Ben Linfoot seeks out the best Value Bet selections at York and Newbury on Friday with Wicklow Brave fancied to topple hot-favourite Stradivarius in the Yorkshire Cup.
Value Bet: York Dante Meeting, day three & Newbury
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Stradivarius could take the first step towards the Weatherbys Hamilton Stayers’ Million on the final day of York’s Dante Festival on Friday as he bids to justify short-price favouritism for the Mansionbet Yorkshire Cup (3.30).
The new concept dangles a £1million carrot to any horse that wins one of four recognised prep races in May (including the Yorkshire Cup), then the Ascot Gold Cup, the Qatar Goodwood Cup and finally the Weatherbys Hamilton Lonsdale Cup back at York's Ebor meeting.
With Big Orange sidelined it’s Stradivarius that looks most likely to have a chance at winning the bounty, but the first leg is perhaps trickier than the market suggests and at a shade of odds-on I’m just inclined to take him on.
He’s the best horse in the race and could even improve at four, but I just wonder if he’s vulnerable over 1m6f on a flat track like York given he was such a strong stayer over two miles last season. It’s on my mind he was slightly outpaced both in the Leger and the Long Distance Cup.
There’s enough of a niggle to take him on at 10/11, anyway, and the one that I do think has been underestimated in the market is Willie Mullins’ WICKLOW BRAVE at 14/1 (Betfair Sportsbook, Paddy Power).
Even accounting for the independent falls of Samcro and Melon at Punchestown, Wicklow Brave ran like he was as good as ever over hurdles last time and history tells us that he excels on the Flat first-time back after the jumps season.
In the May of 2015 he won on his first ever Flat start, in 2016 he was beaten a neck by Dartmouth in the Ormonde Stakes and then last year he was a close up fourth in America in the Belmont Gold Cup Invitational.
On his best Flat form he’s a 115 horse, arguably the second or third best in the race, and there’s every reason to believe that 1m6f around York will bring out the very best in him.
Indeed, he ran a cracker over this very course and distance when second to Litigant in the 2015 Ebor, while in the August of 2016 he was third in the Lonsdale after travelling very well throughout, his stamina perhaps slightly stretched over the two miles.
His best efforts on the Flat have come over 1m6f, including when he gave a stone to the subsequent Melbourne Cup winner Rekindling in the Curragh Cup last July – a race in which he looked the likely winner until the dying strides.
He’ll have to reverse Goodwood Cup form with Stradivarius who beat him by almost nine lengths last August, but that was over two miles and Wicklow Brave gets a 13lb pull at the weights so there’s certainly hope for him with that generous weight-for-age allowance now out of the picture.
Later on at York I like the look of the 14/1 (General, 16s bet365) about Richard Hannon’s CONTRAST in the Equinity Technology Handicap (4.05).
This horse had run consistently well in three starts after being gelded on the all-weather at the start of the year, winning at Lingfield and finishing a close-up third behind York second Crowned Eagle at Kempton at the end of March.
That was off a mark of 95, so it’s somewhat surprising he gets to race off 93 on Friday after being dropped 4lb for one below-par run at Epsom last time.
I’d forgive any horse one bad run around there and he clearly didn’t handle the track, hanging to his right from the inside as the rest of the field made their challenge down the middle.
Eased home inside the final furlong, he’s miles better than that and the Good to Firm ground at York looks perfect for him. He shed his maiden tag on such a surface and Dutch Art progeny are seven from 38 (18.42 per cent) on Good to Firm ground at York.
Hannon won this race with Nayel two years ago and he reaches for the first-time blinkers in a bid to sharpen up Contrast, too, but it’s that Crowned Eagle form that makes me want to back him at 14s.
Probably a 103 horse after his close second to Hamada on Wednesday, Contrast ran him to within a length off level weights just two starts ago and gets to race off 93 on Friday – that looks generous.
Finally, BOY IN THE BAR looks underestimated at 22/1 (General) in the Starlight Brightening Lives Handicap at Newbury (2.35).
Ian Williams’ horse usually needs a couple of runs under his belt and he won on his third start in both 2016 and 2017, so it’s less of a concern that he was well beaten on his first two runs this campaign.
Those performances have at least seen him drop 4lb to a mark of 89 and it’s a rating he can be competitive off having won at Goodwood off 86 this time last year.
A winner over the course and distance on Good to Firm ground, he was third in this race last year under Josephine Gordon, Friday’s rider, who has a good record on him, winning three times from eight goes.
With plenty of pace drawn around him he could well have the race run to suit and, at the prices, he’s worth forgiving his two bad runs this year with plenty else in his favour.
Posted at 1700 BST on 17/05/18.
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: +346.14pts to advised stakes/prices (from inception of Value Bet column in January 2010 to current).