Royal Ascot Day 1 Preview & Tips

Awtaad bids for Royal Ascot glory in St James's Palace Stakes

Awtaad bids for Royal Ascot glory in St James’s Palace Stakes

Royal Ascot Day 1 Preview & Tips

Probably the greatest of all flat racing fixtures, certainly the most prestigious, is Royal Ascot. With thirty races across five days it is about stamina and choosing one’s wagering battles as much as anything; so, while at least touching on every race in my previews, I’ll spend more time looking at some contests than others.

We start on Tuesday with a trio of Group 1’s intersected by the Group 2 Coventry Stakes and, materially, we are looking at ground officially good to soft, with soft places on the round course. Based on my location – Hackney, 36 miles east of Ascot – I’d be very surprised if the track is not soft all over, and my day one deliberations will reflect that ‘unofficial’ contention.

2.30 Queen Anne Stakes (Group 1, 1m, 4yo+)

A field of fourteen is set to line up for the opener, a mile Group 1 over the straight track. Contenders from Japan, France, and America join the usual British and Irish challenge for a truly international renewal.

Ante post favourite has been Tepin, the US-trained queen of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile. Hers was a clear-cut success there, and on rain-softened ground, though it would not have been as wet as it is likely to be when the stalls open for the Queen Anne.

She is a classy mare, having won her last six, including three Grade 1’s; and the first of that sextet was in the Grade 1 First Lady Stakes, run on soft ground. She prevailed by seven lengths, suggesting she handles give just fine, though there is also a suspicion that many/most of her rivals that day did not cope with the untypical squelch in the Stateside lawn.

Of more concern is Tepin’s lack of familiarity with a straight mile and, perhaps most worrying of all, the fact she’ll be racing without raceday medication for the first time in what will be her twentieth start. As well as Lasix, she normally sports a nasal strip to get more air into her nostrils, but that too is embargoed equipment here in Blighty, so she runs clean for the very first time.

Although I think she’ll handle the turf fine, I’m not at all sure about the straight mile and the lack of the ‘juice’ is a big negative for me: she may prove she doesn’t need it, but the fact she’s never raced under these conditions, and has travelled halfway around the globe to be so inconvenienced means I’m looking elsewhere for a bet.

France has a very strong hand: both Ervedya and Esoterique are high class mares proven in the conditions. Ervedya won the Coronation Stakes at this meeting last year, and has three career Group 1’s to her name in a form string that comprises seven wins, three seconds and a third from eleven starts.

Her G1 wins have come on good to firm good to soft and very soft, so she’ll be at home (away from home) however the surface plays. She has six pounds to find with Tepin on offical ratings, but that may be of little consequence with the American mare – of whom I’m a big fan, by the way – not expected to run to her best, by this scribe at least.

Esoterique runs for the peerless Andre Fabre, and she too is a triple Group 1 scorer on a wide range of going. She never wins by far, which has perhaps stifled her official figure a touch, but she’s still the joint-second top rated in the field, on 119. She gets the same three pound sex allowance as Tepin and Ervedya, and will be spot on for this after a pipe opener nine days ago when second in a Deauville Group 3. 8/1 looks a very solid each way option.

Best of the boys, and best of the British, might be Belardo. An apparently mercurial chap, surely he simply must have cut in the ground. His last four wins, including in the Lockinge where the Racing Post suggests the turf was good, were on good to soft or wetter.

Looking only at his form over a mile on softer than good reveals a more consistent animal, and one that is capable of being involved at this rarefied level. 5/1 or so is short enough but it will be a surprise to few form students if Belardo backs up his Lockinge win, in spite of the poor record of those Newbury winners in the Queen Anne.

Ger Lyons runs the lightly raced Endless Drama, a four year old son of Lope De Vega. In just five races so far, Endless Drama has won a maiden on debut, and then hit the frame without winning in two Listed races and two Group 1’s. The most recent was when a length and a quarter behind Belardo in the Lockinge so, with further progression likely, he may again get close to that one.

Whether such a performance will be sufficient to make the frame I’m not sure, and at 7/1 he’s one I have to let beat me, even allowing for his potential.

Kodi Bear has still to show he belongs at the very top level, but both of the David O’Meara pair, Amazing Maria and Mondialiste, have form in the book entitling them to consideration.

Amazing Maria won both the Falmouth and the Prix Rothschild (beating Ervedya) last summer, both races a mile in distance. But they were on top of the ground, and this resurgent mare has form on softer than good of 037. On that basis, she’s passed over but will be worth keeping an eye when the rain stops later in the season.

Second to Tepin in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, Mondialiste came from a mile back that day – as he had done in his final prep, the Woodbine Mile. There is likely to be a searching tempo up front off which, if Pat Smullen can get sufficient cover, this late late runner could provide backers with a really thrilling run.

