14.06.2022, Royal Ascot, Coroebus (William Buick) wins the St James's Palace Stakes at Ascot racecourse, GB. Photo GALOPPFOTO/Racingfotos.com

Clock Watcher: Royal Ascot 2022

There have been many 'horses to follow' lists manifesting from Royal Ascot 2022, aggregated via a typically eclectic array of approaches to the handicapping puzzle. Given the level of quality on display last week, it is more than reasonable to expect a glut of subsequent scorers emerging from those 28 races. Winners, alas, do not necessarily equate to profit, so our job - and the task attempted hereafter herein - is to try to find a few that might reward at a price in their upcoming starts.

With that in mind, those in DARK BLUE BOLD CAPITALS  constitute potential value plays in the not too distant - perhaps their next two or three starts. Naturally, that will depend on the race conditions and opposition so discretion aforethought.

I'm using a combination of sectional timing data (mainly) and negative draw bias (occasionally) to curate my 'to follow' list...

Tuesday

Maljoom / Berkshire Shadow / Bayside Boy

The St James's Palace Stakes was a race that played out late, all of the first eight runners home finishing fast. While Coroebus clung to the verdict, few judges would consider him a certainty to replicate that next time against supporting members of this cast. The most notable was Maljoom who, once granted running room, was tearing up the unassailable deficit; in another two strides, the German 2000 Guineas winner would have added Ascot gold. He's clearly of interest next time though his odds are expected to be suffocated by the memory of this luckless effort.

 

St James's Palace Stakes 2022 Sectional Timing chart

 

A couple who might sail under the radar in spite of being only a length and a bit behind the podium finishers are BERKSHIRE SHADOW and Bayside Boy. The former gained a sectional upgrade close to Maljoom's in spite of Maljoom's electric last eighth of a mile: our mile upgrades are based on the final two furlongs. The latter got no run in the straight until the birds had flown and, once a seam appeared, he rattled through it covering the final furlong in 11.82 seconds (vs Maljoom's 11.47).

Okita Soushi / Raymond Tusk

Eighteen runners over 14 furlongs was the tale of the Copper Horse Stakes, a handicap, tape. The race itself was marked by various troubled trip stories including, to a small degree, the winner, Get Shirty, whose passage was blocked before he saw daylight. Likewise Cleveland, in second, did not enjoy a hassle-free transit; but the one who was most interfered with was surely third-placed OKITA SOUSHI, who was eleven lengths behind the leader with half a mile to go. He made up a remarkable seven lengths in the next quarter mile and was still closing in the final quarter but wound up two lengths shy of Shirty. The Irish 'capper has him up two to 106 but that may not stop this progressive chap - he still only has four runs in the book.

His 14 point upgrade was the joint biggest in the race, shared with the very likeable Raymond Tusk. Martin Harley had this one chilly out back - a length behind even Okita Soushi - and, while Okita was making up seven in the penultimate quarter, Raymond closed eight lengths of his margin before flattening out a touch in the last two furlongs. It was a big effort from a horse who handles these massive field charges better than most: he could pop up at a handsome dividend before long.

Wednesday

Dubai Love

Not much to report in terms of this post's sponsored angles for Wednesday, but Dubai Love probably ran better than the record shows when 7th of 20 in the Kensington Palace Stakes handicap. That round track monster field mile race invited some horses to make a much broader arc through the bend than others, and Saeed bin Suroor's mare began from the proverbial car park in 23 (20 once the non-runners were removed), the widest stall of all. All things considered, she fared well: covering a lot more ground early and fading a touch late. She's probably handicapped to win, helped by a drop of 2lb for this good effort.

Thursday

Deauville Legend / Savvy Knight / Flying Dolphin / Balhambar

The King George V Stakes, a 3yo mile and a half handicap, was one of those with the historic - and quirky - high draw bias. As it turned out, the first two home, and six of the first seven, all exited single figure stalls. Obviously, horses can win from any gate, but such a low stall peppering of the target has been rare in big Ascot fields over twelve furlongs, as the following image (data since 2009) succinctly articulates.

