Well handicapped older horses to follow on the Flat in 2020
I’ve crawled through the 2019 form book and identified a number of well handicapped horses who I think will make an impact in 2020.
In compiling the list I’ve identified horses with the potential to progress on what they’ve already achieved and who I believe are underestimated, either by the official handicapper or the horse racing public.
I’m not recommending you follow these horses blindly, race day conditions will play a big part in whether they are able to perform to optimum and as with any horses to follow list I can’t predict the merit of the horses they’ll meet in future competition. Similarly, their price or odds on race day I can’t guide on. Ultimately you need to be backing at value to make a profit.
Hopefully the list gives you some insight and a marker on each horse’s potential as well as the work you need to put in to get ahead of the market.
This list focuses on older flat horses (4-year-old’s plus), there’s a sister article covering my thoughts on the best 3-year-old prospects for 2020 that you can read here.
“Sylvester de Sousa – Ripon” flickr photo by massey35 https://flickr.com/photos/luckypete/20266543238 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license
Well handicapped horses for 2020
Abate - Adrian Nicholls
4-y-o br g Bated Breath - Red Kite
Abate looked like a sprinter with a future when he won his maiden at Ripon in June. He didn’t progress afterwards and consequently starts 2020 on a very attractive handicap mark of 69. The Ripon effort is well in advance of 69.
It was a fair maiden with several winners in behind, Attorney General, Springwood Drive and the very progressive Chil Chil were all well beaten.
Hard to say what went wrong with Abate afterwards, from the evidence of his runs to date I would say 6-furlongs with some give in the ground are his optimum conditions. Possibly this was a factor in his 4 runs after Ripon, racing under non-ideal conditions?
It may be that he just needed some time and freshening up, I note that Abate was gelded in January 2020, there’s a possibility that could help see a return to form?
Whatever the reason, Abate is on a very attractive mark coming into the 2020 season and not likely to be overbet given his profile.
I’ll be looking for him over 6-furlongs on soft ground. His maiden win was at Ripon which is a track that produces course specialists because of its undulating nature. It’s a local track for his trainer so it would be no surprise to see him tried there.
If Abate can find his form, given his lowly handicap mark, he is the type that could run up a little sequence around the northern tracks.
Bedouin's Story - Saeed bin Suroor
5-y-o b g Farhh - Time Crystal
The Saeed bin Suroor trained Bedouin’s Story is a pretty useful horse in his class when he gets his optimum conditions.
7 furlongs on soft ground are the conditions to catch Bedouin’s Story at his best. He encountered those conditions twice in his 6 British outings last season, winning at York and finishing 6th in an ultra-competitive handicap at Ascot.
At York, he raced off an official handicap mark of 94 and won nicely in a race that clocked a decent time figure.
If you watch the race back Bedouin’s Story travelled supremely well before moving clear of his rivals in some style. I had expected him to follow up at Ascot, on the face of it his run was a little disappointing, albeit a not a bad effort.
He raced off 103 at Ascot and carries that mark coming into 2020. I believe he is still a well handicapped horse and can win off this mark, granted 7 furlongs and soft ground.
Came From The Dark - Ed Walker
4-y-o g c Dark Angel - Silver Shoon
Came From The Dark was a highly progressive horse last season, rounding off the campaign with his best effort to date when facing a narrow defeat in a decent 5-furlong sprint handicap.
The time of the Ascot race was strong and I think we’ve yet to see the best Came From The Dark. The winner at Ascot, Pendelton, followed up off a 4lb higher mark running 2nd to Bielsa in a decent handicap at Doncaster and of those behind Came From The Dark that day, Saaheq, Tawny Port and Mercenary Rose went in on their next start. The form looks very solid and a mark of 93 underestimates what Came From The Dark has already achieved.
A prerequisite for Came From The Dark is soft ground. His best 3 runs to date have come on soft ground. When he won at Haydock in most taking fashion the ground was heavy, for Came From The Dark I’d say the softer the ground the better for him.
