Royal Ascot 2018: Day 4 Preview, Tips

Day 4, Friday, at Royal Ascot offers another six chances for redemption, wagering glory, or simply to watch the finest thoroughbreds in the land do what they do best. As is the new custom, we begin with a two-year-old race, the...

2.30 Albany Stakes (Group 3, 6f, 2yo fillies)

Six furlongs this time, and fillies only, in the Albany Stakes, a Group 3. A big field of 18 has assembled where many will fail to see out the three-quarter mile trip, and many more will simply be not nearly good enough. One who will stay and who looks good enough is Fairyland, a rare Aidan O'Brien runner not running in the Coolmore silks (though she is, of course, a Coolmore-owned filly).

By Kodiac, a strong influence for speed, Fairyland was much the best in a Curragh Listed race over distance and going. She was good enough to win first time up this season, too, something only three of 26 have been able to do for the yard in 2018. The other two to achieve that are So Perfect (close up fourth in the Queen Mary on Wednesday) and Just Wonderful, who lines up here and is the choice of Ryan Moore.

Moore rode both fillies on debut but it was Seamie Heffernan who rode Fairyland to that Marble Hill success last time, and it may be that he keeps the ride rather than Ryan had the pick. That is, obviously I hope, so much guesswork on my part. At any rate, Ballydoyle have the top of the market between them, and I slightly favour the greater experience and level of form of Fairyland over the deeper potential of Just Wonderful.

In opposition are a number of unbeaten fillies, including the Mark Johnston-trained Main Edition. She has been impressive in winning a brace of novice events by more than three lengths each time, and on ground ranging from soft through to good to firm.

Wesley Ward runs Stillwater Cove, winner of her only start in America. She was all out to hang on over four and a half furlongs there, and though she is bred for this extra 33% range, Ward's record in the race stands at 0 from 7 (1 place). Indeed Ward's record at Royal Ascot in six furlong juvenile races reads 0 from 10, one place. Now that's not a sample upon which to hang a man, but set next to his five furlong record (7 from 25, including Shang Shang Shang yesterday) it is pause for thought.

Of more interest in the overseas raider department may be the French brigade of Reponse Exacte, Byron Bay, and No More Regrets.

It was Matthieu Palussiere's Different League who prevailed in the Albany last term, at 20/1, and he saddles No More Regrets this time. Bought on Monday by the Leicester City owner for £130,000 after running second in an Italian Listed contest, this lass doesn't look to have that one's class, though it is a bit of a guess that that's the case.

Reponse Exacte hacked up in a little race in France last week and is turned out quickly here. That rapid return didn't stop Calyx winning the Coventry on Tuesday, and at 33/1 she is the sort of blind pennies guess I like in a race like this. She was bought at the breeze up sale in May so had clearly done a fair bit of work already.

The other Frenchie is Byron Bay, winner of a six furlong Chantilly maiden in May. She was more patiently ridden than Reponse Exacte but pulled right away by the finish and it might be that that is a more appropriate run style for this big field straight six. It's somewhat irrelevant inasmuch as we're very much in stab in the dark territory, but again 33/1 is worth a quid, maybe two. That boy Barzalona rides.

Not a race about which to be confident.

3.05 King Edward VII Stakes (Group 2, 1m4f, 3yo colts & geldings)

The Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival has acquired the monicker, "the potato race", but perhaps this one - the King Edward VII Stakes - is more befitting of such root vegetable likenesses. Fripperies aside, I have no idea which of these lightly raced improvers might claim primacy in the 'Ascot Derby'. [No, I definitely prefer 'the potato race'!]

What I do know is that outsiders don't win it: 12/1 Eagle Top was the biggest priced victor in more than twenty years; and the first three in the betting have won 16 of the last 21, with nine jollies obliging (43%, +10.25).

The jolly is Delano Roosevelt, sixth in Masar's Derby. He has some good form, but it is shy of top class so, in spite of history, I'm looking further afield, though not much further.

It is the Johnny G-Frankie D axis, teaming up here with the China Horse Club's Raa Atoll, which draws the eye. Second to Nordic Lights on debut, he has won both starts since, most recently when sauntering clear of an equally well-fancied stablemate in a Leicester novice. There were four and more lengths to the rest that day with only the fifth and sixth having run since: the fifth won, and the sixth ran third in a similar race.

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Gosden has had three winners of this race, in 2005, 2011, and 2014, and another seven placed, from 18 starters since 2000. His record since 2010 reads 21312(83)(52), the brackets denoting two runners in each of the last two years. With no runner in 2013, that means JHG has hit the board in every King Eddy in which he's been represented since 2010. That's good enough for me.

3.40 Commonwealth Cup (Group 1, 6f, 3yo)

This new race is turning out to be an inspired decision. Not only has it produced some scintillating winners - my favourite was undoubtedly Muhaarar in the inaugural running - it has also invigorated the entire three-year-old sprinting division, and added value and fashion to such pedigrees in the breeding sheds. Nice job.