 

The winner, Secret State, had a prominent sit throughout and got the all-important split when he needed it. Even so, he was on fumes at the last to repel Deauville Legend, whose failure to secure an opportune opening confined him to gallant defeat. The Legend's misfortune will have been lost on few - the official rater included, he's up 6lb - meaning his next day price will comfortably, perhaps overly, accommodate that fact.

In fourth was Savvy Knight, who found four lengths in the final three furlongs but needed to find five and a half. He had a charmed inside run but just couldn't reel in the leaders. A 2lb rise is probably fair but doesn't especially help his next day prospects. FLYING DOLPHIN also got two more but he still looks in front of his perch. Here, he was caught in early scrimmaging, the upshot of which was a position a dozen lengths off the leader at the halfway point. His 36.1 seconds final three furlongs was the second fastest in the race, after BALHAMBAR, a 40/1 chance for the Derby dream team of Sir Stoute and the Kingscote. He had a luckless transit and was never in contention, but his upgrade figure is the biggest in the field; down one to 84 helps for this four-time racer presumably not named after a drinking establishment near Clapham.

Kyprios / Mojo Star / Stradivarius

I wanted to mention the Gold Cup, not because I feel there are any dark horses in its midst but because the sectional 'by furlong' chart is quite interesting. Kyprios, the winner, benefited most from track position - being nearest to the lollipop when the sprint began. The race sectionals above the chart show how fast the leaders ran in the final three-quarters of a mile and, especially, in the final three furlongs. What they don't show are the preposterously fast final furlong fractions which, despite this being the second longest race of the week, included two of the quickest ten at the meeting (see this excellent debrief by Simon Rowlands for the full rundown).

Ascot Gold Cup 2022 Sectional Timing

 

At the three furlong marker, Kyprios (white sleeves, red cap) was 3½ lengths behind the leader and with a wide but clear path to the finish. Meanwhile, Mojo Star (purple and white quartered cap) was a length further back and with similar clear but outside sailing lane. Poor old Frankie, aboard Stradivarius (black jacket, yellow cap), was behind the eight ball - or the ten horse, Princess Zoe, more correctly - and, by the time he'd indicated (mirror, signal, manoeuvre) and turned left into the nine - yes, nine - path, the game was up.

 

 

Dettori must still be trying to scrub off the tyre treads from having been relentlessly and mercilessly hurled under the bus by his 'pal', John Gosden, whose usual grace was missing, presumed dead, by the time of the third airing of the "it's all Frankie's fault" soliloquy.

The reality is that, yes, Ryan Moore, aboard the winner, did him up like the proverbial smoked and salted fish when the Italian needed a run: nothing untoward, just top notch race riding, the kind of thing the King of Ascot will have meted out a hundred times down the years. It wasn't a vintage ride astride the Strad, for sure, but how often do you see a nine horse race over two and a half miles fan out nine wide with 300 yards to go? This wasn't bad luck, it was filthy rotten 'orrible luck.

Helicoptering up from the specifics in closing, Kyprios will probably improve again, as will Mojo Star, both stepping up from 1m6f to this marathon. They are the future of the Cup squad.

Saga

It never rains but it pours and Saga, ridden by Frankie, passed all bar the winner, Thesis, in the next race, the Britannia Stakes handicap. The running lines in the bottom left of each position row - bold figure for race position, superscript for distance behind the leader (or in front, if race leader) - for the first three home are instructive:

 

 

The fact that Jimi Hendrix led the 30-runner field into the final furlong, and was able to battle on for third, reveals plenty about the even-ish tempo of the race, at least to around the furlong pole. While Jimi was an Ezy Rider for Rob Hornby, Messrs. Moore and Dettori were again taking the scenic route to protagonism: with half of the mile race elapsed, Moore and Thesis were 4½ lengths adrift of Jimi H, while Frankie's journey was more odyssey than Saga as he meandered his way to the half-time oranges in last - of 30! - place. He was still tail end Carlo with two furlongs to go, albeit 'only' 2¾ lengths off trailblazing Hendrix.

Saga's official margin of defeat was a head. The times in the right hand colour lozenges show that Saga covered the final quarter mile in 23.51 seconds, almost three-tenths quicker than Thesis, and just about a full second faster than Jimi Hendrix. Thank God it wasn't Jamie Spencer is all I can say. The first two home are evidently talented, especially the runner-up; there was no argument on that score from the handicapper who has elevated Thesis to 99 (+9) and Saga to 105 (+8).

