This one is back in business and onto to my Watch List....

Last Updated: 10.05.2021

Monday, 21st May 2021

This one is back in business and onto to my Watch List….

Escobar didn’t quite manage to do what I thought he might on Saturday and win the Victoria Cup at Ascot….

But his 3rd-place finish – beaten less than a length – was sufficient to rubberstamp my assertion that he’s back in business in the top-level big-field handicaps off his mark of 103….

Given his proximity to the winner at the finish, David O’Meara’s horse  may well be upwardly reassessed a pound or two by the official handicapper later this week….

Whilst a penalty earned in defeat is never ideal for horse, connections, or punters with a handicapper on-radar – a small rise is probably deserved….

  • Onto the Watch List….

The flip side of that coin is that Saturday’s performance was a little better than the bare result suggests because Escobar blew the start….

Watch the beginning of the race again, and you’ll see he was caught leaden footed when the gates opened….

From the head-on view it’s hard to be entirely sure how much ground he lost – but what I can say for sure is that within a couple of strides he was a length in arrears to the horses either side of him….

That might not sound like anything of consequence with almost the entire 7f of the race still to run and all 27 runners still working their way to full momentum….

But when you’re beaten just 0.75 lengths at the other end of the track, these fine margins clearly do make a big difference….

For me, had things gone a little differently on Saturday, Escobar might well have won the race….

For sure – start excepted – the 7yo enjoyed luck in running. Richard Kingscote – riding the horse for the first time – didn’t panic when he missed the break. He saw where the far-side horses were about to mass; he got cover behind them; he stayed patient; and he waited for the gaps. They came when he needed them and his run through was uninterrupted….

Even so, he still counts as a little unlucky in my book and – assuming the handicapper doesn’t go mad – he looks like a horse ready to win another big-field handicap at some stage….

For that reason he goes onto the Watch List….

  • Devil in the detail.... 

Ascot is a good place to catch Escobar….

He won the 2019 edition of the Balmoral Cup off 105; he was 2nd in the same race in 2018 off a mark of 102; he was 3rd in the Challenge Cup in 2019 off 105; and he was 4th of 19 in the 2019 Cunard off 104….

He clearly takes to the cavalry charge events run on a rising idiosyncratic track that doesn’t suit every horse. He’s sitting on the right kind of mark, and there will be no shortage of suitable opportunities over 7f and a mile on the straight track in the months ahead….

He’s gone well too in big-field handicaps at Goodwood and Sandown (another rising track) – and at Doncaster (albeit in lesser company)….

He’s versatile in terms of ground too. The biggest balance of his best form has been produced on a genuine surface. He’s not had too many goes on softer ground but he did win the Balmoral on heavy and he showed again on Saturday that he can cut it on a deeper surface – at least at Ascot….

One proviso: deeper ground at Ascot is not the same as deeper ground at Haydock or Sandown, for example. Punters would need to tread with care on that score. Escobar needs to prove he can handle soft or heavy conditions elsewhere. But at Ascot – no problem. That’s my take….

This horse has never had a claimer on his back. Last year – which he started on a mark of 111 – was an ideal opportunity but trainer David O’Meara chose to chase prize money in Group races instead….

Escobar doesn’t need a claimer on his back right now. I think he’s rated to win. But if a top claimer were to be booked for a tilt at one of these big-field handicap pots, I would take it as a sure sign that the horse is being given every chance to strike. Just a thought….

  • Mentioned in dispatches.... 

Richard Fahey’s Zip deserves a mention in dispatches for his performance on Saturday – 4th of the 27 and beaten 1.5 lengths….

He led the near side group – where the race developed – and was there to be shot at for the entire 7f. But he battled hard to the line and did well to repel as many closers as he did….

Granted, the race wasn’t run at the fastest pace. And he was getting weight from everything in the field – with a claimer on his back to boot….

But, even so, he should be commended. He’s started the season well – winning at Newcastle and then backing that performance up at the weekend….

Richard Fahey’s 5yo is yet to prove that he’s a genuine C2 handicap horse but on 89 – and not likely to be raised – he can still be found plenty easier assignments than Saturday’s race. He might well reward supporters in the weeks ahead….

And one more thing to note: Symbolize ran below expectation (my own and the wider market’s) with his 11th place finish – beaten 5-lengths overall without looking like getting closer….

On the face of it, disappointing – given where he was drawn and the kind of form his yard has been in. But I’d be striking a line through that bit of form because he was reported to have lost his right-fore shoe – which would have made life difficult….

I’m not sure when or where he lost it. I’ve watched the race a few times since Saturday and can’t isolate the moment it came off, but it would have been an issue. A back shoe isn’t such a big problem. But loss of a front shoe is more detrimental to a horse….

That aside he went well enough in the early stages of the race and he finished wound down by his rider – in the manner of a horse who can do much better than the bare form suggests. That’s my take at least….

  • Any other business….

York’s Dante meeting gets underway on Wednesday afternoon….

There are multiple big-field handicaps set to be run throughout the three days of the meeting – and I’ll be looking to hit something….

We get started on that process tomorrow – when I’ll bring you my picks for the handicaps on Day 1….

  • The final word….

That’s all from me for today. Meanwhile….

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Until next time. Stay tuned.

Nick Pullen

Against the Crowd