The six-year-old son of Galileo has good form on soft ground, and rates the pick of the each way prices, at around 20/1.

Cougar Mountain ran a blinder in this race last year, form he’s found very hard to repeat, and my concern is that he wouldn’t want rain-softened turf. Ryan Moore rides which is a fillip to what remains of his chance.

An solid if unspectacular Queen Anne Stakes by historical standards, but one with plenty of international interest nevertheless. Tepin’s connections have been sporting in coming here but trainer Mark Casse is likely to be proved correct in his reservations about competing with so many obstacles in her path.

Preference then is for the French pair of Ervedya and Esoterique, with Mondialiste an interesting each way alternative, in a race where an all female 1-2-3 is a fair prospect.

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3.05 Coventry Stakes (Group 2, 6f, 2yo)

Nineteen pacy juveniles are declared for the best two-year-old heat of the season so far, the Coventry Stakes. All are open to improvement after such fledgling careers thus far, and many are completely untried on soft turf. As such, betting cautiously – if at all – is a prudent modus operandi.

Caravaggio is the Coolmore representative and is favoured at barely north of 2/1. Even allowing for an impressive late rattle when winning the Listed Marble Hill Stakes on yielding to soft last time, that seems skinny. However, if you are prepared to accept the shortish price, you will have a horse with more in the book than his rivals and with some of that form achieved on sodden turf.

Moreover, the way he finished at the Curragh, having been outpaced, was impressive, and it was achieved in a very quick time.

The next day, on the same track but over six furlongs, a fellow called Van Der Decken made his debut on ground that had changed overnight to soft. He bolted up for owner/trainer, Paddy Twomey, who subsequently cashed in to the Godolphin coin.

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A handy racer drawn in six, close to plenty of speed, he’s on the other side from Caravaggio, who has trap 13. And Van Der Decken is 25/1 which is a price I’m happier chucking sixpence at than 9/4 in a race like this, though he may simply not be quick enough.

Others to consider include Psychadelic Funk, Mehmas and Yalta, the first and last of which are unbeaten. It is hard to know what to make of Yalta: he’s been impressive in winning two very small field races on good ground, but this is a completely different test. Breeding offers little in the way of hope so, even allowing for his trainer, Mark Johnston, winning the race last year, I’d be happy to take him on at the price.

Psychadelic Funk is not just a great name, he’s also a pretty smart horse. His six length demolition job in a novice event on yielding to soft last time was a second win from two starts, and trainer Ger Lyons is an emergent force in the juvenile training ranks. The Choisir colt will be one of a number likely to contest the early speed, which could soften him up to the advances of a more patiently ridden rival.

Mehmas did not have the best of the draw last time at Sandown, where Global Applause leveled the score between the pair. His win over six furlongs at Newbury the time before was impressive and clear cut, with the form working out well. He should again run well with the benefit of greater experience than his main market contemporaries.

Silvertoni runs for Wesley Ward, a fast dirt filly against the turf colts. Ostensibly then she has a mountain to climb. But Wes knows what he’s doing here and surely wouldn’t overface her with so many other juvie heats, including for her own gender. That is the cue to take a second look. Having watched her Kentucky Juvenile Stakes win, where she led, was challenged and fought back gamely, she looks as though she’ll stay and she has plenty of knee action too.

That could allow her to cope with the soft ground making her an interesting runner at a price of around 20/1.

It’s a wide open race with a credible favourite and most likely winner in CARAVAGGIO. But 9/4 offers little meat on the bone, making Mehmas a touch more appealing at 7/1. Of the hooj prices, Van Der Decken could outrun quotes of 25/1, and Silvertoni may also get involved if handling the very different test in a race where we’ll all be a lot wiser after the event.

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3.40 King’s Stand Stakes (Group 1, 5f, 3yo+)

A fascinating renewal of the King’s Stand with a very solid favourite in Mecca’s Angel. Michael Dods’ mare has form on the soft side of good of 4221151112. That string includes a win in the Group 1 Nunthorpe Stakes on her only try at the very top level. She should come on for her seasonal bow – a close second to the re-opposing Profitable – and is the one the have to beat. She’s a 2/1 chance with the bookies.

The wet turf has seen a couple of high profile defections in Acapulco and Sole Power which has made Profitable a clear second market choice at a top-priced 5/1. He’s won both his starts this term – the 21 runner Palace House Stakes and the Group 2 Temple Stakes – improving ten pounds in the official ratings as a result. Both those wins were on good to soft but his form on genuine soft ground has been less convincing and that’s the reason I can’t back him.

Pearl Secret looks sure to act on the deep ground. He was fourth in the Group 1 Prix de ‘Abbaye at last year’s Arc meeting and occupied the same position in the Temple Stakes last time, two and a half lengths behind the leading pair. With the rain in his favour – he’s been in the frame in all four runs on soft or heavy ground, form of 1112 – David Barron’s seven-year-old will be finishing best of all and looks attractively priced at 16/1.