The Haydock win was over 6 furlongs, at Ascot while he put up a personal best he was back down to the minimum 5-furlong trip. If you’ve seen the Ascot run, you might agree that he was a shade unfortunate and the best horse in the race? Finishing in some style, had the race been over 6 furlongs I think he may well have come out on top.
I’d not be averse to backing Came From The Dark over the minimum trip given very soft ground, but ultimately I think he’ll prove best at 6 furlongs with plenty of give.
Corelli - John Gosden
5-y-o b g Point Of Entry - Vignette
The form Corelli showed in finishing 2nd to Tamreer at York in August 2019 highlights him as a horse of interest in 2020.
The York race yielded a decent time figure, it was a proper test in a decent handicap, at grade 1 track.
Already, the worth of the form has been franked by subsequent runners. Beaten horses Caradoc, Epaulement, Eynhallow, Persian Moon, Indianapolis have subsequently won, some in very decent quality handicaps. The form of the York race is rock solid and some of the prominent finishers are on very winnable handicap marks.
Corelli appeals most. He ran after York at Haydock in a class 2 handicap. He was beaten a long way, 49 lengths and something was amiss. The trainer reported the gelding unsuited by the ground, officially recorded as soft but I would say it was no worse than good to soft. The ground may have contributed to his downfall at Haydock but I’d be far from convinced and wouldn’t rule him out if he ran again with a little cut in the ground.
We need to forgive Corelli the Haydock run, no problem with that. John Gosden has had plenty of time to resolve anything amiss should the ground not have been the reason for the poor Haydock run.
Poor runs, help handicap marks and odds, as long as you are confident the reason for the poor run has been resolved or avoided.
Corelli starts the season on an official mark of 102, just 2 lbs higher than his York 2nd and a mark I have him capable of winning one of the decent 12 – 14-furlong handicaps from.
The Ebor at York’s August meeting would seem the perfect target for Corelli. Europe’s richest flat racing handicap, the winners’ prize in 2019 worth £600,000.
The Ebor used to be a race where progressive 3-year-olds with a then advantageous weight for age allowance came to the fore. Nowadays, the Ebor is a group race in everything but name. In 2019, the lowest-rated horse that qualified for the Ebor had an official handicap mark of 105, so off a current 102 Corelli is far from certain to get in. He would need to win a race between now and August and get a rise in the weights to be sure of qualifying, that shouldn’t be a problem.
In 2018 John Gosden fielded the first 2 home in Muntahaa and Weekender and I’m sure he will have the Ebor in mind as a target for Corelli.
There’s a lot of time between now and mid-August and a lot can change but as we stand I think Corelli is underestimated off a mark of 102 and with the potential of better still to come from this lightly raced 5-year-old he is one I will be watching for in the top-end 12 furlong plus handicaps.
Dutch Story - Amanda Perrett
4-y-o c g Dutch Art - Shamandar
The Amanda Perrett trained Dutch Story ended last season with a much-improved effort and looks on a very attractive mark of 64.
Dutch Story raced 8 times in 2019, but it wasn’t until those final 2 runs, both at Yarmouth that his form took an upwards trajectory. Both these starts came on soft ground, no surprise that a son of Dutch Art would have soft ground requirements and it’s logical to think plenty of give in the ground may be a prerequisite for Dutch Story.
On his final start of 2019, Dutch Story won by 8 lengths. Often you’d associate such a winning margin with an ‘easy’ win. Watch the Yarmouth replay, I’d hardly say he won with anything up his sleeve. His jockey Mark Dwyer rode him out vigorously right to the finish line while pulling further clear.
Dutch Story won off 56 at Yarmouth and raised just 8 lbs to an official mark of 64. I say ‘just’, 8lbs may seem a fair hike but I convert an 8 length margin to just over 18 lbs. I would say Dutch Story has been leniently treated in a race that has a solid look to it in terms of time performance.
The other potential upside is the sudden and significant improvement Dutch Story showed at the end of the season. Has the progress continued through the winter? We won’t know till he’s seen again but I always like to have the possibility of an unknown upside when betting.