Cresta

I have to admit to not being much of a fan of the Hampton Court Stakes. Its interim distance is less of a problem than its typically middling alumni: these are horses who'd probably not win the three-year-old handicaps and would definitely not shake up the pecking order in the proper Group races. This year the ground was similarly fast all week. Against that relatively fixed slide rule, Claymore won the Group 3 Hampton Court in 2:07:45. Two days later, Missed The Cut lugged a pound more to a clear-cut Golden Gates handicap verdict in 2:06:00.

Of course, the races were run in different fashions: the G3 was steady with a rapid final stanza while the handicap was 3.5 seconds quicker in the opening three furlongs and 2.4 seconds slower in the closing three furlongs. That conservation of energy until the grandstands engaged full voice enabled Claymore to repel, oh no, Frankie once more, this time aboard HM The Queen's Reach For The Moon, the red hot 2/5 favourite.

Further back, and with no chance given the race tempo, was Cresta whose final two furlongs were blitzed in 23.43 seconds: not so much too little too late as a lot waaaaay too late. But I'm not sure I like the form here at all.

Friday

One of the performances of the week was that produced by Candleford, absent 219 days theretofore, in utterly walloping 17 rivals in the mile and a half Duke Of Edinburgh Stakes. This time the quirky draw bias was in full effect, the facile winner exiting trap 18 and taking the tourists' route in the straight. He even had time to sign a couple of autographs on the run to the line... no, sorry, it wasn't quite that easy. But nearly...

The first six home were drawn 18-10-16-4-15-17 and the horse drawn 4 that finished in position four, was Brilliant Light. Another bin Suroor inmate - the Godolphin Reserves handler had a crackerjack week with plenty of shots on target and one twenty yard screamer (20/1 winner) - Brilliant Light endured the in-running comment "bit short of room" twice in the Racing Post man's (or woman's) post-race observations. Riding for luck often doesn't find luck, and here was a case in point. Unchanged by the official scorer on 96, he might be back on top before long.

If Thursday was Purgatory for Lanfranco, Friday brought a heavenly slice of redemption in the Coronation Stakes aboard the clearly tip-top talent, Inspiral. Unbeaten in four as a two-year-old including when authoritatively claiming the Group 1 Fillies' Mile, she was even more imperious here in a rout of what had looked pre-race to be a very credible collective of sophomores. Trainer John Gosden had decided to skip both the 1000 Guineas and the Irish equivalent in order to give Inspiral the time she needed to come to hand; on this evidence she could have taken in both, at 75% and 85% readiness, and copped the lot.

Although she has yet to face Homeless Songs, herself a daylight winner of the Irish 1000 Guineas, Inspiral appears to have the world at her feet. While the three-year-old miler colts are still arguing about who's best boy, there is only that one pretender to Inspiral's filly crown. A match with the Irish Guineas winner, or perhaps even with Baaeed in receipt of age and sex allowances, as well as any number of Coroebus's posse, would be very tasty indeed!

Saturday

And so to Saturday and a one of the strangest results I've ever seen. The Chesham Stakes, a seven furlong juvenile race, featured a strong-looking line up headed by the Ballydoyle blueblood, Alfred Munnings. As they passed the post, heads were scratched, chins were stroked, teeth were gnashed and placepot tickets were binned: HOLLOWAY BOY, 40/1 and making his career bow, won convincingly from 80/1 Pearling Path with 33/1 Lakota Sioux - swishing her tail like a windmill throughout - back in third. There was not much obvious fluke about it either.

 

 

Karl Burke is having a fantastic season and must be one of the best trainers of two-year-olds in the land; it wasn't a complete shock to him that Holloway Boy, who had shown a reasonable amount at home, won. It was a complete shock to most of the rest of us.

