This time of year is just about the most exciting for big handicap addicts like ourselves as the entries and markets start to form for the big end of season cavalry charges.
The Autumn Double, being the Cambridgeshire and Cesarewitch, is a well touted bookie concept (and no wonder why given the open nature of the races), but we don’t like to feel constrained by the bookies’ lack of ambition and so we tack on the Ayr Gold Cup to make this a proper life-changer.
Starting at Ayr, the big field sprints this season have had a familiar look, with seemingly exposed veterans like Out Do and Lancelot du Lac triumphing. This is in part because it just gets harder for less exposed runners to make these races with so many highly rated older horses cluttering up the top reaches of the handicap. That could be more so at Ayr with a smallish field size. One who should definitely make it though is Shanghai Glory.
This horse kicked off his 4yo campaign late with an inauspicious last in the Wokingham, but a much improved 5th in the Stewards Cup, and then an unlucky 3rd in the Great St Wilfrid when winning the race on the stands side suggest a big handicap is due. With Jamie Spencer likely to be in the saddle, and a campaign that suggests an Ayr Gold Cup tilt is inevitable, he has plenty of scope to end up trading well inside the current 14/1.
The Cambridgeshire is arguably the toughest to solve with over 30 runners likely to head to post and more scope for less exposed improvers. We have half an eye on Hibou who could have the race run to suit, and Linguistic who is an intriguing entry. That said we are going with the tried and trusted Spark Plug, winner of this race last year.
He is 6lbs higher and on a stellar rating of 110, but he won very easily last year and 6lbs wouldn’t have stopped him then. He hasn’t contested a handicap since but has been running well in Listed and Group events, even though race running styles probably don’t suit this strong travelling type as much as handicaps do. There has to be a chance he stays in those races, but this is a hugely valuable race that we know suits him well, so we are hopeful he will defend. Baronet (1980s), Rambo Hall (1990s) and Bronze Angel (2010s) have all been repeat winners so it is by no means an insurmountable task.
Finally the Cesarewitch. Flymetothestars is a worthy favourite after a good effort in the Ebor, although the handicapper will be able to take that into account before framing the weights. A more traditional route to the winner here though is the decent hurdler stepped back into flat racing.
Step forward a favourite of ours in John Constable. The Evan Williams trained hurdler has been massively progressive since the Spring, signalling improvement when an unlucky faller at Aintree before sauntering home by 14 lengths in the Swinton hurdle, and following up comfortably off a 16lb higher mark in a big race at Market Rasen.
Now rated 156 over jumps, that’s 20lbs of improvement this year. and 20lbs since he was last running on the flat in Ireland in 2014. His flat rating here though is 88, a generous 6lbs lower than his last flat run. That looks a gift.
Our only reservation is that he had entries in both the Chester Cup and at Royal Ascot off this gift of a mark but stayed over hurdles to win at Market Rasen. An entry here therefore is no guarantee of a run. That said, this race is worth a multiple of any hurdles options realistically open to him off his new rating, and begs to be taken on. We will risk that Evan sees sense and gives him the green light.
Shanghai Glory, Ayr Gold Cup, 1pt win, 14/1 generally available
Spark Plug, Cambridgeshire, 1pt win, 20/1 generally available
John Constable, Cesarewitch, 1pt win, 16/1 generally available
All 3 above, in 3 x 0.5pts each way doubles, 0.5pts each way treble (c 5354/1 treble !!)
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