This is heavily loaded with impressive handicap winners from top to bottom and whether them victories were recent or not, it would be folly to write any of them off, out of hand.
Bronze Angel scooped a few major handicaps last season and appears to be paying the price this term as a result, beaten comfortably in the Lincoln and again at Newbury last time, he will more than likely struggle once more. Despite the recent runs of the Tregoning horse, he commands a good deal of respect and is most certainly worth bearing in mind for later in the season, especially if the handicapper relents.
Educate is another whom has paid the price for winning a major handicap, his victory in the 2013 Cambridgeshire over course and distance was his last and although back on the same mark now, the handicapper has been most unkind with his mark.
All Set To Go is a rare runner on the flat for outstanding National Hut trainer Paul Nicholls, he is very difficult to judge but if the market spoke in his favour, ignoring it could be disastrous.
Halation and Persona Grata are unexposed sorts who could well develop into high class handicappers this season, both are likely to have their followers but this is a very big ask of both.
Sir Michael Stoute rarely has his yard firing on all cylinders this early in the season but his Toby Jug was most impressive when winning here on the July course last may. An unlucky in running seventh when last seen can be ignored and despite being hit with a ten pounds penalty for that success, his form looks strong and he is probably a good way ahead of the handicapper still. The obvious downside to following the likely favourite is the record of his handlers horses first time up but despite that, he is handed the vote and is another to bear in mind should he need the run.
Top Tug (WIN)
Having gone against my usual style of taking on the favourite in the opener, I am once again drawn toward the head of the market and though this is as equally a tough looking race, the market principles do look the most likely.
Luca Cumani has his string in fine order and sends out Jordan Princess, who was an impressive winner at this venue last season. Upped in grade after that win, she found trouble in running yet still finished a decent second. Her yard is another that usually bring them to the boil slowly but her end of season improvement, liking for this venue and overall profile makes her a worthy favourite and is handed the vote.
Criteria went very close to landing an Oaks trial last season and will surely run her usual good race, she has some ground to find with the selection on their latest run however and although tough, she does look like one who may find winning a little tougher this time around.
Arabian Comet may want a stiffer test of stamina this season having looked a little one paced over 1m 7f on her last start of the season, she does have very good form on the book over a variety of trips though and is well worth considering.
Dream Child is another to respect having shown improvement on the sand lately, this is much tougher but she is well worth a place in the field and there is no guarantee she wont handle the step up in grade.
Island Remede is probably a tad exposed and most certainly lacks the scope of the market leaders, she is tough however and arrives here with a fitness edge that could enable her to place, at a price.
Jordan Princess (WIN)
Former Abbaye winner Tangerine Trees is well into the veteran stage now aged ten but he rolled back the years when blasting out and making all beating fellow veteran Borderlescott last time out. He will have to be very close to his former glories to take this a second time but at the very least he ought to set a very strong pace and his chance is respected despite us taking him on.
Stepper Point has improved with age and finished a fine second in a couple of group ones last season behind the brilliant Sole Power. Penalised in this, he will have to be on the ball but with the ground to suit and a strong pace looking assured, he cannot be opposed and is worth siding with.
Golddream is essentially a high class handicapper who can look the part on his day, his record in this sort of grade is uninspiring for win purposes however and his price offers little hope for the value seekers.
Watchable is another who looks better in handicaps, his yard are in tremendous form though and if ever there was a day for him to take a race of this nature, this is probably it.
Justice Day is tough and loves going from the front, he is worth remembering should he fail to fire but all things considered, Stepper Point has the least to prove and that is the deciding factor.
Stepper Point (WIN)
The Hannon yard generally do well here and send out a three pronged attack in this in an attempt to improve their record yet further.
Emell is a little quirky despite having some strong form and had began to drop down the ratings before taking advantage at Haydock the last day. The handicapper has seemingly over-reacted to that by handing down an eight pound penalty though he does have a fine second in last seasons Group 2 celebration mile here and overall, he is probably the one to beat.
Red Refraction and Brownsea Brink are the other Hannon runners and both have enough to recommend them, they arrive a little out of form though and at the odds, make less sense than the favourite.
Bertiewhittle has been called every bad name imaginable and hasn’t won since 2011 now, seven times a runner up in that sequence it would take a very brave man to side with him for win purposes. One thing the Barron runner will get her however is a fast pace to run at and he has run well here before so despite the win reservations, he is tentatively selected to weave his way into an unlucky looking place at decent odds.
Majestic Moon is tough and consistent, another who likes it here he was very difficult to overlook, his consistency has caught the attention of the handicapper though and a career best would be needed if he were to take this.
A shocking turnout of four almost certainly ensures that this becomes tactical and any of the runners running wouldn’t cause much of a stir as a result.
Odeon looks to have plenty to find and is likely to go off a big outsider, its entirely possible that he could poach an easy lead however and though we don’t fancy him, the ride he receives will be intriguing.
Telescope was beaten easily on his final start last season in the breeders cup, he has plenty enough form wise to take this however and is likely to be odds on. If punters wanted to take him on the starting place would probably be his poor run of last term and possibly that this is unlikely to be run like a true race, the places at group one level after that defeat make him the definite one to beat however and he really should win.
Second Step is progressive but lacks the form of the favourite, he probably has a little to find with the other two as well but he is improving and he hails from a yard who know how to eke out extra.
Pether’s Moon has never been my cup of tea and is penalised here having won a Group 2 in Turkey, he shouldn’t be good enough to beat the favourite but he does have a fitness edge and probably has a bit more toe, all things taken into account we will hand the vote to the Hannon challenger in a race that can only be described as disappointing.
Pether’s Moon (WIN)
Despite most of all the usual high profile connection entries this is far from a vintage renewal and the formbook will take some reading to confidently pick one as the worthy or strong favourite.
Gleneagles represents the Aiden O’Brien yard and Ryan Moore will take the ride, an impressive enough sort at two he was ridiculously disqualified for the slightest interference when beating French raider Territories in France and there is no real reason as to why that form would be reversed.
Territories has had a pipe opener and won well enough in the process, he could run into the money but the O’Brien horse is easily preferred and looks the pick of Aiden’s two runners.
The other O’Brien horse, Ol’ Man River was an expensive purchase and is impeccably bred, quite what he has achieved is open to question however and you do get the feeling he will be better over a more taxing trip.
Ivawood looked to be the potential hotpot for this last season before seemingly finding the step out of sprinting company too much, he could be value at double figure odds if staying but there are clear reservations and it would probably be a tad disappointing if he won.
Estidhkaar was another who looked a potential star and his willing attitude promised plenty of further improvement. A strong favourite for the Dewhurst, disaster struck when he fractured his hock and although he’s since finished a fine second on his comeback, there remains question marks especially on this firmer ground.
Elm Park will probably do better over further, his trainer voiced doubts about his participation if the rain didn’t come, should the heavens open he would be very interesting but that seems unlikely so he is a must for the notebook.
Intilaaq destroyed a field over this trip last month and could be the potential ‘Dark Horse’ , worryingly however retained jockey Paul Hanagan has swerved him in favour of Estidhkaar. That decision from former champ Hanagan is worthy of the closest attention as he will surely have an idea over which one is better and with Estidhkaar’s encouraging return to action, proven willingness to fight and talent shown last term, he is taken to emerge victorious in the seasons first classic.
Estidhkaar (E/W if 5/1+)