Matt Brocklebank picks out the best bets for Saturday's big handicaps at York and Ascot, with Firmament backed for an overdue success.
Recommended bets: Saturday racing
Roger Fell could hardly have hoped things would go quite so well since he took over the licence at Arthington Barn Stables, but more York winners will bound to be on the wish-list.
The Knavesmire is not a simple playground for even the most esteemed training operations though Fell's 1-29 strike-rate will be one he's looking to improve upon in the coming months.
HAROME gave him a first victory as a trainer at his local track when bolting up by four lengths here recently, and the same horse looks a good bet at 12/1 (General) to follow up in Saturday's Sky Bet Dash.
The gelded son of Bahamian Bounty has clearly relished the extremely quick conditions in the north this summer and appears to have taken his form to new levels, something he will need to do again if he's to defy another 8lb rise in the ratings in this competitive contest.
There's a minor concern that six furlongs could stretch the horse beyond his absolute optimum but he did win over this trip as a youngster and with the ground set to be seriously fast once more, there's bound to be an exaggerated emphasis on speed.
He showed tons of it when scorching from the gates and storming home last time and there's a chance he might have many of his rivals in trouble at a relatively early stage.
In opposition, Charlie Appleby's Culturati is expected to attract a lot of interest on his first start for 413 days but his best efforts, including a course victory, have come with ease underfoot which is unlikely to come as much of a surprise considering his pedigree (by Dubawi out of a Desert Prince mare), and perhaps highly-rated three-year-old Enjazaat will be a bigger threat to speedball Harome if given his chance to line up.
The top weight is having his first run in a handicap and could be dangerously treated from 103 and this is a significant drop in class following runs at big prices in the Commonwealth Cup at Ascot and the Group Three Hackwood Stakes last weekend.
Down at Ascot, it's former Arthington Barn resident David O'Meara who could be celebrating a big pot.
His FIRMAMENT’s official rating has dipped into double-digits for the first time since he won back-to-back races at Chelmsford and York in August 2016 and he’s fancied to take full advantage in the Gigaset International Stakes (Heritage Handicap).
It’s quite remarkable he’s not been able to add to those spoils during a win-less, 18-race subsequent run but he’s threatened on several occasions, notably at this venue a couple of times.
Take this very race last summer, where he was sent off a 33/1 chance from a mark of 109 and performed exceptionally well in fifth, beaten just three lengths by Stamp Hill.
It’s that kind of consistent, solid effort which has seen his mark remain so high but the assessor has finally started to relent and there were strong signs of a full resurgence in last week’s Bunbury Cup.
He was beaten under two lengths in a bunched finish for the places on the July Course and is due to go up 1lb in the future so for the first time in a long while O’Meara’s six-year-old looks genuinely ahead of the handicapper. At 16/1 generally, he's the best bet at this stage.
LOUIE DE PALMA (20/1, General) is also worth having on side in the same big-field handicap.
He had four years out of action following a promising juvenile campaign which included a smart second to Ivawood in the Richmond Stakes and could be coming back to the boil.
That certainly looked to be the case when second at Windsor under a positive ride over six furlongs last time and it’s worth noting he won a nursery at Ascot in 2014.
Clive Cox’s patience with this entire will be rewarded at some stage before the end of the campaign and a return to seven furlongs will suit this weekend.