Royal Ascot 2015: Day 4 Preview & Tips
Onto Friday, day four at Royal Ascot, and the Group 1 Coronation Stakes has a new Group 1 with which to share top billing. The inaugural Commonwealth Cup, a three-year-old sprint over six furlongs, drew widespread criticism when it was announced last year; but the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and this first running looks as tasty a dessert as we’ll guzzle all week.
Limato, Anthem Alexander, Tiggy Wiggy, and the US raider, Hootenanny, all do battle, and all look to be favoured by conditions. Throw in the likes of Muhaarar, Adaay, and Kool Kompany, and you have a race splitting at the seams with speed.
But, as ever, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s roll back the clock seventy minutes, to half-two and the…
2.30 Albany Stakes (Group 3, 6f)
Nineteen fleet fillies hurtling over three-quarters of a mile, and it will most likely be the ones that can keep a lid on their early exuberance which have enough in the tank for the uphill drag to the line.
This conundrum also has an international flavour: Wes wuns two, Laxfield Road and Back At The Ranch; and there are a pair of French runners adding further exotic aroma to the pot pourri.
Let’s start with what we know best, the British and Irish runners. The market is suggesting that Richard Hannon’s Illuminate, the unbeaten-in-one daughter of promising first season sire, Zoffany, is the pick of the domestic challenge.
She was comfortably best in a Class 3 conditions race at Sandown, where she beat two previous winners, including her better-fancied stablemate, Great Page, on her sole racecourse visit. That one and the third have both gone on to score since, the former in Listed company, so the form looks very good.
Ashadian is the next best of the Brits, but Kevin Ryan’s lass seemed forward enough for her maiden start so, while a three length win was impressive, she may not come on as much as some from there. Of the four horses to run subsequently, all have been beaten, one of them twice.
Of more interest is Tutu Nguru, whose Lingfield win was marked by a smart turn of foot. It’s a big change from polytrack around a bend to a straight turf run, but the way she missed the break before quickening away suggests she’ll improve a ton from her obvious natural ability.
And Jersey Breeze may be a touch under-estimated. Mick Channon loves this race. He won it in 2003, 2007, and 2011; and had other top four finishes in 2003, 2004, 2008 and last year, from just fourteen runners.
His filly this year is quick: having run a good third in a well above average Salisbury maiden, she then bolted up over five at Leicester. She ought to appreciate the extra furlong, and might be a spot of value at around 16/1.
Meanwhile, Back At The Ranch. Yes, there’s a filly called Back At The Ranch and, naturally, she’s trained by America’s Royal Ascot correspondent, Wes Ward. By Breeders’ Cup Mile winner, Artie Schiller, she’s bred to improve for turf, and she did well to reel in a stablemate last time out, needing all of the five furlongs to get in front there. It may be worth noting that, for a Ward runner, she wasn’t the quickest away but, as you might expect from her miler pedigree, she finished off very well.
Accompanying her in the line up from the same barn is Laxfield Road, winner of her sole start by over eleven lengths. Given that it was a four and a half furlong race, that’s an incredible winning margin. By the same sire as Hootenanny – Quality Road – Wes seems to be doing what he knows best, having replicated his Scat Daddy (No Nay Never) success with Acapulco on Wednesday.
She looks certain to lead, and the question is whether she can sustain what I think might be searing early fractions into that final furlong. On balance, I suspect she’ll set things up for a filly able to control herself a little better – perhaps her stablemate.
Then there’s the French. Eoghan O’Neill trained in Britain until 2009 when he headed for Normandy, from where he’s run a successful operation, especially with younger horses. This will be a genuine ‘shop window’ opportunity for him to attract British owners to the – let’s face it, far more compelling – ownership proposition in France.
His filly, Spanish Romance, is two from two and is very quick indeed. However, both her wins thus far were achieved on the soft side of good, and performance on this much faster surface has to be taken on trust. By Rip van Winkle out of a Mr Prospector mare, she ought to benefit from the extra furlong.
