Two down, three to go, and humpback day at Royal Ascot, better known as Ladies’ Day, features the main event of the entire week, the Gold Cup. That stayers’ Group 1 is ably supported by five other top tier clashes, each of which will have a winner worth finding. So let’s try…
If you missed them, here are Andy’s Royal Ascot Day 3 Trends.
We kick off in the…
2.30 Norfolk Stakes (Group 2, 5f, 2yo)
Another impossible juvenile race kicks things off on Thursday, the Norfolk being a five furlong charge. The quickest of the British and Irish seems to be Sunday Sovereign at this stage. Paddy Twomey’s relatively experienced son of Equiano has won the most recent two of three starts, by three lengths from Coventry winner, Arizona, and then by seven lengths in a weaker affair. He’s quick, is drawn in amongst horses and will give his new owners as good a chance of a Royal Ascot winner as they’ll have all week. He’s won in a big field and deserves to be favourite.
But there are plenty in the field capable of making big strides forward, potentially beyond what Sunday Sovereign has achieved. Matthieu Palussiere won the Albany in 2017 and watched two of his five juveniles run very well last year. He runs Real Appeal which looks his best chance of the week, the Listed winner having changed hands for £265,000 on Monday. All four of his races have been decided by a head or less, three of them in his favour.
Ventura Rebel was the shock winner of the Ascot 2yo Trial, seeing off the 4/11 favourite, Lady Pauline, a Wesley Ward aspirant who misses the gig through injury. Outpaced early, when he found stride he was far too strong and won going away. He may get similarly outpaced here so, with less likelihood of this calibre of field capitulating, it looks a tough ask for the Pastoral Pursuits colt.
The Wes wepwesentative is Maven, half length winner of a maiden special weight at Aqueduct. The standard of such contests at the New York track would be generally higher than at Keeneland where most of the Ward juvies prep, so the shorter winning margin should not be considered a negative necessarily. Still, as with all the transatlantic raiders, it is a) difficult to peg the form and b) difficult for a young horse to handle the travel and the preliminaries and the very different race setup.
There are some whispers about the chance of Air Force Jet, a narrow winner at Navan last time. Collateral form through Lorelei Rock gives him plenty to find with Sunday Sovereign, but word is he’s moved forward a lot in the past fortnight.
The once raced maiden A’Ali could run a decent race. He just missed out in a good finish at Ripon on debut but had pulled nine lengths clear of the third. He looks sure to improve for that and might be a touch of value.
Verdict: It’s a very difficult race and one in which I’ll be trying to get through the multi-leg wagers only. I think SUNDAY SOVEREIGN looks a legitimate favourite, I can’t peg the value of the American or French raiders, and I think A’Ali might be worthy of very small each way support.
3.05 Hampton Court Stakes (Group 3, 1m 2f, 3yo)
A ten furlong three-year-old Group 3. They bet 11/2 the field which sheds light on its competitiveness and, really, it’s not a race in which I have a strong view. The market does tend to settle on the right horses with 13 of the last 16 (and all of the last seven) winners returning 8/1 or shorter.
I wouldn’t generally be one for soundbites but I thought it was interesting that Oisin Murphy, who has a hundred rides this week, pegged Fox Chairman as his best bet on Racing TV, especially as he’s not riding it! Unraced as a two-year-old, the Chairman won a Newbury maiden first time out (second and fourth won since) before running third to Circus Maximus in the Dee Stakes on deteriorating ground at Chester. He is supposedly training well and should be able to improve again on just his third lifetime start. That Circus won the St James’s Palace Stakes on Tuesday is hardly a negative.
He is vying for favouritism with Cape Of Good Hope, one of two Aidan O’Brien entries. From a favoured cross – Galileo out of a Danehill mare – this lad won the Epsom Derby Trial in April but didn’t make the line up for the main event. He did however run a decent fourth in the French Derby, and that level of form gives him a strong chance dropping to Group 3.
Roseman is another lightly raced entry and his form got a boost after his last day vanquisher, King Of Comedy, ran a neck second in the St James’s Palace Stakes. He’d previously won a Nottingham novice by five lengths, but his run style – on or close to the lead – can leave him susceptible to a classy horse with a kick. Stall 13 probably doesn’t assist his cause either.
