The November Handicap (2.35pm, Doncaster, Saturday) brings down the curtain on the official Flat season. The mile and a half race is always competitive and gives Flat racing fans the chance to land one last major gamble on turf.
Sir Henry Cecil has been making headlines all season with his unbeaten colt Frankel and it’s another of his unbeaten horses, First Mohican (7/2), who dominates the betting for the November Handicap. The four-year-old son of Tobougg won on his debut back in 2010, but missed the whole of last season and wasn’t seen on the racecourse again until last month.
However, he’s quickly made up for lost time, winning lower grade handicaps at Redcar and Nottingham in the style of a progressive horse. Both wins came on soft going, so he will be suited by underfoot conditions on Town Moor, but he’s yet to win beyond a mile and a quarter and is 12lb higher in the weights here since his last run. A rise in weight coupled with a rise in class may be enough to find him out, especially as he’s untried over a mile and a half, so there appears to be little value in his current odds.
Ed Walker’s three-year-old Nicholascopernicus (8/1) has already won three times over a mile and a half on good to soft or soft going this season. He was impressive when winning a lower grade handicap, by 2¼ lengths, last time. Indeed, that form has been franked by the second, Princess Caetani, and the third, Daneking, so Nicholascopernicus is hard to fault.
However, he’s 9lb higher in the weights in a better race and facing older horses for the first time this season. Indeed, he was beaten 5¼ lengths into ninth place in the King George Stakes at Royal Ascot, off an 11lb lower mark, on his one and only venture into Class 2 company. So there is every reason to believe he may be vulnerable at today’s weights.
Amanda Perrett’s three-year-old Blue Surf (12/1) has also won three times this season, including on good to soft and heavy going. He stayed on well to win a similar, albeit less competitive, race over a mile and a quarter at Newbury on his latest start. He’s been raised 6lbs in the weights for that success, but the manner of his victory suggests that weight, alone, won’t prevent him from following up here.
The main problem with him is that he’s never won beyond a mile and a quarter and his one run over further, in a similar race at Ascotin September, proved inconclusive. He denied a clear run and hampered at Ascot, eventually being eased to finish 11th of 19, beaten 8½ lengths. He clearly relishes cut in the ground, so if he does stay the extra two furlongs he appeals as one of the more likely winners.
Nevertheless, in a race as competitive as the Betfred November Handicap you don’t want to be relying on ifs, buts and maybes. One horse that ticks all the boxes, in terms of class, distance and going is Mark Johnston’s three-year-old filly Party Line (14/1).
The daughter of Montjeu ran a perfect trial for this when winning a similar race over course and distance on soft going two weeks ago. A line through the runner-up that day, Art Scholar, suggests that, even with 5lb more to carry, she is much the same horse as First Mohican. Joe Fanning, who’s ridden her to two of her four victories this season, takes the mount.
Many of her rivals have questions to answer, so back PARTY LINE to win the November Handicap at 14/1 with Bet365 or Blue Square. Unlike First Mohican, she’s proven in the class and over the distance, so she appears to represent excellent value at her current betting odds.