Muhaarar was also the toughest winner of the three thus far to find. His 10/1 starting price looks wild next to Quiet Reflection's 7/4 and Caravaggio's 5/6; and it has been a feature of the race to date that the market has a solid handle on the best horses. Last year, the first three in the betting were the first three home.

It's a bigger field this time, and seemingly a more open contest, and yet still the pair of Equilateral and Sioux Nation at the head of the market stand out. Equilateral had the stopwatch hounds barking after winning a Doncaster novice by eight lengths last month; he lacks the experience and proven class of some of these but that was obviously a massive effort and puts him right in the frame.

SIOUX NATION by contrast has the top level form: he won the G2 Norfolk Stakes at the Royal meeting last season, following that up with success in the Group 1 Phoenix Stakes (six furlongs, good to firm). Beaten twice on the soft side of good after that, he bounced back on his second and most recent run of the current campaign with a Group 3 win (six furlongs, good to firm).

The feeling is that he needs fast ground - his form is 2111 when hooves have rattled, the wins coming in G1, G2 and G3 company. Sioux Nation is drawn wide apart from Equilateral, and looks to have the speed horses in his part of the track. That ought to provide some tension to the race pace elastic band, if you see what I mean, and allow Ryan Moore's mount to find his stride and surge through, as is his wont.

There should again be little between Sands Of Mali and Invincible Army, but if you want one at a price with which to take a chance, then perhaps Clive Cox's Heartache, winner of the Queen Mary at this meeting last year, is too big at 25/1. Sure, she flopped on debut this season, and yes, she may be better at five than six; but that was her 2018 bow, for which she's entitled to improve, and it was her first attempt at six. It is far too early to say she hasn't trained on, and Clive Cox can boast four Royal Ascot Pattern race sprint winners and four more places.

A terrific race in prospect.

4.20 Coronation Stakes (Group 1, 1m, 3yo fillies)

Another cracking race for the top of the market, it has often been the next stopping off point for the 1000 (and/or Irish 1000) Guineas winner, as it was for Winter who last season snaffled all three of those Group 1 pots.

So it is that the winners of those two Guineas, Billesdon Brook and Alpha Centauri, lock horns with the Newmarket victor offered at twice the price of her Irish counterpart. Throw in the French 1000 Guineas winner, Teppal, for good measure, and we have a worthy gathering of the clans.

Alpha Centauri came closest to arresting Different League's run for glory in the Albany last year before showing that she's a miler through and through by barreling her way home late in the Curragh Classic. Decent ground looks the key to her, on which surface she's 1121, compared with 50 on softer. Conditions are favourable then, but with her Classic formline open to question (though the 2nd there was 3rd in the Jersey Stakes) and at odds of around 3/1 the value must lie elsewhere.

Billesdon Brook was under-rated for the 1000 Guineas - she was sent off at 66/1! - but that doesn't look a fluke, with the second filly, Laurens, now a dual Group 1 winner in France; the third home, Happily, a dual G1 winner last year and thrice Classic placed this term; and four placed Wild Illusion subsequently second in the Oaks and claiming the same position in the Ribblesdale here yesterday. In short, her form is rock solid IF she can run to that level again. Sean Levey may need some luck in running if riding her patiently but she seems over-priced on what she, and the fillies around her, has done. She has a similar profile to 2013 1000 Guineas/Coronation Stakes winner, Sky Lantern, from the same stable.

The first two from the Poule d'Essai des Pouliches - French 1000 Guineas - reacquaint themselves here, David Simcock's Qatari-owned Teppal having shaded the verdict from the Japanese-owned Coeur de Beaute. Simcock's runner is less exposed, and is unbeaten, so looks likely to prevail once more, though it is hard to assimilate that form against the domestics. That said, it is worth noting that the 2015 and 2016 winners emerged from the Pouliches.

The cat amongst the pigeons is Clemmie. She was disappointing in the Irish 1000 Guineas, trailing home ninth. That was her first attempt at beyond six furlongs and, while she's a daughter of Galileo and sister to Churchill, she is out of a five furlong winner and may just be a sprinter plain and simple. She wasn't given a hard time at the Curragh and will improve for the outing, and the evidence is far from damning that she's a non-stayer... but at 7/2 she's a pass.

There are others in the field to have declined the Classic route thus far, but we have to go back six years to find a shunner of the bright lights who tripped it fantastic in the Coronation.

5.00 Sandringham Handicap (Class 2, 1m, 3yo fillies)

24 fillies, three-year-olds all, hurtling up the straight mile. I only hope that my life won't ever depend on finding the winner in such a race. Despite the perennially bumper turnout, horses priced at single figures have won nine of the last 13, and no winner for at least 20 years has been returned bigger than the 20/1 about Con Te Partiro last term. That Wes winner, tipped in these pages, was as welcome as it was surprising.