The Chester Vase form is brought to the fore once more this week, this time in the shape of King Ottokar. A winner twice on soft ground he was no match for Sir Dragonet – who was? – at Chester; but that race is working out quite well and, if the rain came in any substantial amount, it would enhance his chance.
A place behind Roseman in the Heron Stakes last time was Sangarius, Sir Michael Stoute’s Kingman colt not given a hard time when his chance was gone. He was a little awkward on the track there, too, though he’d run fine on quick ground previously. Sir Michael won this in 2009 and 2014 so the symmetrists will consider he’s due another one!
Headman, another Kingman colt in the ownership of Prince Khalid Abdullah, took the competitive London Gold Cup handicap on his prior start. That race normally flags Pattern performers and it was there where Headman’s trainer, Roger Charlton, saddled Time Test to win before doubling up in this in 2015. We have been duly warned.
Plenty of others with some sort of claim.
Verdict: I have backed Fox Chairman on the basis of public jockey hearsay. Not big or clever and the price has truncated somewhat, though he’s clearly in good form. But the each way play might be 9/1 Headman. Roger Charlton has a blueprint from Time Test and he may be able to execute the same play in the same colours.
3.40 Ribblesdale Stakes (Group 2, 1m4f, 3yo fillies)
The Ascot Oaks, after a fashion, a mile and a half Group 2 for fillies.
Aidan O’Brien has won this three times in the last five years and saddles the fancied Fleeting. Winner of the Group 2 May Hill Stakes over a mile on her final start as a two-year-old, the daughter of Zoffany finished last in the 1000 Guineas on her 2019 bow. Stepped up to this trip in the Oaks, she showed that previous run to be all wrong when a fine third, a level to which the rest of this field must aspire at this stage.
Of course, the nature of Royal Ascot racing is the convergence of the established and the aspirational; so it is perfectly possible that a contender may prevail. Primus inter pares in that regard is Queen Power, a Shamardal filly who ought to be well suited to this trip. Winner of two of her three starts, she was probably beaten by the race distance rather than ability in the middle leg. That mile contest saw her narrowly fail to get by the winner but she made no mistake upped to ten furlongs in a Listed race last time. She could make it a very good day for her trainer, Sir Michael Stoute.
Frankellina is a bit of a conundrum: she looked unlucky when fluffing the start in the Musidora Stakes at York, and she looked to be given too much to do in the Oaks itself, eventually finishing a five length sixth. That gives her three-and-a-half lengths to find with Fleeting, who was also waited with at Epsom, and there is no obvious reason why she should turn the tables. She wears the second cap, with owner Anthony Oppenheimer also cheering Star Catcher. She was third in Queen Power’s Listed race, having led most of the way. There’s plenty of pace from the likes of Peach Tree and Shambolic so maybe Star Catcher will be ridden more patiently. On strict form, she has little to find with Queen Power, but the extra quarter mile is expected to suit the latter more than the former.
I’m not especially inclined to look too far down the betting list in a race which has been won by a filly priced 10/1 or shorter for the last dozen years.
Verdict: The market seems to have this about right, making it a match between Fleeting, Queen Power and ‘the field’ as I write. Fleeting has the more established form – third in the Oaks – but QUEEN POWER might be progressing more quickly. And, in any case, she bring a pretty strong level of ability to the table, too.
4.20 Gold Cup (Group 1, 2m4f, 4yo+)
The feature of the day, and indeed of the entire week, is the Gold Cup run over two and a half miles. Stradivarius is the reigning champ, the sort of guy who is probably even better than he looks given that he doesn’t tend to win by far. In fact, his last six wins have been achieved by an aggregate of just eight lengths which, in the domain of stayers, is a series of fine margins. That makes his rivals think they have a chance – which of course they do – but when push comes to shove, the old fiddle keeps pulling out a little more.
Stradivarius seems to treat all ground conditions and race distances alike, only just getting going at the end of the mile and three quarters Yorkshire Cup last time. In this race last year, the son of Sea The Stars was three-quarters of a length too good for the classy French horse, Vazirabad; Torcedor was just a head further back in third.
This year, the Gold Cup seems on the face of it to have more depth. Cross Counter has been bashing all-comers around the globe, bagging the extremely valuable Melbourne Cup and then the Dubai Gold Cup in Meydan. Those races are up to two miles, however, and this is an extra half mile on top, stamina for which is not assured for the son of Teofilo.