Elegant Supermodel is very hard to rate, her two wins (from two starts) having been achieved away from the Paris tracks, first at Chateaubriant and then Lyon. She’s probably not good enough, but she’s not definitely not good enough, so 33/1 is tempting for tiny money.
And one at a massive price on whom I wouldn’t be giving up just yet is Miss Moneypenny. She struggled with the track when third behind Buratino (impressive winner of the Coventry since) in the Woodcote Stakes there, and this stiffer more conventional six might play to her strengths. She should run a bit better than odds of 50/1 or so suggest.
A really tough race, with any number of possibles. At the prices, I’ll throw a sovereign or two each way at Jersey Breeze, and a penny or two each way at Miss Moneypenny.
Jersey Breeze e/w at 16/1 general
Miss Moneypenny e/w at 50/1 general
3.05 King Edward VII Stakes (Group 2, 1m 4f)
The Ascot Derby, run over the Derby trip of a mile and a half, this is a solid Group 2. The market has a strange feel to it, with a last day handicap winner rated 100 favoured over established Group performers rated as high as 113. But those figures may not be quite what they seem…
Firstly, the 100 horse is Stravagante, my horse of the season and one I flagged as worthy of following here. He absolutely hacked up that day, landing my biggest bet of the season so far 😀 and he’s clearly on an upward curve. He’s trained by Sir Michael Stoute, who has saddled the winner of this on six separate occasions going all the way back to Shareef Dancer in 1983.
Stravagante had Taper Tantrum five lengths behind there, and that one attempted to boost the form on Thursday afternoon but seemed to fail to stay (one to keep onside going forwards). Clearly, this is a stiffer test than handicap company, but it doesn’t look the strongest renewal in recent times.
My one reservation, in spite of the optical impression he created last time, is whether he’ll stay twelve furlongs. While I’m loathe to desert him, I do think there is better value in the race than 5/2 on this fine fellow.
The 113 horse who ostensibly sets the bar is Ol’ Man River, a horse that has looked more like an old man writhing this season so far. Having backed – and tipped – him in the 2000 Guineas when he basically didn’t want to race from the word go, he went on my ‘naughty’ list. He again ran terribly in the Dante finishing far back, and he comes here with a lot to prove.
That he is only 3/1, and that Ryan Moore opts for him over stablemate Father Christmas, and that the O’Brien squad have been running so well, gives his fans cause for optimism. And if he ran to his juvenile form, Stravagante or another would need to step markedly forward to beat him.
But there’s been no track evidence at all thus far that he’s in love with the game this year. I have to let him beat me.
Charlie Appleby’s Festive Fare looks a more credible rival. Winner of his first two, he was fourth to Golden Horn, Peacock and Disegno in the Feilden Stakes on his sole 2015 start. We know that form to be good since the winner won the Dante and the Derby subsequently. And the second and third ran second and fourth in the Tercentenary Stakes.
The trip is a bit of an unknown, however, for a son of Teofilo out of a Dubawi mare, and might just be stretching his stamina a tad.
David Simcock runs Balios, who jumped straight from a maiden win last backend to a Listed heat at Newmarket in early May. He finished a good second there, with the winner – Best Of Times – since running second to subsequent Derby third, Storm The Stars, in the Cocked Hat Stakes at Goodwood. Balios should relish the longer trip and, as one so lightly raced, has more scope than many in the field. He could go close.
Johnny G runs Mr Singh, a horse with a not dissimilar profile to last year’s winner, Eagle Top, for the same yard. Like that one, he comes here off an impressive maiden win and a single disappointing effort thereafter. Like Eagle Top, he remains capable of a lot better.
In fairness, the Cocked Hat didn’t work out for him at all. Favouring runners close to the lead, Mr Singh had plenty to do in the last quarter mile. He proceeded to lug across the camber when asked for an effort, and Frankie Dettori was pretty easy on him after that. As a result, Dettori will be aboard a match fit and not over-exerted runner, and I think he has a better chance than 12/1.
