Such is the norm with top-end handicaps nowadays, many of these will have already met previously this season, with races such as the Victoria Cup, Royal Hunt Cup and Wokingham all worth taking a second look at. However, as usual with such big numbers, the draw/track position and tactics/luck in running often make a difference to the result.
Current ante-post favourite Gilgamesh shaped better than the bare result in the Victoria Cup, leading home the smaller near-side group, beaten less than two lengths in seventh. He confirmed the promise of that effort when winning at York two weeks later, impressing by the manner in which he travelled and scoring with more in hand than the short-head margin suggests. There was plenty to take from his performance in the Wokingham at Royal Ascot last time, too, seeming caught out by the drop back to sprinting and, likely to appreciate the return to seven furlongs, you can see why he heads the market here.
Firmament and Mukalal finished mid-field in the Royal Hunt Cup at Royal Ascot last time, but both those runs shouldn’t be taken at face value. The former travelled better than most, hemmed in and having to wait for a gap over two furlongs out, switching soon after but unable to get back on terms from his position. He's lurking on a good mark, and again did enough to suggest that most, if not all, of his ability remains intact, so he could surprise a few at a biggish price.
The Marcus Tregoning-trained Mukalal reportedly underwent a wind operation after winning his final start in 2017 (beat a subsequent improver), and shaped well thrown in at the deep end on his reappearance last month. He refused to settle early in the race, but made good headway over a furlong out before his earlier exertions told in the closing stages. The drop back to seven furlongs may benefit him in the short term and he remains a potential improver. A big gelding, he should be capable of paying his way off this sort of mark.
Mubtasim was gelded after his final start in 2017 and has looked an improved performer this season, running a career-best when runner-up sporting a first-time hood in a listed race at Haydock last time. He makes his belated handicap debut now, and this mark shouldn’t be beyond him judged on the pick of his form.
Makzeem – who is closely related to the high-class Al Kazeem – finished last of six in the aforementioned listed race on his seasonal reappearance in May. He fared little better in a similar event over six furlongs on Windsor last time, likely not suited by the drop in trip, and he is almost certainly better than he’s show so far this year. Makzeem proved he can be competitive from this mark when hitting the frame in the Challenge Cup at Ascot on his final start in 2017 and, with the stable in much better form now, he shouldn’t be taken lightly.
One who arrives at the top of his game in Aces, who has won two of his three starts since joining Ian Williams. He followed up from an 8 lb higher mark than at Epsom over C&D last time, needing all of the seven-furlong trip to prevail having been easy to back, though gave the impression that he hasn't quite laid out all he can as yet. He has to carry a 6 lb penalty here, but he has done little wrong for this yard so far, and is expected to make another bold bid.
Top-weight Speculative Bid missed 2016 but came back as good as ever last year, winning at Doncaster by a neck from Shady McCoy in typical fashion, held up in the rear travelling powerfully, and weaving his way through to lead in the final 50 yards. He wasn’t in the same form when last seen at Deauville in December, but he has an excellent record in races like this, and has gone well fresh in the past.
Both Louie de Palma and Spanish City aren’t guaranteed a run as yet, but would have claims if taking their chance. The former is very lightly raced for a six-year-old, but is starting to show why connections have persevered with him. He was well backed on his return from a 1381-day absence when down the field (only beaten five and three quarter lengths) in the Victoria Cup in May, and stepped up on that when runner-up dropped to six furlongs at Windsor last time; he could yet do better.
Spanish City was only beaten a length in the Victoria Cup and improved further to win at Doncaster on his next start. He had every chance to follow up at York last time, well positioned given how the race developed, but unable to quicken in the final furlong. His form is proving strong, though, and it’s plausible he still has more to offer, too.
A typically competitive renewal of this valuable handicap, where a case can be made for several, but at the time of writing it is Mukalal who makes the most appeal. He was progressive last season, and shaped better than the bare result on his return at Royal Ascot last month. The drop back to seven furlongs looks a good move at this stage in his career and, both his physique and pedigree suggest he has more to offer. Of the remainder, Ante-post favourite Gilgamesh has obvious claims, though Makzeem and Firmament could be of more interest at bigger prices.
Back Mukalal each-way at 14/1 in the Bunbury Cup at Newmarket on Saturday