Rowleyfile Preview: Winter Derby

The racing at Lingfield Park on Saturday is in the news, though not, as might have been expected, due to the quality and competitive nature of the sporting fare, but because of a boycott by trainers in protest about prize money levels.

“All out on strike” has worked with one of the races, for which no declarations were made, while Comrade Littmoden will be the beneficiary in the mile novice, in which his runner gets a walkover.

Big Country
Big Country Picture: Racing and Sports

At the same time, the card’s highlight, the Betway Winter Derby at 3:15, has managed to attract its smallest field ever, of just seven, despite £100,000 in added funds. This seems to be down to something almost as effective as industrial action, and that is Wissahickon .

Wissahickon Picture: (Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)

The John Gosden-trained colt is just the sort of high-class performer the Winter Derby and more recently the All-Weather Championships were designed to attract. But his presence has scared off some and left connections of the others with at least half an eye on picking up place money.

Wissahickon would be a formidable rival if he had won the Cambridgeshire Handicap at Newmarket in September as a three-year-old by a wide margin, and off a high weight, and left it at that. But he has since won two listed races at Saturday’s course and distance in impressive fashion, beating Big Country both times and additionally having Court House and Chiefofchiefs back in third and fourth last time.

That trio try their luck again, but Timeform’s Sectional Archive has that race as a fair contest in terms of expenditure of energy, and Wissahickon even managed to overcome trouble in running. The same Sectional Archive has Wissahickon quite a bit better than the result the time before.

He is top on form and top on time, and Timeform’s opening 100% tissue on the race has him at 4/7 and nothing else at less than 10/1. The former price looks a shade generous, to be honest.

If piling into long odds-on shots is your thing, then don’t let me put you off in this instance. But you also probably don’t need me to tell you this. Instead, I am going to look into what might finish second, or – if the unexpected transpires – what might capitalise on a Wissahickon off-day.

Somewhat unexpectedly, older horses have fared marginally better than younger ones over the years (more so by % of rivals beaten than by impact values), with the four-year-olds Wissahickon and Court House the only two not in the upper bracket on Saturday.

Those figures at Betfair Starting Price do at least offer some crumbs of comfort to anyone looking to take a swing and oppose the favourite entirely. The staking is calculated according to the amount risked to return 100 points, so that proportionally more goes on shorter-priced horses than longer-priced ones, in order that freak results do not skew the results. The mid band of >10 to <30 (greater than 9/1 to less than 29/1) has the only positive return.

Lastly, the figures for position on most recent start speak in favour of last-time winners, which amounts to Hathal, Master The World and Pactolus – winners of a minor race at Wolverhampton, a listed race at this course and distance and a handicap at this course and distance on their most recent appearances respectively – as well as Wissahickon.

Hathal is a clear contender for “Best of The Rest” behind Wissahickon, but you will need to take his stamina on trust for this. None of his runs at further than a mile is supported by a good timefigure, and his wins this year at Wolverhampton at an extended 9f and an extended 8f have been in tactical affairs in which Hathal ran the closing stages in speeds of 106% and 107% of his average race speed.

Hathal may be helped by an absence of early pace, but he finds himself in a race in which three of the runners have Timeform Early Position Figures of 2.20 or less.

Master The World is legitimate in the “Betting Without Wissahickon” market, also, but it is worth remembering that he finished plum last on both of his starts prior to that last win, and that he will have been off for 98 days, though he has run creditably following even longer.

Then there is Pactolus, who has been having quite a renaissance under the skilful handling of Stuart Williams, winning four of his last five races, including off a mark of 102 last time. That puts him within touching distance of this kind of level for the first time in a long career, but it has to be said that pretty much everything went right for him that day.

In the end, I came right back round to where I had started, with those two runs in which Wissahickon beat Big Country. The latter may have had his limitations exposed by a Group-class rival, but he has not flinched and is building up a superbly consistent résumé.

Big Country has managed three wins, three seconds and two thirds from 11 starts in this year and the last, and he is effective at 8f to 10f, on a variety of surfaces and facing a variety of pace scenarios. He seems very likely to run his race again. That should see him pick up a bit of the action once more.

Recommendation: back BIG COUNTRY in the “without Wissahickon” market and Wissahickon-Big Country straight forecast.