Royal Ascot 2015: Queen Anne Stakes Preview and Tips
The best day's flat racing in Britain kicks off Royal Ascot 2015. And if you think that's a bold claim, consider that the first four races are comprised of three Group 1's and a Group 2. Yum!
As ever, the meeting gets underway with the sumptuous Queen Anne Stakes, a Group 1 over the straight mile course. And as ever, there will doubtless be debate around why potentially the best race of the week is the first race of the week.
My answer, almost facetiously, is "because it is". To elaborate briefly (oxymoron?), Royal Ascot is unlike other meetings: there is a royal parade before racing which all but ensures all racegoers are in situ prior to race one.
So why not begin with something of real class? Indeed, nobody says the same about Cheltenham's or Aintree's Festivals, both of which start day one with three (or, in the case of Aintree, four!) Grade 1 races.
There's no case to answer - let's get on with the sport...
2.30 Queen Anne Stakes (Group 1, 1m)
A perennial crackerjack to start the week and this looks well up to muster. The trendsters will tell you that four year olds have had the best of it in recent times. "True dat", the hipsters reply, before pointing out (whilst twirling the ends of their preposterous boho moustaches) that this year things will be different.
It is generally the case that the Queen Anne is won by a Classic graduate in his Masters year. Indeed, since being upgraded to Group 1 status in 2003, only three horses older than four - the minimum age since Group 1 status was awarded - have won. Two of those - Ramonti and Haradasun - were bought from overseas, and the third was the majestic mare, Goldikova.
Put another way, all three either could afford to wait another year or two (Goldi), or had to prove their G1 worth in Britain (Haradasun, Ramonti) before heading to the breeding sheds.
The key to this year's race probably lies in the fact that the two older horses to note - Able Friend and Solow - don't own a testicle between them! Thus, they must now cover themselves in glory on the track, for their is no later prospect of covering mares in, erm, glory in the shed. (Oh dear, this isn't really going where I'd intended...)
Inglorious imagery aside, they are here to race. And, as we've seen with Cirrus Des Aigles, that's a huge treat for us, the racegoing public.
Lest you're unfamiliar with Solow and his Able Friend (don't be too hard on yourself, they both make maiden voyages to these shores), let me clue you in.
First, Able Friend. A powerhouse miler, a brute of a horse, and the king of Hong Kong's Sha Tin oval. But therein may reside his problem: being king of a relatively small island, albeit one with a proud racing heritage, does not a world conqueror make. Able Friend's last sixteen races - from an eighteen race career - have been run on Sha Tin's tight oval. In his last six races, he's beaten the same two horses into second in five of them.
He is clearly the best of Hong Kong. But whether that's good enough over this stiff straight mile, we've yet to discover. Still, in case you don't know the lad, check out this beasting in the Hong Kong Mile last December (a £2 million Group 1)
That's pretty sensational, and it's clear to see what his great strength is. Yes, it's his great strength! He's out of the Ben Johnson school of finishing, though without the steroid connotations (one trusts). Frankly, he's bloody fast. Whether he'll be able to lay up in a race which Glory Awaits (oh, the irony!) and Arod will probably set ablaze from the stalls is an unknown.
With no tight turn to check the pace, this looks like being a solid grind from pillar to post. And that may suit Solow, a French grindeur (made up word, broyeur being the less poetic, more French mot) to make Cliff Thorburn and Terry Griffiths look like Jimmy White and that fellow, Ronnie O...
Here he is inevitably imposing his will on a high class but outclassed Dubai Duty Free field (this Group 1 race was worth £4 million!)
Ay carumba, as the yellow cartoon boy used to say. We have ourselves a race.
One thing to note about Solow is that his recent winning form has been over further than a mile, whereas Able Friend was beaten at his only run beyond a mile. Their contrasting running styles are matched by their contrasting race programs, physiques, and plenty more besides. What unites them is late-developing brilliance: after all, had they shown more pizazz earlier they'd not have been de-coupled.
Incredibly, Solow, now a five year old, didn't win a Group race until last August, and that was a 'lowly' Group 3. Only this year, in winning a pair of G1's (the Duty Free was followed up with the Prix d'Ispahan) has he really cut loose. What that means is that he may have still more to come.