Handicap debutants have won ten times since 1997, but those 48% of the winners have come from 57% of the runners, and the percentage play value wise is look for those with a couple of handicap runs under their belts. Such experienced fillies may 'only' have won five of the last 20 Sandringham's, but they have achieved that from just 12% of the runners (5/43), and they have a better place strike rate: 28% compared with 20% for 'cap debs (and 'cap second timers).

One to fit this, granted potentially shoehorned, bill is Charlie Appleby's Dathanna. A winner of four of her last five starts - second on heavy in between - she's clearly progressive and experienced, and has run in - and won -  a couple of conditions races since her brace of handicap runs as a juvenile. The daughter of Dubawi made all over course and distance last time, though that was on soft ground: indeed, apart from the obvious 'is she good enough?' question, the only other unanswered niggle is 'will the ground be too firm?' - in the circumstances, she's playable at 10/1.

The other checker of the two handicaps box is Wisdom Mind, Joseph O'Brien's filly currently a 25/1 play. She would be a longer priced winner than any for two decades as things stand, but there's a fair chance she shortens between now and post time - and in any case her price won't stop her winning if she's good enough!

Wisdom Mind sneaks in towards the foot of the weights, a perch of 85 having been unmoved for a third consecutive race. She's six pounds better off for a two length beating by Hence two back, and had terrible luck in running last time. She's certainly interesting at a price.

Ryan Moore rides Hence. I don't especially like backing Aidan O'Brien runners in handicaps, though they have won twice at the Royal meeting - Sir Isaac Newton and War Envoy in case you were wondering - and I'll let him/them beat me again this time.

In summary, there is a good chance a handicap debutante wins the Sandringham for an 11th time in the last 22 years. But trying to establish which of the 15 fillies (63% of the field) that might be is much too tricky. So I'll take a couple of more experienced guesses against the dark horses.

5.35 Duke Of Edinburgh Stakes (Class 2 handicap, 1m4f, 3yo+)

22 runners and nigh on impossible stuff. Ostensibly at least. Plenty of shorties have got it done in recent seasons, mind, and the high draw looks seriously advantageous: since the track was re-layed in 2006, eleven of the twelve winners emerged from a double digit stall, the last three winners coming from 21, 19, 19.

High draw, fancied runner then? Thundering Blue is the answer to that two-part request. David Menuisier's big improver was a highly impressive winner at York last time, but he'll need plenty of luck with his late running style.

Appeared, similarly highly drawn and almost as well fancied, has a more prominent run style. Roger Varian trains and Andrea Atzeni rides this six-year-old son of Dubawi. Second in the race last year from stall 18 and a mark of 101, he now exits stall 19 off a mark of 103. This will have been the target, he's gone well fresh before, including when winning a course and distance (good to firm) handicap first up last season. He'll do.

You want to be out in the clear in this race, jockeys in behind frequently made to look a lot worse than they are by the configuration of the course. Three wide three back is way better than on the rail two back generally speaking.

Good luck!

Matt

p.s. it is traditional for there to be no Saturday Ascot preview, a tradition that will continue to be upheld this year. You may very well be glad of that by 5.45 or so on Friday afternoon! Hopefully these posts have provided some insights and entertainment, if nothing else. Of course, hopefully they've nailed a good winner or two as well, but you don't need me to tell you that this is a meeting where it is generally way better to be lucky than good. At least, that's how I view it...

Royal Ascot 2018: Day 3 Preview, Tips

Two down, three to go, and humpback day at Royal Ascot, also known as Ladies' Day, features the centrepiece of the entire week, the Gold Cup. That stayers' Group 1 looks an excellent renewal, though wagering there - and indeed throughout the Thursday card - provides pitfalls aplenty. No matter, for on the day when lassies don their finery, rarely was it truer that faint heart never won fair maiden. So let's have a crack! We kick off in the...

2.30 Norfolk Stakes (Group 2, 5f, 2yo)

A shortish field of ten, though not hugely out of keeping with recent tradition. A few interesting patterns - let's call them trends - have emerged, as follows:

- All bar one of the last 15 winners had a pre-race RPR of at least 106. Only Vintage Brut, Konchek and Land Force fit that bill

- Six of the last ten winners were by US sires. Just Pocket Dynamo, Shang Shang Shang and Land Force tick this box

Land Force is of clear interest on this basis, then. But... he was beaten last time out, over six furlongs, and has never won at the minimum. Those are both negatives in the context of the trends. And yet I still want to be with this son of No Nay Never, the 2013 Norfolk winner. He showed good speed in the Listed Marble Stakes last time, only fading in the last furlong or so.

The other to catch my eye in a race where they'll pretty much all move forward on what they've demonstrated to date is Pocket Dynamo. The Robert Cowell-trained son of US stallion Dialed In is that sire's first British runner as far as I can tell. He was second in a Brighton maiden on debut - hardly Royal Ascot form, though the winner and third have won since - before showing more in winning a Chelmsford novice and then a quite valuable conditions race at Longchamp. He was tenacious in victory there, is more experienced than many and, with an RPR of 105, falls just one note short of ticking both my trendy boxes above. He's 20/1.

