Ben Linfoot seeks out the best Value Bets on QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot, with Librisa Breeze fancied in the Sprint.
The rain has arrived in significant enough quantity to turn the ground soft at Ascot ahead of Champions Day and with more showers and very strong winds to factor in as well on race day it looks like being hard work for Saturday’s star cast.
The most intriguing race on the card is the QIPCO Champion Stakes as the market leaders, Cracksman and Barney Roy, have questions to answer, namely the trip for the former and the deteriorating ground for the latter.
Cracksman has improved throughout the season and could well be at the peak of his powers, although connections have continually stressed we won’t see the finished article until next year when he races on at four.
That’s not to say he isn’t ready for this assignment now, but the 10-furlong trip is a real worry given all of his improvement has come over a mile and a half. It’s a valid concern that he won’t have the pace for this, even in the worsening ground, and with that in mind he looks very short at 7/4.
Barney Roy brings good form to the table but the softer conditions have to be a worry for such a good mover on faster ground. He looked at his best in the height of summer, in the St James’s Palace Stakes and Coral-Eclipse on good to firm, so this is a significant unknown quantity.
Highland Reel needs faster ground, too, while stablemate Cliffs Of Moher keeps on being unlucky and who’s to say he won’t be again from his inside draw in one? If he gets a smooth run, he’s a danger, but that isn’t a given from his starting berth.
The two I’d be concentrating on are Poet’s Word and Brametot, with slight preference for the former at 13/2. He’s improving, will be fine on the ground, reportedly sparkled in some work at the start of the week and big-race jockey Andrea Atzeni takes over in the saddle.
I’m just not quite convinced that his Irish Champion form is as worthy as it looks, yet, so I’ll be leaving the race alone and the same can be said of the QEII as I don’t want to take Ribchester on at a track he absolutely loves.
There are plenty of other betting opportunities on the card, though, starting with the opening QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup at 1.25.
Order Of St George is the form horse in this race and he is the one to beat, of that there is no doubt, but I don’t think he’s the odds-on shot the market would have you believe.
A winner of three of his last nine starts, he is a horse that needs things to go his way and he was turned over in this race at 4/6 last year after a muddling gallop caught him out.
If Big Orange is a non-runner, a likely scenario considering the conditions, there isn’t an awful lot of obvious pace once again and Order Of St George could well be outmanoeuvred by something with mile and a half pace if they are better positioned.
DURETTO strikes me as potentially one such horse and he is worth backing at 11/1 (Paddy Power, BetVictor).
Andrew Balding’s charge loves testing ground, as he showed at Chester last time, and he loves Ascot too, having won at the track twice and being second on two other occasions.
He's getting better with age as you would expect from this family, his half-brother Nabatean was the same, and he shapes like a real stayer, so there’s plenty of potential improvement to come from him at this trip.
His career best came at Chester in May, when he gave weight to Western Hymn and wasn’t beaten far despite finding trouble in-running, and though a setback saw him miss the summer the good thing is he comes into this a relatively fresh horse.
Unbeaten in two runs for Graham Lee, he should get plenty of cover from the elements held up in midfield before being unleashed for a late challenge in the straight.
I was going to leave it at that, but with DARTMOUTH drifting to 22/1 (Betfair Sportsbook, Paddy Power) he’s got to be worth a small interest as well.
He stayed the trip well at York when beaten a nose by Montaly in August, and he was carrying a 3lb penalty that day for his Group Two win at the same track back in May.
Those two efforts over staying trips put him right in the mix here and it should be remembered the best performance of his career came at Ascot when he beat Highland Reel in the Hardwicke Stakes.
He handled soft ground well on the Knavesmire when winning the Yorkshire Cup at the start of the season and if Jim Crowley can get him settled in a nice position just off the leaders he’s going to have a much better chance than odds of 22/1 suggest.
In the QIPCO British Champions Sprint Harry Angel is very much the one to beat, but this is going to be his toughest test yet.
He’s 0 from 3 at Ascot and given his exuberance it’s perhaps no surprise his best form has come on flatter tracks, while he won’t be allowed an easy time of things up front given what happened at Haydock on his latest start.
With Aidan O’Brien running four from Ballydoyle there’s every chance he’s going to be pestered on the front end in a bid to set things up for Caravaggio, but such tactics could well play into the hands of another rival in LIBRISA BREEZE at 14/1 (General).
His owner Tony Bloom landed a monster gamble when his Withhold won the Cesarewitch last weekend but Librisa Breeze remains his best horse even if he has managed to attain the tag of being unlucky/hard to win with.
A come-from-behind running style isn’t always easy to employ in the sort of races he’s been lining up in, but that astonishing last-to-first burst at this track in last year’s Challenge Cup lives long in the memory.
Unlucky not to finish closer here a couple of times subsequently in Group Ones, including in this race last year, things haven’t dropped Librisa Breeze’s way but he goes very well in soft ground at this course and things could drop in his favour on Saturday.
Considering the strong winds forecast, it could well pay to be covered up and if the Ballydoyle contingent make this a real test then a seven-furlong horse like Librisa Breeze could well reap the benefit.
Finally, I like the look of LINGUISTIC at 25/1 (General) in the closing Balmoral Handicap.
John Gosden has trained all three runners-up in the Balmoral but Godolphin have won it before with Musaddas and you have to think they had a big pool of horses to choose from for the race once again.
That they rely on Linguistic could be significant and I thought he ran a really good race at York last week behind Dark Red, who reopposes off 6lb worse terms, and Syphax, after being caught wide throughout.
He travelled particularly well and was one of the last off the bridle, shaping as though he’d appreciate the drop in trip to a stiff mile.
The ground is an unknown with him, but he has a high enough knee action to suggest he’ll cope with it well and you would think as much considering he’s a Lope De Vega gelding out of a Montjeu mare.
On the pick of his form he looks reasonably handicapped off 103 and his far-side draw doesn’t look a negative with a good bit of pace drawn nearby.
Among the others drawn low is Lord Glitters, who looks to have had the perfect preparation for this. He’s 4lb well-in, will love the ground and the return to a mile. He hasn’t been missed by the market this time, unfortunately, but he’s definitely the one they all have to beat.
Recommended Bets: Value Bet, Champions Day
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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: +338.39pts to advised stakes/prices (from inception of Value Bet column in January 2010 to current).
Preview posted at 1700 BST on 20/10/2017