Crikey, as Terry Scott's Penfold habitually offered back to David Jason's Dangermouse.
Within this clash of the international titans, it is quite easy to overlook the fact that the home team is strongly represented by Night Of Thunder, himself a dual Group 1 winner.
That brace of tip top pots includes the scalps of Kingman - the best horse of his year - in the 2000 Guineas; and of fifteen high class rivals, including Arod, in the Lockinge. Further lustre is added to Night Of Thunder's chance when one recalls the Lockinge is run over Newbury's straight mile so, while Ascot's straight mile would be a tad stiffer, Richard Hannon's charge has shown the required sustained barreling over similar course constitutions in both of his G1 wins (his 2000 Guineas win at Newmarket transpired on a straight course with a similarly uphill finish).
His mile G1 defeats have all been inflicted on round tracks, and he has less to prove - albeit from a less brilliant starting point - than Able Friend in that regard.
Not far behind in the Lockinge, and re-opposing here, were Toormore (second, beaten a neck) and Arod (third, beaten a length). Cable Bay (5th, beaten 1.75 lengths) and Here Comes When (6th, beaten 2.75 lengths) were also not beaten far, with Cougar Mountain adrift of those in 11th.
Toormore has been impressive in defeat since his juvenile season, but of all the Group 1's in which to return to winning ways, it would be a shock if it was this one. Arod, last year's Derby fourth, has run again - and won - since the Lockinge, taking apart a fair Group 3 field at Epsom. The manner of his win there suggests he'll try to 'own' this field from the outset and, with abundant stamina, could ask questions of fast finishers like Able Friend.
I wouldn't expect Arod to be good enough to win the Queen Anne, but I was impressed with him at Epsom: if gunned he'll get plenty out of their comfort zones earlier than they'd like to be.
Cable Bay, perhaps not getting the run of it and perhaps asked for his effort too late, was running on in the Lockinge, and he too has run since, when showing plenty of dash to win over seven at Haydock in Group 3 class. Although far from a winning machine, he could hit the board at an exciting price (currently 25/1).
Queen Anne Stakes tips
It's an absolutely stunning start to Royal Ascot week - possibly the best race of the week - and it's a contest to savour. If you're unable to take advantage of a bookmaker concession, I'd find it hard to recommend a bet on either of the front two.
The bookies have their prices about right: Solow is a clear favourite with stamina and globe-trotting confirmed, as well as the pant-wetting prospect of more to come; Able Friend has the pure sex appeal via his brutish physiology and electric gear change, but he has much to prove in the context of this heat.
Further down the lists, Night Of Thunder is very talented, but has next to nothing in hand of Toormore, Arod and Cable Bay. That means, for me at least, he's under-priced. I quite like the look of Cable Bay each way at 25/1 off a strong pace.
But there are two concessions that, if you can, you must take.
First, Paddy is offering money back as a free bet (max stake £50) if your selection finishes 2nd or 3rd. Solow MUST be in the first three [obviously, it's racing, so caveat emptor]. And I'm having the full amount on him to win.
Second, Skybet is offering money back as a free bet all losers (stake between £5 and £25) in the race. This might be the place to back Able Friend. To my eye, he's likely to run binary. That is, he'll either win or finish down the field. As such, it's nice to know if the latter scenario plays out you get another bet to the same stake.
At time of writing, Skybet are top industry price 9/4 on Able Friend, and PP are top at 13/8 on Solow.
£50 on Solow and £25 on Able Friend means the following is possible:
1 - Solow wins, Able Friend loses: stake £75, return £131.25, profit £56.25 + £25 free bet
2 - Able Friend wins, Solow 2nd or 3rd: stake £75, return £81.25, profit £6.25 + £50 free bet
3 - Able Friend wins, Solow unplaced: stake £75, return £81.25, profit £6.25
4 - Solow 2nd or 3rd, Able Friend loses: stake £75, return £0 + £75 free bets
5 - Solow unplaced, Able Friend loses: stake £75, return £0 + £25 free bet
1, 2 and 4 look readily the most likely trio of outcomes, but do make up your own mind: I'm not FSA-regulated!
Plus, of course, if you're opening a new account with these firms they'll grease your palm with some sort of incentive at the same time. Here are some buttons for that if you need them.