Whilst the major Group 1 contests both in Britain and in France will likely grab the headlines as October begins, for many racing fans there is simply nothing better than a big field handicap. The pick of the bunch on that score comes at Ascot with the latest renewal of the always competitive Challenge Cup.
The race takes place of the second day of Ascot’s Autumn Racing weekend, the penultimate flat meeting of the year at the Berkshire course, with Champions Day following later in the month. Many winners will go on to compete in the Balmoral Handicap, the final flat race of the year at Ascot.
Next Race: Saturday, 3rd October 2020
The next race is scheduled to run on 3rd October 2020. The race info, trends and tips shown below will be updated for the next renewal once the final declarations have been made.
Last Run: 5th October 2019
- Winner: Kynren
- SP: 11/4
- Trainer: David Barron
- Jockey: Ben Curtis
Seven furlongs is the trip for this Class 2 Heritage contest, with £180,000 in total prize money up for grabs. The ground at the track is currently described as soft which will likely bring the stamina of the contenders into play.
|Going||Distance||Grade||Prize Money||Runners||EW Terms|
|Soft||7f||Class 2||£180,000||18 Runners||1/4 1-4|
Ascot Challenge Cup Betting Tips
Note: The following tips are from 2019. Tips for the next renewal will be added once the final declarations have been made.
We have a fiercely competitive renewal in store once again this year, with a whole host of these looking likely to come in for support on the day. Last year’s champion won’t go down without a fight, but he may just be run down by the younger legs on the field.
Open to all runners aged three and older, recent evidence suggests it may pay to concentrate on those between aged three and five years old, with eight of the past nine winners falling into this bracket.
Middle to high has been the place to be when it comes to the draw. Eight of the past 10 winners have emerged from stall eight or above.
John Gosden is the trainer firmly in the limelight this weekend, and whilst it may be Enable’s tilt at a third Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe which is the focus of much of the attention, we fancy the Newmarket handler to receive an early boost in Saturday’s big handicap.
SAND TO SINK RIVALS AGAIN?
Currently heading the betting for this year’s renewal is the Jamie Osboure-trained defending champion, Raising Sand. As a seven year old he wouldn’t be a particularly good fit on the age trend, but then he wasn’t when winning it as a six year old last year either. A three time winner at this track, on ground ranging from soft to good, he looks set to have something like his optimum conditions and ought to go well.
He does however have a significantly tougher task on the handicap this time around. Successful off a mark of 97 last year, he was effectively running off just 94 once Nicola Currie’s three pound claim was taken into account. Up to 109 now, and with Currie having since lost her claim, he is fully 15 pounds higher this year. That said, he did win off a mark of 103 over course and distance in July so isn’t necessarily weighted out of it.
SEDUCED BY CASANOVA’S CLAIMS?
John Gosden grabbed gold in the big handicap last weekend when sending out Lord North to land the Cambridgshire in good style, and looks to have excellent claims here with Casanova. As the only three year old in the race, this son of Frankel has youth on his side, and on just his second handicap outing, clearly has more scope for improvement than the majority of his rivals.
A perfect two from two since a gelding operation in May, he only needed minimal encouragement to prevail by one and half lengths at Sandown last time out. He is up six pounds for that, but that still only puts him on a mark of 97, and there must be a reasonable chance that that underestimates his ability. The one concern would be the drop back in trip from a mile to seven furlongs, but the likely slow conditions should at least help in that regard.
OR JUMP INTO BED WITH GODOLPHIN?
Another runner high up on our shortlist is Bedouin’s Story who goes for Saeed bin Suroor and the boys in blue of Godolphin. This son of Farhh has overall turf form figures of 13101 when the going description has contained the word soft, and it seems reasonably certain that will be the case here.
The most recent of those turf runs came two starts back at York, and whilst he is nine pounds higher in the handicap for this, he did win pretty easily that day seems to still be improving. We liked the way in which he travelled just off the pace on the Knavesmire, before quickly putting the race to bed once popped the question, and with conditions in his favour he is entitled to be on the premises on form.
Final Verdict: Casanova To Win
Raising Sand has to be respected given his liking for this track, whilst Bedouin’s Story is also greatly feared. Neither would appear to be obviously well handicapped though, and overall we will be sticking with the least exposed runner in the line-up.
It’s Casanova for us here. It seems that a gelding operation may have been the making of this one – a little ironic considering the lothario after whom he is named – and he is fancied to continue his progress for the in-form Gosden operation.
Ascot Challenge Cup Winners
|2019||Kynren||11/4||David Barron||Ben Curtis|
|2018||Raising Sand||5/1||Jamie Osbourne||Nicola Currie|
|2017||Accidental Agent||16/1||Eve Johnson Houghton||Charles Bishop|
|2016||Librisa Breeze||11/2||Dean Ivory||Robert Winston|
|2015||Buckstay||9/2||Peter Chapple-Hyam||Jamie Spencer|
|2014||Intransigent||16/1||Sir Michael Stoute||Ryan Moore|
|2013||Heaven's Guest||9/1||Richard Fahey||Ryan Moore|
|2012||Skilful||6/1||John Gosden||Robert Havlin|
|2011||Pastoral Player||17/2||Hughie Morrison||Darryll Holland|
About the Ascot Challenge Cup: Classy Handicap At Autumnal Ascot
Ascot is home to some of the most prestigious and high class races in the flat racing season. Flat racing fans know that there is much more to the season than just the big Group 1 contests with big field, highly competitive handicaps like the Ascot Challenge Cup a prime example.
The Challenge Cup has long been an important target for yards with hardy performers over seven furlongs. The increase in the prize fund over recent years has helped to further improve the quality of horses turning up to the feature race of Ascot’s Autumn Racing Weekend.
Hardiness as Important as Speed
There are a number of excellent handicaps taking place over seven furlongs during the flat season. It’s a trip that provides great entertainment as it allows for leading contenders from the big field to jostle for position before striking for home.
Seven furlongs also demands a combination of speed and stamina, with the latter attribute particularly important at Ascot. The straight course begins with a dip before a climb up a sharp hill. Many horses also fade in the final couple of furlongs and Ascot’s standard times for seven furlongs are relatively slow.
This has a few implications for the Ascot Challenge Cup. Punters should consider horses who have either proved they can cope with the specific challenges of Ascot before or who have run well at a longer trip than this one. The ground in October further complicates matters. It is rare for the going to be good at Ascot at this time of year so the Challenge Cup is regularly run on ground that’s either good to soft or soft. This further increases the need for some proven stamina on behalf of the competitors.
A Tough Race to Predict
In many ways, the Ascot Challenge Cup is exactly what you would want from a handicap on the flat. The trip is very demanding, the prize money (which reached £180,000 in 2019) helps to attract a full complement of 18 runners and it is always a highly competitive race.
Although the class of winners has been trending upwards along with the increase in prize money, winning favourites remain far from the norm. Indeed, recent renewals have seen almost as many horses go in at double figure odds than right at the top of the betting.
The difficulty of profiling a winner is not simply limited to the starting prices. Tough, experienced horses as old as six have won but we’ve seen three year olds land huge wins too. There is also a spread in terms of the weights carried even if those with 9st 11lb or less on their backs should be narrowly favoured. Finally, there is only the slightest draw bias with connections just about preferring their horses to be drawn in one of the central stalls.