Entrusting - James Fanshawe
4-y-o b g Nathaniel - Royal Empress
Entrusting is a lightly raced progressive Nathaniel gelding trained by James Fanshawe.
The combination of Nathaniel progeny and James Fanshaw as the trainer is a potentially lethal mix. Nathaniel progeny can be late maturers who need time to reach their full potential, James Fanshawe is renowned for giving his horses the time that they need to mature and not over racing them.
With just 6 runs to date, Entrusting starts the season on an official mark of 88.
On his first 3 runs Entrusting ran behind Surfman, Private Secretary and Sinjaari who’ve all gone on to rate significantly higher than Entrusting thus far. The potential was there early doors, but it would be unusual to see a James Fanshawe horse forward enough to have beaten rivals of such quality early in his career.
On Entrusting’s final run of 2019, he posted his best performance and showed a significant improvement in doing so. I like to have improving winners on my side, especially lightly raced ones and even more so going into the winter break.
I think of improving winners as having an unknown top end to their performance. How much more could Entrusting have found if asked to race at a faster pace or was challenged harder?
If we take the official handicappers view on Entrusting’s latest win, rather than say he is worthy of a rating 88, I’d look at it as 88 or greater. For clues to how much greater, I’m looking at the effect of his sire Nathaniel and trainer James Fanshawe.
Finishing the season on a winning improved performance is interesting to me given the time lapse between that run and whenever his next is. Given he showed improved form in winning, where will this trajectory end? Impossible to say with any confidence but the bigger the lapse between runs for an improving horse the further it could go. That’s the thinking anyway.
So, Entrusting starts the campaign on a mark of 88, I’d be as confident as one can be at this stage that he can win handicaps off that mark, and relatively hopeful this late maturer can make the step up to pattern class in time.
In terms of optimum conditions, he’s shown his best to date on good ground and at 10 furlongs. A son of Galileo, there’s every chance he could be equally effective or even find improvement for a step up to 12 furlongs. Certainly, the distance should be within his range.
King Of Change - Richard Hannon
4-y-o b c Farhh - Salacia
At first glance it may seem odd putting up a horse who won the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes as a horse to follow, surely everyone knows all about his ability?
I will say that despite winning the QE II it feels that King Of Change’s win has gone a little unnoticed. Rather than unnoticed, possibly underestimated would be a better choice of words. I do feel that he hasn’t been given the credit that his performance deserved. For me, it was the stand out performance over a mile across all generations in Britain last season. Certainly, the clock backs this up.
King Of Change is still lightly raced having had just 6 runs over 2 seasons so there is the promise for better to come in his 4-year-old season.
He finished 2nd in the 2000 Guineas behind Magna Grecia beaten 2 lengths. His first 5 runs were all on a good or faster surface and it wasn’t until he ran in the QE II that he got the chance to race on ground with some give.
The ground at Ascot for the QE II was officially heavy, this coincided with a significantly improved performance from King Of Change. Whether the improvement was solely down to the slower ground there’s too little evidence to say at this stage. There could have been other reasons behind the uplift and King Of Change may go on to prove he is equally good on quicker ground.
That’s certainly a possibility, but it’s safe to say he is very effective on the rain-softened ground and better than anything that raced last year.
I’d be very keen on King Of Change when he gets the chance to race under these conditions, whatever the opposition and will hold a watching court until he proves equally effective under faster conditions.
Marnie James - Jedd O'Keeffe
5-y-o b g Camacho - Privy Garden
A less fashionable selection, but a well handicapped horse loitering on a decent handicap mark of 100.
Marnie James doesn’t win very often, as is the case with many of these older sprint handicappers but I’ve reason to believe his turn is near. His York 3rd, back in May 2019 to Copper Knight off 104 is an indicator that Marnie James is on a winnable mark.
He is a horse who reserves his best for the straight 5-furlong test of York. Since the York run in May, he failed to win, but he’s shown enough to suggest that he’s not lost any of his ability, wrong track, wrong distance, large field handicaps could be cited as some of the reasons.
