The John Smith’s Cup handicap is as competitive as ever this season despite the massive drop in prize money. Last year the winner Pivoine took home £124.5k while this time round the winner bags £37.35! Nevertheless, it is a race to savour and another heritage handicap to get stuck into. A high draw is a disadvantage at York over this trip so Solid Stone, Good Birthday and Tinandali will need plenty of luck in running. Good Birthday was tempting as a hold up horse off a rating of 97 and claiming jockey William Carver taking off 5lbs. He has his chance but the two I finally sided with are proven course and big race performers Pivoine & Afaak.

Pivoine won this race well last season carrying a similar weight and rated just 2lbs lower. This time round he is drawn two stalls lower from stall four and Rob Hornby rides this horse particularly well. Pivoine ran well following his success here last season going on to finish amongst the money at Arlington and Woodbine in Group 1 turf races. He finished within a length of Desert Encounter twice and we know Desert Encounter is a consistent pattern level horse. Pivoine had two spins on the all weather this year but following the cancellation of racing in the spring he has been kept fresh for this race. His track record reads two from two and he has won five times from 14 starts over 1m2f-1m3f trips. All looks set fair for a massive run now that the handicapper has dropped him 4lbs.

Afaak ran a bit below form in the Royal Hunt cup having won and placed second in that race previously. He runs well in these big field handicaps and is well treated from a mark of 105, 3lbs below the mark he raced form last year when fifth in this race. On that occasion he had a terrible wide draw in stall 24.

Dane O’Neill rode Afaak last year and rode him to get a prominent position from the break. He got a lovely position in behind the leaders and came with a good looking run a couple of furlongs from home only for his run to flatten out. That was understandable with the horse using up petrol early in the race. Less we forget he was carrying topweight of 9-12 too! Today, Afaak has 9-7  on his back and an opposite draw to last year in stall 1. Afaak can race quite freely so hopefully Dane can settle him in behind the pace horses, conserving as much energy as possible and quicken at the business end of the race.

York - 2:30

0.5 Point EACH WAY Pivoine (12/1 William Hill & Skybet both paying 6 places)

0.5 Point EACH WAY Afaak (20/1 William Hill & Skybet both paying 6 places)

Compare Odds at https://www.oddschecker.com/horse-racing/2020-07-18-york/14:30/winner