But, again, look at that top right orange rectangle: HB, under Danny Tudhope - most people's man of the match (perhaps bar Ryan Moore) last week, was much the fastest at the finish and was going away after the line. I'd expect the phone will have been warm enough in the few days since because this lad - by Ulysses out of a Pivotal mare - has a pretty sexy pedigree to go with his eye-opening debut. He already stays a mile on this evidence and is bred for at least ten and to be a three-year-old. Holloway Boy got a six point sectional upgrade for this effort and it will be fascinating to see where next for Burke's exciting rookie. In spite of this impressive score, there is a chance he's over-priced next time due to his Chesham starting price; that might make it worth buying a ticket to see if he can back up the Ascot stunner.

The Jersey Stakes was next and, over the same course and distance of the Chesham, the three-year-olds took to the stage. Or at least to stage left. The first six home, of 15, were drawn 14-12-2-13-11-15 and all raced near side - the left as you look from the starting stalls to the finish. But five of those six, from their double digit draws, had only to roll forwards while trap 2, DUBAI POET, made a mid-race move from the right flank (centre of the track) towards the left. The first half dozen were better than two lengths clear of the best of the other nine.

Dubai Poet was beaten a length and a neck but must have forfeited three to four lengths in traversing the field: up five to 109 is unhelpful but fully deserved.

A little later on the final day, Clock Watcher pin up boy, Rohaan, was back to defend his Wokingham Stakes crown. He'd been somewhat out of form this season, having scored at huge prices on multiple occasions last term after this column had advertised his ability 17 months ago. Naturally, being the exquisite judge I am, I'd removed David Evans' pride and joy on the very morning of the Wokingham, determining that I'd had my fun with him. That was as maybe, but Rohaan sure had not finished having fun with me!

With Ryan Moore in the cockpit, Rohaan was slowly away, as is his wont, before zigzagging through from the back in a 23.61 seconds last quarter mile. This cute little chart shows that Rohaan (grey line) still had three lengths to find entering the final eighth. Find it he did, at the main expense of Popmaster (turquoise line), who led at the furlong but was three-parts behind where it mattered.

 

That was orange blob and four point upgrade territory for the winner, on top of a very good speed figure: Rohaan is back!

Later on, in the Golden Gates handicap, Andrew Balding's GROUNDBREAKER had a terrible run from a terrible draw and still managed to finish fourth. The first seven home were berthed in 13-19-15-3-16-12-14. It's a stretch to suggest he'd have beaten Missed The Cut with a better rub of the green, but he'd probably have finished second; the lad in that spot got three more from the handicapper while Groundbreaker stays on his mark of 90.

And still there was time for one more takeaway in the concluding Queen Alexandra Stakes, over two miles and six furlongs. Stratum, a win or bust player if ever there was, has form in the past two seasons of 15174131601 taking in flat races, hurdles and chases during the sequence. What a guy! Like his owner, Brighton & Hove Albion and Starlizard head honcho Tony Bloom, he has his own rulebook and oftentimes his rivals are unwittingly competing on his terms. This was such an occasion.

Bimbling along towards the back of the pack until the three-furlong peg, Stratum was then invited to engage his longest stride. He responded with relish, gusto and zeal, not to mention fervour, moving from a six-length tenth of 12 to a one length first and earning a tenuous upgrade of seven in the process. I say 'tenuous' because the sample size of 2m6f flat races at Ascot is three, and that is not enough on which to build even the most flimsy of time-based cases.

What is clear is that that upgrade was earned off the back of a predictably steady-early-quicker-late pace setup, which meant most of Stratum's rivals also attained a bolt-on bonus from our sectional algo. The only horse to match Stratum with a seven, and probably the most interesting one to take from this cohort, was Timour. This four-year-old's international superstar connections - French maestro, Andre Fabre, and Kiwi red baron, James McDonald - were thwarted by an unusual misjudgement from the latter: he was simply too far out of his ground.

The ultra-marathon here was a huge increase in trip for the French raider, a son of Gleneagles, and it could not be said he failed to stay. He may now be tried in France's Cup races, the Prix du Cadran and Prix Royal-Oak, though whether he's quite up to that level remains to be seen.

 

My Seven to Follow:

- Berkshire Shadow

- Okita Soushi

- Flying Dolphin

- Balhambar

- Holloway Boy

- Dubai Poet

- Groundbreaker

 

Good luck

Matt

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