The other pair, Magic Dancer and Father Christmas, look to have too much to find, though Magic Dancer may get the run of the race in front.
Stravagante would be a popular winner, and I’ll probably be kicking myself for passing him up, but his price is on the short side, given the stamina question and today’s better class of race.
Against him, I think Johnny G’s Mr Singh will show he is better than that Cocked Hat run, and 12/1 is too big in my book.
Mr Singh at 12/1 PP Betfair Sports
3.40 Commonwealth Cup (Group 1, 6f)
A tremendous addition to the Royal Ascot meeting, this inaugural Commonwealth Cup sprint sets a very high bar for the coming years. There is speed and quality across the field, and finding a winner may not be easy.
The relationship between pace and draw will be an interesting sub-plot here, and I imagine they might gravitate towards the stands’ side. Hootenanny is drawn 14 of 18, with Tiggy Wiggy in 17; meanwhile, Kool Kompany, Limato and Jungle Cat are drawn 10, 12 and 13 respectively. Home Of The Brave is very quick early too, and that one is drawn in 2.
The speed of the speed may be Hootenanny, fast enough to win the Windsor Castle last year. That Listed race win proved a springboard for better things, as Wes Ward’s wonder was good enough for a close second in the Group 1 Prix Morny before winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, Grade 1, over a mile. That win was on firm ground, so he has no problems with the likely rattling turf.
I certainly didn’t expect him to have the stamina for a mile, but he was a tremendously gutsy winner at Santa Anita, and he’s won his prep race easily on his only start since.
Tiggy Wiggy has been trained to get a mile this year so far, but she’s a raw speedball and if they’ve not blunted her speed she’s a player. That is a fairly big ‘if’, however. She won’t mind the ground – indeed, she’s already a Group 1 winner over six on good to firm – and there should again be little between her and Anthem Alexander.
Anthem’s trainer, Eddie Lynam, was the sprint king last season but, so far in 2015, there have been a few chinks in the armour: the Power’s, Gathering and Sole, running below market expectations, both as favourite.
Of course, that’s hardly a death knell for this fleet lassie’s chances, but there is also still a small question about whether she truly gets six furlongs in G1 company. Her wins thus far were over five, excepting a Group 3 spin first time up this season. That suggests that she’s matured over the winter, and that she is now ready to see out six in top class races. She’ll need to be as there will be no hiding places here.
Limato is a polarizing horse. Most love him, a few believe he’s over-rated. Certainly, he’s done more on the clock than in the grade to date, having not won above Group 3 level. True, he was a close second last time on softer than ideal ground and when the trainer was out of form, so if anything that effort can be marked up.
Trainer Henry Candy is in much better form now, and I think he’ll run a very big race, without necessarily quite winning. I am in the Limato fan club.
The horse to halt Limato’s five race unbeaten sequence was Adaay, who re-opposes. He’d been beaten by Candy’s man twice before and, on faster lawns, I expect him to be beaten by him again. I simply cannot believe that he’s improved the five lengths or so that last race suggested.
The value against the top of the market – where I think the bookies have a pretty tight grasp of things – may be with Charlie Hills’ Muhaarar. The trainer has stated that this is the horse he’s most looking forward to running this week, and he’s already won the Group 3 Jersey Stakes!
Muhaarar is dropping back in trip, having won the Greenham Stakes before a midfield run in the French 2000 Guineas. He’s quick, as Dr May’s Gold speed figures attest, and things clearly didn’t pan out for him last time.
This six may ride more like seven given the number of fast horses in the field, and that makes the 14/1 in a place about his chance too big. He ought to be able to track the pace and, if getting a split, they could be dropping away from him left and right in the last 100 yards.
There is plenty of international flavour from the likes of second American Cyclogenisis and the French pair, El Valle and Goken, but they’ll have to be seriously good to get involved in a field that is as deep as it is wide.
