Friday's biggest betting heat at Newmarket is the £120,000 Old Rowley Cup Handicap, where top trainers Aidan O'Brien and Sir Michael Stoute are set to do battle over 1m4f.
One of the most valuable three-year-old handicaps in the British horse racing calendar, this heritage handicap sees O'Brien's Astronomer bid for a fifth successive win, giving 20lbs in weight to leading challenger: Stoute's Baritone.
First held in 2014, and named after a stallion owned by King Charles II of England, the Old Rowley Cup Handicap is run over 1m4f, and worth £120,000. This year it is set to play host to a number of progressive individuals on winning streaks - and a few potential Group race winners.
Bookmakers are finding it hard to split Baritone and Astronomer at the head of the Old Rowley Cup betting, Baritone just shading it, at present.
His trainer Sir Michael Stoute is known for his prowess with older horses, but in Baritone he has a three-year-old on the upgrade. The short price winner of a 1m4f maiden on soft going at Pontefract last time out, this son of Camelot has some solid form in handicap company.
He shaped as if Friday's step up in trip would suit when an unlucky third over 1m3f at Goodwood in early August, and quotes from connections suggested that the softer surface at Pontefract was what was needed. Consequently, the good ground forecast here may not see him in the best light.
In contrast, Astronomer, comes into this contest unbeaten in four starts since finishing 13L fourth in a 1m2f maiden at the Curragh. A winner over an extended 1m in maiden company, Astronomer cost 600,000gns as a yearling and has really come into his own since stepping up to middle-distances, twice justifying favouritism over 1m4f.
Forecast underfoot conditions look set to suit the son of Galileo, and while currently rated 106, there’s every chance he will progress further this autumn and be a contender for Group races in 2019. At 7/2 with Unibet, he looks worth a bet for powerful connections.
Trainer Ralph Beckett has his string in great form boasting a 26% strike-rate (7/27) in the past fornight, with his winners including a 13/2 Listed race winner last weekend, and several on the all-weather.
He runs the gelding Rock Eagle, winner of two of his four starts and as big as a 9/2 in the Old Rowley Cup betting with 10bet. The son of Teofilo broke his maiden at the first attempt when winning a 1m2f novice contest on good ground at Windsor in April. A decent second followed, while a return visit to Windsor resulted in an easy odds-on success, again in novice company on good-to-firm going.
A half-brother to the classy Highland Knight, Rock Eagle was making his handicap debut when finishing a good fourth behind a useful-looking rival in Communique over 1m2f at Goodwood at the start of August.
Given a break since, he shapes as if this step up in distance will be ideal, and he is preferred to stablemate Breath Caught (7/1 Bet365), who carries a penalty for a recent Kempton all-weather victory. Breath Caught hasn’t always performed at his best on turf and with that in mind he is overlooked on his first attempt at 1m4f.
For those interested in horses at bigger prices, the best looks to be Michael Bell’s Artarmon (16/1 Ladbrokes). Owned by Australian outfit OTI Racing, whose prime aim in the past has been to find Melbourne Cup horses, the son of ex-Australian galloper So You Think has taken a while to come to hand - as one might expect from a horse bred to stay.
The application of a visor when winning a Catterick maiden over 1m4f maiden in July, appears to have resulted in a change of fortunes, and the gelding has since gone on to win three times from four starts in handicap company.
All three of those victories came over 1m6f, including when taking a competitive small-field event on at Musselburgh last month. A confirmed front-runner, the selection has tracked the pace successfully in the past, but appears most at home when blazing a trail.
His sole defeat in five starts, since the visor was applied, came in a 2m handicap at Musselburgh (good) in August and, while he drops back to 1m4f here, that shouldn’t prove any inconvenience - he looks a decent each-way bet at 16/1 with Ladbrokes.
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