Declan Rix

Declan Rix casts his eye into the future and has two ante-post fancies for the St Leger and Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.

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The 2019 Flat season has been a bit stop-start for me personally, I’ve struggled to get into a rhythm in what is a bloated fixture list with so many meetings to cover.  I haven’t done as much betting this season, probably placing the fewest bets I’ve ever had over a summer, but I’m hopefully going to finish the campaign strong.

Ante-post betting has always been one of my favourite elements of punting and two horses catch the eye further ahead. The races in question are the William Hill St Leger at Doncaster on September 14th and the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot on October 19th – both of which will be live on Sky Sports Racing.

First up, the St Leger, a market headed by Japan who will surely be going down the Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe route? Take him out of the equation and the race has an open look to it. While the case, Aidan O’Brien’s Constantinople looks a bet at the current prices (12/1) with his odds having scope to potentially shorten next week at York in the Grade 2 Great Voltigeur Stakes on the back of a fair effort in the Gordon Stakes.

Between the Great Voltigeur and Gordon Stakes at Goodwood, both races have thrown up four of the last ten St Leger winners; Kew Gardens (2018), Encke (2012), Arctic Cosmos (2010) and Mastery (2009). Kingston Hill, the 2014 St Leger victor was due to run in the 2014 Great Voltigeur, but was a non-runner due to unsuitable ground.

While trends like the above can help solidify a bet, it’s ability that should always be the main factor in assessing a horse, and Constantinople already looks good enough to win a St Leger in comparison to the other 46 entries.

A son of Galileo representing a trainer who has won the last two renewals, Constantinople was a late-bloomer but is now a highly progressive horse who shapes like he will stay the extended 14f trip.

A full-brother to 2015 St Leger runner-up Bondi Beach, the family have history in this race – not that connections will care to recall the controversial events of four years ago – and can hopefully put it to bed in September.

In all four starts this season Constantinople has progressed; starting in handicap company off 97 in April at Cork when a hugely unlucky second. Three runs later - which included a Royal Ascot second under a big weight in the King George V Stakes (Handicap) – and the three-year-old has improved the bones of a stone.

I do think there is more to come however, from this classy and versatile sort. In winning the Group 3 Gallinule Stakes at the Curragh on fast ground earlier in the season, we saw his ability and class to win off slow fractions showing a turn of foot. At Royal Ascot on soft ground, we saw what he could do off strong fractions.

In defeat we learned plenty about Constantinople at the Royal meeting. As well as showing he has the ability to adapt to strong-run contests, he also showed a lazy/green side when hitting the front. When he and Ryan Moore burst through to lead a furlong from home, the race looked over, but he idled badly late and was picked off.

His idle nature made Ryan Moore’s ride in the Gordon Stakes perplexing to say the least, the Ballydoyle number one electing to take up the running around a mile from home, a move that can’t have helped his keenly-travelling penalty-carrying partner. To be fair to Moore, with regards pace, it looked a sound tactical play, but Constantinople just doesn’t look the kind of horse to make the running with and will be best served by a lead and cover.

If connections can make this adjustment on a horse that is still maybe learning, he may well go on to win the Great Voltigeur and follow up in the St Leger. As we saw at Ascot, and at Goodwood with him hitting the rail, he is not straight-forward but there is no malice in him and it may well just be greenness.

All ground appears to come alike, but good or faster will be ideal going forward, so he can use his pace. In terms of ability, he has few peers in the St Leger field and with more potentially to come, with his form looking ever stronger I make him a good ante-post bet at 12/1.

All ground also appears to come alike to my long-term Queen Elizabeth II Stakes fancy, Shaman (25/1). This bet is solely price related in what is a hugely open division. There is no star miler this season and basically whatever horse turns up on the day and runs to form can win. For me, all those to the fore in betting are in and around 115 horses.

Current favourite King Of Comedy looks set to go down the 10f route, although he could obviously revert to miling if he needs to. Romanised may not run here in a bid to stay fresh for his Breeders’ Cup Mile run and the rest really are all of varying but similar abilities.

Three-year-olds have won seven of the last ten runnings with French-trained horses claiming two of the last five, but what I really like about Shaman is he looks a progressive horse whose strong-travelling ability could be tailormade for Ascot’s straight track.

Although a son of Shamardal, whose progeny generally like quick ground, Carlos Laffon-Parias’s inmate has little issue with soft going, a description he may well meet come October. Like Constantinople, this versatility is a fine characteristic when betting so far out from the race.

In truth, Shaman likely needs to improve to win, but his current odds overplay his chances significantly, especially when you consider he may well go to Ascot on the back of a career best. His style of racing is also a slight negative, but with a good ride in getting a lead and cover his strong-travelling abilities will take him far.

This race has the potential to cut up badly and with no worries about ground or ability, the 25/1 is worth chancing each-way this far out about a horse who was second in the French 2000 Guineas and runner-up in the Prix Jacques le Marois.

Declan Rix
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