This is a sensational race, with half a dozen credible contenders. As such, a value play rather than the most likely winner necessarily, is Muhaarar. He has done nothing wrong and this might well be his trip. Hootenanny and Anthem Alexander are feared most of many that are feared.
Muhaarar e/w at 14/1 PP 1/4 1-2-3-4
4.20 Coronation Stakes (Group 1, 1m)
A mile Group 1 for three-year-old fillies, and some very high class fillies have taken it in recent years, often playing up their 1000 Guineas successes.
The various Guineas form is brought to the table by the second placed ladies from Newmarket and the Curragh, Lucida and Found respectively; and the 1-2 from France, Ervedya and Irish Rookie.
Deeper still and we find class risers from strong stables, and another US raider, Miss Temple City, trained by English turf track specialist, Graham Motion. It is a fascinating race.
Found is favoured, and given both her own form and that of her stable, it is no surprise. She was ante post favourite for both the 1000 Guineas and the Oaks, but missed the bus for both. As it happened, she has run twice this term, and been beaten into second twice. It may be foolish to read too much into that, however, as she surely needed the outing first time, and there was no shame whatsoever in going down to team tactics and a smart filly in the Irish 1000 Guineas.
Indeed that smart filly was Pleascach, second in the Ribblesdale on Thursday. On her two year old form, she wins. Whether she’s a bet at 6/4 on her form this year is another question entirely.
Lucida found only Legatissimo too good in the Newmarket 1000 Guineas, and she was clear of the rest, led by Commonwealth Cup hope, Tiggy Wiggy. The winner that day was very narrowly denied in the Oaks next time, and the form is extremely solid.
Jim Bolger’s filly’s juvenile form was also top drawer, and I quite like her at the prices.
The French 1000 Guineas was run in a faster time than the French 2000 Guineas, which might be a hint to the level of form that Ervedya and Irish Rookie, the first two home there, bring here.
Ervedya was three-quarters of a length too good for Irish Rookie that day, and she was beaten easily by Found on Arc weekend last autumn. So, on collateral lines, Found is the pick of the three. But I’d not be so keen on such a means of evaluation. More concerning from my perspective would be the fast ground for a filly whose best form has been on a mite softer. She could blossom for it, but most French runners tend not to.
Irish Rookie has slipped under the radar somewhat, despite being trained in Newmarket. She won a Listed race on the second of two unbeaten juvenile starts, and was an eight length sixth in the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket before that gallant silver in France. The reservation I’d have with her is that her poorest performance was on good to firm ground and, even if she did act on the surface, she’s got to find more than seven lengths with Lucida on that effort.
Arabian Queen – impressive at Epsom after setting her own fractions but dropping back in trip here – and Sperry are both interesting improvers, but look a notch below the Classic division at this stage.
It looks like the Newmarket form is the strongest and, therefore, that Lucida has the best chance. At the prices, 7/2 in a place, I think she’s playable too.
Lucida 7/2 William Hill
5.00 Duke Of Edinburgh Stakes (Class 2 Handicap, 1m 4f)
Yet another impossible handicap, nineteen runners this time, but at least there is a more established level of form in the book, it being for four-year-olds and up. As with all the Royal Ascot handicaps, there are stacks with chances and these are just a few…
Astronereus has a fine record at the track – 2nd and 4th in two competitive handicaps over this trip – and he has good form is on very fast ground. He looked to have improved when winning a twelve furlong handicap at Newmarket on Guineas day, and that race is working out really well. Trap 1 means he should be where he wants to, just off the speed, and he looks fairly priced at 10/1.
Another improver, more rapidly this time, is Roger Varian’s Igider. Varian has had a relatively quiet week so far, but this boy won with his head in his chest two weeks ago over a fast track mile and a half, and he might go in again. I’ve taken the 8/1 Paddy, who are paying five places.
