Saturday’s Victoria Cup handicap over a straight seven furlongs at Ascot is the first big-field event of its type since the Lincoln at Doncaster on the opening day of the season, and has attracted a typically strong field comprising of lightly-raced four-year-olds, experienced campaigners and course specialists.
Amongst the benefits of Timeform’s subscription to race passes are our industry-leading Flags, one of which is the sectional clock which indicates horses that have performed well under the circumstances last time out.
Market leader Keyser Soze is one of two horses in the race with a Sectional Flag, and will be hoping to build on his reappearance where he shaped well when a neck third of 22 to Taqdeer in a mile handicap at Newbury last time, cruising through from rear, leading briefly in the final furlong, before being collared late on.
Jamie Spencer, who rides the straight track at Ascot so well, is booked for the ride once more, though the horse needs to settle better than when disappointing in the Britannia Stakes at Royal Ascot last season.
Timeform weight-adjusted ratings are topped by Silent Attack, who also impressed on the clock last time when proving better than ever at Lingfield, winning impressively by two and a quarter lengths from Sea Fox under a hands-and-heels ride. Silent Attack is 7 lb higher here but is respected for a yard that also won this (albeit with a four-year-old) in 2016. Sea Fox has a 6 lb pull in the weights and is not discounted at a big price, with a recent revival on the all-weather suggesting he could be well-treated back on turf (ran well off 1 lb higher over C&D back in October).
The draw is often a major talking point before the race, though the raft of winners in recent years has been so evenly spread that being drawn close to a bunch of prominent racers – or being near to where groups of runners will race - is much more important, especially so for hold-up performers. The image below suggests that no real draw bias is expected.
Another Flag that has served race passes customers well of late is the Horses For Courses symbol, and there are several in this field who have excelled under similar conditions, including Firmament who looks overpriced at a general 25/1 (28s with William Hill). Though it’s a condensed field, he’s high up on Timeform weight-adjusted ratings and has more suitable underfoot conditions than on his two starts on soft ground this season. He was winless in 2017, though ran as well as ever, including when two lengths fifth over C&D in September.
Fourth on that occasion was Raising Sand, a lightly-raced six-year-old who also won over a mile here (by two lengths from Nicholas T) and was better than ever when one and a quarter lengths third of 18 to Accidental Agent in the Challenge Cup over C&D when last seen in October. Though this is far from an easy return to action from 217 days off, his odds of 20/1 look a little too generous.
Pouvoir Magique is back from a 183-day break, having signed off in fine style at Newcastle in November. He had been stuck in the departure lounge for a while, but took off in style, though what wasn't on the cards is that his winning effort came over a mile, having started out over 10 furlongs before trying a mile and a half. “He's on a progressive path to the big-money handicaps…” said the Timeform report for that Newcastle race, and – having impressively gone four lengths clear at one point that day - it would be no surprise to see him take another step forward over this even shorter trip.
Escobar and The Grape Escape make their debuts for new yards here, the former appearing to be of more interest having been sold from Hugo Palmer for 100,000 guineas in October. He was highly tried last term, but new trainer David O’Meara certainly knows the time of day and a mark of 97 could prove lenient for a horse who began his career with two impressive seven-furlong wins at Newbury.
On the subject of northern runners with a chance, the David Barron-trained Kynren commands plenty of respect. He completed a hat-trick at Carlisle, Newmarket and Redcar in 2017 and resumed his progress when a promising third of 20 to High Acclaim at Doncaster last time, racing away from the main group until halfway before keeping on well. He is likely to progress further, especially with this better ground in his favour. Thirsk-based Brilliant Vanguard (poor on his two runs this term but back on a fair mark) and Middleham raider Masham Star (raced closer to pace than ideal and also met interference when well held at Goodwood last time) are others to consider.
As you might expect in a field of 29, the list of notable dangers is a lengthy one, perhaps topped by the lightly-raced five-year-old Spanish City. He continued the good form of the Roger Varian yard when improving again to win at Newcastle last time, proving his effectiveness over this trip in the process. He presumably hasn't been the easiest to train but there's still more progress in him and, provided he can get a clear run at things now, he can make an impact in some of the top handicaps this season.
Of the rest, honourable mentions go to Repercussion, who proved a different proposition with a tongue strap fitted when successful at Newmarket last season and has been fifth in both starts so far this term, and Sabador, who caught the eye when midfield in the Britannia when last seen, having to his pick way through and finishing with running left. The latter remains capable of better and may be a more solid proposition than Louie de Palma who has been absent since finishing second in the 2014 Richmond Stakes at Goodwood. Having said that, the market confidence behind Clive Cox’s runner looks significant.
Those at the top of the betting look short enough considering just 9 lb separates the 29 runners on Timeform weight-adjusted ratings, and preference instead is for a couple of runners priced at 20/1+ in the form of Firmament and Raising Sand. One is well handicapped on old form, whilst the other was improving all the time when last seen, but both have strong claims of hitting the frame in a race that has featured double figure priced winners in four of the last five seasons.
Firmament to win Saturday's Victoria Cup at Ascot at 25/1
Raising Sand to win Saturday's Victoria Cup at Ascot at 20/1