Waady, too, has form on soft, albeit in winning a Class 4 handicap. He’s taken bronze on both starts this term, the most recent of which was when a head in front of Pearl Secret in the Temple. He’s drawn highest of all after the defection of Sole Power, but has Mongolian Saturday inside him, that one often racing close to the pace.

The American raider is an interesting contender. He’s a very good – and ultra-consistent – sprinter, as I alluded to in this post. There, I wrote,

He’s had 33 lifetime starts, but it is his form since the beginning of last year that takes the eye. Victory in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, over five and a half furlongs on a yielding track, capped a sequence of 15 consecutive top four finishes.

Fourteen of those were in the first three, and the last seven were all in the first two. He’s very fast and ultra-consistent.

Since the Breeders’ Cup, Mongolian Saturday has had two spins in massive Grade 1’s in the far east, both over six furlongs. Whilst he ran with credit, he missed the board both times. But consider this: in a career that has taken in eleven races at three-quarters of a mile, he’s won just once – on lifetime debut back in May 2013.

Compare that with a five and a half furlong record of 12121, and a five furlong record of 7141322.

The straight five at Ascot rides like five and a half with its uphill finish and this lad will act on any going.

Two more positives for a horse I feel may be significantly over-priced at 20/1 are these:

  1. When he won the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, he was drawn in the car park slot (14 of 14). For a horse who likes to race close to the speed, he did very well to overcome that.
  2. He races clean. No Lasix for this lad, which means there should not be the diminution in his ability that some US runners incur when off the ‘elixir’.

There will be plenty of poorer value 20/1 chances next week than this fellow

I tipped him at the Breeders’ Cup, I backed him at the Breeders’ Cup, I was wowed by his down-to-earth approachable sporting connections at the Breeders’ Cup, and I hope he runs a MASSIVE race here.

Last year’s winner, Goldream, would prefer it faster, as would the likes of Muthmir, Take Cover and Move In Time. Take Cover is an important horse in the context of the race because, drawn 1, he is almost certain to lead that side of the race and is highly likely to be the horse Mecca’s Angel’s jockey, Paul Mulrennan, looks to track.

Without a huge amount of pace elsewhere in this field, they could split into groups or gravitate towards the lower numbers. Either of those scenarios would compromise the chance of Mongolian Saturday amongst others.

Goken is a pace angle in the middle of the draw, and he could offer a tow to Pearl Secret, the latter being the most attractive each way alternative to the favourite in a race that is probably a bit more shallow than it first appears.

MECCA’S ANGEL has a great chance in this and would be attractive if offered at 5/2 or bigger in the morning. But for me the bet is Pearl Secret each way.

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4.20 St James’s Palace Stakes (Group 1, 1m, 3yo)

A high class renewal of this Group 1, with the winners of the French, English and Irish 2000 Guineas – The Gurkha, Galileo Gold and Awtaad respectively – drawing swords.

Hugo Palmer’s Galileo Gold was impressive at Newmarket and a short price to double up on the Curragh. But the prevailing soft ground that day was right up Awtaad‘s street and he proved an unequivocal two and a half lengths superior. Veteran trainer Kevin Prendergast’s three-year-old son of Cape Cross is unbeaten in his last four starts, and has upgraded his rating to 120 from an opening mark of 95.

As with a number of his opponents, it is unlikely he’s reached the zenith of his ability, but what we can say is that he’ll be ideally suited by conditions.

Another for whom that comment applies is The Ghurka, who has won his last two starts by a combined fourteen and a half lengths. Most recently he was seen running away with the French 2000 Guineas, by five and a half lengths. That form has been franked in the French Derby, and Ryan Moore’s mount looks the one to beat with proven aptitude for the underhoof conditions.

There is little between the Irish and French Guineas rapiers in the betting, the English blade expected to be blunted somewhat by the recent weather.

But this may be more than a two – or three – Guineas horse race. Emotionless was comfortably the highest rated of the field as a juvenile, his 2016 campaign delayed by injury. He belatedly enters the fray now and, while fitness has to be taken on trust, his smashing win in the Champagne Stakes puts him within hailing distance. His final run of three as a juvie was when last in the Dewhurst, an effort that was too bad to be true – he’s not been seen since.

It might be that he steps forward from this and he could be more of a danger in something like the Sussex Stakes at Glorious Goodwood, and that’s largely how I see it from a betting perspective.

Clive Cox’s Zonderland could have been interesting on better ground but has it to prove on softer; and there’s no reason why First Selection, so comprehensively outpointed by The Ghurka in France, should reverse last time out form.

That said, if the French Guineas form proves to be significantly better than the domestic versions, Simon Crisford’s runner could reward each way support at 33/1.

