Royal Ascot 2015: Day 1 Preview and Tips
It's the first - and in terms of quality, the best - day of Royal Ascot 2015. Tuesday sets the week ablaze with three sensational Group 1 contests, and these are supported by the best juvenile race of the season to date, a monster handicap puzzle, and an impossible looking 'baby burn up'. Let's get ready to Royal rumble!
2.30 Queen Anne Stakes
We start as ever at 2.30 with the Queen Anne Stakes. I previewed this race a few days ago, and suspect Solow will be too good for his rivals. If you want to see why as well as read why, I've included videos of the overseas runners in my Queen Anne Stakes Preview and Tips.
3.05 Coventry Stakes
Easily the top two-year-old race of the season so far, the Coventry is the convergence of most of the best juvenile runners, and it normally crowns the 2000 Guineas early market leader. On current perception that is a horse called Round Two, who has been impressive in two straight wins. Jim Bolger's Teofilo colt will surely improve with time and distance, but he has plenty of precocity judged on track form thus far.
However, quotes of 2/1 and 9/4 in a race like the Coventry are easily ignored when looking for a bet. I mean, think about it: this is a field packed to the gunwales with completely unexposed horses, many of them expected to make up into top class racers.
Whilst the record of favourites in the race is solid - Power, Strong Suit, Canford Cliffs, and Henrythenavigator all won as jolly since 2007 - this for me is a bit of a guessers' race, and not one in which to be striking a bold 'all in' type wager.
Round Two's brace of wins were both on the easy side of good, so quicker ground is an unknown. However, he'll not be inconvenienced by the stamina requirement, and has run a fast time already.
But he hasn't run the fastest time, according to Dr Peter May's speed figures at least (Dr May's figures form part of the Gold subscription service here on geegeez.co.uk). That early accolade is shared between two solid contenders: Age Of Empire and Air Force Blue.
Age Of Empire represents the Hannon stable that have won this race twice in the last six years. A 16/1 shot on debut, he was last in the early stages there before storming home to be beaten just three lengths. That race has worked out well - four subsequent winners from eleven starters - but it is Age Of Empire's second run which caught both the eye and the stopwatch.
In a decent Class 3 maiden at York, he won on the bridle without the jockey resorting to any kind of cajoling. And he won by clear daylight from a horse who also won by clear daylight next time. The horses in behind were beaten 2 3/4, 1 3/4, 4 1/2, 2 1/2, 4 1/2, 1 3/4 and 3 1/2 lengths. In other words, they were smashed out of sight. By a horse that won on the bridle in the joint-fastest time performance recorded so far by any horse in the Coventry. He's a 16/1 shot and that must be too big.
The other joint-quickest is Air Force Blue, who also hails from a yard with a great Coventry record, that of Aidan O'Brien. He had only a neck to spare over a 25/1 chance on his sole start, but that one has gone on to win since, as has the third, giving the form a robust look.
Sure to improve markedly from that début, Ryan Moore keeps the ride and he too ought to be on the premises.
The fly - or, potentially, flyer - in the ointment is Wesley Ward's Finnegan. Ward has only run one horse in this race before, Italo finishing last of 23 at 16/1, so the fact that he's prepared to try again after that drubbing implies faith in the Coolmore-owned son of Unbridled's Song. I've watched the tape of his five length Pimlico win, and it was good.
But those five furlongs round a tight dirt turn do not align especially well to the straight six on an uphill turf track, and I think he's badly under-priced. That doesn't mean he can't win of course, just that his form doesn't scream Coventry winner. And nor, frankly, does his pure dirt pedigree.
I was more impressed than many with Buratino at Epsom, but I'd far rather play Air Force Blue at the same price of 8/1, and even better Age Of Empire at twice as big. Buratino has got relatively little scope to improve after five starts, and will be the horse through which the form is measured subsequently.
Similar comments apply to Beaverbrook for the same connections, but Eltezam has run fast in races working out well and does have plenty of scope. He too is as big as 16/1 in a place, and that's attractive each way.
Coventry Stakes tips
It's not hard to see why Round Two is so strongly fancied, but he is not the only potential superstar in the field. Age Of Empire is a far more compelling proposition at the prices, if a less likely winner. That is, he is very good value on that last day win, which seems to have been under-estimated.
Others to consider include Eltezam and Air Force Blue.
Age Of Empire e/w at 16/1 (look for a bookmaker paying 1/4 odds)
3.40 King's Stand Stakes (Group 1, 5f)
An exciting licketty-split contest featuring Sole Power, who is bidding to be the first horse ever to win three renewals of this race; and a host of challengers. I have a reasonable fancy against the Power in my King's Stand Preview and Tips.
4.20 St James's Palace Stakes (Group 1, 1m)
On the face of it, this looks like being the second royal procession of the afternoon, as Gleneagles bids to supplement his double Guineas haul. But there might be a couple of questions to answer, and attempted to do that in this St James's Palace Stakes Preview.
Ascot Stakes (Handicap, Class 2, 2m4f)
A race run over a National Hunt distance and largely comprised of National Hunt-trained horses. It's not my intention to go into great depth on the handicaps this week, so it will be more the case that I flag a couple I fancy. Obviously, there are a dozen and more in each handicap with chances aside from my tentative pokes, so caveat emptor, as ever!
With that said, Broxbourne looks very interesting. Nicky Henderson - winner of this in 2011 with a filly - has booked Jamie Spencer, and this mare has a lovely flat staying pedigree (by Refuse To Bend out of a Darshaan mare). A good second at Cheltenham in a Listed race last time out, she's rated 134 over timber.
She'd be a stats buster I think but she ticks a lot of form boxes having won three two mile-plus Class 2 flat handicaps (at Ascot, York and Goodwood). There are no stamina doubts, she's back to within a pound of her last winning flat mark, and she comes here in great form from the hurdling sphere. 14/1 has been taken.
Meanwhile, Elishpour was Listed class on the flat in France (in the first three in all five starts) before joining Tony Martin for a hurdling career. Since sent timber-topping he's struggled a little, but ran competitively when last seen a month ago in a decent race. His trainer has few peers when it comes to a plot, and 28/1 in a place is worth an interest on one who could go well in its first flat handicap.
Two against the Ascot Stakes field:
Broxbourne e/w 14/1 general (betfair sportsbook FIVE places, if you can get on!)
Elishpour e/w 28/1 888sport
5.35 Windsor Castle Stakes (Listed, 5f)
A borderline impossible Listed race to round out the placepot (and I'd suggest that might be all it's good for from a wagering perspective).
Harvard Man is better than he showed last time when possibly not getting the sixth furlong. He was very fast on debut over five (top geegeez speed rating), and that form has worked out well. 25/1 might be too big - it's being nibbled at as I write.
And Dream Dreamer is another very quick trailblazer - his second highest speed rating is boosted by a draw one off the rail; and with course and distance form behind the smart Besharah, 50/1 is too big.
By the way, if you think I'm daft nominating horses at 25/1 and 50/1 keep in mind that this race has been won by horses priced at 14/1, 16/1, 20/1, 33/1 and 100/1 (!) in the past decade.
They'll make my placepot tickets along with a bunch of more likely types, led by Washington DC, Steady Pace and Soapy Aitken.