Wesley Ward's Shang Shang Shang is the favourite, and could win. In truth I don't know much about the horse, but I do know his trainer is 'only' one from six in the Norfolk, the solitary victor being the aforementioned No Nay Never. Four of his other runners were sent off bigger than NNN's 4/1 SP, with a number of them drifting notably on the day. Keep an eye on the market if you want to back this lady.

Vintage Brut and Konchek represent the Listed National Stakes form, running 1-3 there, and Racing Post consider it the best form in the race allotting them the top two RPR's. Vintage Brut had the favoured rail draw that night at Sandown, whereas Konchek was drawn wide and carried wider before rattling home. Clive Cox's colt must have a great chance to turn the tables on this fairer strip.

But I'll take Land Force and Pocket Dynamo at double digit odds against the field.

3.05 Hampton Court Stakes (Group 3, 1m 2f, 3yo)

The first of four races restricted to three-year-olds on day three is the Hampton Court Stakes. Such races are not really my thing, as I struggle to assimilate what horses have achieved with what they might be capable of doing. Today's preview will be lighter than usual on that basis, and should be taken more lightly also (unless I get all six winners, in which case I meant it, and I hope you backed them all!!)

Although only a Group 3, three of the last four winners - Cannock Chase, Hawkbill and Benbatl - went on to Group 1 glory. The other in that recent quartet, Time Test, was G1 placed on multiple occasions.

Godolphin have won the last two, and they own the early favourite for the 2018 renewal, Key Victory. A winner of his first two starts, he was beaten only three lengths in the French Derby last time. This will be his third run since the beginning of May and, if William Buick can hold a position, he should run well: the worry is that he might encounter traffic problems in this big field around the tight Ascot bends.

Charlie Appleby saddles Key Victory, and also Nordic Lights. This son of German stallion, Intello, was unraced as a juvenile and encountered defeat for the first time in the Dante Stakes at York. Disregarding the facile winner there, he was only a length and a half off second and should progress again. James Doyle rides.

Rounding out the Godolphin triumvirate is Saeed bin Suroor's National Army, who leaps up in grade after winning a novice stakes on debut at the start of the month. He beat fourteen rivals in a fair time and the second home has since bolted up in a similar race. Christophe Soumillon is an interesting jockey booking for a completely unexposed colt with a potentially good draw (if not held up).

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Lots more unexposed types where your guess is as good as mine, but one other worth a quick mention is Mini P. Second in a Newbury maiden over this trip on his only start, his trainer Brian Meehan normally knows what he has and is capable of producing big priced surprises.

But, honestly, I haven't a clue.

3.40 Ribblesdale Stakes (Group 2, 1m4f, 3yo fillies)

The Ascot Oaks. Ten more unexposed three-year-olds, some of whom ran in the Oaks at Epsom and some who did not. WILD ILLUSION is the clear form pick. She was fourth in the 1000 Guineas and second in the Oaks, clear of the third there. With no Forever Together to fret about here, a repeat of that Classic run gives her daylight over her rivals that day, though it could be argued that the well beaten and re-opposing Magic Wand didn't handle the track.

Of the rest, Sir Michael Stoute's novice stakes winner, Sun Maiden, looks the main danger. She won that little race by fully twelve lengths and in a fair time. It would be no shock if this typically beautifully-bred Juddmonte filly (Frankel half-sister to multiple Group 1 winner, Midday) prevailed but 3/1 doesn't set the pulse racing.

The likes of Musidora second, Dancing Brave Bear, and Johnny G's Highgarden are interesting projects for the season, but this looks a really good chance for the twice Classic-placed Wild Illusion.

4.20 Gold Cup (Group 1, 2m4f, 4yo+)

A super race in prospect even in the absence of last year's winner, Big Orange. The field is headed by the 2016 champ, Order Of St George, pipped by Big Orange in his repeat bid last term; and last year's Queen's Vase winner, Stradivarius, who went on to beat Big Orange at Goodwood. Further spice is added to the pot by the presence of French staying superstar, Vazirabad, himself a triple Group 1 winner.

In such a race as this we need to consider more than merely the respective form credentials of the field: pace is a key component. Last year, Big Orange was gifted a lead early in the race that he never relinquished, fending off the desperate late rally of Order Of St George and Ryan Moore in the dying strides.

Order Of St George is one of those hide behind the sofa horses. He has obvious class and stamina, but he gets beaten when he probably shouldn't a little too often for comfort. Although winning eleven of the twenty stakes races in which he's competed, he's been beaten at odds on in four of them, including at 1/7. Ouch. He was a little workmanlike last time in a Listed race but that was a prep for this. He may well win and good luck if you want 7/4 about that. I do not.

