Well-handicapped Aeolus looks worthy of a punt at a big price
Lightly raced four-year-old Ekhtiyaar would match the profile of the previous winners of this race, but there is some interesting opposition at bigger prices, none more so than Ed Walker’s Aeolus.
The seven-year-old is becoming too well handicapped to ignore and some of his best runs have come first time out, with two eyecatching seasonal reappearances coming at the Craven meeting.
The son of Araafa was third in the Free Handicap as a three-year-old off a 1lb higher mark and two years ago he was beaten just half a length into fourth by Magical Memory in the Group 3 Abernant Stakes.
Aeolus was second in the Stewards’ Cup off a mark of 103 in August, but he has been dropped 3lb in just three runs since.
Walker’s gelding is a Group 3 winner in his pomp, he’s versatile ground-wise and there’s enough in last season’s form to suggest he can land a prize of this nature off 100.
Four of the last five winners of the Free Handicap have carried 9st or more and the cream could once against rise to the top with the exciting Hey Jonesy taken to concede weight all round.
The son of Excelebration took a step forward with every run last season and his first start over 7f is expected to eke out further improvement.
Kevin Ryan’s charge finished last season with a terrific fourth in the Group 1 Middle Park behind subsequent Dewhurst hero U S Navy Flag, a run which entitles him to head the weights.
He is 1lb worse off with Great Prospector for a half-length defeat at York last term, but he did well to finish as close as he did given he was drawn away from the action that day and he can reverse the form.
Folk Tale is pretty headstrong and the 7f isn’t guaranteed to suit him, while Finniston Farm has a nine-month absence to defy and could improve for the spin.
Likely favourite Kalondra has the potential to prove a lot better than his mark of 145, but Frodon’s demolition job in a competitive handicap over course and distance in January reads even better now and he makes plenty of each-way appeal despite being burdened with top-weight.
When Byrony Frost’s adjusted claim is taken into account, Paul Nicholls’ charge is 8lb higher than for his 17-length rout that day, but the form is working out particularly well. The fourth, sixth and two of the pulled-up runners have won since, while the second and third were placed at the Cheltenham Festival.
Frodon has since run below-par twice in Grade 1 races, but it’s clear he can’t compete at that level and the handicapper has given him a chance by dropping him 4lb for those efforts.
Returned to handicap company, Frodon should be much happier and he has bounced back from poor runs before.
Robin Of Navan
Deauville is sure to have his army of followers based on his close third in the Queen Anne at Royal Ascot, but his best form has come on a faster surface and the race-fit Robin Of Navan is a solid alternative.
Harry Dunlop’s charge has 5lb to find with Deauville on official ratings, but he is fully wound up having had a run this year, finishing third behind Hunaina at Chantilly, and the slower ground could bring the pair closer together.
The five-year-old’s form had a mixed look to it last season, but the pick of his efforts puts him right in the frame. He was beaten only a head over this trip in the Group 1 Prix d’Ispahan on his second start last year and was a good second over course and distance behind Monarchs Glen in October, with Forest Ranger eight lengths behind.
His reappearance effort has also been franked by Hunaina, who has subsequently bolted up in a Listed race at Kempton.
Threading finished last season as the highest-rated two-year-old in the field and is likely to prove the best of them again as a three-year-old.
Punters must forgive her poor effort in the Cheveley Park on her final start as a juvenile, but that was far too bad to be true.
Threading had beaten the Cheveley Park third, Madeline, by two lengths when winning the Lowther in August and she was going away at the finish, suggesting this extra furlong will suit her.
A reproduction of that form at York would make her very much the one to beat and, having won on her debut, she shouldn’t lack fitness first time out.
A rangy filly, she should have more to offer at three and it’s interesting that Mark Johnston feels she can still make up into a Classic contender.
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