Off his current mark of 100, I’ll be looking out for Marnie James at a decent price to turn up in one of the big field York 5-furlong handicaps
Maygold - Ed Walker
5-y-o b m Mayson - Spanish Gold
On the evidence of Maygold’s win at Haydock in September last season, there are more races to be won with her.
That day, held up off a decent pace she showed a rare turn of foot to win very comfortably by 2 ¼ lengths from Arecibo. It wasn’t so much the margin of her victory, I don’t think she’s particularly well handicapped off 96 on what Maygold achieved at Haydock, more it was her manner of victory. The speed she showed to pass the whole field was mighty impressive.
The Haydock event was a decent race of its class on the clock and the subsequent efforts of some of the beaten horses backed this up. This makes Maygold’s subsequent efforts a little puzzling.
She ran 3 times and was below the Haydock form on each occasion. She’s definitely better than she showed and worth a chance to show the Haydock form again.
Her best efforts have come on good to soft ground, it was soft at Ascot in the run after the Haydock race. Possibly she doesn’t want the ground too soft to show her best?
It’s worth watching the Haydock replay if you have not seen it, hard not to think she can do significantly better. I’ll be looking out for her over 5-furlongs on good or good to soft ground to frank the impression she made at Haydock.
Our Little Pony - Lawrence Mullaney
5-y-o b m Bated Breath - Cracking Laso
Sometimes you get so in-depth into a horse’s form that you have an innate sense of when it is going to perform to it’s best. Our Little Pony is one of those horses to me, she is no world-beater but she’s a machine in her class when she gets her optimum conditions.
Very specifically, 5 furlongs and soft ground are the conditions Our Little Pony needs.
She’s on a career-high mark of 82 going into the 2020 season after a win on her final start of 2019 at Pontefract. I don’t think she’s on a fantastic mark at 82, though capable given optimum conditions. She’s one to track, she’ll probably run frequently, hopefully on conditions that don’t suit her best and drop a few pounds.
She won off 78 at Pontefract on her final start, any mark below 80 granted 5 furlongs and soft/heavy ground and I’ll be looking to get involved.
Oxted - Roger Teal
4-y-o Mayson - Charlotte Rosina
I’m keen on the prospects of the Roger Teal trained Oxted in 2020.
The lightly raced 4-year-old has raced just 7 times to date and on his final performance in 2019 defied his inexperience to win the highly competitive William Hill Portland Handicap at Doncaster, beating a group of decent older handicappers in the process.
A fair effort for a 3-year-old, even more so as he carried 9-4.
It’s a common misinterpretation of the form that there is a bigger gulf between those carrying a big weight in top-class handicaps and pattern class. It’s not as big a gap to bridge as the betting market often expresses.
In terms of time, the Doncaster performance of Oxted was at Group 3 standards and possibly a little more. With a current official handicap mark of 109 pattern class races are where Oxted is likely headed.
Where some of these top-end handicappers come undone when stepping up in class is the smaller field sizes and the lack of pace i.e. the relentless start to finish gallop you more often get in big field sprint handicaps.
Looking at optimum conditions, 6-furlongs, on good or faster ground have seen Oxted produce his best to date.
No disrespect to his trainer Roger Teal, but he is less fashionable than many. I like that, it can mean the market underestimates a horse’s prospects. Combine this with under interpretation of top-class handicap form when stepping up in class and it could mean a value betting opportunity.
Que Amoro - Michael Dods
4-y-o b f Es Que Love - Mr Greeley
It’s very hard not to like Que Amoro, her racing style is not complicated, she fires out of the stalls and goes hard from the front.
Que Amoro is very quick, when things started to click for her mid-season nothing could go with her early pace. It’s easy to say now looking back, she was a very well handicapped horse. The manner she kicked on from 2 furlongs out in her 2 York wins is testament to that.
On her final start, she stepped up to Listed class at Ayr, just failing to secure a 3rd win on the bounce.