Stradivarius is the other vying for market leadership. As well as the Queen's Vase and Goodwood Cup, he was a very close third in the St Leger and Long Distance Cup in a terrific three-year-old season. He looked better than ever when bolting up in the Yorkshire Cup on his seasonal bow for this campaign, and could be the champion stayer in 2018. He does have to prove his stamina for this longer trip, something which is not a given for all that he looked robust enough at the two mile range. Again, 2/1 is insufficient in what is a hot race.

Of the front three in the market, I suspect VAZIRABAD offers a little value. Alain de Royer-Dupre's six-year-old has many T-shirts for being there and doing that: he's won two G1 Prix Royal-Oak's, a G1 Prix du Cadran, and has never been out of the first two at races beyond a mile and a half. Indeed, his full form string is 6211111/117121/211112-211, which is rather spectacular when you consider that the last 18 of those 22 runs have been in Group company.

He'll be ridden patiently, but as a veteran of so many races in France he clearly has the gear change required to quicken off a pedestrian gallop. 5/1 looks a very solid each way play.

With little obvious pace in the field, it may be that Torcedor, who adopted pressing tactics in a Group 3 here last time, may again play catch me if you can. He was a nine length fifth (when waited with) behind Big Orange last year, before running up in the Long Distance Cup on Champions Day and, most recently, that five length score last time. Ascot, then, holds no fears. Nor either does fast ground, so 10/1 could be another reasonable each way play - perhaps without the favourite - about a horse whose form ties in pretty closely on a number of lines with Order Of St George.

I'm struggling to make much of a case for the rest, the pick of which might be Desert Skyline.

Really looking forward to this one!

5.00 Britannia Stakes (Class 2 handicap, 1m, 3yo)

No idea. Genuinely no idea. Winners since 2007 at 33/1, 28/1, 25/1 and 20/1 twice mean the market has no idea either. Seriously, why the hell would anyone bet in a race like this?

Crack On Crack On was a good winner last time in a big field at Haydock, and he's ridden by geegeez-sponsored jockey, David Probert. He's improving fast, like most of these. Similar comments apply to Corrosive, who is now on a four-timer after a big field course, distance and going win last time; and Richard Hughes' George Of Hearts, who steps up to a mile having not quite reached the winner over seven here last time.

Twenty-seven others worthy of mention. Where's Mr Felt Tippy's magic pen sticker when you need him?!

5.35 King George V Stakes (Class 2 Handicap, 1m4f, 3yo)

More of the same for all that there are 'only' 21 runners this time. Draw has been material: double digit stalls have bagged ten of the last dozen. Why? Not sure, but I presume because it is very difficult to lead all the way in such a big field over such a trip; and if you don't lead from a low draw, you're probably in the pocket screaming for room entering the straight.

So on that basis I've deselected half the field. Honestly, if you've got a better idea, I'm all ears...!

This has been a decent race for the top of the market, too, with two-thirds of the winners since 1997 coming from the top four in the betting.

That leaves me with Cross Counter and Baghdad.

Godolphin colts have won three of the last four renewals, so Cross Counter is your winner. Maybe.

**

Royal Ascot really is a super tough meeting at which to back winners, and I make no apology for being almost flippant in some of my analyses above, particular in the last two races. This is probably a sensible time to remind readers that nothing on these pages constitutes financial advice - duh!

Good luck with your Thursday wagers. I've a feeling we'll need it!

Matt

Royal Ascot 2018: Day 2 Preview, Tips

In theory, Day 1 is the easiest. That may not bode well if you're already licking your wounds, but with 24 contests still to come there are many opportunities for salvation yet. And, if you went well in the opening skirmishes, don't be getting complacent now...

Day 2's revised line up starts with the juvenile fillies, and the

2.30 Queen Mary Stakes (Group 2, 5f, 2yo Fillies)

Two shy of two dozen fully unexposed fleet-footed fillies dashing harem scarem up the straight five strip: what could possibly go wrong? Where do I start? Perhaps with some numbers...

Peter May's figures have the following as top five:

So Perfect 82
Little Kim 79
Kodyanna 78
Gossamer Wings 78
The rest 72 or lower

Timeform see Shades Of Blue (99p) as top of this pile, with Servalan (94p) and Come On Leicester (93p) next in.

Zero crossover.

Whilst keeping in mind that all of these young ladies are capable of stepping forward significantly, it is the case that some need to do so more than others regardless of which set of numbers one peruses.

The pace map, which again is subject to change as the field will respond unpredictably to the big occasion, might look a little like this:

Queen Mary Stakes pace map 2018

Queen Mary Stakes pace map 2018

The above is sorted by draw, and we can see that there is plenty of pace on both flanks, perhaps marginally more so high than low. The fly in the ointment, and the missing line in the grid, is Chelsea Cloisters. Wesley Ward's juvenile entries always demand close scrutiny at this meeting, and they almost always burn away from the traps. Frankie has the steering job: he may elect to veer towards high numbers or to time trial it down the middle. Either way, his filly could be the speed of the speed.

