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Eat, drink and be merry: competitive and valuable handicaps are main course

Masham Star: 'made of granite'
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2.25 Ascot
Cunard Handicap | Class 2 | 3yo+ | 7f | RUK/ITV

The Festival of Food and Wine at Ascot will see punters flock in to taste the best culinary treats on offer, but the action on the track is too good to overlook, especially the pair of valuable handicaps that form the fixture's main course.

The first of these sees a maximum field of 20 go to post for the Cunard Handicap that offers a first prize of just short of £50,000. A number of Ascot regulars are set to reappear in Berkshire, including Squats, Shady McCoy and Heaven's Guest.

William Haggas, trainer of Squats said: "He won well at Newbury when the handicapper gave him a chance and had a bad draw at Chelmsford when he got wedged in on the rail. He's back at Ascot in good form."

The five-year-old has been unlucky with draws this year and has done well to run as positively as he has. The Haggas stable have far from given up on him and were not surprised when he won at Newbury. Georgia Cox again takes the ride, and her 5lb claim could prove crucial.

Masham Star is set for his 11th run since Royal Ascot and it's clear to see how highly he is thought of by connections. Charlie Johnston, assistant trainer to Mark Johnston, said: "There’s not a lot you can say about Masham Star except he’s made of granite and an absolute star.

"We were delighted for him when he won at Chelmsford. A bit of cut in the ground shouldn’t matter and if the horse box leaves without him on Saturday, I know he’d be super disappointed."

Shady McCoy's form behind Librisa Breeze and Fastnet Tempest in big field handicaps at Ascot is eyecatching and trainer Ian Williams said: "He has run well here numerous times and is a few pounds lower this time. He's been unlucky with his draws, including at Goodwood last time, but is in eight here so should get cover."

Richard Fahey's Birchwood was a close third at Glorious Goodwood over a mile and steps back down in trip here.

3.55 Ascot
Appletiser Stakes | Class 2 | 3yo | 1m4f | ITV/RUK

Comparing three-year-old form is never straightforward and that is likely to be reflected in an open looking market in the £100,000 handicap.

To Dibba is an interesting runner now being stepped up in trip considerably and Roger Varian is confident it could lead to further improvement.

He said: "He's improved with every start and the form of his near-miss at Hamilton has been franked. His pedigree suggests the step up in trip will suit and ease in the ground is important.

"A wide draw has been beneficial over this course and distance in recent years, so I hope everything is in place for a big performance."

Glenys The Menace ran well here last time behind a progressive horse and trainer John Best is hopeful York was just a blip. 

He said: "She’s been running brilliantly recently. At York she was just a bit keen early on and then she was too far back to get into the race. It’s a big prize so is obviously competitive, but she’s in great form and any rain that falls is no issue whatsoever."

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A wide draw has been beneficial over this course and distance in recent years, so I hope everything is in place for a big performance
E.W. Terms