The TurfTV Handicap (4.20) at Newmarket on Saturday is less prestigious than the races we typically examine in this column, but larger fields on the Flat and going changes increase the likelihood of ‘surprise’ winners at this time of year, so it looks an ideal contest for us.
Popeswood appears to be a difficult horse to catch right, to which his career record of two wins from 23 starts bears testament, but both those wins came over 7 furlongs with cut in the ground and he’s well handicapped on the pick of his juvenile form. In fact, he’s 3lb lower in the weights than when winning, in this grade, at Goodwood last October, so would appear to have every chance if anywhere near his best. Of course, that’s a big “if”, because he’s not looked a readymade winner-in-waiting on recent starts, but he popped at Goodwood after a couple of indifferent efforts and could do so again.
Piceno is on a losing run of seventeen stretching back to a year ago last April, but is consequently just 1lb higher in the weights than when winning a 0-75 contest, over 7 furlongs on soft going, at Catterick and is another who’d have a squeak on the pick of his form. He’s been off the course since April, which is an obvious cause for concern, but he’d earlier run creditably in defeat over 7 furlongs at Catterick, including in a 0-90 contest, so it wouldn’t be a complete surprise if he went well off a 1lb lower mark.
Robert Winston doesn’t have too many rides for David O’Meara, but has a very healthy 4-16 (25%) strike rate for the Nawton trainer over the last five seasons, rising to 3-7 (43%) on older horses for the yard in the same period. His booking for Zacynthus, who only joined O’Meara in July, is one reason that the 7-year-old is a must for our shortlist. The Iffraaj gelding was only beaten 1½ lengths in a 0-90 contest at Ayr on his penultimate start and, although beaten out of sight at York last time, has an obvious chance off a 1lb higher mark.
Selections: 4.20 Newmarket Popeswood, Piceno, Zacynthus