It's a guesser's race, in truth, and one I'm not inclined to get seriously involved in. I'll be taking Clive Cox's Shades Of Blue, Richard Fahey's Kodyanna, along with the Wez wunner, on the placepot. And I might just have a tiny play on Karl Burke's Little Kim: she only won a Carlisle event on debut but did it in a decent time, with the yard's horses generally improving a fair bit from first to second run. She's 33/1, which is a guesser's price in a guesser's race.

3.05 Queen's Vase (Group 2, 1m 6f, 3yo)

Run prior to last year over a two mile trip, this step back to a mile and three quarters makes the Queen's Vase a trial for the St Leger. A field of twelve has assembled, among them Derby also rans and lightly raced staying types. Actually, the only Derby runner is ninth placed Kew Gardens who will be close to favourite for this. He had looked a stayer in the Lingfield Derby Trial before being used as a pacemaker in the Derby itself; here he's expected to be allowed his own head and has already demonstrated a touch of both stamina and class.

But there may be one (or two) to improve past him from this upwardly mobile collective. Lurching into the unknown as we are here, with most of these never having faced this sort of trip, pedigree can offer pointers. That said, I'm going to start on a tenuous footing by discounting the Galileo's in spite of their winning two of the last three, and four since 2007; and in spite of the race being cut back two furlongs. Feel free to skip what follows!

Geegeez Gold has pedigree data which helps understand the performance of sires based on their two-year track record. For instance, we can see that Kew Gardens is a son of Galileo out of a Desert King mare. Galileo's have won at a solid one-in-eight clip (12.43%) in flat staying races, and tend to do very well as three-year-old's. But 11/4 doesn't particularly excite about the pedigree/form combination, hence casting the net more widely.

We can see that Nelson, a son of Frankel, has more to recommend on pedigree. Out of the Oaks second and Irish Oaks winner, Moonstone, he is clearly bred to stay. Frankel's flat stayers have struck at a rate of 18.67% thus far.

Stream Of Stars, by Sea The Stars, also has an 18%+ hit rate with stayers; and look down the list at Henry Candy's Sovereign Duke. He's by Jukebox Jury, who has had 33% winners in flat staying races, and 53% placed. Out of a Lando mare, he's bred for stamina all day long, and yet this is his first try beyond ten furlongs.

Now, of course, it's possible he got found out in that Group 3 last time, but it is also possible that he didn't appreciate the lack of pace in the small field. Here, with Johnston and O'Brien saddling multiple runners, there is likely to be a strong gallop. Which makes 33/1 of mild interest: I'd rather be beaten six lengths with a 33/1 poke than a head at 5/2! Each to their own, I guess...

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3.40 Duke Of Cambridge Stakes (Group 2, 1m, 4yo+ fillies & mares)

At last, a race with a bit of form and, therefore, a bit of hope of finding a winner. Only a bit of hope, mind.

The French have a great record in this race, including winning the last two renewals but, surprisingly, as unrepresented this year. Of the domestics, Sir Michael Stoute is the main man, with four victories since the race's inception in 2004. But he doesn't have a runner either. Crikey.

Yet still there are a couple of minor trainer angles, the first of which may be considered a negative. Saeed bin Suroor has saddled ten mares in this, none of them winners. Three of the ten made the frame and that could be the best that either Promising Run or Arabian Hope will achieve.

More interesting is the record of the brilliant James Fanshawe. He has had two winners in this race, and three further places, from just seven runners. The winners were 10/1 and 11/8 with placed horses as big as 25/1, all of which makes Tribute Act worthy of a second glance. She's finished second on her last two starts, either side of the seasonal break, both in handicaps and both here at Ascot.

Handicap form is not generally expected to be good enough to win a Group 2, particularly not with more exposed animals, and in truth it is only the Fanshawe angle that puts her in the mix. But she was close up behind Urban Fox on that '18 debut, with the William Haggas runner re-opposing and priced at half Tribute Act's odds. This will have been Fanshawe's target in which case his filly can be expected to step forward from her last run in a race where the 2016 winner was a similarly unconsidered price.

All that said, by far the most likely winner is HYDRANGEA, a Group 1 winner from a mile to a mile and a half last term. She carried a five pound penalty for that but is rated the best of these by six pounds and more and could progress again this season, as a number of O'Brien fillies have, most notably the superstar, Found. She'll undoubtedly come on for her opening run of the campaign (2nd in a Group 2 last time) so, in what looks a fairly shallow heat for a Group 2, the 7/4 Hydrangea may not last.

4.20 Prince Of Wales's Stakes (Group 1, 1m2f, 4yo+)

Seven go to post for this ten furlong Group 1 - each way backer sigh heavily, particularly in light of the presence of an odds on jolly. That imposing shadow is cast across his field by the mighty CRACKSMAN. He may have had a bit of a fright at Epsom last time, but it would be fair to say that he's no fan of that Möbius strip configuration: indeed, it could be argued that he should be marked up for being able to get the job done in the circumstances.

He is eight pounds and more clear of the next best on official ratings - Hawkbill - and the most likely in the field to run his race. I'd imagine he'll be sent off at closer to 1/2 than his current quote of 4/6, which actually looks value if you have a few spare sixes knocking about.

Poet's Word is comfortably second choice in the betting, which is good news for those of us who like to bet 'without the favourite' in such lop-sided contests. Good news because I think he's rather short all things considered. Yes, he hails from the Sir Michael Stoute Academy of Bring-'em-along-slowly's, and yes, he was a comfortable winner of the Brigadier Gerard Stakes (Group 3) last time; but he was trounced by Hawkbill in Dubai two runs back, and has never won at this rarefied level.

Hawkbill on the other hand has, twice. He won the 2016 Coral-Eclipse, and the Dubai Sheema Classic three months ago. There is often a doubt about Dubai form transferring to mid-summer races in England, something with which a heavy defeat behind Cracksman in the Coronation Cup at Epsom last time seemed to tally. But I expect Hawkbill to come on plenty for that and, hopefully over the jetlag, he can be backed each way without the favourite.

Cliffs Of Moher and Eminent are similar prices. The former must be considered a disappointing sort after promising so much with that close second in last year's Derby. He has since been beaten seven times from eight starts, the sole notch coming in a soft Group 2 at Naas.

Eminent, likewise, has largely let supporters down since a close fourth in the same Epsom showpiece. He too has a solitary hollow-looking Group 2 score in the interim. Although none of Cracksman's rivals are bombproof reliable, Hawkbill is the one with the two Group 1 victories, and the one with the best form this season. Hawkbill may also make the running, a fair tactic on this turning triangular circuit.

Of the rags, Royal Julius is only a pound behind Cliffs Of Moher on official figures. He followed up a heavy ground Group 2 second with a good ground Group 2 victory last time, albeit that was in Italy. That at least shows he can travel and win, so 66/1 might appeal to the Hail Mary players.

5.00 Royal Hunt Cup (Class 2, 1m, 3yo+)

No three-year-olds, as usual, that age heading for other pots at the meeting, so it's basically an older horse cavalry charge up the straight mile. Four-year-olds have won eight of the last eleven renewals, and represent the sort of unexposed improving type that plunders most of the Royal Ascot handicaps.

But... the average odds of those eleven winners were over 17/1, and the eight 4yo winners averaged out at just greater than 15/1. Further, 18 of the last 21 winners were aged four or five. What else?

Half of the last 20 Hunt Cup winners were first or second last time out.

That leaves nine: Zhui Feng, Afaak, Saltonstall, Repercussion, Escobar, What's The Story, Mukalal, Kynren, and Seniority, the last named - owned by HM The Queen - sneaking in as a result of a stablemate being declared a non-runner. Who'da thunk it?

Zhui Feng is the reigning champion, a been there seen that sort of guy who loves this place, big fields and fast ground. But he's eight pounds higher this time, and looks increasingly susceptible to younger improving types. Still, he's quite likely to run his race.

Drawn next door is Saltonstall, last day winner of a decent Curragh handicap and flying the flag for the 2016 winning stable of Mick Halford. He's lightly raced, has very good mile handicap form, including when second in a 20 runner field, and gets the tongue tie for the third time having worn it previously in the aforementioned win and second placed runs. 14/1 with as many extra places as you can get looks fair enough.

Repercussion is another with decent big field mile handicap form, but his best form is with cut in the ground; not so Escobar, whose last day victory on this sort of turf and over this trip marks him as an improver for the step up to a mile. But the other one I want on my team is David Barron's Kynren.

Hyper-consistent, the four-year-old son of Clodovil has career form of 311132, including in a mile Class 2 big field handicap, and he gave the impression last time that a fiercely run race would fit his bill. There's a bit of 25/1 knocking about as I write, and I'll try a slice.

The Queen's Seniority comes here in search of a hat-trick after back to back Chelmsford handicaps. That level turning all weather mile could not be more different from this straight uphill turf one so, while connections are greatly respected, my chips are chucked elsewhere.

5.35 Jersey Stakes (Group 3, 7f, 3yo)

A tough finish - not as tough as the Royal Hunt Cup, of course, but very tricky all the same.

Placed in any Guineas, or ran close ish in the 2000 Guineas, looks a route in, albeit one not lost on the market. The last four winners fitted that bill and, with the pure sprinters now squirreled away to the Commonwealth Cup, we have a theoretically easier task. That doesn't help too much when presented with 23 runners on the race card!

Those on my list are James Garfield, Expert Eye, Headway, and Could It Be Love.

James Garfield crossed the Atlantic last autumn to contest the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf: although no-showing that day, he bounced back with a win over seven the Craven Stakes on his seasonal debut. He's been kept busy since, with a four length seventh in the 2000 Guineas followed by a drop to six furlongs in the Sandy Lane Stakes where he again finished quite close but again failed to make the frame.