Front runner Watersmeet is a really likeable type, typical of Mark Johnston. He’ll probably find one or two too good, but Space Age employed similar trail blazing tactics to win the three-year-old version of this handicap on Thursday, so 14/1 in a place is reasonable if unspectacular about a horse that has won four out of five this season so far.
Loads more with chances, but I’m happy to split two points between the above three horses and hope for the best.
5.35 Queen’s Vase (Listed, 2m)
Four trainers have won all of the Queen’s Vases this century (!), and all of Mark Johnston, Aidan O’Brien, Saeed bin Suroor and Sir Michael Stoute are again represented.
Johnston has won the race seven times since 2001, and is slated to run both Yorkidding and Vive Ma Fille. However, Yorkidding ran in the last race on Thursday so would be a doubtful runner (though with ‘Always Trying’ you never know). Vive Ma Fille, then, 33/1 in a place, is interesting given the countless other options the trainer would have had.
She also happens to have the top speed rating in the race, and there’s a good chance the canny Joe Fanning will bid to control fractions on the front. She might run well for a long way, though outsiders have a poor record in the Vase, and she’s far from a gimme to have the requisite stamina. Still, the price screams ‘tiny tickle’.
More logical perhaps is Aidan O’Brien’s pair, Aloft and Bantry Bay. Aloft is the favourite, and he is the clear form choice, having run second to Elm Park in the Group 1 Racing Post Trophy when last seen back in late October. Prior to that he beat Derby third, Storm The Stars, in a Newmarket maiden and, if he’s fit and he stays, he will win. The way Ryan Moore is riding this week, that has to be a very big plus to his chance.
Bantry Bay has more recent form (though at a much lower level), is progressive, and might be Joseph O’Brien’s designated winner for the week!
Sir Michael Stoute saddles clear maiden winner, Yarrow, and this is another fellow who can be expected to get competitive. By Sea The Stars out of a Generous mare, he’s pretty stoutly bred and, with four wins in the race to Stoutey’s name, Yarrow has to be respected. Sadly, the 20/1 has all gone, and the best available now is 10’s.
Future Empire represents bin Suroor. He’s more exposed than the other runners, albeit with better established form than most; and maybe he’s been wanting this sort of trip. His best form has been on top of the ground, so his heavy defeat on bottomless quag at Chester is overlooked. Again, for a trainer with a fine record in the race and plenty of other options from which to choose, the fact Future Empire has made the cut is a clue to his chance. 14/1 is a fair each way wager to see if he’ll stay.
Fabricate, who beat Yarrow comfortably two starts back, and Antiquarium are others to consider in a head scratcher of a heat.
The form book says Aloft is easily the most likely winner if he stays. But I have a suspicion that the Ballydoyle team may be attempting to give Joseph O’Brien a Royal Ascot winner with Bantry Bay. Yarrow would have been the pick but it’s hard to take 10’s when you’ve missed 20’s, especially when he has to reverse form with Fabricate in any case.
Ignoring the tendency for this race to go to the top of the market, I’ll take a chance with a couple each way: Bantry Bay and, more speculatively, Vive Ma Fille.
Bantry Bay e/w at 7/1 Skybet / Boylesports
Vive Ma Fille e/w at 33/1 Ladbrokes
p.s. I’m heading to the track on Friday with Mrs Matt, so there will be no Saturday preview, I’m afraid. Best of luck with your bets, and I’m told the Aussie sprinter is VERY good. Take that as the hollow hearsay it’s intended!!! 😉
p.p.s. How has your week been? I had a solid double on Solow/Gleneagles on Tuesday; nothing but places on Wednesday; and the first two in the Britannia (18/1 and 25/1 taken) on Thursday… as well as a growing pile of losers of course. Salvation for that placed consistency has come in a hat-trick of placepot returns. Hopefully your week has been enjoyable and profitable in equal measure, too.
p.p.p.s. For more information on Ascot Racecourse stats and top jockeys, see my Ascot Racecourse page here