Royal Ascot next week promises to be its usual thrilling spectacle, and typically difficult to zero in on winners. But one thing punters will need more than ever is a handle on the international form book, with foreign raiders descending on the Royal meeting in droves.
In this post, I've nominated five international raiders to note next week. Regardless of whether you're for them or against them, you will at least need to know something about them if you plan to bet in the races in which they're saddled. What follows should offer a clue or two in that regard.
Tepin, Queen Anne Stakes, Tuesday
The very first race of the meeting sees American superstar mare, Tepin, face the home guard. The five year old daughter of Bernstein is four from four in 2016, and her form since the start of 2015 reads 11122111111.
That sequence includes the Breeders' Cup Mile last Autumn, where she saw off Make Believe, Esoterique, Time Test, and Mondialiste amongst others in a big field. It was on the soft side of good at Keeneland that day but she's arguably even better on quicker turf.
She is officially top-rated with Time Test, on 121, with that one needing fast ground to show his best, and perhaps more likely to run in the Prince Of Wales's Stakes on Wednesday. Marke Casse's raider, a top-priced 7/2 chance, also gets a three pound sex allowance.
If those are the warm Tepin positives, the tepid Tepin negatives are as follows...
Firstly, she has never raced on a straight mile before. All US grass tracks conform to a left-handed flat oval layout, and Ascot's relentless and ascending piste could find her out.
Secondly, she races on Lasix in North America and with a nasal strip to aid breathing. Neither of those raceday enhancers are permitted here, so it must be taken on trust whether she can perform to the same level without them.
Thirdly, and my thanks to Adrian Beaumont for pointing this out at last night's excellent London Racing Club preview, jockey Julien Leparoux - despite being a Frenchman - has never before ridden at Ascot. Apparently he asked if he could get a ride ahead of the Queen Anne, unaware that it was the first race of the meeting. Rumour has it that the Ascot beaks are trying to leg him up in the Royal procession!
If visual clues are more your thing, here's Tepin running away with the Breeders' Cup Mile at Keeneland, in gloriously lavish HD:
A Shin Hikari, Prince Of Wales's Stakes, Wednesday
Officially the highest rated flat horse in training, A Shin Hikari's towering figure of 129 is seven pounds higher than the next best in this field. The Grey Gatsby is rated 122, with a number of other potential runners massed around the 120 mark.
The five-year-old son of Deep Impact's record is spectacular, winning all bar two of his 12 career starts. The most recent of those was his first in Europe, as he backed up an impressive Hong Kong Cup victory with a sauntering majestic display of dominance in the Prix d'Ispahan at Chantilly.
There may be some questions to answer about the merit of that form, with the likes of New Bay and, to a lesser extent, Mondialiste under-performing; and it appears the winning distance of ten lengths has been over-stated - it looked more like seven.
But still, even if New Bay had brought his A game, it is unlikely he'd have taken A Shin Hikari down. More pertinently from a punting perspective, it is hard to see anything in the Prince Of Wales's Stakes field that has form to match New Bay, let alone A Shin Hikari. So maybe 6/4 is good value.
Here's that Ispahan run...
Mongolian Saturday, King's Stand Stakes, Tuesday
Acapulco will take the overseas runner headlines here, and maybe that's right enough. After all, she did win the Queen Mary at last year's Royal Ascot before running second in the Group 1 Nunthorpe at York. And, as then, she is getting plenty of allowances as a three year old filly running against older boys.
But those UK runs mean we know something of her already, whereas her 'kinda kompatriot', Mongolian Saturday, is a less familiar beast.
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:
- 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.
- 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, as this video of his Breeders' Cup win shows:
Lady Aurelia, Queen Mary Stakes, Wednesday
A two year old trained by Wesley Ward, that should already set the cat among the pigeons. When whispers abound that a filly could be the best he's ever had, it's time to take notice.
Normally I'd be the first to say "don't believe the hype", but Ward has consistently delivered on his pre-race assessments, and my singed digits when opposing Acapulco in the same race last year was the last straw.
Word is that Lady Aurelia, a standout 7/4 with Coral, is one B-I-G filly. Her one run - and win - to date was over four and a half furlongs around a turn and on the dirt (albeit in a course record time), which is very different from a stiff straight five on grass.
You can watch that race here (select April 21st, Race 3)
So it's up to you whether you trust in Wesley. I will at the very least be showing his runners - and this one especially - healthy regard.
Incidentally, Ward also runs the quietly fancied Star Empire, and possibly Silvertoni, in the Coventry; and has a number of other juveniles to look out for throughout the week, perhaps headed by Create A Dream.
Holler, Diamond Jubilee Stakes, Saturday
Royal Ascot wouldn't be complete without an Australian sprinter attempting to plunder one of the Group 1 pots. But word is that Holler, for trainer John O'Shea, is not quite up to the usual muster.
Owned by Godolphin, this fast-breaking chap - around the 12/1 mark - will be bidding to go from stalls to jamstick on the lead, as he did when winning the Grade 1 Canterbury Stakes:
That was over six and a half furlongs and around a turn, so again the straight six has to be taken on trust (he may have run over that trip and constitution previously, though I'm not aware of it - any Aussie readers know?). Moreover, with an unsettled forecast for next week, how Holler can perform on softer turf is an unknown.
I'll be taking him on regardless of the weather, and despite the likes of Black Caviar and Choisir being previous Australian sprinters that have got this job done.
I don't think anyone believes Holler is in the same class as that pair of tip-top-notchers, but as a three-year-old (he won't be four until July 1st, as per Southern Hemisphere protocol) he can improve.
Next week's Royal Ascot is set to be a tremendous show, with glittering jewels in horseracing's international crown at every turn. The five horses flagged in this post will at least be fractionally more familiar to many readers than a short time ago, and that should help to inform wagering decisions in the races in which they are pitched.