It’s not exactly Saatchi & Saatchi, is it?

The Saturday after the York Ebor meeting, the one before Irish Champion Stakes weekend and 11 days before the Doncaster St Leger meetings starts, you have to expect a dip in quality. Every Saturday can’t be an appetite-whetting Saturday. Still, there are seven races at Sandown today, so there will probably be seven winners, maybe eight or even nine (ref. Goodwood, 3rd August).

I’m not sure what Piper Heidsieck Champagne were doing hooking up with the Levy Board (it’s not exactly Saatchi & Saatchi is it?), but together, in the race better known as the four o’clock at Sandown, they have come up with the most competitive handicap of the day.

There is a good angle into the race too, because favourite Mijhaar is a popular horse that you really should look to take on. As with all horses that you should look to take on, he could win, but 5.0 about him in a competitive handicap like this is just too short.

Mijhaar has been popular since he ran away with a good maiden on his second attempt at Haydock in May 2011, at a time when Roger Varian was the clever man’s trainer-to-watch. Disappointingly, he hasn’t won since.

He has remained popular though. Sent off as the 100/30 second favourite behind no less a character than Nathaniel for his next race, the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot, he could only finish a well-beaten fourth, but he had raced keenly and he had gone over to the far side down the back straight in search of better ground, so he was allowed that one by the masses.

Dropped to handicap company for his next run, he did run well, but he was ultimately well beaten by Fulgur off a mark of 96. Fulgur, who re-opposes today, hasn’t won since, and Kieren Fallon prefers Indian Jack today.

Sent off as favourite again for a listed race at York on his debut this term, Mijhaar could only finish third behind Fury and Prince Of Johanne. It was his seasonal debut, they said, he raced keenly again and the one-mile trip was too sharp. Then why did they send him off as the 2/1 favourite?

He wasn’t favourite for the Wolferton Handicap at Royal Ascot, but he was joint second favourite behind the winner Gatewood. He was keen again, he probably raced on the slowest part of the track up the home straight, and he wasn’t beaten far, but it was still another defeat inflicted on a horse from whom much had been expected.

Sent off as favourite again for the John Smith’s Cup at York on his latest run, he seemed to settle much better than usual in his first-time hood, and he did appear to be travelling well when he clipped heels and almost came down three furlongs out, so you can easily put a line through that run. Even so, it was another defeat.

You can find excuses, you can find reasons why Mijhaar has the potential to be a fair bit better than he has been able to show in his career to date, but that is fine when you are being compensated with decent odds. The hood is back on today, and he is one of two horses who could blow the race apart, but he is just not solid enough in my book to justify odds of 5.0.

The percentage call is usually to take on these popular horses. Mijhaar has been sent off as favourite in four of his six races since his racecourse debut, and he has been sent off as second favourite for the other two, despite the fact that he has won just once. He couldn’t win a handicap off a mark of 96, and today he is racing off a mark of 104. That is the profile of a favourite that you really should be taking on.

On top of that, he is by the soft-ground horse Shirocco, and his action suggests that he really does need at least a little bit of cut in the ground to be at his best. They are calling the ground at Sandown today good, good to firm in places and, with no rain forecast, that may not be ideal. Like Motivado last week, he could win but, if he does, it will be a losing race for me.

I found it easier to take on second Valiant. He is another horse who is highly-regarded, but he didn’t look straightforward at York on his penultimate run, Ryan Moore had to squeeze him along through the early stages before he picked up the bridle about half way up the home straight and finished well to mow down Silver Blaze and Ahzeemah, both of whom have added solidity to the form since.

You could have put that down to greenness, it was just his second ever race, but it was disappointing then that he didn’t build on that when he was sent off as favourite in front of Shantaram for the Bahrain Trophy on his latest outing, when he was beaten too far out for you to be able to put his disappointing performance down to the step up in distance.

He has to bounce back today, and he could be a quirky character who may not be best suited to a fight-your-own-corner competitive handicap like this one. On balance, I am happy to be against William Haggas’s horse too at 6.5.

With the top two taking out 35% of the market, then, there is value to be had in some of the others. Start Right is one. He is not completely dissimilar to Mijhaar in that you have to forgive him his latest run, but he was further back than ideal in a race in which it was an advantage to be handy enough, and it was at York. York is a track that, like Ascot, has become idiosyncratic since they re-laid the surface and on which some horses simply don’t act. It can often pay to forgive a horse a poor run at York these days.

On his previous run, Start Right ran a cracker in a good handicap at Glorious Goodwood that is working out well, and he ran really well at today’s track last July on his final run for Luca Cumani before he joined Godolphin. There is a prize like this in him off his current mark of 100, and it could be today’s.

Miblish may have been under-rated by the market, as a lot of the Clive Brittain horses are, Man Of Action is quirky but talented when he puts his mind to it, and Late Telegraph ran a lot better at York last time than his finishing position suggests and Sir Henry doesn’t reach for the headgear as a matter of course. Colour Guard is also interesting. He is looking exposed, but he ran a cracker from a poor draw at Goodwood on his penultimate run. These Mark Johnston horses often find improvement from nowhere when it looks like their upward curve has flattened out, and he has crept in at the bottom of the handicap.

It is a fairly long shortlist admittedly, but, with an opposable favourite and second favourite, all five are over-priced in my book. Also, there is a good each-way shape to the race. I will probably back two of them and save on the other three, then leave quietly when the favourite wins.

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