Dee Ex Bee looks to have found his metier since being stepped up to staying trips: fourth in the St Leger last autumn has been followed by a brace of Group 3 wins at two miles. This is further – and better class – again, and like Cross Counter, he too is not guaranteed to see it out.
It’s then double figures the rest. Flag Of Honour has seen the backside of the magical filly, erm, Magical thrice in a row this season. That is a high level at ten furlongs, and is all the more meritorious given he won the Irish St Leger over a mile and three-quarters last backend. I’d be concerned about his stamina at this trip, however; he was running out of gas over two miles in the Long Distance Cup on Champions Day and – at the risk of repeating myself – this is another half a mile of green road.
Magic Circle is interesting: he won the Chester Cup over an extended two and a quarter miles this time (ish) last year, then ran away by six lengths in the Henry II Stakes, and has been upped for the Cups this term. Given that this year’s less impressive Henry II winner, Dee Ex Bee, is second favourite, this chap might be over-priced at around 20/1 as he’s very likely to improve from his Chester prep.
Capri appeared not to stay when upped to nigh on two miles, and Called To The Bar is another with stamina questions.
Verdict: Most of these have to prove they can see out twenty furlongs, and most of them won’t be able to. Guessing as to which will is for braver/smarter people than me, so I’m happy to cheer the champ and punt a rag. I hope STRADIVARIUS wins because he’s a bit of a dude: keeps finding more, almost toying with top class agitators. For a wager, I’ll take the proven stamina of Magic Circle at 20/1 each way.
5.00 Britannia Stakes (Class 2 handicap, 1m, 3yo)
No no no! 30-odd three-year-olds hurtling up the straight mile is sado-masochistic stuff from a wagering perspective.
Still, remarkably, 6 of the last 9 winners returned at 10/1 or shorter. So that might help. A bit.
Nope, I really don’t have any idea. Pass.
5.35 King George V Stakes (Class 2 Handicap, 1m4f, 3yo)
This is a little bit easier; only a little bit, mind.
Although it seems counter-intuitive, higher drawn horses have had the best of this. Check out this graphic of the last five years: 1m4f handicaps at Ascot, good to good/soft, 14+ runners, sorted by actual draw (i.e. removing non-runners).
IV3 is the average winning Impact Value of a stall and its next door neighbours and, as you can see, high fares very well. Low and middle draws still win of course but it might be prudent to focus on the bigger numbered berths.
Top weight Constantinople, from that Galileo/Danehill cross, has stall 18. He won a Group 3 last time, proving that he’s already a Group horse in a handicap. We have to go back to 2001 and Beekeeper to find the last winning top weight but he might just double the 21st century tally, for all that he’s a short price so to do.
Sinjaari, drawn 22, was a fast-finishing second behind Headman in the London Gold Cup when last seen. That form may have been boosted earlier in the afternoon by his narrow conqueror, but either way the step up to a mile and a half looks perfect for this fellow.
Further back in that Newbury race was Majestic Dawn, trained by Paul Cole and ridden by David Probert. He had a rough beginning last time, stumbling out of the stalls and finding himself at the back of the field. But he ran on into a never nearer seventh, beaten six lengths. He’d previously won a Newbury maiden by six lengths so, given a smoother transit, he could outrun his current 33/1 quotes.
Questionare makes his handicap debut in very different conditions from the pair of conditions races in which he’s been narrowly defeated. Frankie takes the mount and we’ll see what he can do from stall five.
Another low drawn fancied horse is the Andrew Balding-trained Fox Premier. A winner of his last two, both in small fields, he’ll need plenty of luck in running with his waited with style.
Aidan O’Brien has three others besides Constantinople, perhaps Eminence being the pick of them. Drawn 19, he was a winner of his only handicap, on soft ground. By Sea The Stars, there’s a good chance he’ll appreciate this longer trip, Wayne Lordan getting the ride.
Loads more chances, naturally enough.
Verdict: Aidan O’Brien has a strong hand in this, his Constantinople the penalised class of the field. I’ll chance the London Gold Cup form, however, in the shape of Sinjaari each way. From that same race, the Hail Mary play is Majestic Dawn at 33/1 or so.
This feels like the toughest day of the week so far, and Tuesday/Wednesday weren’t easy! The last two races are not for me, so here’s hoping we get something on the board early doors. Win, lose or draw I’ll be back for more tomorrow…