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Naval Crown bids to buck the trends and make his fitness count

Naval Crown: favourite to land the European Free Handicap
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2.25 Newmarket
bet365 European Free Handicap (Listed) | 7f | 3yo | ITV4 & RTV

This race has been dominated by seasonal debutants in recent years. All of the last ten winners were having their first start of the campaign, so a prep run hasn’t been necessary.

However, not many have come here with a run under their belt in that time. Only nine of the 71 total runners had a prep run, so it’s not surprising seasonal debutants have prevailed.

The shortest price of all of those nine who’d had a run was 4-1, but the one horse to have run this year, Naval Crown, will be a warm order to buck the trends and make his fitness count.

Naval Crown hasn’t had just one run, he has had two having been on the go in Dubai, and his latest effort resulted in an impressive success in a mile Listed event at Meydan in February.  

He has to carry a 4lb penalty and you have to expand the dataset to every race this century to find any penalised runners who competed. All three were beaten at odds of 5-2, 7-2 and 11-2.

William Buick: rides Naval Crown in the European Free Handicap

Aidan O’Brien won this in 2017 with Whitecliffsofdover and the Ballydoyle trainer is worth following when switching his runners to handicaps. Since the start of 2016, O’Brien has had 33 winners from 165 handicap debutants (20 per cent), for a £1 level-stake profit of £29.31.

He switches Ontario into handicap company for the first time here and the son of Galileo is dropping in class having competed in Group races on three of his last four outings.

Tactical is a bigger class-dropper. He was out of his depth in the Dewhurst last time, but the switch to a lower grade will help last year’s Windsor Castle winner.

Tactical was a big eyecatcher on his debut here in June and confirmed his liking for the venue by winning the July Stakes on the July course, and finishing fourth in the Middle Park here.

Race analysis by Graeme Rodway 

What they say

William Buick, rider of Naval Crown
He's a lovely horse who has done absolutely nothing wrong and deserves more credit than what he gets. He ran well in the Guineas in Dubai when he was third and then he won the Meydan Classic. He's a pretty decent horse over the trip.  

Oisin Murphy, rider of Tactical
He gave Her Majesty and Park House Stables a lot of fun last year. He won at Royal Ascot and the July Stakes and we've been pleased with him at home so let's see how he runs. 

Clive Cox, trainer of Royal Scimitar
He had a bit of size and scope at two and I think he's really filled that frame over the winter. He should appreciate the conditions and I've been very happy with him. He gave us the impression last year he could go another furlong but I'm very open-minded. I'm happy he's had a very good prep for his seasonal debut.   

Roger Varian, trainer of Dark Lion
He has form over the course and distance and is ready to start off but the run will help to bring him forward. 

Ed Crisford, joint-trainer of Legal Attack
This looks a good starting point for him off his current mark and the ground and the step up to seven furlongs should suit him. He won his novice and then went into the deep end after that last year but this looks more his level.

Eve Johnson Houghton, trainer of Percy’s Lad
A few of mine appear to be needing the run and we have had some disappointing results but he deserves to be there and he did nothing wrong last season. It was too soft for him at Newbury and we know he stays a mile and that is probably what he wants. I know we are dropping back to seven but he is working well, and I’m as happy as I can be.

Reporting by Lewis Porteous

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Naval Crown is a lovely horse who has done absolutely nothing wrong and deserves more credit than what he gets
E.W. Terms