Que Amoro now has an official handicapped mark of 98, while she’s not now thrown in, it’s still a mark she can be competitive off in handicaps on the evidence of her York wins. Her second win at York was a very strong 3-year-old handicap, the 2nd and 3rd that day, Moss Gill and Roulston Scar followed up by winning strong handicaps. There’s still a bit of juice in Que Amoro’s handicap mark, though opportunities are maybe a little more limited.
Que Amoro was a pretty big if unfurnished filly as a 3-year-old, there’s hope she could be better still as she matures and fills her frame. Whether there’s enough scope to breach the gap to Group class we will find out.
Michael Dod’s has done very well in recent years with top-class sprint fillies Meccas Angel and Mabs Cross, both of whom came through the handicap route as 3-year-olds. Clearly, there are similarities you can draw with Que Amoro, it doesn’t mean she is going to prove that good, but it points at how Michael Dods has trained his good fillies in the past.
Que Amoro has a step to make to be competitive outside of handicap company. What I’d say is it’s rare to see the early speed and then finishing kick Que Amoro showed in her 2 wins at York. It’s an indicator of a very decent horse and I’m hopeful as she matures she can make an impact at Group level.
Skeetah - John Quinn
4-y-o b f Heeraat - Skylla
Skeetah is not a particularly obvious horse to include in a well handicapped horses to follow list. That is not necessarily a bad thing, under the radar horses often present value.
She is certainly no superstar, but I’d be pretty confident she will win races when she encounters certain conditions.
A glance at her form and you’ll see she ran pretty consistently without showing any signs of progression last season. That was until she ran at Nottingham in October 2019, the first time she’d raced on proper soft ground, the official going was heavy and she found a significant amount of improvement to win.
The Nottingham race was a lowly class 6, but it was competitive in numbers and produced a solid time for a race of the grade.
Skeetah, since Nottingham has run 3 times on the all-weather at Southwell. She’s run well below the Nottingham form on each occasion. I’m not too bothered by that, Southwell’s unique surface does not suit every horse and the result of those 3 runs means Skeetah has eased a few pounds in the handicap.
Successful off an official mark of 57 at Nottingham, Skeetah is now rated 60. She probably needs to drop a couple of pounds yet but it would be no surprise to see her very shrewd trainer get her to a winning mark.
I’ll be looking out for Skeetah on the northern circuit when the ground turns up really soft and over 5 furlongs off a mark in the high 50’s.
Swindler - Ed Walker
4-y-o b g Invincible Spirit - Priceless Jewel
Swindler looks like a really interesting horse for the coming season.
He has just 6 racecourse appearances to date, 3 in both his 2-year-old and 3-year-old season.
On his final start, he took a step forward in his performance levels with a tidy win in a decent 6-furlong Ascot handicap. The Ascot race was a good quality event which has stood up to testing by subsequent runners. On the evidence of that run alone, I have Swindler on a very winnable handicap mark of 96.
Looking at his other runs last season might give some clues to future betting opportunities? He debuted at Ascot, winning a competitive handicap tidily. For future reference Swindler seems well suited to the straight course at Ascot. He then went to Newmarket and while not running terribly, he ran below the Ascot debut form and in the race itself didn’t travel with his customary ease.
The Newmarket race came 15 days after his Ascot debut, he was not seen for 6 weeks when he then produced his best effort. Did the Newmarket race come too soon after his debut for him to show his best? Does he need a significant gap between races to be at his best? Impossible to say for sure but it’s worth bearing in mind for the future.
Optimum ground conditions – to date Swindler’s best performances have been on quick ground, good to firm. Probably worth noting his trainer’s comments that he may not want softer ground, I’d certainly be cautious until I know he is effective with some give in conditions.
The Wokingham Handicap at Royal Ascot would seem like the perfect target, whether we get a Royal Ascot in 2020 may be an altogether different challenge.
Racing off a mark of 96, Swindler may just creep into a race like the Wokingham, if not there are plenty of decent 6-furlong straight track sprints he could be targeted at. I’d expect, come the end of the 2020 season, Swindler to be rated more than 96 and have bagged a couple of decent sprints along the way.