It’s going to be soft today at Ascot, that’s for sure. With rain and water dominating the weather forecast charts these days, the course passed a 6.30am inspection this morning and with some racecourses looking like the 17th at Sawgrass, the only place it hasn’t been soft since Bellvano won the Grand Annual was at Downpatrick on Friday. Who would have thunk?

One thing to bear in mind though. The inspection at Ascot in the morning was on the round course. It has been dry all day at the Berkshire track, and, though they have had copious amounts of rain during the week and the month, the straight track at Ascot drains more quickly than an eider’s back since they re-laid it, so don’t be surprised if it isn’t as soft today on the straight track as you thought it was going to be earlier in the week.

They raced on the straight track on Friday evening and, although the official ground was given as soft, the times suggest that it was on the good to soft side of soft, if that makes sense. And if it is dry today, up until race time, don’t be surprised if the soft ground horses just can’t get their toes in as easily as they would ideally like.

It wasn’t surprising that the money came for the soft ground horses during the week. Tariq Too was interesting anyway, he was a 16/1 shot when the five-day declarations were published, despite the fact that a 6lb hike for winning nicely on his seasonal debut on soft ground at Thirsk looked lenient. Then the rains continued and he halved in price. He is an interesting horse, and if it rains again in the morning his chance will be enhanced, but he is short enough now at no better than 8/1. He has never raced at Ascot, and it may be that his draw in stall four right over on the far side is not ideal.

Bonnie Brae is interesting on the ground, and the booking of Ryan Moore in eye-catching, but she is short enough now, and her sole run at Ascot was largely inconclusive as to her ability to handle the track. King Of Jazz would be interesting if you thought that he would handle the ground, Pastoral Player would be interesting if he didn’t have so much sheer weight to carry, and Nasri would be interesting if Dandy Nicholls’s horses were in better form.

That leaves just the 20 contenders then and, of them, Lightning Pearl is most over-priced for me. As a progressive, relatively lightly-raced four-year-old with a touch of potential class and without a back-breaking weight on his back, he is exactly the type of horse you seek in a race like the Victoria Cup.

Kevin Ryan’s gelding progressed through last season, winning five of his seven races, winning three of his last four and finishing second in the other, and he looked particularly good in beating his stable companion Louis The Pious (who admittedly let the form down today at Chester, but he was weak in the market beforehand so you can probably legitimately expect him to be better than that next time) on his final run at Doncaster, travelling well, picking up impressively and battling on bravely, despite the fact that he hung all the way across to the far rail.

The handicapper raised him just 6lb for that performance, he should probably have at least that degree of improvement in him, and it would be surprising and disappointing if he didn’t prove to be a fair bit better than his new mark of 95 in time. He gets to race off a nice racing weight of 8st 12lb, he goes well at Ascot, he has won once and finished second once there in just two visits, he is a seven-furlong specialist and, while he is not proven on bottomless ground, he is proven on easy ground, and that should be sufficient.

This will be his debut this season, but he won on his debut last term, so that shouldn’t really be a negative. He is at his best in a big field handicap, in which he can get cover and in which a fast pace is virtually guaranteed. He is well-drawn in stall 15, it means that Amy Ryan should be able to go left or right or down the middle, depending on where the pace is. The fact that his rider – who is good value for her 3lb claim – has abandoned her beloved Advanced in order to ride him is another positive indicator, and 15.0 about him on Betdaq looks big.

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