Bullish comments from trainer Andrew Balding have done little to dampen the enthusiasm felt by many punters about this weekend’s red hot favourite for Doncaster’s Group 1 Racing Post Trophy – Elm Park.
Live with us on Channel 4 Racing at 3.50pm, it’s a thumping five years on the bounce this race has gone the way of the market leader, with the punter-friendly group including 13/8 poke St Nicholas Abbey in 2009, 2/1 Casamento in 2010, 10/11 chance Camelot in 2011, Kingsbarns at 15/8 in 2012, and finally 7/2 shot Kingston Hill just 12 months ago.
Some of that group went on to achieve worldwide acclaim, fame and fortune of course, with ‘St Nick’ going on to win a staggering three Coronation Cups, a Breeders’ Cup Turf and a Sheema Classic among an eventual prize money haul of just under five million pounds, Camelot kept his part of the bargain by bagging both an Epsom and an Irish Derby, while this year Kingston Hill has stepped up to run a mighty race in defeat in the Derby, before taking the St Leger and managing a gallant fourth in the Arc.
So what of this year’s jolly?
Official ratings make Elm Park very much the one to beat, putting him at least nine pounds clear of his seven rivals on the figures, positioned as he is on a mark of 111.
That of course doesn’t factor in the untapped potential lurking among his rivals, with Aidan O’Brien (going for win number eight in the race) putting the bookies in a spin by relying not on the previously suggested pair of Royal Navy Ship and Giovanni Canaletto, but instead on the once-raced High Chaparral colt Jacobean, alongside the twice-tried son of Galileo, Aloft.
Neither of his representatives has yet displayed Elm Park’s undoubted star quality though, with Balding’s star pupil on a four timer after wins at Newbury (Soft), Salisbury (Good) and Newmarket (Good to Firm).
Four weeks ago the Kingsclere trainer was standing next to me in the Newmarket betting ring taking a heavy drag on a Silk Cut gasper, as the horses made their way to the start for the Group 2 Royal Lodge.
Nods were exchanged and words to the effect of ‘I think you’ll win this Andrew’ were met with a totally honest riposte ‘I hope you’re right, I’m very worried about the ground’…
The record books now tell us he needn’t have been – Elm Park fell out of the starting stalls and then took his time getting to terms with the idiosyncracies of Newmarket’s famous dip, but when the penny dropped he left the rest standing, allaying any fears about his ability to operate on a range of going.
Based on that compelling evidence everything else will have to improve to trouble him, and Sir Mark Prescott’s Celestial Path could be completely snookered if further rain turns the ground Soft.
I was at Haydock Park on Betfred Sprint Cup day when Celestial Path ran away with a listed race, but although that was visually dazzling he has to take a fair jump in class to compete here, while Elm Park has already proven he can keep climbing the ladder, progressing fluently from maiden, to listed, to Group company.
Four more winners in the past fortnight prove Balding’s team remain in good heart, and there looks to be a strong chance both Paddy Power and Ladbrokes could be trimming their top price quotes of 33/1 about Elm Park for the 2015 Investec Derby come 4pm on Saturday.
Four times since the year 2000 the Racing Post Trophy winner has gone on to Epsom glory, and though the price isn’t flashy Elm Park looks rock solid at 7/4 to complete his own first half of that illustrious double.
Saturday’s best bet at Doncaster: