Previews, tips and trends for major horse racing fixtures across the UK. Detailed day-by-day reports and info on horses, races, courses, events and more.

Flash Harry can dash to Commonwealth Glory

Short on history, but huge on impact, the Commonwealth Cup has proved a major success at the Royal Meeting.

The Group One was introduced in 2015, and aimed at those classy three-year-olds that possessed plenty of speed, but perhaps not quite the stamina to see out a mile and thereby challenge for the St James’s Palace. It also ensured that these relatively inexperienced youngsters were not thrown in at the deep end, and forced into taking on their seniors in the Diamond Jubilee. Some argue that this has diminished the quality of the latter, though few three-year-olds had managed to capture the race in recent times, with Kingsgate Native and Art Connoisseur the only winners since the turn of the century.

Muhaarar won the inaugural running of the Commonwealth Cup for trainer Charlie Hills and owner Hamdan Al Maktoum. He’d finished down the field in the French Guineas, but back at six-furlongs proved a revelation. Limato and Profitable were left in his wake at Ascot in a stunning performance. He then went to Newmarket, and in a thrilling finish got up late to win the Darley July Cup. Next came a trip to France, and a stunning success in the Prix Maurice de Gheest, defeating Andre Fabre’s Esoterique. He completed a scintillating campaign with victory back at Ascot on Champions Day.

Last year’s Commonwealth winner, Quiet Reflection, also came from the top-drawer. She had proved far too good for a strong field in the Sandy Lane at Haydock, romping home by more than three lengths. Sent off favourite at Royal Ascot, she swept to the front inside the final furlong to defeat Kachy and Washington DC. She then ran with great credit in the Darley July Cup, finishing third to Limato on ground that was undoubtedly too quick for her. But arguably her finest performance came back at Haydock, when thumping a strong field in the Group One Sprint Cup. Over the top by the time Champions Day came around, she remains a top-class sprinter, especially with conditions to suit.

And so to this year’s renewal, and what looks to be a thrilling clash between the ‘usual suspects’ of Godolphin and Ballydoyle.

Aidan O’Brien trains market leader, and thus far the undefeated Caravaggio. An outstanding juvenile, and impressive on seasonal debut at three, he looks to have all the attributes to become a top-class sprinter. He’s by American stallion Scat Daddy, which suggests ground conditions will prove ideal. His pedigree does hint at him being effective over further, though the team had Churchill pencilled in for the Classics at a mile. He’s a powerfully built colt, and was impressive in winning the Coventry Stakes last year, when forging clear late-on. He’ll be putting in his best work in the latter stages, and if close enough will take some holding.

Godolphin have a dynamic duo in opposition, in the shape of Blue Point and Harry Angel. The former was also a high-class juvenile, capturing the Group Two Gimcrack Stakes, and runner-up in both the Richmond and the Middle Park. He lost out to Churchill and Lancaster Bomber on his final start last year, when looking a non-stayer at seven furlongs. His return to action in May at Ascot was impressive, when staying on strongly to beat the Clive Cox trained Harry Angel. He was in receipt of 4lbs from the runner-up that day, and I fancy those placings will be reversed.

Harry Angel then went to Haydock, and like Quiet Reflection a year earlier, scorched his way to victory in the Sandy Lane in a lightning quick time. Purchased by Godolphin, he is likely to be the biggest danger to Caravaggio, and is quite possibly a speedier colt. He’s by Dark Angel, a source of numerous top-class sprinters including Mecca’s Angel, and Lethal Force. There’s no doubting his liking of fast ground, as proved at Haydock. I fancy he’ll be streaking ahead at some point, and it will then be a case of holding off a fast finishing Caravaggio.

Bound For Nowhere is Wes Ward’s representative, and it’s impossible to dismiss anything the American runs at Royal Ascot. He’s already sent-out a pair of winners this week, though this fella is a very inexperienced racehorse, and this looks a huge ask at this stage of his career. He has just two runs under his belt, his last coming in a three-runner affair at Keeneland. He’s clearly showing enough at home to warrant an entry, but his odds of 8/1 are based on the trainer’s name rather than on-course evidence.

One that could out-run his odds is Aidan O’Brien’s second-string Intelligence Cross. On all known form, he’ll probably come-up just short. But he’s a War Front colt, and as such will likely love the track, trip and ground. He ran well in the Middle Park as a juvenile, and was staying on strongly at Navan last time, proving his well-being. He’s been outpaced at times in the past, but I’d expect him to be finishing with a rattle, and he’s currently available at 33s.

It’s a cracking renewal, and I’ll be siding with Godolphin’s Harry Angel to hold off the fast finishing Ballydoyle pair for victory. Intelligence Cross has to be the each-way punt at 33/1. Best of luck to those having a punt.

A need for Speed – Cox youngsters Shine

Clive Cox unveiled another classy sprinter yesterday at Royal Ascot, with juvenile filly Heartache scorching the turf to take the Queen Mary Stakes.

Lady Aurelia romped to victory in this race 12 months ago, and Wes Ward had the short-priced favourite once again. But Happy Like A Fool could not withstand the finishing burst from the Cox youngster, and went down by a little over two lengths.

Cox enthused: “That was very good and it means a lot to me. She's very special and she did it really well at Bath and I could not believe the time when they announced it. She's no different from the rest of mine in that they improve with their racing. We won a Listed race with her mum (Place In My Heart), so this is very special, watching it with the owners as there's all manner of people here. It's a proper achievement.”

The trainer went on: “She's easy to train, she's got a good temperament but we're not quite sure how good she is. I was a bit worried when I saw the American filly as she looked pretty awesome walking around the paddock. Adam rode her with complete confidence and he's a pretty good fellow in the saddle. These are the stars of the future and she certainly is. We'll enjoy today as she could be that good and go for the Nunthorpe.”

The victory followed on from a terrific opening day performance from Profitable in the King’s Stand, and an eye-catching run from Prince Of The Dark in the Coventry. The latter is by Lethal Force, a mighty grey, who became arguably Cox’s supreme stable inmate. He too was beaten in the Coventry Stakes as a juvenile, when finishing fourth in 2011. In 2012 he filled the same spot in the Jersey Stakes at the Royal Meeting, but as a four-year-old in 2013 Lethal Force found his niche, as a high-class sprinter.

When dropped back to six furlongs, the grey put in several stunning performances, including victory in the Diamond Jubilee at Royal Ascot. He followed up with another power-packed performance to win the Darley July Cup at Newmarket, before losing out to the French heroine Moonlight Cloud in the Prix Maurice de Gheest. Whether Prince Of The Dark can make such a progression over time remains to be seen, and is probably unlikely, but I for one was taken by his performance on the opening day.

Cox certainly excels in handling such speedsters, and has another interesting contender in today’s Norfolk Stakes, with Koditime. He looked the likely winner last time at Newbury, before finding soft ground sapping his energy late-on. He’s a beautiful mover, and I fancy the fast ground and stiff Ascot five-furlong will prove ideal. He’s by Kodiac, who’s often a source of lightning fast juveniles.

On Friday attention turns to another flying machine, in Godolphin’s new-recruit, Harry Angel. Simply scintillating when storming to success in the Sandy Lane at Haydock last time, he’d previously been unable to give 4lbs to Godolphin owned Blue Point at Ascot on his seasonal return. Both are tasked with defeating Ballydoyle’s Caravaggio in the Commonwealth Cup. And it’s Cox that may well hold the Ace.

Aidan O’Brien’s colt remains undefeated, and was impressive in his return at Naas. He’s by Scat Daddy, and ought to appreciate the quicker ground at Ascot. But it was hard not to be mightily impressed by Harry Angel at Haydock. He has such raw speed, there’ll likely be a stage when he gets away from the pack. Whether he can keep Caravaggio at bay is the question. O’Brien’s colt is likely to be charging late-on.

It’s an intriguing renewal, and another opportunity for Clive Cox to feast at the top-table. The likes of Harry Angel, Profitable and Heartache should ensure the summer remains a sunny one for Cox and his team.

Royal Ascot 2017: Day 4 Preview, Tips

Royal Ascot 2017: Day 4 Preview, Tips

Friday at Royal Ascot is where the party really starts. London weekenders will hit the new Village Enclosure, and hit it hard. Meanwhile, on the track, there's the small matter of the Commonwealth Cup and Coronation Stakes, a pair of tasty three-year-old only Group 1's to unravel. But first, the juniors, in the...

2.30 Albany Stakes (Group 3, 6f)

21 fleet fillies will face the starter, with Jessica Harrington's Alpha Centauri a deserving favourite. She is two from two, a debut maiden on good to firm and a Listed race last time, both over six furlongs. Her trainer had a really good run from Brother Bear on Tuesday and this filly will go close granted normal luck. But she's an unexciting price so I'd rather play one each way, my dart falling on William Haggas's Ertiyad.

Haggas rattled the crossbar on Tuesday, when Headway was, well, a head away from victory in the Coventry; and he tries again here over the same trip. This filly was beaten a nose by Mrs Gallagher over the track (five furlongs, good to firm) before stepping up in trip and placing in a Haydock maiden. That was soft ground but she showed on debut that she handles faster, a run that has been franked with the third, Out Of The Flames, running the same position in the Queen Mary on Wednesday. It's a big class rise, as it is for most of her rivals, and 20/1 is a very fair each way price.

Wes and Aidan have contenders, as you'd expect: WW runs both Fairyland and Princess Peggy; Aidan saddles Clemmie, Actress and Snowflakes. The mob handed approach generally puts me off, and this case is no different, especially when I don't know much about the American fillies. The maiden, Clemmie, Ryan Moore's pick, ran a taking race on debut when third, having been in rear in a big field early. She's bred for further and it might happen a bit quick for her, but she could just be a wildcard for the 1000 Guineas (for which she currently has a 25/1 quote, that might get bigger if she's outpaced here).

Bookie specials on this race

Bet365: 1/4 1-2-3-4 plus risk-free bet to same stake if you back 4/1+ winner (max £50)

Skybet: Money back as a free bet if 2nd or 3rd in this race (max £20)

Paddy: Money back as a free bet if 2nd, 3rd or 4th to SP favourite (max £25)

Betfair sports: Free bet to same stake as any 3/1+ winner you back (max £25)

**

3.05 King Edward VII Stakes Stakes (Group 2, 1m4f)

The Ascot Derby, so some say, and always a decent race for later maturing types, in spite of only being three weeks later than Epsom. Crystal Ocean was a plunge horse for the Derby even though his trainer said before and after a creditable defeat in the Dante that he wouldn't run there. Sure enough, he didn't, but he rocks up as jolly this time. Bred to love both the trip and the ground, he looks a real contender, and a typical Sir Michael improver.

The opposition looks untypically weak, with both Permian and Sir John Lavery with much to prove after last day flops, as have the more exposed Best Solution and Khalidi. One who had a horror trip at Epsom is Salouen, and his best juvenile form - second in the G1 Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere and third in the G1 Racing Post Trophy - gives him a squeak. He's 10/1 generally and that may be the best each way play in a shallow-looking heat, where most are bidding to repair damaged reputations and/or prove that they are contenders rather than pretenders for top honours during the rest of the season.

Bookie specials on this race

Bet365: 1/4 1-2-3 plus risk-free bet to same stake if you back 4/1+ winner (max £50)

Betfair sports: Free bet to same stake as any 3/1+ winner you back (max £25)

Skybet, Hills & Paddy 1/5 1-2-3-4

**

3.40 Commonwealth Cup (Group 1, 6f)

This. Is. A. Cracker. In its short history, the Commonwealth Cup has delivered spellbinding performances from first Muhaarar and then Quiet Reflection. This season the stage is set for a proper dukefest between Caravaggio and Harry Angel, and it's a tough one to call.

The market seems to think it's Caravaggio's to lose: he's even money favourite to add to his unbeaten quintet of races to date. That nap hand includes the Coventry and Phoenix Stakes last term, and the Group 3 Lacken Stakes earlier this season. Caravaggio has been winning by wide margins and seems unconcerned by the state of the ground, having won on soft, good to firm, and even the all weather at Dundalk.

But in Clive Cox's Harry Angel he has a worthy adversary. Cox, lest we forget, is a brilliant trainer of sprinters, and added to his CV in that sphere on Wednesday when Heartache took down Happy Like A Fool in the Queen Mary. Fast ground is spot on for Harry, who will be very hard to keep out of the frame and looks a banker each way multiple leg, if that's your thing.

Harry Angel was beaten on his seasonal reappearance however, by a re-opposing colt called Blue Point, also representing Godolphin. That was over this track and trip, and on this ground, so he has no questions to answer about conditions. It is simply whether he's good enough and, again, he looks solid place material in a race where the top of the market may well have the podium to themselves.

Wesley's Bound For Nowhere deserves a mention, but perhaps no more than that. He's two from two, most recently a five and a half furlong allowance race on firm turf. But that was around a turn and I just don't see him living with some very smart domestic sprinting colts.

Bookie specials on this race

Bet365: 1/4 1-2-3 plus risk-free bet to same stake if you back 4/1+ winner (max £50)

Betfair sports: Free bet to same stake as any 3/1+ winner you back (max £25)

**

4.20 Coronation Stakes (Group 1, 1m)

The smallest field of the week in all likelihood as just six fillies line up to take a swing at Winter, the impressive double 1000 Guineas winner. It was good to firm when she won at Newmarket so we know she'll handle the ground, and there's very little chance of any beaten horse from either Guineas reversing form; but perhaps one of the raiders can make things interesting.

Precieuse is well named having won the French 1000 Guineas, but she probably wants the ground slower. She is classier than most of these, at least.

And, as a sucker for Stateside action, I can't fail to mention La Coronel, who is my each way play. She loves rattling turf, is used to racing around a turn - albeit the other way as they uniformly do in America, and she too has class. Mark Casse is probably the best turf trainer in the States: he brought the filly Tepin over to win the Queen Anne Stakes last year, has won three Breeders' Cup grass races in the last two editions, and it is doubtful he has popped over for the air miles. She's 20/1 generally, which makes her attractive in the 'without' and exacta markets when those appear.

Bookie specials on this race

Bet365: Risk-free bet to same stake if you back 4/1+ winner (max £50)

Betfair sports: Free bet to same stake as any 3/1+ winner you back (max £25)

**

5.00 Queen's Vase (Group 2, 1m 6f)

Reduced from two miles to a mile and three quarters this year, it will be a slightly different test, and perhaps in time develop into a key St Leger trial. The distance change should make no difference to Time To Study, as Mark Johnston bids to improve his tremendous record in the race. He bids for a remarkable eighth success in 2017, and his Edinburgh Cup scorer is considered one of the Middleham trainer's best prospects of the week. The booking of Silvestre de Sousa is hardly a negative for this most progressive son of Motivator.

Not too far behind 'Always Trying', and catching up fast with three wins in the last four years, is Aidan O'Brien. Like Johnston, he saddles two, the pick of Ryan Moore being Belgravia. His form looks nothing special, but one has to respect connections: he'll not be a shock winner but nor will he carry my two pound fifty.

This is one of the few races where Ryan Moore has sat on the wrong one, Colm O'Donoghue winning last year aboard Sword Fighter. Seamie Heffernan takes the understudy role this time, on Wisconsin, a twice raced son of Japanese super star, Deep Impact. It's probably a mug play, but he looks to have more scope to improve, should love the ground, and could be a bit of each way value at 10/1.

The highest rated in the field is Count Octave, on 103. He's 8/1 after just three runs, the most recent of which was five lengths behind Venice Beach in the Chester Vase. He stayed on similarly to another in the race, Wings Of Eagles, and wouldn't have to have his ability to land the spoils here. 8/1 is also playable each way.

There are many who can improve for a longer trip and natural progression and I quite like Time To Study.

Bookie specials on this race

Bet365: 1/4 1-2-3 plus risk-free bet to same stake if you back 4/1+ winner (max £50)

Paddy: Money back as a free bet if 2nd, 3rd or 4th to SP favourite (max £25)

Betfair sports: Free bet to same stake as any 3/1+ winner you back (max £25)

**

5.35 Duke Of Edinburgh Stakes (Class 2 Handicap, 1m 4f)

Borderline impossible closing placepot leg, where Wadigor - unbeaten in three - could be some way better than his current mark of 104. He's been unextended to win his three starts to date and is only eight pounds higher than when thumping an ordinary bunch (in the context of this race) on the Kempton poly. His trainer, Roger Varian, is in fine form and it often pays not to delve too deeply into the betting markets in this (last five winners 8/1 or shorter).

Around the same price, 7/1, is Sixties Groove, who Tony Stafford assures me is the bet of the week. Racing Post comment for its most recent run was, "going on finish but never threatening leaders". Hmm... Who am I to argue with the three-times newspaper naps champion tipster?

Too many more to mention in a race where I'll have the scattergun set to 'liberal smattering' on the placepot!

Bookie specials on this race

Bet365: 1/4 1-2-3-4 plus risk-free bet to same stake if you back 4/1+ winner (max £50)

Paddy: Money back as a free bet if 2nd, 3rd or 4th to SP favourite (max £25)

Betfair sports: 1/5 1-2-3-4-5 plus free bet to same stake as any 3/1+ winner you back (max £25)

Skybet 1/5 1-2-3-4-5-6

**

There will be no Saturday Royal Ascot preview, so I hope you've enjoyed these daily thoughts, and I wish you the very best of luck with both Friday's and Saturday's Ascot puzzles.

Matt

p.s. we've also got placepot pointers and big race trends for today's and tomorrow's action. Here are the Friday posts:

Placepot Pointers for Friday

Friday Royal Ascot Big Race Trends

Click here for our free Royal Ascot stat pack

Click here to join Geegeez Gold

Royal Ascot 2017: Day 3 Preview, Tips

Royal Ascot 2017: Day 3 Preview, Tips

The middle day of five already, Ladies' Day, and the historical highlight, the Gold Cup. In truth, it's a less thrilling card in terms of quality, but a single winner should leave a surplus for anyone lucky/smart enough to locate such a rare find. That's the task of this post, so let's get on with it, beginning with the...

2.30 Norfolk Stakes (Group 2, 5f)

A fast five furlong dash for two-year-olds, there is the prospect of another juvenile track record after Rajasinghe's lightning Coventry victory on the opening day. The micro-system flagged here throws up McErin and Sioux Nation.

Wesley Ward runs McErin, a twice raced colt who has yet to be seen publicly on turf. Not obviously a wagering proposition. But WW is a master with five furlong speedballs, as already demonstrated by Lady Aurelia on Day One (Happy Like A Fool yet to race at time of writing). This son of Trappe Shot is reportedly a much better work horse on turf and it is a long way to come if you don't believe your horse can act on the surface. The leap of faith required makes the price - around 4/1 and expected to be available at 9/2, perhaps even 5's on Thursday morning - so there may be some value there given the trainer's record: he won this in 2013 with the powerhouse, No Nay Never.

Aidan O'Brien brings Sioux Nation to the party, a chap who took three attempts to break his maiden and was then whacked when raised in grade. Again, not obviously a contender for a Group 2 at the Royal meeting. But APOB has had a 12/1 winner, Waterloo Bridge, and two seconds, at 8/1 and 9/4, from six Norfolk starters since 2009. His son of Scat Daddy should act much better on the Ascot road so, while the form is not there yet, there is every reason to believe, especially as he has a similar late-maturing profile to 2015 winner, Waterloo Bridge, who was also one from four when arriving here. With Ryan Moore riding, the standout 25/1 is not going to last, and the general 20's will be under some pressure too.

The Brocklesby winner, Santry, is two from two now, having supplemented his opening day success with a smooth effort in a conditions race. Both runs so far were on a soft surface, however, which leaves a question mark now.

There are lots of unexposed sorts in here, and perhaps the National Stakes form will take a further boost after Sound And Silence's win in the Windsor Castle on Tuesday. The winner and second from the Sandown race line up here, with Frozen Angel perhaps the value to reverse form with Havana Grey. In another juvenile guessers' race, though, I'll stick with my Wes and Aidan angle.

Bookie specials on this race

Bet365: 1/4 1-2-3-4 plus risk-free bet to same stake if you back 4/1+ winner (max £50)

Ladbrokes: Bet £20 on this race and get £10 free bet on 3.05

Skybet: Money back as a free bet if 2nd or 3rd in this race (max £20)

Paddy: Money back as a free bet if 2nd, 3rd or 4th to SP favourite (max £25)

Betfair sports: Free bet to same stake as any 3/1+ winner you back (max £25)

**

3.05 Hampton Court Stakes (Group 3, 1m2f)

A big field of three-year-olds comprising the usual proven class droppers and unexposed aspirants. Mirage Dancer heads the market and is a solid option. In two runs to date he's won a maiden (quite rare for Sir Michael Stoute horses to win on debut) and was then an eye-catching fourth to Cliffs Of Moher in the Dee Stakes. There, he was all at sea around the very tight turning circuit, whereas here he can put that additional experience to good use on the slightly more galloping plains of Ascot.

Bay Of Poets was in front of Mirage Dancer at Chester, and has since run all right in the Prix du Jockey Club. This trip and ground should be ideal, but I believe Mirage Dancer has the scope to progress past him. Godolphin have a second and third string to their bow in Benbatl and Tamleek. Benbatl brings the best form to the race, his second in the Dante and fifth in the Derby surpassing what his rivals have achieved thus far. But it is also form which screams 'beatable' (almost an anagram of Benbatl!), and I'll be disappointed if he's good enough.

Tamleek is in a similar boat to Mirage Dancer in some respects whilst lacking the optical appeal in his Chester run (behind Venice Beach and Derby winner, Wings Of Eagles, in the Vase). He could be the each way play.

Ryan Moore chooses Orderofthegarter over Taj Mahal, but his lad has been racing on soft surfaces since a debut second on good to firm six runs ago. This is a drop in class from his last two G1 spins but, again, it would be somewhat disappointing if there was nothing progressive enough to beat him.

Bookie specials on this race

Bet365: 1/4 1-2-3 plus risk-free bet to same stake if you back 4/1+ winner (max £50)

Betfair sports: Free bet to same stake as any 3/1+ winner you back (max £25)

**

3.40 Ribblesdale Stakes (Group 2, 1m4f)

The Ascot Oaks, sort of, this is a mile and a half G2 for three-year-old fillies. Alluringly, twice beaten - the second time heavily - by Oaks winner, Enable, is favoured. But the daughter of Fastnet Rock has stamina to prove to my eye. After all, she was bested by fully eleven lengths when third at Epsom.

Sir Michael runs Mori, winner of the Listed Height Of Fashion Stakes at Goodwood last time. Unraced as a juvenile, she won her maiden at the second request over course and going. That was ten furlongs, as was the Goodwood run, so she too has to demonstrate staying power. But with her imperious breeding - by Frankel out of multiple Group 1-winning mare, Midday - she ought to see the trip out. Her mum did, and her dad's brother (Noble Mission) did too. I'd take her as the class riser over Alluringly dropping down a level.

The Irish have won this five times in the last six years, and only twice with an Aidan O'Brien runner, which makes John Oxx's Naughty Or Nice of mild interest. Oxx saddled the winner of this, Sahara Slew, back in 2001, and has since overseen the career of the peerless (for some, including me) Sea The Stars. Oxx is not the force he was, sadly, but he has a respectable record at Royal Ascot, four of his eight runners since 2009 making the first four.

This filly is unbeaten in two, the latter a 1m5f Listed contest; not for her stamina reservations then. Whether she's quite quick enough could be a more pertinent question, the answer to which lies in a quote of 12/1 generally, which is worth a nibble each way to find out.

John Gosden runs four, and that reads like an attempt to snaffle black type for one or two of them rather than a robust bid for Ribblesdale glory.

Bookie specials on this race

Bet365: 1/4 1-2-3 plus risk-free bet to same stake if you back 4/1+ winner (max £50)

Betfair sports: Free bet to same stake as any 3/1+ winner you back (max £25)

**

4.20 Gold Cup (Group 1, 2m 4f)

The feature race of the week, the Gold Cup. A thorough test of stamina always, but it may be the horse which can best quicken after two and a quarter miles that gets the plaudits.

On the face of it, Order Of St George looks fairly bombproof. The defending champion, he was three lengths too good for the best of the rest a year ago. Although that was on soft turf, his record on good to firm at staying trips reads 111. With at least two confirmed front runners in the field, Ryan Moore should be able to bide his time and quicken through tired horses. I think he'll win.

So it may be that a forecast and/or exacta is a more appealing play for those that fail to get excited by an even money shot that should be 4/6.

Big Orange is not in my thoughts, as he looks sure to be locked into a compromising pace battle and will be forgiven for wilting late on. Similar comments probably apply to Torcedor, Nearly Caught and 2015 winner, Trip To Paris. No, it's late runners I'm looking for, and I'm hopeful that Martin Harley will take back aboard Sheikhzayedroad and play his hand on the reliable old boy towards the end of the show. If he does, I reckon he might be both the each way play and the exacta 'underneath'.

Sheikhy was a winner over two and a quarter in the Doncaster Cup, and over two miles here in the Long Distance Cup on Champions' Day, last year. He's won in Britain, Dubai and Canada and, although he might prefer a spit more juice in the ground, he's got plenty of very good form on fast.

If Jamie Spencer reverts to type atop Quest For More, delaying his effort, that one could also outrun his odds of 16/1.

Bookie specials on this race

Bet365: 1/4 1-2-3 plus risk-free bet to same stake if you back 4/1+ winner (max £50)

Betfair sports: Free bet to same stake as any 3/1+ winner you back (max £25)

Paddy: Money back as a free bet if 2nd, 3rd or 4th to SP favourite (max £25)

**

5.00 Britannia Stakes (Class 2 Handicap, 1m)

This is not really my thing. Too difficult. That said, five of the last seven winners were 10/1 or shorter, and only four of the last twenty winners were outside the top ten in the betting, so maybe I'm overthinking it...

The strong-travelling Son Of The Stars should settle better if buried mid-pack and, with just three runs under his belt, he's got plenty of improvement in him off a mark of 95. Trainer Richard Hannon is 0 from 8, one place, so far; and his dad, Richard Hannon, Sr., was 0 from 45 (six places) since 1997, which is a little off-putting, even if we shouldn't necessarily visit the sins of the fathers upon the sons. Hannon also runs The Grape Escape and Medahim.

Sir Michael Stoute has a winner at least, when the race was run at York, and another five places, from a fairly profligate 23 attempts. City Of Joy, on a hat-trick, is his entry. Off a mark of 94 and drawn in the middle, Ryan Moore's presence in the saddle suggests the current 10/1 about his chance will truncate before the stalls open. He'll be held up for a late run in a race that doesn't look overly blessed with early toe.

I've already said too much about a race where I don't have any edge, so I'll throw a lucky dip pick from the top end of the market, exclusively in hope rather than expectation: Maths Prize has had just the one run this term, when fifth to Shutter Speed at Newbury over a mile and a quarter. Presumed to strip fitter for the outing, and dropping back in trip, his juvenile form was solid and included two wins and a close up third to Derby runner, Khalidi. Drawn in the middle, where I think the race may unfold, and with a prominent racing style, this lad could give The Queen a winner on Gold Cup day. And at 20/1 as I write!

Naval Warfare, whose first two races were the same pair as Maths Prize's, made all to win on his first three year old start last time. He looks more of a man this term so, with little early pace predicted, he could carry the field deep into the final furlong. Joshua Bryan's seven pound claim means geegeez.co.uk sponsored jockey, David Probert, misses the gig, but also means Naval Warfare is only four pounds higher than the last day. He too is a 20/1 poke with a squeak.

Bookie specials on this race

Bet365: 1/4 1-2-3-4-5 plus risk-free bet to same stake if you back 4/1+ winner (max £50)

Paddy: Money back as a free bet if 2nd, 3rd or 4th to SP favourite (max £25)

Betfair sports: 1/4 1-2-3-4-5 plus free bet to same stake as any 3/1+ winner you back (max £25)

Victor, Ladbrokes, Coral 1/4 1-2-3-4-5

Skybet, Paddy 1/5 1-2-3-4-5-6

**

5.35 King George V Stakes (Class 2 Handicap, 1m 4f)

Another huge field handicap where the pin is a better guide than my digi-quill. I've learned one thing, however, and it is this. Of those horses making their handicap bow in the race, seven won - from 98 to try - and 30 were placed. That works out at 35% winners, 37.5% places, from 27.37% of the runners. Not a massive edge, but an edge nonetheless.

It's a race that has thrown up plenty of bigger priced winners, too, so I'll throw a blind dart (tuppence each way) on Sheila Lavery's Twin Star at around 33/1 (expect bigger nearer the time, especially on the exchanges). Handled by an under-rated Irish  trainer, this lad looks to have been well placed in here: he won a ten furlong maiden on good to firm at Navan before running a two length fourth to the re-opposing Homesman, trained by Aidan O'Brien. Twin Star gets a five pound pull for two lengths, having been the horse running on best of all at the finish. The extra quarter mile and the return to a quick surface are positives, and the price makes it close to a free go.

Elsewhere, and more obviously, Mark Johnston, whose record is a winner and a place from just two runners in this race, saddles Sofia's Rock and considers him one of his better chances of the week. A winner three times in small fields he has second top weight, but the trainer's conviction will need to be more than robust if this one is to get the lead - his normal style - from box 20.

Atty Persse was considered a Derby candidate at one point, but has since lost his unbeaten record over ten furlongs. Nevertheless, he steps up to a mile and a half now, which I expect to suit. He looks a legit jolly, if you're unconcerned by the widest pitch of all in 22. High draws have done pretty well in this race, including four of the last five winners.

Good luck wherever your pin lands in this one, and indeed all afternoon. It's trappy-looking fare, but great fun!

Bookie specials on this race

Bet365: 1/4 1-2-3-4 plus risk-free bet to same stake if you back 4/1+ winner (max £50)

Betfair sports: Free bet to same stake as any 3/1+ winner you back (max £25)

Skybet, Paddy 1/5 1-2-3-4-5

Matt

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A Right Royal Day for the Boys In Blue

Ribchester and Lady Aurelia reinforced their star status, but it proved to be an off-day for Aidan O’Brien’s Churchill.

On a baking opening day at Ascot, the Royal Meeting provided a plethora of dazzling performances fit for a Queen. Track records were tumbling left, right and centre, with Ribchester setting the tone thanks to a classy performance in the Queen Anne Stakes.

Team Godolphin had a day to remember, and it was Ribchester that settled the nerves with a professional display. Taking over the running a furlong from home, he battled on bravely to see off Mutakayyef by just over a length. The runner-up had travelled powerfully into contention but was unable to peg-back Fahey’s fella. And though he wandered off a straight path in the closing stages, the winner never looked likely to be caught. Deauville put in an eye-catching performance for Ballydoyle to finish third.

Of the winner, jockey William Buick said: “I said after the Lockinge he's very versatile. He's an exceptional miler, of course he's got lots of quality but he travels so well and sees it out so well. You've got to hand it to the horse, he's an absolute jockey's dream. It doesn't get much better than this, it's the biggest week in our sport, and to wear the Royal Blue for Sheikh Mohammed here is absolutely fantastic.”

With the course-record broken, an exceedingly proud Richard Fahey said: “I'm delighted he won, William said he's got huge gears and said that he was never in trouble. He gets the trip well and that makes him a good horse. He's got to be the best I've trained, especially breaking the track record here today, and that is not being disrespectful to the other horses. I'm in a happy place at the minute.”

Ribchester’s thoroughly professional performance was arguably overshadowed by the dazzling display from America’s Lady Aurelia. Wes Ward’s flying filly had sparkled 12 months earlier, when storming to victory in the Queen Mary. That success came on soft ground, but she found the fast ground yesterday equally to her liking. Moving to the front beyond the furlong mark, she quickly put distance between herself and the rest. Last year’s winner Profitable, now a Godolphin blue, proved best of the rest despite the ground being plenty quick enough for him. Marsha ran another cracker to finish a head further back in third.

An injury to Frankie Dettori meant that American jock John Velazquez became the lucky pilot. He said of the victory: “It's unfortunate for Frankie and a bad situation for him, but she was spectacular. I gave her a little break in the first half of the race and then when I asked her to run she responded, that doesn't always happen. Wes does a great job and he has a great team.”

For Ward, the flying filly made it eight Royal Ascot winners, and the ecstatic trainer added: “She's a very special filly. This is a Group One against the fastest sprinters in the world and to duplicate what she did last year and come back and do it again - she's a once in a lifetime horse. She's amazing and she loves it over here. We can look forward to a really big summer, the Breeders' Cup - her owners are so excited, it's wonderful for American racing.”

With mission accomplished for two leading lights, it was the turn of Ballydoyle’s latest star to shine. Churchill had won the Guineas on both sides of the Irish Sea, and was sent off a short-priced favourite to add the St James’s Palace Stakes. Held up in midfield, Ryan Moore looked to track chief danger Barney Roy as they approached the two-furlong mark. But as Godolphin’s fella responded for pressure, so O’Brien’s star faltered. Barney battled bravely to head Lancaster Bomber and Thunder Snow inside the final furlong, whilst Churchill could only manage fourth.

Many had thought him unfortunate not to have won the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket, though Churchill’s below-par performance here, still leaves doubts over the identity of the best three-year-old miler. Nevertheless, this was Godolphin’s day, and trainer Richard Hannon was clearly delighted: “I was confident he'd run his race, not confident he'd win - I just wanted to give him the chance to prove that, as I don't think he got that chance in the Guineas. There isn't another Guineas to go at, but that is a good pot and Sean Levey, who rides him at home, has done a good job.”

Of future plans, a step up in trip appears likely when he added: “He's in the Eclipse, he's in the Arc. He takes time to get there but he picked up well, he's a very relaxed horse and was only having his fourth run, so to beat the Guineas winner is great.”

Hopefully Churchill will bounce back at some point during the Summer. He undoubtedly ran flat, maybe feeling the exertions of those two Guineas victories. O’Brien, as ever philosophical, said of the loss: “He ran well. His form with Lancaster Bomber changed a bit from what it usually is. He should like fast ground really. It is a very hot day and maybe the heat and change didn't help. He just didn't pick up for some reason. We don't know the reason but we will hopefully know sometime.”

Godolphin completed a stunning opening day, with a one-two in the Windsor Castle Stakes. The Charlie Appleby pair of Sound And Silence and Roussel, dominated the finish, with the former getting home by a neck. The juveniles look to have a bright future, as do the ‘Boys in Blue’. It’s been a turbulent period for Sheikh Mohammed and his team, yet they have roared into the Royal Meeting, and look sure to have further success during Flat racing’s most celebrated event.

Royal Ascot 2017: Day 2 Preview, Tips

Royal Ascot 2017: Day 2 Preview, Tips

Day 2 at Royal Ascot features another Group 1 contest and probably the most fiendish handicap puzzle of the week; but it all begins - minus Her Majesty, required for chores at Westminster - with the...

2.30 Jersey Stakes (Group 3, 7f)

As ever, this is a difficult script to follow. As usual, the cast comprises non-stayers and class-droppers from the various Guineas races as well as class-risers and trip-stretchers from the sprint division. It is more often than not a new venture for the winner, so some degree of conjecture is required, a bit like a thriller where the culprit is oh so obvious after the fact.

Prime suspect in this particular Hitchcock drama is the mysterious Frenchman, Le Brivido, trained by the not-so-mysterious Andre Fabre. Monsieur F. was once untouchable when sending a raider across to Britain, but in recent years that aura of ultimate respect has dissipated a tad. Indeed, he's had just one winner (Usherette, last year), from just six runners, at the Royal meeting in the last five years.

Le Brivido brings excellent credentials, on the numbers at least: he's clear top rated by the official handicapper, and by Topspeed and by Racing Post Ratings. He was second in the French 2000 Guineas, beaten a short head and with three lengths back to the third. It is the best form in this race by a little way. But...

He has never raced over seven furlongs, and he has never raced on a straight track, and he has never raced on ground as fast as this, and he'll have never raced off a pace as rapid as this. Back in the good old days, when things were a lot more straightforward, we would simply trust in M. F to know what was right. In 2017, and at the price, I'm not so sure. This lad was 16/1 and a bit of a surprise when nearly landing the Poulains, and why is he not contesting the St James's Palace Stakes? Third there would read better than winning this.

Le Brivido can win, naturellement, but I'm trying to find one to beat him.

That one is almost as unimaginative, Dream Castle. Trading at a similar quote of 7/2, he's not hard to find, but he does have a more proven if marginally less compelling profile. Fifth was his position in our Guineas, a placing that tells little of the tale of his run. He was badly checked in his stride having started a step slow, and ran on very well. Only beaten three lengths there - and value for at least a length closer proximity, he wouldn't need to improve much to contest in an average Jersey. The step back in trip is not obviously a plus, but the almost guaranteed overly fast pace here is.

Pick of the unexposed class elevators may be Andrew Balding's Beat The Bank, two from two at the trip and in his career. He's proven over a straight seven on fast ground, and he has every right to move forward from what he's shown so far. 25/1 with Skybet is worth the speculative play.

Bookie specials

Ladbrokes: Bet £20 on this race and get £10 free bet on 3.05

Skybet: Money back as a free bet if 2nd or 3rd in this race (max £20)

Paddy: Money back as a free bet if 2nd, 3rd or 4th to SP favourite (max £25)

Betfair sports: Free bet to same stake as any 3/1+ winner you back (max £25)

3.05 Queen Mary Stakes (Group 2, 5f)

This is Wes territory. In the eight renewals since 2009, Wesley Ward has won three of them, including the last two. He produces two-year-old sprint fillies like Britain produces four-year-old sprint colts... Of all the squad he's brought over this year, he is said to be most thrilled and excited by Happy Like A Fool. She's a short enough price at 7/4 ish but in a year where the domestic challenge looks notably weak, she's a very likely victor.

WW knows exactly what is needed to win this race, and he couldn't have been more ebullient about this filly. Indeed, after training her on the track last week he reported,

"She is great - doing super. She had a big work yesterday with Jamie Spencer and came out of that great. It is exciting."

We've not exactly gone off piste so far - more nursery slopes - but we should have at least one winner from the first two races. If any bookie offers 2/1 as a concession, I'd suggest she'll be nearer to 5/4 come post time.

For those who would rather play an each way loser - that's generally my idea of the game! - Heartache is the one at 6/1 in places. Clive Cox is an eminent trainer of sprinters - think Profitable, Priceless, Reckless Abandon in recent years - and this daughter of Kyllachy won her only start to date by six lengths on firm ground. Sure, that was Bath and this is Royal Ascot, but she's rapid and most of these are not especially. She's drawn highest of all, in 20, with Happy Like A Fool in 18 and likely to attempt to blitz her field from gate to wire.

Of the bigger prices, Out Of The Flames has improved since beating Mrs Gallagher, though the latter has the chance to step forward herself on a sole victory from a single racecourse visit. Both are 16's with a chance of going 20's between now and race time.

Bookie specials on this race

Bet365: 1/4 1-2-3-4 plus risk-free bet to same stake if you back 4/1+ winner (max £50)

Betfair sports: Free bet to same stake as any 3/1+ winner you back (max £25)

3.40 Duke Of cambridge Stakes (Group 2, 1m)

Not a race I have a handle on especially, if indeed I'm close to the mark elsewhere. It was very difficult not to be taken with Laugh Aloud's performance at Epsom, where not everything went right for her. She looked a Group 1 filly in the making, and with no concerns about conditions - she ought also to be able to adopt her favoured unchallenged position in front - the only question is whether she can step up to this class. James Doyle will be keen to prevail in the Godolphin blue on this John Gosden-trained 'outside ride'.

Last year's winner, Usherette, also wears the Godolphin silks. It was soft when she won twelve months ago, and it'll be borderline firm this time around. She's been beaten in both prep runs this term and has form on good or quicker of 7163 in an overall string of 1171111633. Not for me the repeater.

Qemah is really interesting. On class, she's the winner. She triumphed in the Group 1 Coronation Stakes, for three year olds over a mile, at the Royal meeting last year. But she was beaten in a weak Group 3 on her seasonal bow five weeks ago. The French do love a prep race so there's every likelihood that no tears were shed after that even money reversal, and Jean-Claude Rouget is fast becoming the new Andre Fabre such is his knack for taking down the big pots.

Rouget is two from eight in recent seasons at Royal Ascot, both wins coming in the Coronation Stakes. His other Coronation winner was Ervedya, who was turned over last year when taking in the Queen Anne against older colts. Once bitten twice shy, perhaps, and the savvy man from the provinces (he trains down in beautiful Pau) has lowered his sights a year later.

Of the rest, Greta G is becoming the wise guy mare. A winner of the Argentinian 1000 Guineas, she gets weight for age as she's still considered a three-year-old until July 1st (I think!). But before you lump on, it's only one pound WFA, and her Classic win was on heavy ground. Frankie Dettori, international horseman if ever there was, takes the ride. I love a dark horse, but am seriously struggling to see how this filly isn't 33/1. She's 12's.

Bookie specials on this race

Bet365: 1/4 1-2-3 plus risk-free bet to same stake if you back 4/1+ winner (max £50)

Skybet: Enhanced place odds 1/5 1-2-3-4

Paddy: Money back as a free bet if 2nd, 3rd or 4th to SP favourite (max £25)

Betfair sports: Free bet to same stake as any 3/1+ winner you back (max £25)

 

4.20 Prince Of Wales's Stakes (Group 1, 1m 2f)

A really good looking renewal of the PoW Stakes. Two horses, Highland Reel and Jack Hobbs, are rated 123, with seven of the nine strong field rated 115 or higher. Highland Reel, a terrific mile and a half horse is just not at the same level over ten furlongs. Indeed, his record at this trip reads 2153827, compared with a twelve furlong record of 51142121271. As much as I love him, and as little of a shock as it would be if he is first past the post, I have to oppose him at this range.

Moreover, it looks as though Godolphin are playing the ol' team tactics tit for tat by deploying a pacemaker in Scottish for their main hope, Jack Hobbs. Jack has been an infrequent visitor to the track in the last two seasons, his three runs yielding a commendable third to Almanzor in the Champion Stakes over this course and distance, and a win in the Dubai Sheema Classic over a quarter mile further.

The worry is his fragility. Two three-year-old runs on good to firm were excellent - runner up in Golden Horn's Derby and then a facile victory in the Irish Derby - but he's not encountered terra as firmer since, and has been pulled out on account of the ground more than once.

We then come to Ulysses, for whom it is very difficult to make a case solely on the evidence of the form book. Thought good enough to run in both the Derby and the Breeders' Cup Turf last season, the fact remains he's never bettered a brace of Group 3 victories in his career thus far. But... is Sir Michael Stoute, his trainer, not the master with improving horses as they get older? And does not his very presence in those races last term imply a higher level of ability in his home work? With question marks against the first two in the betting, I put my trust in Sir Michael to deliver this chap ready to run big on Wednesday. 4/1 is fair enough if you're happy to roll with trainer patterns.

Perhaps the best bet in the race, though, is Decorated Knight each way. Roger Charlton's son of Galileo has won two of his last three races, both in Group 1 company, and has a record at ten furlongs of 2111. He's won four of his last five and acts on very fast turf, he's joint third top rated, is versatile as regards pace, and he's 10/1 in a place. He'll do.

Bookie specials on this race

Bet365: 1/4 1-2-3 plus risk-free bet to same stake if you back 4/1+ winner (max £50)

Betfair sports: Free bet to same stake as any 3/1+ winner you back (max £25)

5.00 Royal Hunt Cup (Class 2 Handicap, 1m)

A thirty strong field line up to blaze down the straight mile in this inscrutable weight-for-ability guess up. This is a vanity heat from a punting perspective, and it takes a big man to walk away. I'm walking away. Probably.

For what it's worth (very little, I'll have been lucky not good if it cops), these are a few things that may - or may not - be relevant:

- Pace looks to be exclusively middle to high

- Horses dropping back in trip from nine or ten furlongs, and 20/1 or shorter are 4/30 (11 placed) +29 in last twenty years

- Four and five year olds have won 17/20 (85%) from 71% of the runners. They've also had 80% of the places from that same 71% population.

So, just for fun, high drawn four or five year old dropping back in trip... gives two Godolphin runners, G K Chesterton and Blair House. The former wants to be on the speed: that's not really a recipe for success in a race where the last four good to firm winners came from way off the pace. The latter hasn't run for almost a year, and may race closer to the pace than ideal, but he's 25/1 and capable.

Fastnet Tempest is my idea of the most likely winner, but not sufficiently likely for me to invest at 10/1; while 40/1 Cote d'Azur would be landing a notable Hunt Cup double having bagged the Thirsk version two starts back on good to firm, and could be the one for a penny win/place given his price.

Bookie specials on this race

Bet365: 1/4 1-2-3-4-5 plus risk-free bet to same stake if you back 4/1+ winner (max £50)

Skybet: Enhanced place odds 1/5 1-2-3-4-5-6

Betfair sports: Free bet to same stake as any 3/1+ winner you back (max £25)

5.35 Sandringham Handicap (Listed, 1m)

In spite of perennial twenty filly fields, this has been a top of the market race in recent times. Indeed since Ascot reopened in 2006 after the Royal Ascot at York sojourn, only one winner has returned longer than 11/1. Nevertheless, John Gosden's ante post favourite, Gymnaste, is bidding to become the first winner since 2001 to be rated lower than 90 - and only two in that time have been lower than 94. That doesn't mean she can't win, of course, but rather that she maybe hasn't demonstrated the class to best this type of field.

Wesley's Con Te Partiro (9/1) is a very interesting runner. She's by a sprinter out of a sprinter, but in her most recent three runs - including on the Breeders' Cup undercard - she's shaped like she's crying out for a mile. She's a rare closer for Ward and, if settling, she'll relish conditions. I'm not certain she'll see the trip out - it's a stiff mile at Ascot after all, and she's been racing over shorter around tight turns in the States - but she may be mis-handicapped off 102. Spencer is the perfect pilot for her.

Rain Goddess is the other I want in my corner. Although Aidan O'Brien's three-year-old handicap record is unspectacular (1/10 since 2009, his only runner in this last of 17 in 2009), this daughter of Galileo - who else? - was never at the races over seven furlongs in the G3 Fred Darling two starts back, but she'll be far more at home with this drop in grade and rise in distance.

More pertinently, perhaps, she has since run fifth in the French 1000 Guineas where she may have been unsuited by the slow pace. As an Aidan O'Brien/Ryan Moore contender, she's very unlikely to be sent off at her current quote of 12/1. She merits each way support.

Bookie specials on this race

Bet365: 1/4 1-2-3-4-5 plus risk-free bet to same stake if you back 4/1+ winner (max £50)

Betfair sports: Free bet to same stake as any 3/1+ winner you back (max £25)

And that rounds out the opening dozen races. Good luck with your Day Two wagers!

Matt

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Click here to join Geegeez Gold

Royal Ascot 2017: Day 1 Preview, Tips

Royal Ascot 2017: Day 1 Preview, Tips

The greatest summer meeting of them all, Royal Ascot 2017, is a feast of top class racing spanning five sumptuous days. In what looks set to be scorching weather conditions, fast ground specialists ought to be an exclusive play all week, a week that starts with a sextet of fiercely combative heats, among them three Group 1's.

The first of six on the day, and thirty across the week, is the...

2.30 Queen Anne Stakes (Group 1, 1m)

On figures, this is Ribchester's to lose. Godolphin's progressive last day Lockinge winner has the best form, and is lightly raced; if there is a niggle it's whether he wants lightning fast ground. The son of Iffraaj was beaten on his sole good to firm start last term, albeit shaping like he's improved since then. He's a worthy favourite and will make plenty of multiples as the week kicks off.

For small money, I'd rather tentatively take my chances, each way, with Lightning Spear. This fellow does enjoy rattling turf and has little to find with the favourite on a couple of pieces of form. Drawn high - Ribchester is in stall one, the early speed probably low to middle - he has made the frame without winning in all three course and distance spins, including last year's renewal of the Queen Anne. 5/1 is probably fair enough.

As with all races all week, there are plenty of others with chances, including the ultra-consistent Mutakayyef (in the first three in 14 of his 15 career starts). Todd Pletcher's US raider, American Patriot, who loves lightning fast ground may be the most interesting outsider in the field at around 25/1.

3.05 Coventry Stakes (Group 2, 6f)

The Coventry is a six furlong dash for two-year-olds only, and tends to shape the very early 2000 Guineas betting. The caveat, which applies seemingly to all of the juvenile heats at Royal Ascot this year, is that a certain American gentleman - Mr Wesley A Ward, Esq. - may have a hand, or a hoof, in the finish.

He tests the water here with a colt owned by Coolmore, called Arawak. Arawak is very difficult to quantify off a single run, and win, in a dirt maiden special weight over five furlongs. What I can relate is that Wesley's best record comes at the minimum distance, and he has only twice had runners in the Coventry, both big prices, both well beaten.

Looking to Peter May's excellent ratings, he was kind enough to share the winning performances with me from previous renewals, and they make for some interesting observations. Firstly, all winners since 2009 had won their prior start. The longest price of any of those Coventry-winning horses when winning their prior start was 5/2, and five of the eight winners since 2009 came from the first four in the ratings (20/1 War Command did not have a rating).

This year, De Bruyne Horse tops the May ratings - featured on the geegeez Gold cards - and he's followed in by Brother Bear. It is Jessica Harrington's colt I like, and have backed. Unbeaten in two starts to date, the latter a facile victory in the Listed Marble Hill Stakes, he's drawn in the middle from where I'd imagine he will stalk the pace and pounce if he's good enough. He's offered at 9/2 currently.

I've also backed Romanised, who was an impressive winner of his maiden and comes here directly off the back of that effort; and I think another once raced colt, Nebo, might be smart. Both of that pair are around 16/1.

3.40 King's Stand Stakes (Group 1, 5f)

A second G1, this time for speedballs over the minimum trip. The Palace House Stakes winner has an exceptional record in the King's Stand in recent years with five winners from the Newmarket contest prevailing in this, including the last four, since 2010.

The very speedy Marsha represents that form line in 2017, having been a taking winner at HQ six weeks ago. Her run style is to be waited with, which may be viewed as both a positive and a negative in the context of this year's race. It is a positive because there is a ton of early speed and she'll not get caught up in what will quite likely be a meltdown ; and it is a negative because Luke Morris will need to thread a passage through a potential wall of fatigued horses from a draw in stall nine. I backed her at 8/1 straight after the Palace House Stakes, and implied readers might do likewise in this post. She is still 4/1 in a place and I think she'll be a point shorter on the day.

That is better than main market rival, the trailblazing Lady Aurelia, who has to do something like a solo from the widest gate of all, stall 18. She has a little bit to prove for me, and though she's a perfectly credible winner, and may be 'the speed of the speed', I don't want to get involved at around 3/1.

I'm not much of a fan of Signs Of Blessing in the context of this race - cue easy win - a horse whose form is pretty much all on soft ground over six furlongs. This ain't that.

One of the better big prices is Goldream, winner here three years ago, and patently not at the races last term. Now eight, his best days could be behind him, but he's got very close to both Marsha and Profitable this season, that pair the last two winners of the King's Stand. But his age puts me off a little.

Profitable has the opposite draw to Lady Aurelia, in stall one, and he may just find himself away from the main action. That's about the only downside for him and he should again run his race. I slightly prefer his former owner's Priceless, however, and backed that one prior to the Palace House in the hope she would prevail there. She didn't, running a solid fifth, but she did win next/last time out, at Haydock in the Group 2 Temple Stakes on firm ground. 14/1 is still an attractive price, and ostensibly a bit on the big side.

4.20 St James's Palace Stakes (Group 1, 1m)

A mile round the turn for three-year-olds only, with dual 2000 Guineas winner, Churchill, bidding to win a second battle with Barney Roy, runner up at Newmarket. It's a compelling match up, with Churchill bringing a higher level of form and Barney Roy presumed capable of greater improvement after just three runs to date.

Much was made of the Ballydoyle team tactics in the 2000 Guineas, with Aidan O'Brien fielding a squad and controlling the race. He saddles three this time, including the guaranteed pacemaker, Lancaster Bomber: it certainly won't be the first time a lancaster bomber has set the scene for a Churchill victory. (sigh, it needed writing!) Godolphin also run Thunder Snow, second to Churchill in the Irish 2000 Guineas, and now racing on a notably different surface - it was yielding when they last met.

In truth, this makes little appeal as a wagering proposition. I expect the favourite to confirm superiority over his Curragh conquest, and more than likely over his Newmarket underling too. The prices offer little appeal for anything except perhaps a really dull straight forecast.

Nevertheless, it remains a race to savour between an established high class horse and potential top notcher.

5.00 Ascot Stakes (Class 2 Handicap, 2m4f)

Twenty runners in a handicap and a 3/1 favourite trained by Willie Mullins. You'd be forgiven for thinking we were at Punchestown, but no, this is Royal Ascot. Mullins had a battalion entered at the five day stage, but relies on Thomas Hobson - ridden by Ryan Moore - to get the job done. Mullins has run eight in the race, and won it twice, down the years, so odds of 3/1 about this year's challenger are accurate on the representation front at least.

Thomas Hobson was a 100-rated handicapper when trained by John Gosden, but he did his winning on soft ground. Indeed, he's won nothing more than a Class 4 handicap and a maiden hurdle on good ground, and has been well beaten on his only try on good to firm. He certainly won't be a shock winner, and there's a fair chance he'll make his own running in a race that can involve more hard luck stories than a shift at The Samaritans, but he's not lugging my cash at that price.

One that has the right credentials to be involved is Alan King's Oceane. For a trainer who has a lot of runners on the flat, I was surprised that he's only had two previous entries in this race; this year, he saddles three.

Oceane is the outsider of the trio - Who Dares Wins and Rainbow Dreamer his better-fancied stablemates - but he loves fast ground, has very good form at the track, is within hailing distance of his last winning rating, and handles a big field well. I do have a slight reservation about whether he'll see the trip out on the level, but he's a sporting price at 16/1.

5.35 Windsor Castle Stakes (Listed, 5f)

A big field of sub-top class but largely unexposed juveniles over the minimum trip. Tricky territory. Six of the last eight winners also won last time out, including scorers at 14/1 and 20/1, and two Wesley winners, one of them at 33/1 (those days are long gone!). That trims 24 down to eleven, which is a fair start.

Only the Wes winners scored off a solitary previous run, which may (or may not) count against Roussel and Marchingontogether. Interestingly, perhaps, three of the last six winners had already run thrice, and this may be a race where experience counts. Or, more likely, it's just coincidence. Certainly the longer term trends point to twice raced animals as being the prime movers.

Declarationofpeace is an obvious starting point. He was deemed by bookmakers good enough to be outright ante post favourite for the Group 2 Coventry, and yet here he is, two rungs lower down and he's not even the jolly. That hardly screams confidence. It may be that owners, Coolmore, wanted to separate Arawak and this guy, in which case he could see solid support in the run up to the race. That would be significant, all the more so because the others vying for market leadership are both trained by Wesley Ward, who also handles Arawak for 'the lads'.

Reading the soundbites from Wes, he may slightly prefer Nootka Sound to Elizabeth Darcy. Both are fillies taking on the boys, and both figure at the top of the betting. Importantly, perhaps, Nootka Sound has a middle draw while ED is marooned in the two box. Frankie Dettori rides Nootka Sound and this will be point and shoot territory: if she sees the trip out, it will take a fast one to gun her down.

Of the speculative bigger prices, Tom Dascombe's Dragons Tail is fast and his form is working out well. He won on second start, by four and a half lengths, the third and fourth (re-opposing Dahik) having won since. He's 20/1.

Good luck with your Day One wagers, and remember, we have oodles of top stuff for the Royal meeting, whether you're a free or Gold subscriber (more top stuff if you're Gold, natch! 😉 )

Matt

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Monday Musings: Defending the Royal Castle

It is unusual in my experience for Michael Bell, the long-serving and usually affable Royal trainer, to stick his head above any particular parapet, writes Tony Stafford. Last week, though, he saw fit to take Ascot to task for allowing Wesley Ward to work his Royal meeting candidates on the course.

Bell, who has ten horses in the Queen’s ownership – only Sir Michael Stoute and William Haggas (11 each) have more – reckoned it gave the American an unfair advantage. This theme was followed up by Sheiklh Fahad Al Thani, the boss of Qatar Racing and David Redvers, the Sheikh’s senior advisor who runs Tweenhills Stud.

Nick Smith, the Royal meeting’s main overseas talent-sourcer for many years, replied that Ascot have always allowed overseas challengers to get to know the track. He says this mirrors the situation for British and other overseas challengers on US tracks who have the opportunity to work their horses on turf, whereas the home team cannot.

Maybe the Qatar Racing gripe stems from the fact that a recent acquisition, the Ivor Furtado-trained Marchingontogether will line up in tomorrow’s Windsor Castle Stakes against not just one, but two of Ward’s flying juveniles.

I stopped off at Leicester one night last month, before continuing on to Chester, and while taking advantage of the new owner food facility – well done Nick Lees! – had a minute bet on said Furtado horse, who duly won on debut at 14-1. The fact that Silvestre De Sousa was her jockey assisted my pin on its way down the card.

Until that day, Marchingontogether had been a financial flop for her breeder Whatcote Farm Stud. From the first crop of Havana Gold, one of Qatar Racing’s stallions at Tweenhills, she would have cost her breeders a fee of £8,500 to be covered, but went through the ring as a foal around 18 months later for just 1,000gns.

Her temporary new owner re-presented her almost a year later at Doncaster’s Goffs sale and her price dropped again to £800. Early indications are that Havana Gold has a future and Marchingontogether is one of six individual winners from the stallion, headed by Havana Grey, winner of Sandown’s Listed National Stakes last month for the Karl Burke stable.

When Michael Bell (and his brother Rupert on TalkSport, and possibly Rupert’s son Olly, on the telly), speak of unfairness, they might think of Whatcote Farm Stud and the interim temporary custodian of the filly and what they think is fair as they watch their former property line up in the Sheikh’s maroon. At the same time, the lucky recipients of Marchingontogether once Furtado had added her to his string – she is one of just two juveniles listed for him in Horses in Training 2017 – namely Bgc Racing & Partner, will be laughing all the way to the bank.

The two Wesley Ward adversaries to Marchingontogether, both owned by Hat Creek Racing, have single wins on their record and coincidentally both beat the filly CJS Suzie Byu. Nootka Sound, a daughter of Australian-born stallion Lonhro, was first in to bat, winning by more than five lengths over four and a half furlongs at Keeneland in late April.

Four weeks later, the Goffs Ireland recruit Elizabeth Darcy, by Camacho, started out at Indiana Grand. She was the even-money favourite and had almost eight lengths to spare over CJS Suzie Byu, despite that filly’s connections’ hopes for better as the 7-5 starting price suggested.

As ever the Windsor Castle will take plenty of winning with representatives of Charlie Appleby’s almost invincible juvenile team and one-time Coolmore Coventry Stakes contender Declarationofpeace (by War Front) aiming to add to last year’s win by Washington DC in the same race.

Rather than Hat Creek Racing, there is a better known ownership group on what is probably Wesley Ward’s best juvenile contender of the day, Arawak, a son of Uncle Mo, and winner by seven lengths on his Belmont debut last month.

Arawak is due to wear blinkers and carry the colours of Derrick Smith, while Aidan O’Brien’s pair, first-choice Murillo and US Navy Flag will be similarly attired. It will be interesting to see which of the three is entrusted with the first-choice cap.

Wesley’s biggest fish of the entire week, though, will almost certainly be Lady Aurelia, the dominating Queen Mary Stakes winner from last year and later on more workmanlike at Deauville before her third place behind Brave Anna in the Cheveley Park Stakes. She returned with an emphatic victory at Keeneland last month and is the favourite for tomorrow’s King’s Stand Stakes ahead of Marsha and French-trained Signs of Blessing.

Lady Aurelia gets a 6lb allowance from her older filly rivals, including Marsha and Temple Stakes heroine Priceless, whom Alan Spence will be half shouting for, seeing he will get another big chunk from Godolphin if their acquisition Profitable follows last year’s success when in his red, white and blue livery.

The re-match between Churchill and Barney Roy from the 2,000 Guineas, and for that matter Churchill and Thunder Snow from the Irish 2,000, will go a long way towards whether Aidan O’Brien and “the Lads” dominate another Royal meeting.

Churchill starts off in the St James’s Palace in a week when Order of St George (Thursday’s Gold Cup) and the Friday pair of Caravaggio (Commonwealth Cup) and Winter (Coronation Stakes) are all overwhelming favourites. No doubt there will be considerable liabilities for ante-post bookmakers linking the quartet and the layers will be hoping for an Annie Power-type reprieve from at least one of them.

Today’ Racing Post was embellished by news of a gamble on the Jeremy Noseda-trained Abe Lincoln, out of action on the track since a possibly unlucky second place in the Britannia Stakes 12 months ago. Most of the principals in that race find a home immediately afterwards, often for massive money in Hong Kong, but Paul Roy has stayed faithful to the now four-year-old and will be hoping for another win in the race he and Noseda took with Forgotten Voice in 2009.

The Post also tried to link the Abe Lincoln challenge with the background to the Wokingham Stakes success of Jeremy with Laddies Poker Two the following year, in her case after two years off the track. Noseda said the two situations were different. He is correct on one score, Abe Lincoln will certainly not be responsible for producing a dual Classic winner, unlike Laddies Poker Two, dam of Winter.

As to my idea of the handicap bet of the week, it’s another from the Noseda/Roy team, Sixties Groove, who can win Friday’s finale, the Duke of Edinburgh Stakes, after a nice run round on his comeback at Epsom the other day.

- Tony Stafford

The Irish at Royal Ascot 2017

Aidan O'Brien spearheads the Irish challenge at Royal Ascot

Aidan O'Brien spearheads the Irish challenge at Royal Ascot

Irish indifference, be it from the general public or the mainstream sporting media, is given when it comes to Royal Ascot, writes Tony Keenan. Whereas the Royal meeting is a central cog in the social and sporting calendar in the UK, commanding column inches describing the who’s who of attendees and being the only meeting of the year where every race is on terrestrial TV, the attention it gets in Ireland is minimal; Galway remains the highpoint of the racing summer.

Perhaps this is due to the coverage given to other sports. The US Open has just finished, we’re in the middle of a Lions Tour and both the football and hurling championships have proved surprisingly competitive. Others will say that for all Aidan O’Brien’s achievements at the meeting and in flat racing generally, his record-breaking has become blasé; brilliance is diminished when it is expected. But most of all it is not Cheltenham despite being a fixture that is obviously more important in a global racing sense than any jumps event, the horses that run making their mark in the history of the sport through their own actions across the five days and in breeding sheds later.

None of this will stop flat racing people in Ireland going hell for leather at the meeting. Irish runners at Royal Ascot have been gradually rising since 2010 and it’s a surprise there aren’t even more Irish horses entered. Not only do our horses consistently overachieve here – a general rule is that betting Irish runners at the fixture comes with a positive expected value – but for owners it must be a fantastic experience, unique among racetracks around the world. As seen below, it is a long time since there were only 24 Irish runners and one winner back in 2003.

 

Irish Runners at Royal Ascot by Year
Year Winners Runners Strikerate Level-Stakes Actual/Expected
2010 4 46 8.7% -10.00 0.81
2011 6 35 17.1% -6.45 1.04
2012 8 47 17.0% +41.55 1.19
2013 8 62 12.9% +11.83 1.15
2014 8 63 12.7% -14.09 1.14
2015 8 50 16.0% +0.03 1.01
2016 10 69 14.5% +30.15 1.10

 

Apart from the flashy winner totals, Irish participation at the meeting has been consistently increasing; from 2010 to 2016 the percentage of Irish runners at Royal Ascot has gone: 9.6%, 7.4%, 9.3%, 11.9%, 12.9%, 11.3%, and 14.6%. 15% of all runners might even be in play this year as the record for Irish-trained winners at the meeting was set last year after four years of plateauing at eight winners, and William Hill rate Irish trainers to have 10 or more winners nmo more than a 13/8 shot.

The week before last the Racing Post headlined with ‘Green Army’ in an article about how Ireland’s jumps trainers like Jessica Harrington and Willie Mullins would also be sending multiple runners to add depth to the panel. As with this past Cheltenham, the record total for Irish winners at the meeting again seems possible with short-priced ‘bankers’ like Churchill, Order Of St George, Caravaggio and Winter helpful in that regard.

 

Aidan O’Brien

The recent story of Irish runners at Ascot necessarily begins with Aidan O’Brien. Consider his record here since 2010 [and unless otherwise mentioned all numbers in this article refer to the meetings since 2010].

 

Trainer Winners Runners Strikerate Level-Stakes Actual/Expected
Aidan O’Brien 27 153 17.7% +50.69 1.03

 

In the period referenced, O’Brien is well clear of the next best, which is John Gosden on 17 winners, with Michael Stoute third on 14 winners. No other trainer has reached double figures. With O’Brien not having had fewer than two winners at any Royal Ascot meeting this decade, he is understandably no bigger than 2/7 to be top trainer in 2017.

When breaking down his runners in search of a betting angle, there seems to be a lot more noise than signal. His record with short-priced horses is decent – of the 22 horses sent off 2/1 or shorter, 11 won for a level-stakes profit of 1.69 points and an actual over expected of 1.03 – but we are not talking Willie Mullins at Cheltenham levels.

23 of his 27 winners were the first string or only runner in the race, ridden by the main jockey at the time, be it Johnny Murtagh, Joseph O’Brien or Ryan Moore; the exceptions were Ishvana (2012 Jersey), War Command (2013 Coventry), Brave Anna (2016 Albany) and Sword Fighter (2016 Queen’s Vase). Letting O’Brien do some of the work for you makes sense.

It was a little surprising to note how few fillies he ran relative to colts and a very small number of geldings.

 

Gender Winners Runners Strikerate Level-Stakes Actual/Expected
Male 21 122 17.2% +21.81 0.95
Female 6 31 19,4% +28.88 1.41

 

A niche angle here – though one that could just be a fluke – is looking for fillies and mares than ran against the males; there were just four qualifiers here with two winners (Ishvana and Maybe) and two seconds (Found and Ballydoyle). I suspect this was the plan with the likes of Minding, Seventh Heaven and Alice Springs at the meeting but all three appear to be on the sidelines just now though Clemmie and/or September are possibles for the Chesham.

The other potential approach here was looking at his horses in the lower-profile races rather than the Group 1s and 2s. There are a couple of things that could be going on here. Firstly, the Ballydoyle horses look overbet in the very best races as O’Brien is a recognised Group 1 trainer; he was not far away from the record of top-level wins in a single year for much of last season. Furthermore, he seems inclined to have more runners in those better races to increase the chance of a winner despite those races being more competitive.

 

Race Type Winners Runners Strikerate Level-Stakes Actual/Expected
Group 1/2 15 94 16.0% -6.79 0.86
Group 3/Listed 11 46 23.9% +59,48 1.47

 

Distance/Age

In a similar article last year, I covered the records of all Irish horses at Royal Ascot by age and distance and it is worth reprising them now as they again proved profitable last year [again, table is since 2010].

 

Age Winners Runners Strikerate Level-Stakes Actual/Expected
2yo 10 77 13.0% +0.61 0.87
3yo 18 151 11.9% +1.91 0.93
4yo+ 24 144 16.7% +50.50 1.37

 

The juveniles and three-year-olds are doing fine but it’s the older horses that are excelling and it is not as if the winners were impossible to find; 18 of the 24 were returned 10/1 or shorter. This is supported by the records of Irish horses in races of different distances with the stayers coming out particularly well; these races are generally for the older horses.

 

Distance Winners Runners Strikerate Level-Stakes Actual/Expected
5-6f 13 98 13.3% +35.38 1.08
7-8f 15 136 11.0% -17.66 0.97
10-12f 9 61 14.8% -13.15 0.86
16f+ 15 77 19.5% +48.45 1.42

 

Irish sprinters return a decent number of winners but that is more to do with two-year-olds than horses running in the King’s Stand and Diamond Jubilee by now; there was a brief golden age of Irish sprinting a few seasons back with Eddie Lynam’s 'Power' horses, and Gordon Lord Byron, but outside of Caravaggio there are no top-class Irish sprinters and indeed Gordon Lord Byron remains the second-highest rated sprinter trained in Ireland.

The stayers are a different story and last year the Irish horses swept the board in races over two miles and further; Jennies Jewel won the Ascot Stakes, Order Of St George the Gold Cup, and Sword Fighter the Queen’s Vase before Commissioned took the last race of the meeting, the Queen Alexandra Stakes. Aidan O’Brien has played a major role in this dominance with seven winners in staying races but he has been aided by a number of national hunt trainers like Willie Mullins, Gordon Elliott, Charles Byrnes and Jarlath Fahey. That at least might get the normally indifferent jumps boys to tune in this week!

- Tony Keenan

Some thoughts for Chester’s May meeting

Chester's May meeting is an early season highlight, offering socialites, more serious racegoers and the occasional Derby aspirant the chance to peacock around the Roodee. The famous bullring circuit, just nine furlongs in circumference, is fiendishly tight and there is a commensurate bias to those who are agile - and fast - enough to slide around the inside banister.

geegeez.co.uk has more information on Chester racecourse here. But what can we say specifically about the May meeting at Chester?

Chester May Meeting: Trainers

Using geegeez.co.uk's new Query Tool (QT) enables us to look at recent trainer form for a specific event like this. To do so, select the month of May, and Chester in the course area:

Specifying Chester's May meeting in geegeez's Query Tool

Specifying Chester's May meeting in geegeez's Query Tool

 

By placing a check in the circle to the left of the 'TRAINER' parameter and clicking 'Generate Report' again, we can see trainer performance for the Chester May meeting. I've sorted by number of wins in the image below.

Outstanding training performances by Aidan O'Brien and John Gosden at Chester in recent years

Outstanding training performances by Aidan O'Brien and John Gosden at Chester in recent years

 

The performance of Messrs. O'Brien and Gosden is spectacular, the former recording a 43.5% win strike rate, the latter a 63% in the frame record. And that from approximately five runners each per year.

 

Handicap trainers

But what of the handicaps only? There are some super competitive heats over the three days and, at that slightly lower level, different training names come to the fore. Let's add HANDICAP to our list of filters, and do the same 'Group by Trainer' report:

Andrew Balding and Ed Dunlop have excellent records, and Sir Michael Stoute has been very unlucky in Chester May handicaps

Andrew Balding and Ed Dunlop have excellent records, and Sir Michael Stoute has been very unlucky in Chester May handicaps

 

It is easy to see that Ed Dunlop and, from a larger sample, Andrew Balding have fared really well in Chester May meeting handicaps. But it is also worth noting Sir Michael Stoute: his two from fifteen record is unremarkable, until we note that more than half of them have hit the board. It would be no surprise to see Sir Michael's fortunes change this week.

What about the top races?

Selecting Class 1 (i.e. Listed or Group) races only confirms the stranglehold that Team Ballydoyle has on the big races at Chester's May meeting.

Aidan O'Brien has a mighty record in Class 1 events at Chester's May meeting

Aidan O'Brien has a mighty record in Class 1 events at Chester's May meeting

 

Aidan O'Brien has won 16 of the 40 Pattern races run at Chester in May since 2009. That's 40% of them, from just 34 runners. His performance is incredible and looks set to continue this week with a typically strong hand of three-year-olds and older horses.

 

Chester May Meeting: Draw

As alluded to in my introduction, the draw at Chester has a huge bearing on how races are run, especially over sprint distances. Using geegeez.co.uk's Draw Analyser tool, we can see just how relevant a good draw generally is, especially when the going is on the quick side. The forecast is largely dry for the week and the current going description is good, good to firm in places.

Five furlong handicaps

Let's plug that into our Draw Analyser, along with a selection of handicap races only and 10+ runners; and we'll initially look at five to five and a half furlong races.

Low is heavily favoured at the shortest trips; and high is heavily UNfavoured

Low is heavily favoured at the shortest trips; and high is heavily UNfavoured

 

I wanted to include the constituent draw table so that you could see the strong linearity in the place percentages of finishers by stall position. That stall 1 has made the frame in two-thirds of all five and five-and-a-half furlong sprints in big fields on quick ground since 2009 is telling. No wonder so many absentees emerge from the car park post positions.

 

Six and seven furlong handicaps

So far so obvious, perhaps, though it is always interesting to note the concrete evidence data provides to support or resist a general perception. But what of longer sprint trips? What of six- and seven furlong handicaps? A quick change to the distance ranges and we have our answer:

Still an inside draw bias, but it is less pronounced over 6 and 7furlongs at Chester

Still an inside draw bias, but it is less pronounced over 6 and 7furlongs at Chester

 

As you can see, there is still a bias towards those drawn low but it is not nearly as pronounced as over the shortest distances. Indeed, middle drawn horses have fared pretty much as well as those on the inside, but it is still the case that a high draw is a very difficult condition to overcome.

Notice at the bottom the Heat Map. This is a simple chart that attempts to overlay the historical draw positions against a horse's run style. The arrow formation top right in the chart implies a bias towards early speed and an inside to middle draw.

Conversely, note the relatively poor performance of those drawn high, regardless of run style; and it also looks difficult to overcome a low draw if you're a hold up sort racing at six or seven furlongs in a double digit field.

None of the sample sizes used here are particularly big, so keep in mind that the above is indicative rather than assertive. But it confirms what is often said: it is very difficult to overcome a wide draw in a big field on fast ground at Chester.

 

Chester May Meeting: Jockeys

Can a jockey make a difference at Chester? Most riders are, to a large extent, hostages to the fortunes of their trainers and horses; but at the more unconventional courses, can it be an advantage to have an experienced pilot in one's corner?

Although the answer is probably yes, there is a degree of cause and effect in that if a jockey gets a reputation as being skilled over a certain circuit he is more likely to pick up the plum rides. The flip side is that, if a jockey is retained by a particular stable, he will be susceptible to the form of that yard.

Regardless, here is QT on Chester May meeting jockey performance, in handicaps only.

The top handicap jockeys at Chester's May meeting since 2009

The top handicap jockeys at Chester's May meeting since 2009

 

Some interesting gen comes to light here. First, that example of positive discrimination: Francis Norton is widely held as the 'go to guy' for Chester, and he certainly does ride the track very well as can be seen from his seven handicap winners at this meeting since 2009. But they've come from 64 rides, an 11% clip, and just 0.85 on the A/E scale.

Compare that with Jamie Spencer, supposedly a hold up rider on a speed-favouring track. His nine winners have come from just 48 rides at an A/E of 1.54. Not only that but he can back up a 19% win rate with a 44% place rate. Jamie Spencer, in fact, is one of the best judges of pace in the weighing room, from the back or the front of the field. He gets it wrong sometimes - that's an occupational hazard - but I'd never be put off a bet at any track with Spencer in the plate (and yes, I have changed my position on this in recent years!)

Lower down, Steve Donohoe is an interesting name. His three handicap winners from 20 rides is fine - good even - but nine podium finishes is a very solid effort. He could be worth keeping onside.

 

Chester May meeting: Summary

We're all set for three excellent days of racing on the Roodee. With a little luck we'll come out in front by noting the above. In some ways, there is nothing new in trumpeting the form of Aidan O'Brien in Class 1 races at the meeting, nor in flagging that inside draws have the best of it in bigger field sprints on fast ground.

But such awareness can become the cornerstone of a betting strategy for the week. If playing placepots or intra-race bets like exactas and trifectas, knowing that Jamie Spencer is a high strike rate handicap jockey, or that Andrew Balding and Ed Dunlop should always be in mind in Chester handicaps, or even that Aidan's horse probably will win the Derby trial, will help frame decisions about when to go narrow and when to go deep.

Good luck with your Chester May meeting wagers - it should be a terrific three days!

Matt

p.s. if you'd like more race-by-race statistical lowdown, check out these Chester TV Trends: Wednesday

 

Scottish Grand National 2017: Preview, Trends, Tips

Scottish Grand National 2017: Preview, Trends, Tips

Ayr's Scottish Grand National is the last of the national Nationals - if you see what I mean - and looks set to be as keenly contested as ever this Saturday. A full field of thirty are slated to face the starter and, happily, we can look to whittle that number down to something more workable with the aid of recent race history.

The Scottish National is run over just shy of four miles (since the remeasurement of the track - it was historically run over four miles and half a furlong; in fact the race distance hasn't changed, only the accuracy of the distance has) and it takes a combination of speed, class and stamina to prevail on what is normally good ground.

The main trend information below is sourced from horseracebase.com.

Scottish Grand National Age Trends

As we can see from the table below, all winners have been aged between seven and eleven. There are no six-year-olds in the field this year, but their place record means it would have been careless to discount that age group: after all, we can see from the three columns on the right that they have made the frame almost twice as often as might have been expected (6.33% of places from 3.41% of runners).

That's an important point when looking at trends, and it's why I've mentioned it even though none of those youthful aged horses are lining up this time. The key is that we need to look beyond mere number of wins - as far beyond it as time allows.

 

2017 Scottish Grand National Age Trends

2017 Scottish Grand National Age Trends

 

What else can we infer from this table? We can see that 7yo's and 9yo's win roughly in line with numerical representation, and so too do ten- and eleven-year-olds when taken as a collective.

The sweet spot, if there is one, seems to be horses aged eight. From 23.67% of the runners the eight's have won 35% of the last twenty Scottish Nationals, and also taken out 29% of the place positions. We can also see that seven-year-olds have placed considerably above expectation based on runner numbers; and so, too, six-year-olds, as mentioned above.

On the flip side, those aged twelve or above have fared moderately, though not hugely out of kilter with their numbers.

I'm keen to favour younger horses, those aged six to eight. Which this year means those aged seven or eight.

 

Scottish Grand National Weight / Rating Trends

The weight a horse carries in any handicap is in relation to its official rating in the context of the race class. Thus the highest rated horse will carry the most weight. In an open National Hunt handicap like the Scottish National, the top rated horses will typically be allotted eleven stone twelve pounds, 11-12, and will be known as the 'top weight'. Every other runner in the race will carry less (or the same if there are equally highly rated runners) than the top weight.

This year, Missed Approach and Vivaldi Collonges are the top rated horses, both with an official mark of 148. They carry 11-12, while the next horse in the handicap - Fine Rightly, rated 147 - carries a pound less, 11-11. And so on.

The theory behind handicaps is that each horse carries weight in relation to its ability level, thus providing for a level playing field where any horse can win. The reality is that, while the weight allocations undoubtedly do make for a more level playing field, there are numerous other imponderables which offer some horses better chances than others.

The most obvious of these are scope for improvement (a younger, and therefore less experienced, horse may be able to progress more than an established older horse); aptitude to the conditions (a horse carrying more weight but very well suited to conditions can generally be expected to beat a lesser-weighted rival who has demonstrated a dislike for conditions); and, physical size (a small horse will typically struggle to carry a big weight more than a big horse).

Here's how weight has been spread across the Scottish Grand National runners over the past two decades:

 

Scottish Grand National 2017: Weight Trends

Scottish Grand National 2017: Weight Trends

 

Here is a classic example of the 'bad trends' you will see knocking around: 60% of Scottish National winners in the last twenty years carried ten and a half stone or less.

Whilst that is incontrovertibly true, the dozen lightly-weighted victors emerged from 317 runners, or 67.59% of the cumulative field. Moreover, the placed percentage is slightly lower than 60%. In other words, despite claiming the lion's share of wins, the lightweights were doing no better than is expected and, in fact, slightly worse than their numerical representation.

Now, take a look at the three lines for higher weighted horses and, specifically, look at the placers% column on the right hand side, and the runner% column three from the right. There we see that each weight bracket has outperformed their runner numbers when looking at placed finishes. And, in the case of horses carrying more than eleven stone, it is noteworthy that they have won 30% of the renewals in the sample from 13.65% of the runners. They've further claimed 19% of the places.

As if that wasn't enough, they've made a meagre profit at starting price in the process (the P/L column).

[By the way, I could have 'massaged' these figures by including 11-0 in the '11-1 to 11-7' bracket. The septet to lug exactly eleven stone won once and placed twice.]

The advice is that, even though the majority of winners have carried a low weight, the value is almost certainly with those shouldering eleven stone-plus.

*

Moving on to official ratings, a similar pattern emerges, though with a subtle difference. We'd expect some similarity between weight and ratings for reasons articulated at the start of this section: here is what is revealed, again by somewhat arbitrary ratings brackets.

 

2017 Scottish Grand National Official Ratings Trends

2017 Scottish Grand National Official Ratings Trends

 

The lowest-rated horses have a poor win record, though their place performance is not markedly out of line with numerical representation. And those rated above 150 have failed to win from 22 runners. This looks coincidental given their place ratio and, in any case, is academic this year with 148 being the top rating in the field.

What may be interesting is that 90% of winners were rated 131 to 150. Sadly, that brings in 85% of this year's field! Additionally, that large group of winners becomes only the expected number of placed horses, give or take a percentage point or two.

There is very little of note to my eye in the ratings of Scottish National runners.

 

Scottish Grand National Last Time Out Trends

Last day finishing position may be an ostensibly weak barometer of likely chance, but there is little doubt that horses arriving at Ayr in form have had much the best of it in terms of Scottish National performance. Check this out:

 

2017 Scottish Grand National: Last time out trends

2017 Scottish Grand National: Last time out trends

 

There is a linearity to last time out placing unlike any we have so far reviewed. Those finishing top three last time out have had much the best of it; and, while that much might logically be expected, what is surprising is the healthy level stakes profit at starting price generated by that group. Two-thirds of the winners and half of the placed horses made the frame last time out, from just two-fifths of the runners.

Most of the rest of the winners, and most of the rest of the placed horses, came from those coming home fourth to sixth last time. Let's put it another way: all bar one of the last twenty winners (95%) finished top six last time out from less than half of the runners. They also accounted for more than three-quarters of the placed horses.

Strongly favour those to have finished in the top six last time out, with an extra mark for a top three last day finish.

 

Scottish Grand National Experience Trends

How much chasing experience is ideal? Too few runs and a horse may get caught out by inexperience; too many and the 'capper surely has his measure. So, logically, we'd expect just enough but not too many prior chase starts.

 

Scottish Grand National 2017: Prior chase starts

Scottish Grand National 2017: Prior chase starts

 

The data seems to back up the theory: those with between six and ten previous chase starts have recorded the most wins in the last two decades. They've also outperformed numerical representation by 50% (30% of the runners producing 45% of the winners). And... they've beaten SP by 61.5 points.

Those with least experience have performed in line with numerical representation almost to the letter. And those up to 25 chase starts have done all right as well. Only all right, mind. The old hands, who are most likely to also be the old boys, have not done well.

The value lies in the less exposed chasers who have a degree of experience (arbitrarily bracketed here as six to ten prior chase starts).

 

Scottish Grand National Trends Summary

So far, so vaguely interesting. But where does this leave us? What is the identikit makeup of a 'typical' Scottish Grand National winner?

Well, fully cognisant of the danger of throwing a form horse baby out with the statistical bathwater, the above leads us to the following:

- Aged six to eight
- Carrying eleven stone or more
- Top six finish last time out (extra point for top three)
- Lightly raced over fences

The age criterion splits the field exactly in half. A good start notwithstanding that this year's winner could be in the discarded fifty percent!

Those with more weight account for nine of the fifteen in the younger age bracket.

Remarkably, a top six finish last time reduces the shortlist to just three: Missed Approach (second last time), Premier Bond (third), and Arpege d'Alene (fourth).

They are all lightly raced over fences, with Arpege d'Alene having had eight chase starts, Missed Approach five, and Premier Bond four.

Each recorded their last time out placing at the Cheltenham Festival, Premier Bond in the Kim Muir and the other pair in the National Hunt Chase, 'the four miler'.

All three race close to the pace as a rule, which tends to be an advantage in the Scottish National; all three will handle the likely good ground; and all three should get the trip with the 'four miler' duo pretty certain to.

 

Scottish Grand National Tips

It is very hard to choose between the trio. All three trainers are in fine recent form, all three come here off excellent efforts at the Cheltenham Festival and have thus had a nice break since. The prices ultimately dictate the play: with Premier Bond being a top priced 9/1 and having to demonstrate he stays beyond three and a quarter miles - I suspect he does, but he's done most of his racing at two and two and a half miles - I'm inclined to lean towards the pair exiting the National Hunt Chase.

Last year's winner, Vicente, who lines up again, was fifth in the NH Chase for Paul Nicholls before winning this. The same trainer runs 2017 NH Chase fourth, Arpege d'Alene, this time. Vicente was rated 146, Arpege d'Alene is 145.

In 2013, Godsmejudge went two better than his National Hunt Chase third to take this prize; and in 2011, Beshabar stepped up from NH Chase silver to Scottish Grand National gold.

That's three of the last six Scottish National winners having run well without winning in the National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. Missed Approach, second in that race, or Arpege d'Alene - three lengths further back - could make it four from of the last seven.

I respect Premier Bond, but the stamina doubt combined with his tighter odds leads me to the pair exiting the four miler for my bet.

1pt e/w Arpege d'Alene 12/1 general (1/4 1-2-3-4) or 11/1 (1/4 1-2-3-4-5 bet365, Victor)
1pt e/w Missed Approach 20/1 (1/4 1-2-3-4-5 Victor)

Matt

p.s. Gold subscribers can take a deep dive into the form for the Scottish National, including full form, profiles, and pace analysis, here.

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King Arthur Rules At Aintree

One For Arthur became King of Aintree, as he stayed on powerfully to land the Grand National in thrilling fashion.

The Gigginstown pair of Roi Des Francs and Rogue Angel set the pace for much of the race, tracked by the heavily backed favourite Blaklion. As the front duo began to feel the pinch, Noel Fehily took up the running on the strong-travelling market leader, and looked to be making a break for glory. But at the second last it was One For Arthur that swept to the front, with Cheltenham hero Cause Of Causes launching a brave challenge.

At the elbow the winner had pulled three lengths clear, and maintained that advantage all the way to the finish. A brave Cause Of Causes galloped all the way to the line for second place, whilst Saint Are stayed on well to pip Blaklion for third.

It was a first Grand National win for Scotland since Rubstic in 1979. The winning trainer Lucinda Russell, was bursting with pride when saying of the success: “I am so proud of the horse. He jumped fantastically and I thought Derek gave him a great ride. He has done us proud, he has done Scotland proud and he has done everyone at the yard proud.

“Before the Melling Road, I was up with the owners and we just shouted, ‘We're going to win the National.’ Derek is great at getting these horses to finish strongly and I knew that he would stay, so maybe it was a bit bold but it was right.”

It was a wonderfully cool ride from Fox, who sat well off the strong pace, timing his challenge to perfection. The victory was especially sweet, as he had only just returned from injury to make the ride. He fractured his left wrist and right collar bone in a fall last month, and spent three weeks in Jack Berry House, undergoing intensive treatment at the rehabilitation centre.

“I saw the doctor a couple of days after the fall, and he took the plaster cast off,” Fox said. “I asked him whether I could back in four weeks and he said the only way to do it would be to be without a cast and left a splint on. I stayed there for just under three weeks and I didn’t leave. I did a lot of physio work in the hydro pool and training on the bike. Every other bit of fitness work you could do without putting any pressure on the collar bone I did it.”

Though only half the field finished the race, it was fantastic to see all 40 runners return home safe and sound. Of the leading pre-race contenders that failed to place; Vieux Lion Rouge again appeared to find the National trip beyond him, finishing sixth. Very much in touch three from home, he was almost 30 lengths adrift at the finish.

Top-weight and last year’s runner-up The Last Samuri was unable to cope with the burden of 11-10, and trailed home in 16th place. Definitly Red was badly impeded at Becher’s first time, and had to be pulled-up shortly after. Gold Cup fifth Saphir Du Rheu only made it to the 11th fence, and More Of That failed to last out the marathon trip, being pulled-up by Barry Geraghty at the last.

Of the top 15 finishers, only Blaklion carried more than 11 stone, with the first three home carry 10-11, 10-13 and 10-10. Despite all the talk of classier renewals and handicap-compression, weight remains a vital factor in winning the World’s greatest steeplechase.

Away from the National, there’s a need to mention the fabulous Aintree experienced by Colin Tizzard, owners Ann and Alan Potts and their jockey Robbie Power. Finian’s Oscar and Sizing Codelco were winners on the day, adding to Pingshou and Fox Norton a day earlier. It’s been an especially thrilling period for the owners, following on from the glorious success of Sizing John in the Gold Cup. They have much to be excited about.

Aintree Festival 2017: Day Three Preview, Tips

Aside from the Grand National itself, which is previewed here, there are some cracking contests on Saturday's Aintree Day Three card, writes Rory Delargy.

1.45 - Gaskells Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3, 3m 149y)

Duke Street missed the cut for a couple of options at Cheltenham, but didn't get a much easier task when turned out for Kempton's consolation meeting on the Saturday of Festival week. There he ran into Brio Conti, who looked a horse of real potential when winning; and if you weren't convinced of the value of the form, third placed Dream Berry was an excellent second in the opening handicap here yesterday. That suggests Duke Street remains on a lenient enough mark, and while his stamina for three miles must be taken on trust, Richard Newland was reported as leaning towards the Pertemps for his Cheltenham target, suggesting that his trainer believes he'll stay.

Barney Dwan fared much the best of those who met in the Pertemps Final, and he should have the best of it again on revised terms, but one who may do better than he did there is Golden Doyen, who looked very rusty on his first run since October (looked fit enough), and is capable of leaving that form behind.

2.25 Betway Mersey Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m 4f)

Finians Oscar is tempting given the tremendous day Colin Tizzard has enjoyed on Friday, and he looks like a top-notch jumper in the making. That said, the bare form of his wins is easy enough to crab, and he's looked more impressive crossing the last than he has at the line when winning at Sandown and Exeter on his last two starts. Still, he has been winning races at a time when many observers have highlighted a general dip in the stable's fortunes, and it's hard to knock an unbeaten novice who promises so much. This represents his proving ground, and he will silence any lingering doubts if winning impressively here.

Brio Conti could not have been more impressive when winning in handicap company at Kempton the day after the Cheltenham Festival, and he looked out of the top drawer given he didn't come off the bridle before hitting the front at the last. He's clearly clicked now, but although he must be one to keep onside, an 11lb rise for that still leaves him shy of Messire des Obeaux and Finians Oscar on official ratings. The former is exposed now, but deserves his mark of 146, while Finians Oscar's 149 is a bit more dubious given it stems from a Tolworth Hurdle which hasn't worked out.  Of the others Lough Derg Spirit is short enough on what he's done, but could improve, while Le Breuil looks exciting, but hails from a yard whose runners at this meeting so far have all (A Hare Breath aside) run poorly. In terms of value, Messire des Obeaux must be the bet at 13/2 for all there are "sexier" runners.

3.40 Betway Handicap Chase (Listed, 3m 1f)

There was a big shock in this last year when Maggio routed his field, and there may be another surprise in store, as the market leaders look vulnerable. Neither Starchitect nor Value At Risk are proven at this trip, and the latter's ability to plug on at the finish in the Festival Plate at Cheltenham is not indicative of untapped stamina to my eye. Value At Risk seemed to  fail for stamina in the Albert Bartlett Hurdle a couple of years ago, and has been kept to shorter trips over fences thus far. He may do better now, but I'm not convinced, and nor am I certain that Harry Whittington's yard can be considered in form with just one winner since Christmas, which would be a worry for backers of Emerging Force. I fancied Henri Parry Morgan to stop the rot at Cheltenham, but he had no excuses for a tame effort and a further ease in the weights doesn't entice me.

My two against the field at bigger prices are Full Cry and Lamb Or Cod. The former was racing over an inadequate trip last time, and had no chance against the speedy Great Field, but ran well when second to Heron Heights at Cheltenham in October. He is better suited to  a sound surface than the deep ground he contended with last time. Lamb Or Cod is also better on spring ground, and can be excused an unplaced run in the Kim Muir, at least in part, as he was badly hampered at a crucial stage. His record on good or faster ground away from Cheltenham is very good, and he looks too big with Richard Johnson back in the saddle.

Selections:

1.45 - Duke Street e/w 12/1 general 

2.25 - Messire des Obeaux e/w 7/1 Stan James

3.40 - Full Cry e/w 18/1 Hills/PP/Betfair & Lamb Or Cod e/w 33/1 BetVictor

 

It’s Back to Blak for the Grand National

Finding the winner of the World’s most famous steeplechase is no easy task. But I wouldn’t be doing this job if I didn’t like a challenge, so let’s have a crack at uncovering this year’s Grand National hero.

It’s important to reflect on recent renewals when attempting to solve the Aintree puzzle, though a quick peek over the last decade or so, does nothing to settle my nerves for the task ahead. Last year’s winner, Rule The World, was a 33/1 shot who had failed to win any of his previous starts over fences. In 2015 and 2014 we had winners priced at 25/1, and in 2013 a 66/1 shot caused a mighty upset. Add to those a further pair at 33s and a 100/1 rank outsider, and you begin to appreciate the size of the task.

With a field of 40 going to post, I must first attempt to cull the no-hopers from the possible contenders. We have to go back to 1940 for the last seven-year-old winner, suggesting that the younger chasers probably lack both the mental and physical constitution for this marathon event.

There’s also a case to dismiss the chances of 12-year-olds, with only one in the last 20 years successful. But it’s likely we’ll have two in the field, and both have the perfect winning profile. Raz De Maree and Bless The Wings have excelled in similar staying chases, with the former runner-up in the Welsh National in December, and the latter filling the same position in the Irish National just 12 months ago. Of course, both have plenty of miles on the clock, but their recent form suggests they both retain plenty of ability.

So, with 37 horses still on my ‘contenders’ list, I now turn my attention to chasing experience. It’s no surprise that winners of the great race have been competing in all the usual trials, gaining that vital experience that will enable them to cope in a 40-runner marathon, with 30 fences to conquer.

Over the past decade, seven winners had run between 10 and 14 times over the larger obstacles. Rule The World, though a novice and a maiden over fences, had at least gained enough chasing experience, including a second-place finish in the Irish National. Many Clouds had just 10 outings over the larger obstacles before his famous win in 2015, but had won the Hennessy at Newbury several months earlier.

If I’m stringent in applying the ‘experience trend’, I am successful in excluding half a dozen or so from my ‘contenders’ list. Unfortunately, this application highlights the difficulty this year in reducing the number of potential winners. Definitly Red, Vieux Lion Rouge and Pleasant Company all fall short of the ideal level of chasing experience, and as such I should put a line through the trio. Yet all three are strongly fancied to go well, with Vieux Lion having experience in the right kind of races to go well tomorrow.

For many years, I would have no hesitation in putting a line through those carrying more than 11 stone. Hedgehunter carried a pound more when winning in 2005, though he was an exception at the time. However, in recent years, a combination of factors has resulted in horses winning despite carrying huge weights. The standard of competitors has certainly improved, with the handicaps from top to bottom becoming compressed. Doctor Harper on 10-6 and rated at 143, is likely to be at the bottom of the weights tomorrow. Hedgehunter was rated 144 when winning in 2005, yet carried a lofty 11-1.

Three of the last seven winners have carried 11-5 or more, though only Gilgamboa (fourth) carried more than 11 stone to a top ten finish last year. And though Many Clouds lumped 11-9 to victory, only one other carried more than 11 stone to a top dozen finish behind him. It therefore follows that we should still be safe in putting an upper-limit at around 11 stone for the likely winner.

If I ruthlessly draw a line just above those carrying 11-1, I can start to focus on the 20 plus contenders that remain on my list.

I’m keen on Blaklion for Nigel Twiston-Davies. Last year’s RSA winner has failed to progress to the top-table, but he looks the ideal sort for this. He finished a creditable fifth in the Hennessy Gold Cup, off a mark of 154 back in November. He then ran arguably a career best at Haydock in the Grand National trial, off top weight, when trying to give Vieux Lion Rouge 6lbs. It’s a lack of gears that stops this fella from reaching the top. But he has a touch of class, and looks a thorough stayer. He should go close.

Vieux Lion Rouge has done little wrong this winter, and clearly holds strong claims. Both trainer and jockey are adamant that he has strengthened since last year’s seventh-place finish, when beaten a mile by Rule The World. That may be true, and he certainly wasn’t stopping at Haydock last time. He finished with a rattle to win the Becher, and certainly looks a more resolute character this year. It’s right that he’s towards the head of the betting.

I’m less convinced by Definitly Red, though he did run well in the Grimthorpe last time at Doncaster. His jumping can be a little patchy, and though he beat Blaklion at Wetherby in December, he was receiving a ton of weight on that occasion. He looks a horse that enjoys a smaller field, and I’d fancy he’ll be harassed into errors tomorrow.

One For Arthur looks a thorough stayer and could run into a place. He ran well in the Becher Chase and then stayed on well to take the Betfred Classic at Warwick. He lacks a prep-run, and the stats show that this is certainly a negative. Nevertheless, I think he’ll go well, though he probably lacks the class to win.

Paul Nicholls will be desperate for success, as he attempts to cling to his trainers’ crown. Vicente looked a promising sort last year, and ran a cracker to win the Scottish National. But he’s proved a major disappointment this winter, despite conditions often being in his favour. Nevertheless, I find myself drawn to him, as was owner Trevor Hemmings, who bought him in March. He’s worth a few quid at around 25/1.

Having discounted those above 11-1, I wish to give a mention to Paul Nicholls’ other leading hope, Saphir Du Rheu. He ran a cracker in the Gold Cup, and is without doubt a classy sort. He’s high enough in the handicap for me, and his jumping has proved an issue in the past. Nevertheless, if he gets into a decent rhythm, he could certainly run into a place.

Finally, a horse from left field that could run a huge race at a huge price. I was on Lord Windermere at 33s when he took the Gold Cup in 2014, and I’m unable to pass on the opportunity of backing him at 50s for this. He’s hopeless on soft ground, but is a different beast with conditions suit. His seasonal debut showed promise, and he has the ideal partner in two-time Grand National winner Leighton Aspell.

No doubt many of us will be scratching our heads as the winner crosses the line, but you need to be in-it to win-it. I’m all-over Blaklion for the win, and will be taking a punt at Lord Windermere each-way at 50s, and Vicente at 25s. Best of luck to all.