But, in truth, this looks a coin toss between The Gurkha and Awtaad, unless Emotionless is bang ready first time up. You pays yer money, you takes yer choice. No bet for me.

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5.00 Ascot Stakes (Handicap, 2m 4f, 4yo+)

The handicaps at Royal Ascot are preposterously competitive, and I’m afraid you’ll largely be on your own this week. Or, put another way, you shouldn’t expect too much support from these pages!

National Hunt trainers have typically had the jump (geddit?) on their flat counterparts in this, Irish NH trainers especially so, and the winter mob are typically well represented.

Irish trainers have won this six times from 46 starters since 1997 and perhaps their quintet of entries is as good a place as any on which to focus.

Historically, you wanted a younger less exposed horse, too, but with two horses aged seven and one aged eight winning in the last six years, that may no longer be the case (if indeed it ever was – winners being a pretty weak statistical measure unless across a decent sample).

Silver Concorde would have had a decent chance on slightly better ground, but the rain which will have made parts of the round course close to heavy I’m guessing, might just have done for him. Pique Sous has run his best flat races on top of the ground, but has plenty of soft ground form over hurdles, and this one is trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Ryan Moore. That wouldn’t be a combination to dismiss lightly!

In fact, they’ve won four times from eleven starts when teaming up, for a profit of +11.5 points at SP, and that’s good enough for me.

At the other end of what is a congested set of weights, Gordon Elliott and Willie again have Irish entries in the form of Sempre Medici and Eshtiaal. The former was good enough to run in the Champion Hurdle a few months ago, for which he was no bigger than 16/1, and he might be chucked in here off 91 if converting that timber-topping form to the level.

Soft ground is no problem to him, and he was third off a two pound higher mark in a Premier Handicap at the Curragh this time last year. That was over fully a mile shorter, tactical toe which should allow him to get a position in this very big field.

Eshtiaal doesn’t look good enough, and doesn’t look like he wants soft ground. He’s overlooked even his trainer should never be under-estimated.

Jarlath Fahey runs Jennies Jewel, a mare good enough to run second to Vroum Vroum Mag over three miles here at Ascot. She got closer to that rival than did Sempre Medici in the Champion Hurdle at Punchestown, a literal interpretation of the form which might be a liberty too far.

Still, she won’t mind the mud and she’s drawn two, so she may try to lead all the way.

Of the home team, No Heretic and Hassle make most appeal; and the ex-John Ferguson hurdlers running for Charlie Appleby will be interesting to watch, especially former Arc fourth, Penglai Pavilion, for whom I have closet affection.

I might have a very small interest on Sempre Medici and Hassle. Then again, I might not…

5.35 Windsor Castle Stakes (Listed, 5f, 2yo)

If the fifth race is tricky, the last is borderline impossible. 24 runners here hurtling across – and down – the track.

Mister Trader is top on Peter May’s excellent speed figures – a feature of Geegeez Gold (try them/it for a pound this week) – have Mister Trader clear top-rated on the back of his fine second to Caravaggio in the Marble Hill. Should the Ballydoyle colt run well in the Coventry, then Darren Bunyan’s runner will shorten from its current generous-looking 8/1.

His problem, however, is that he’s all speed and, drawn in four, he surrounded by other speedsters. It looks very likely that low will have the edge in the early pace, and something that can rate off what I imagine will be too fast fractions ought to have a strong chance of picking up the pieces.

Hugo Palmer’s Copper Knight could be the one. With more experience than most in this field he will have less scope to progress. But he has form on soft and his last run – when tail end Charlie in the National Stakes at Sandown – was too bad to be true.

Tomily is another I like. He too has the benefit of experience, and he too is drawn low. He has a win on soft ground to his name as well. The reservation is getting embroiled in the anticipated speed duel and compromising his chance as a result. But he’s won his last two starts by six lengths apiece, so who is to say he can’t go even faster? 12/1 is fair each way value all things considered.

Wes Ward wuns Big City Dreamin, a winner of his only start, over four and a half furlongs on dirt. That’s nothing like what he’ll face here, and you wonder whether the entry is more about getting a good price at the pre-Ascot sale in which he’s entered than anything else. Not for me.

More interesting of the US raiders is Eion Harty’s Drafted, also a winner of one over the same course and distance as Big City Dreamin. Owed by Godolphin, Harty has always been given the right to bring one over if he thought it was up to the job. Notably, this is the first time he’s exercised it.

Stall one means I think he’s on the right side of things, and though he’s likely to be a fast starter,  was able to sit off the lead and scoot clear on debut. The ground is another question mark, though I can find very little info on his sire, Field Commission, to know whether he’s fathered many soft ground turf runners.

Any number of possibles in a crazy affair. I’ll take a chance with Tomily for very small money.

After all, there are another four days to go!


p.s. what’s your best bet for Tuesday? Leave a comment and share your views.

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