With underfoot conditions in his favour, the mud-loving Raising Sand looks to hold leading claims of landing back-to-back runnings of the 7f Challenge Cup at Ascot on Saturday (15:10),
This Jamie Osborne trained seven-year-old is a real course specialist, having won four times and been placed on four other occasions from 12 starts at the Berkshire venue.
He put in an authoritative display to land the spoils in this 12 months ago when beating Ripp Orf by two lengths off a mark of 97.
After racing in-touch in the hands of Nicola Currie, Raising Sand made smooth headway travelling strongly two from home.
The son of Oasis Dream then quickened smartly to lead just inside the final furlong and, despite wandering, cosily beat old his old rival having arguably hit the front too soon and idled.
Raising Sand went on to round off the campaign with a solid three-length sixth of 22 to Sharja Bridge in the Balmoral Handicap over a mile at this venue off a mark of 102.
He has looked better than ever this season finishing a fine fourth of 26 to Cape Byron in the Victoria Cup over course and distance, before a solid third of 28 to Affak in the Royal Hunt Cup here too.
Raising Sand then gained another deserved bg race success when landing the 23-runner International Stakes – again over course and distance.
He also acquitted himself really well last time out in Group 3 company at Haydock when a 4 1/4 lengths third to Great Scot.
That showed that he could be competitive off his career-high mark of 109, so – now returned to handicap company – Raising Sand looks a worthy 5/1 favourite with Betfred to retain his crown.
Ripp Orf looks sure to go well
Ripp Orf is another that has an excellent record at the track and looks a big player in the hands of Gerald Mosse.
Trained by David Elsworth, this five-year-old has won twice and been placed four times in seven starts over course and distance.
The son of Rip Van Winkle was beaten just two lengths by Raising Sand in this last year but now meets that rival on 13lb better terms. It gives him major claims at the weights of gaining revenge.
Ripp Orf has posted some really solid efforts in ultra-competitive handicaps this season without getting his head in front.
They include when sixth of 17 to Vale Of Kent in the 7f Bunbury Cup at Newmarket, where he came with a real rattle to be nearest at the finish and beaten just two lengths.
The first three home that day were all drawn high, so Ripp Orf did extremely well to get so close from stall five and it was a performance which can be upgraded.
He also ran a blinder in defeat last time out over course and distance when failing by just a neck to overhaul Salute The Soldier in the 16-runner Cunard Handicap.
Ripp Orf is able to race in this off just 2lb higher, and a revised rating of 96 is just 3lb higher than when last successful. That gives him every chance from a handicapping perspective.
As Ripp Orf is also versatile as regards ground, odds of 11/2 with Paddy Power – who pay five places – make him a solid Challenge Cup contender each-way.
Escobar looks overpriced in Challenge Cup
Given that he finished just a neck behind Ripp Orf when fourth in the Cunard, the David O’Meara trained Escobar should arguably be much shorter than the 14/1 on offer about him with William Hill as he now meets the winner on 1lb better terms.
That was the latest in a number of solid efforts by the five-year-old this season, including when slowly away before finishing strongly to be beaten 1 1/4 lengths by Mojito in the 13-runner Coral Challenge at Sandown.
Escobar went on to score in fine style at Haydock when cleverly beating Rise Hall by three-quarters of a length.
He backed that up with a fine staying on never nearer, two-length third of 20 to Beat Le Bon in the Golden Mile Handicap at Glorious Goodwood off 101.
The son of Famous Name was also far from disgraced when a 2 1/4 lengths fifth of six to Zaaki in the Group 3 Strensall Stakes at York. A mark of 105 should not be beyond him, judged on those efforts.
This race should also be run to suit, so Escobar has far more going for him than his odds would suggest and is thus another to consider in the Challenge Cup from an each-way betting perspective.
So Beloved too well-treated to ignore
Having plummeted in the weights, So Beloved is another with each-way claims and can be backed at a tempting 18/1 with Ladbrokes.
It’s been a long time between drinks for the nine-year-old, who is a stable companion of Escobar, as he has not scored since landing a Listed contest at Haydock way back in May 2016.
He won on Merseyside by two lengths off an official rating of 113.
However, So Beloved has ran very well to make the frames on numerous occasions – including when a cracking three-quarters of a length second to Acclaim in a Group 1 at Chantilly two years ago.
The veteran has also looked no back number on several occasions this season, finishing second to Cardsharp at York and a decent four-length ninth of 28 to Afaak in the aforementioned Royal Hunt Cup here.
So Beloved also finished just three-quarters of a length behind Ripp Orf when seventh in the Bunbury Cup at Newmarket and now meets that rival on 10lb better terms.
Having started off the campaign on a mark of 107, he is able to race in this off a reduced rating of just 98. That is the lowest So Beloved has run off since June 2015.
He also has the services of promising apprentice Anguis Villiers in the saddle, who takes another 7lb off with his claim.
Taking it into account, So Beloved is simply too well-treated to ignore in the Challenge Cup and looks a lively outsider capable of outrunning his odds.