengths and the 8lb rise for his Chester win was fair. Indeed, his new mark of 96 should ensure he gets in at the bottom of the handicap and though there's a small chance he could miss out, he would've made the cut in most years.
Hopefully he'll just sneak in, as odds of 33/1 will be long gone come race day as the form of his Chester win continues to work out really well.
The second home Caspian Prince has subsequently won the Investec Dash at Epsom while fourth home Top Boy prevailed in the BetBright Handicap at York.
Pitt has a fine record of improving sprinters, showcased by the wonderful work he did with Golden Jubilee and July Cup winner Les Arcs, and Sir Maximilian could well progress through the handicap ranks quickly judging by the start he made for his new handler.
He has a fine jockey in Stevie Donohoe, too, and looks versatile regarding ground conditions (though in a perfect world, perhaps a little bit of rain before the Wokingham wouldn't go amiss!).
All in all, given his form and position in the handicap, if he gets in (and hopefully he should) then I envisage him going off much shorter than the currently available 33s and it's a price that looks well worth taking.
As for the Royal Hunt Cup, the one horse that could still have plenty in hand of the handicapper is last year's co-favourite STIRRING BALLAD.
She went off 10/1 for the 2013 renewal but finished down the field after enduring a luckless passage throughout as the large group on the stands' side got in each others way.
However, there is little doubt that she remains an extremely well-handicapped horse. Her three previous runs in handicaps all yielded wins and she was subsequently unlucky in listed races with small fields that were falsely run and didn't play to her strengths.
Since a comfortable win at Chester in the summer of 2012 she has looked like a mare capable of competing at group level and Andrew Balding clearly thinks she still has that potential as she was also given an initial entry in the Group 2 Windsor Forest Stakes.
Yet off a mark of 97 she is likely to try to right last year's wrongs in the Hunt Cup and, despite her year-long absence from the track, her current best-price of 20/1 is only going to go one way if she is given the go-ahead.
1pt e.w Sir Maximilian for the Wokingham at 33/1
1pt win Stirring Ballad for the Royal Hunt Cup at 20/1
Ben Linfoot's Value Bet Aim: The Value Bet is designed to generate long-term profit by searching for overpriced horses in the feature weekend races and at the big Festivals in the UK. Running total: +249.81pts to advised stakes/prices (from inception of Value Bet column in January 2010 to current).