The starting point for looking at Saturday's Betfair Exchange Northumberland Plate has become all too obvious in the last 24 hours or so, and that is a certain Gibbs Hill.
I wouldn't go overboard about the “gamble” tag that has already been attached to him – everyone knows that it would take very little money to force a horse down from 20/1 to 6/1 in an ante-post market these days, in isolation at least – but he is undoubtedly interesting for a stable whose runners do tend to attract their fair share of cash, as we saw with Cape Byron in the Wokingham last Saturday.
Gibbs Hill is certainly a horse with a very sexy profile, that is for sure.
A definite runner
And, crucially, Roger Varian (pictured below) has already confirmed this has been the long-term plan for the horse and that he is a certain runner this weekend, all things being well, so that adds into the market confidence and shortening.
And a front-page story in the trade paper helps on that front, too.
It is getting on for the thick-end of two years since we last saw him, but he certainly made a big impression back then, when sluicing up by 7 lengths in first-time blinkers over 1m4f at Kempton in July 2017.
He has been off injured since then – I am not quite sure what the problem was – and usually the handicapper would cut them a little slack in these circumstances.
But perhaps not with horses of this profile, though, and he hasn't.
So Gibbs Hill has to race off the same 11lb higher mark that he was raised for that success back in 2017, and perhaps equally as big an issue as that rise is that he has to prove his stamina over 2m, which isn't a gimme on pedigree by any means (though he is a half-brother to a 1m7f winner, albeit one by Lando).
Plenty of strong opposition
The ship has probably always sailed with Gibbs Hill's price – at the moment, anyway, though Cape Byron showed us they can keep shortening – but there certainly is no lack of credible opposition, with 42 entries at the five-stage.
They include last year's winner Withhold, and we haven't seen him since he bled in his Melbourne Cup warm-up race, in the Geelong Cup last October.
They didn't see which way he went making all in this race last season – well, they did actually, as he was always in front of them – but he is 8lb higher now, in what promises to be a stronger renewal in terms of depth (though the runner-up last year was Melbourne Cup third Prince Of Arran), and bleeding issues are never a good thing.
There really are any number of horses you can turn to in this race and no-one can argue with the likes of Stratum (in the same ownership of Withhold), the ultra-tough and progressive King's Advice and Newmarket scorer Red Galileo being among the market principals.
And the depth of this race is why the Betfair Sportsbook are already offering five places.
Time to go in for more Study
I'm not sure how many of Ian Williams' six in the race are going to get in – or indeed run – but I would be very interested in his Time To Study if he turned out again quickly after Royal Ascot.
In fact, I am going to take a chance of him running and suggest backing him at 20/1 each way, five places, with the Betfair Sportsbook.
This column was with him in the Ascot Stakes over 2m4f last week, largely on the account of his good course form and the fact that he had dropped 12lb in the weights than when sixth to Withhold in this race last year, when trained by Mark Johnston.
I was slightly worried about his unproven stamina and that proved his undoing, as he traded [1.43] in the run when taking it up in the straight, only for his run to flatten out in the final furlong and finish third to his stablemate The Grand Visir.
But that race proved he was back on song after his Chester run and, down in trip, he must have strong claims off the same mark.
Well, better claims than 20/1 suggests anyway.
Like most Johnston horses – and they get plenty of opportunity to do so, granted – he has proven he can back up quickly on a few occasions, and indeed he won off just a five-day break in 2016 and within six days at Doncaster in 2017 (off a 2lb higher mark than this).
Keep stakes low, as Williams, who is brilliant with his staying recruits from other yards, may mind him more than his previous handler and not run him here.
But he doesn't look a 20/1 chance to me on that Ascot run, so I will take my chances win and place.
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