I was all over GULF OF NAPLES for this, being on the Horses to follow 2012 list and the fact he has far more to give. He still ran green in the Queen’s Prize when chasing home Thimaar but impressed last time at Ripon when winning was never in doubt. He looks likely to give far more and is due to race off 108 after this. He only has a 3lb penalty to contend with after that Ripon win but the worry is he’s drawn in the car park in stall 19. The only good thing is that he has improved in price but it clearly isn’t ideal. However it is worth noting that three of the past six winners had double figure draws. Bulwark was drawn 11 but Anak Pekan has stall 15 of 17 when taking his second Chester Cup while Greenwhich Meantine had stall 16 of 17 in 2007. He is really well handicapped and could be well above these and so the draw may not even be able to stop him with the likelihood of him staying all day and the ground being ideal too. If he can get a good position early, that means getting a good start out of the stalls then I fully expect him to go extremely close.
The market has changed slightly over the past few days with Shubaat coming in for most money after his participation was confirmed due to non-runners. The 5yo is one of the least lightly raced of the field and after a number of decent efforts, got his second win last time at Mussleburgh on his first start this year. The 2nd and 3rd have franked the form pretty well since and although he is up 6lb, that should not prevent a bold bid with Dominic Fox taking off another 3lb. He has a good low draw to take advantage of however he has to prove he can take to this ground. He only ran ok on his only try on soft although he has run well on good to soft. All in all though he had a rock solid chance for Roger Varian and it’ interesting to note Michael Jarvis used to do well in this race, notably with Anak Pekan’s back to back victories in 2004 and 2005.
Heading the top of the weights is last year’s winner and possibly the best dual purpose horse in the country, Overturn. After a long season last year, he had a good 3 month break over the winter and bounced back with a huge run in the Champion Hurdle in coming second, albeit he got a good run in the race. He took this off 99 last year when drawn in the ideal pitch of stall 1, perfect for his running style. He’s off 106 here which makes things much tougher and although a bold bid is likely, it may be too much for him to win back-to-back renewals, especially as the ground is on the very soft side.
It’s also worth noting that he will have a significant challenge to the lead with a number of the low draws wanting to be up with the pace. That includes Eternal Heart who is worth another try at this trip after being slightly held in better grade over shorter trips. He should stay well though doesn’t look that well handicapped off 103. Cesarewitch winner Never Can Tell also loves to make all. This is a completely different test for him and he is up 7lb in a race I can’t see him being able to dominate but he is a Chester regular. The worry is the ground though being unraced on anything worse than good since his first ever run.
Never Can Tell is one of Marwan Koukash’s three runners. Kiama Bay runs in the first colours and has good form on soft, including when demolishing a five runner field here in June last year. All his racing has been at shorter, his first try at 2m being when a tailed off last in the Queen’s Prize on his first start back. He may be better for that but stamina is a big concern. Mount Athos is a non-runner for him but his final runner ADDRESS UNKNOWN could be overpriced. He has joined Ian Williams this year when formerly with Dermot Weld in Ireland and even though at first glance his first two runs have been uninspiring, he has run far better than it suggests, notably his latter run when showing up well for a long way behind Gulf Of Naples. He certainly wouldn’t have been fully tuned that day and it probably showed at the end but he’s down another 2lb meaning he’s on a very workable mark. Ian Williams reports that he feels he has a very good chance but the ground is a major worry as he’s flopped every time on soft ground. He may just be worth one more chance on it, especially at his price, while the first time visor could also work well.
Harrison’s Cave is a rare runner for Aidan O’Brien in the race. He will come on for his first run back when running as if it were a prep race for something else. It’s interesting that both his wins were on soft ground last year though he is off a career high mark of 94 and isn’t particularly well drawn, while most of all needs to prove the trip being unraced over 1m6f, but the fact he ran at the Breeders’ Cup suggests how well regarded he is. He can’t be ignored.
Ile De Re has left Ian Williams to join Donald McCain after a spin over hurdles which culminated in two novice victories. He ran well on the flat last year, the highlight being winning at the Shergar Cup on his only flat try at two miles. He seems a bit of an enigma however in that he isn’t the strongest of stayers while he will probably need the change of yard to have a positive effect to win off this mark, especially as he’s not particularly drawn well either.
With a good draw, TOMINATOR looks to have a solid chance. He sprung a bit of a surprise when winning the Northumberland Plate last year but many had said he had been crying out for the step up to that kind of trip. He ran well over 1m5f after that and finished with a good run over 1m7f in the Mallard Stakes at Doncaster. This trip looks ideal for him while I can’t see him not going on the ground either, the only worry being that he isn’t that well handicapped but he may have enough in hand and Paul Pickard takes off a good 3lb.
It wouldn’t surprise me if we saw a good effort from Merchant Of Dubai who at one time looked highly progressive on the flat but had an average time of it off marks that were too high. He did run his best race on his final run when staying on well in the November Handicap and he runs off just 1lb higher after also running over hurdles in the winter. Ground and trip should be okay and Jim Goldie has started the season well.
Dazinski has the plum draw in 1 but may not be good enough to take advantage of it. He’s not handicapped out of it but he does all his racing on better ground. Kazbow also does all his racing on good but he doesn’t look well handicapped either. Barbican doesn’t look a good stayer to me. He hasn’t convinced me over 1m6f and doesn’t look well handicapped at all either and I find him very easy to oppose. The quirky Ajaan has run well on soft before and is also not handicapped out of it but draw 17 may be too much for him. he ran well in 2009 to finish 2nd but was beaten a mile in 2010. Finally Mystery Star is very hard to win with and with a wide draw, he will find this very tough.
Not many times I look at a race and think the market has it right but this is just about one of them. Favourite Shubaat has an outstanding chance being well drawn and possibly really well handicapped. I was all over GULF OF NAPLES for this but the draw of 19 is a hindrance. Wide draws have won before though and he is 7lb well in. Overturn looks likely to give a bold bid from the front in attempt to win again but the ground has turned soft, he has a big challenge for the lead from horses such as Eternal Heart and Never Can Tell and he is also 7lb higher than last year. Aidan O’Brien’s Harrisons Cave could be absolutely anything and even though he isn’t particularly well drawn, he has good form on soft and is clearly well regarded by his strong connections. TOMINATOR still looks unexposed at this kind of trip and has a good draw so he must come into the reckoning. Ile De Re doesn’t look that well handicapped and others such as Barbican also come under that bracket. While others such as Dazinski, Mystery Star and Kazbow have major doubts about the ground which looks very soft. Ian Williams has done well in this race before and a small e/w on ADDRESS UNKNOWN can’t do much harm. He showed up much better than his final placing suggested behind Gulf Of Naples last time out and the visor is on now. He is slipping down the weights and although he has trip and ground to prove, he chances are slightly better than his odds.
Gulf Of Naples (Horses To Follow 2012 list)
Tominator 2pts win @12/1 BetVictor
Address Unknown 0.5pts e/w @50/1 generally