You are allowed at least two shots at the 29-runner Victoria Cup at Ascot today. You are probably allowed three or four, but you are definitely allowed at least two.
Lightning Cloud is one. Lightning Cloud was one in this race last year as well, when he did well to finish fifth despite racing on the wrong part of the track.
Things just didn’t work out for Kevin Ryan’s gelding in last year’s renewal. Drawn in the centre of the track in stall 15, he travelled well in the near-side group, took it up in the centre passing the two-furlong pole and kept on well all the way to the line to beat all of those who had raced in his group. The only problem was that four of his rivals on the far side had finished before him.
It is a frustration with these big-field straight-track handicaps. The draw. You can spend lots of time trying to work out what effect it is going to have, analysing GoingStick readings and assessing pace, but so much depends on how a race is run, it is impossible to determine the exact effect of the draw. And you don’t want to be put off a horse you think is over-priced just because you think he might be drawn poorly.
Lightning Cloud might be drawn poorly in stall 22 today, but he might not be. The last two renewals of this race have been dominated by the far-side low-drawn horses, but Dandy Man won it from stall 21 in 2010, and the 2008 renewal was dominated by the middle stalls, with the first four horses home emerging from stalls 13, 14, 17 and 18 respectively.
As well as that, the GoingStick readings from last night tell you that, if there is marginally faster ground anywhere, it is on the stands side, which is where Lightning Strike is drawn.
There is a lot to like about Lightning Cloud (pictured above during workout at home). Ascot is a specialists’ track, seven furlongs is a specialists’ distance, and the Sleeping Indian gelding is a specialist at both. All his five wins have been over seven furlongs, including one over today’s course and distance, and he has run his best races in defeat at Ascot.
Things didn’t pan out quite as his trainer might have hoped last term after the Victoria Cup, he was a beaten favourite on his next two runs, both at Ascot, and he was disappointing in the Ayr Silver Cup. But two of those runs were over six furlongs (the one at Ascot was in the Wokingham). He was much happier stepped back up to seven furlongs again for his final run last season, back at Ascot, when he again won the race on the near side, but ultimately finished third to Jack Dexter and Loving Spirit, both of whom raced on the far side.
Unlike last year, Lightning Cloud has had a prep run for the Victoria Cup this year. That prep run was at Thirsk three weeks ago, when he completely missed the break, had to make his ground wide in the home straight, and was only just denied by Dubai Dynamo and Xilerator. It was a really encouraging seasonal debut.
It would be surprising if Kevin Ryan hadn’t had today’s race in mind for him since the winter, so that run should have put him spot on for today. Also, the trainer’s horses have taken a little while to get going this season, but they are in really good form now, as evidenced by Hamza’s win at Newmarket last Saturday and Glory Awaits’ remarkable run to finish second in the Guineas. And he had two more winners at Ripon and Hamilton yesterday evening for good measure.
Lightning Cloud gets to compete today off a mark of 95, the mark off which he competed in this race last season. He has so much in his favour – track, trip, trainer form, better preparation than last year – that he should be able to out-perform last year’s effort, and, as long as his high draw doesn’t scupper him, that could be good enough to take him close today.
A lot of the horses under consideration for the second shot – including Loving Spirit, Redvers, Bertiewhittle and Born To Surprise – are drawn high, and when you are splitting your bet, the percentage call is to try to find one on either side. Of those drawn low, Tartiflette and Khubala were both interesting, but Tartiflette disappointed on her only run at Ascot, albeit on soft ground, and she is short enough, while Khubala would probably have been happier if they had had more than the 2mm of rain that they did have overnight.
All into the mix, Glen Moss is the other horse who looks over-priced at around 20 or 21. Charlie Hills’ horse ran well on his racecourse debut on his only run at Ascot, and he put up some nice performances last season as a three-year-old, including getting to within a length of the potentially Group class Hamza over seven furlongs on fast ground at Haydock last May.
Off the track since July last year, he returned this term at Kempton four weeks ago and put up what was probably a career-best in finishing second behind Grey Mirage, with some useful yardsticks behind him. The handicapper has left his turf mark at 89, which is fair, and which is 2lb lower than his all-weather mark. That leaves him with a lovely weight of 8st 6lb, just 1lb off bottom weight, which is a positive in a race in which three of the last four winners carried 8st 7lb or less.
He has run really well on the two occasions on which he has run on Polytrack, which is often a positive for Ascot’s straight track these days. He has raced just 10 times in his life, he has lots of scope for progression still, he goes well over seven furlongs and his trainer’s horses are in good form. There is every chance that he will come on for his seasonal debut, and if he does he could run a big race.
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