Steve Hughes has selections for the best of a great Saturday’s racing
A cracking day to look forward to with a brilliant jumping card at Ayr and high class flat racing at Newbury. I have selections from the best of both. Dame de Compagnie was a winner in the previous column (SP 13/8).
Ayr 2.55: Verdana Blue & Beyond the Clouds
A high class and competitive renewal of the Scottish Champion for which two bets against the field is merited.
Verdana Blue is very much a top of the ground performer (missed the Champion Hurdle itself due to the going) and was well beaten on soft in the Betfair at Newbury. Prior to that though she dotted up in an Ascot handicap in November and was a fast finishing third on unsuitably slow conditions in the big Grade 3 handicap there before Christmas. That run suggested she was still on a fair mark and she can call on top claimer James Bowen to assist.
Beyond the Clouds is a slightly more tentative choice given he is running in handicap company for the first time. However trainer Kevin Ryan must think he is feasibly treated off 142 given he could have opted for grade 1 novice contests at Aintree or Punchestown. This sharp track should suit this speedy front-runner who has only been beaten once in six attempts – and not at all over hurdles.
Ayr 4.05: Fagan & Cogry
Having landed the Irish and English Nationals this month, you would not put it past Gordon Elliott to do it again with the striking grey Fagan in the Scottish version. Jockey Davy Russell takes the mount once more.
Fagan was a high class novice over hurdles finishing second to Unowhatimeanharry in the 2016 Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham. That was on the typical good going you usually get at the Festival, similar to conditions he will face today. He got qualified for handicaps by running in the summer in novice races. He only won once – on good going at Perth, but his two other runs saw him finish second to Ballyandy over too short a trip and to Black Corton at Cheltenham which reads well now. Elliott has had him ready to run for some time, but has been waiting for the ground to come right, which it finally has now. He promises to stay forever and has an excellent record fresh.
My main contender to beat him though is last year’s runner-up Cogry. He was just denied close home by Vicente that day, but he seems to enjoy the better ground which helps out his jumping. He has probably had a more ideal run into this race this season as he took in the Midlands and West Wales Nationals before Ayr last year (the latter coming only six days earlier). He was impressive when winning at Cheltenham in October, the last time he encountered good going.
Newbury 3.45: Afaak & Fox Trotter
Despite the recent hot weather, conditions remain on the soft side at Newbury (with the potential for further showers this afternoon.) My two are therefore proven on the ground.
Afaak is an obvious contender having run fine races on all three starts with cut. Latterly that included a narrow defeat in the Silver Cambridgeshire to recent runaway Lincoln winner Addeybb. He was also very impressive when winning a Doncaster handicap by 5l on soft last summer. He should have strengthened up for the winter off and could be a group horse in a handicap.
Fox Trotter is a more speculative choice but can certainly outrun his massive odds. A like to have something drawn low on slow ground at Newbury so stall 4 is a help, but all his good recent form is on slow going. His last win came with a strong late run up the Sandown hill over 7f on good-to-soft and he was also placed with cut at Chepstow and Ascot. He does not win often, but really needs a strong gallop from the start and should get that today.
Ayr 4.40: Burbank
Trainer Nicky Henderson holds a very strong hand with three high quality runners, but it is the outside of three in Burbank that interests me from an each-way angle.
The 6yo was a fair seventh in the Coral Cup at Cheltenham, but Henderson was quick to point out he would have been much closer on better ground and gets that opportunity today. He was a good third to Jenkins at Ascot in January and the cheekpieces he sported on both occasions do seem to have help him travel better in his races.
There is an argument that suggests he might want a stiffer test of stamina than he gets today, but with Top Ville Ben in the field a strong gallop looks assured and off just 11-0 he ought to be thereabouts once more.
1pt win – Verdana Blue – 2.55 Ayr – 11/2 Bet365, Paddy Power, BetVictor
1pt win – Beyond the Clouds – 2.55 Ayr – 15/2 general
0.75pts each-way – Fagan – 4.05 Ayr – 10/1 Bet365 (¼ odds first 5)
0.5pts each-way – Cogry – 4.05 Ayr – 28/1 general, but Corals (1/5 odds first 7)
1pt win – Afaak – 3.45 Newbury – 6/1 general
0.5pts each-way – Fox Trotter – 3.45 Newbury – 50/1 general (1/5 odds first 5)
1pt each-way – Burbank – 4.40 Ayr – 7/1 Bet365