Royal Ascot 2015: St James’s Palace Stakes Preview & Tips
Just the six go to post for what is traditionally a meeting of the French, Irish and English 2000 Guineas form.
And all three Guineas winners are here, albeit embodied by only two horses: Make Believe was an easy winner of the French version while Gleneagles mopped up both the English and Irish Classics.
Of the beaten runners from those three races, only Belardo re-opposes, meaning interest is added to the mix by the progressive but less proven likes of Consort and, to a lesser degree, Latharnach.
Every winner of the St James’s Palace Stakes to have contested either the English or Irish 2000 Guineas since Azamour in 2004 has won either or both of those races. Away from the Guineas, the other three horses – Most Improved, Excellent Art and Shamardal – to have won this G1 prize during that time were all making their seasonal débuts.
This year’s race looks like a procession for odds-on favourite, Gleneagles. The dual Guineas winner was exciting at Newmarket and professional at the Curragh, showing different qualities each time. He’s the highest rated of these, has finished first past the post in all seven starts since his career bow (disqualifed in France and placed third), and has had a nice break since his Curragh run.
He travels very well and has a change of gear, and it is quite hard to see him getting beaten in what is likely to be a cat and mouse affair. If Gleneagles is the cat, then the souris may be Make Believe, a French colt who made all when winning the Poule d’Essai des Poulains (French 2000 Guineas) from subsequent Prix du Jockey Club winner, New Bay.
Make Believe had three lengths in hand that day and, though flattered by the margin – New Bay came from almost last to second – he clearly has a very strong turn of foot. Confidence is tempered somewhat by the fact that in four career runs, Make Believe has never raced on quicker than good to soft. The way he quickened at Longchamp, putting clear daylight between himself and a big field, means he could be a dangerous trailblazer on the front.
Belardo is next in on ratings, but this son of Lope De Vega has only ever shown form on soft ground. It will not be soft here, and he will not win. He remains one to keep onside for later in the season when the rains arrive.
Of more interest might be Consort, Sir Michael Stoute’s rapid improver. He smashed a fair field in a Sandown Listed race last time to take his unbeaten record to two career starts. Like Belardo, he too is a son of Lope De Vega, but unlike that one he’s already shown smart form on quick turf.
Consort’s maiden win is working out exceptionally well – eight winners (30%) and 13 placed (48%) from the race since – and Sir Michael knows how to get Royal Ascot jobs done. He has looked more of a grinder than a gear change horse so far, and so it wouldn’t be a big shock if he served it up to Make Believe on the front: that’s how he won his maiden.
Hugo Palmer looks a trainer to follow and this is a huge ‘shop window’ opportunity for him with the globe-trotting Aktabantay. Only beaten a couple of lengths by Gleneagles in the Jean-Luc Lagardere in France last October, the Oasis Dream colt then went to America for the Breeders Cup. Alas, he had to miss the race with a sore foot, and hasn’t been seen on track since France.
That is a similar(ish) profile to the three non-Guineas winners of the St James’s Palace Stakes since 2004, but Aktabantay is pretty exposed and would need to have improved in the order of a stone over the winter on a literal interpretation of official ratings. That’s very unlikely.
Charlie Appleby’s Latharnach completes the sextet, and this unexposed winner of two from four career starts has more to offer. Beaten by Tupi on his first run of 2015, for a yard that has had them fit and firing all winter and spring, it is difficult to envisage him making anything like the needed stone and a half to trouble the best of these, even if it turned out tactical. He might win a nice prize later in the year, but it’s highly unlikely to be this one.
St James’s Palace Stakes Tips
With the shape of the race an interesting conundrum in spite of the small field, the result could hinge on tactics. Gleneagles is clearly the best horse in the race on form, followed by Make Believe. Belardo is expected to be unsuited by conditions, and the rest have have a mountain to climb on what they’ve shown so far.
In Consort’s favour with regards to scaling that ratings differential mountain he at least has buckets of scope, and is with the right trainer to bring him along. Windmills would not be habitually tilted at by Sir Michael so the fact he runs this lad here – Ryan Moore rides – suggests they like him. A lot.
Ultimately, the market looks to have this race nailed down pat: Gleneagles is more likely to win than not, hence his odds on status; Make Believe should give him most to think about; and Consort is the expected improver.
If Make Believe or Consort tried to make all, that might be interesting; but this is a race to enjoy, and I can’t find any value in it whatsoever. Unless…
If you don’t already have a Coral account, they’re offering new customers 7/1 on Gleneagles to win (max stake in place, terms and conditions apply, naturally enough). You can grab that offer here.
St James’s Palace Stakes Trainer Quotes
Andre Fabre, trainer of Make Believe, said:
“Make Believe has done well since making all the running in the Poule d’Essai des Poulains (French 2000 Guineas) though I have not done much work with him as he is quite a light horse. But I am very happy with his condition.”
“Fast ground would not be a real concern for him as Ascot always does a good job with the ground and it was pretty fast when he won the Poule d’Essai, but a drop of rain would be welcome.”
“He does not need to lead, he could come from behind too, we will just see how the race develops and I will leave that to his jockey, Olivier Peslier.”
“I see Make Believe as a real miler and I expect him to remain at this distance for the rest of the season.”
“I was very impressed with Gleneagles in the QIPCO 2000 Guineas: impressed with his confirmation, with his action and with his attitude. He looks something special and will be difficult to beat.”