Staying on over six, not getting home over a mile, and a winner over seven this season... this looks ideal in terms of trip and ground, represents a drop in class, and he's close to top rated in the field. 14/1 is playable each way, again especially if you can burgle an extra place.

Expert Eye is a bit hot and cold: he was electric when winning the Group 2 Vintage Stakes, a performance that saw him installed as ante post favourite for the 2000 Guineas. Three subsequent defeats, two of them heavy, two of them behind James G give him plenty to find. A price of 9/1 does not appeal for all that a reversion to the Vintage form would make him very tough to beat.

Headway, a proverbial cigarette paper second in the Coventry Stakes last term, has a mixed score card since then. Third in the Gimcrack, he won a Listed seven furlong all weather prize first time up this season before running a limp race in the 2000 Guineas. He didn't have the best trip there but even so was disappointing and has a little to prove now. Again, his price is short enough all things considered.

Could It Be Love is the other I like. She just failed to get home when second in the Irish 1000 Guineas, so this drop in trip looks tailor-made. Ryan Moore steers the daughter of War Front, which is always a plus, and she'll further benefit from a three pound fillies' allowance.

Interesting horses abound, including the six-timer-seeking Society Power, Irish 2000 also ran Symbolization, Wesley Ward's US raider Hemp Hemp Hurray, and the trainer switching full brother to American Pharoah, St Patricks Day.

But I'll take Could It Be Love to lead them a merry one, before perhaps James Garfield sweeps by in the last half furlong.

Trippy trappy stuff on day two - good luck!

Matt

Royal Ascot 2018: Day 1 Preview, Tips

It's Royal Ascot 2018, the finest week in the flat racing calendar. The finest but, from a wagering perspective, very far from the easiest. It's a meeting which, as a consequence of one too many bloody reversals, I personally take fairly lightly, and the following ruminations should be consumed in that context.

As well as this post, you may also be interested in Andy's Royal Ascot Day 1 Trends.

2.30 Queen Anne Stakes (Group 1, 1m, 4yo+)

The Royal meeting begins with a bang. Actually, given its G1-G2-G1-G1 opening quartet of races, it begins with a two hour firework display of equine superstars. The grand overture is the Queen Anne Stakes, a test of speed, class and stamina up the straight mile course.

As was shown in this article on Ascot pace and draw biases, it is very difficult to lead all the way on the straight mile here. While those waited with have fared the best of the four general run styles over course and distance, it should be noted that a number of recent winners of this race were more prominently placed in the opening quarter.

Deauville looks set for a relatively uncontested lead and if the race is run at less than championship pace, it may again suit those near the fore. Deauville's stable mate, Rhododendron, will not be far away; after needing every yard of Newbury's round mile to collar Lightning Spear (re-opposes) in the Lockinge, she appears well suited to this stiffer task. The only reservation is that this will be the first time she's raced on a straight track, and her first visit to Ascot. Regardless, she will give those mythical favourite backers a run for their money.

More appealing, though undoubtedly more of a punt also, is BENBATL. Godolphin's four-year-old son of Dubawi, unraced as a juvenile, was asked to do a number of things he couldn't last year - run over a mile and a half, and race on heavy most notably. In between twelve furlong spins, he was dropped to ten furlongs at Royal Ascot and duly won the Hampton Court Stakes.

This season he had four runs in Dubai, all over nine furlongs, winning three of them including, most recently, the Group 1 Dubai Turf. The stopwatch boys have raved about his times in the Emirates so, if he's been well enough rested since returning to Blighty, Saeed bin Suroor may 'have it right back at ya, Charlie' in this prestigious heat. He's worth a go at 5/1.

It's a deep race, though, and the likes of overseas raiders Recoletos and Yoshida may be slightly longer prices than they ought to be. At huge odds, Century Dream has a strikingly progressive profile. This is a big ask of course, and there's a slight reservation about the ground, but he may well run better than his odds imply, albeit that that may not be good enough to nick a place or more.

3.05 Coventry Stakes (Group 2, 6f, 2yo)

Total guesswork here... Here's what I know:

- No Nay Never has started very well as a sire and represents the Scat Daddy lineage - numerous strong performers at this meeting in recent years.

- Peter May's figures have Cosmic Law and Sergei Prokofiev at the top, closely followed by the once-raced Indigo Balance.

- 13 of the last 16 winners had either one or two previous career starts.

- Once-raced debut winners have fared well, scoring in the Coventry in 2007, 2009, 2010, 2013, 2014, and 2017.

- Those off the track for more than a month have done very well, in terms of wins and places to runners.

That leaves me with a shortlist of two - though neither with especially high speed ratings: Advertise and Getchagetchagetcha.

The former is trained by Martyn Meade, winning comfortably in maiden company at Newbury, a race which has worked out quite well so far. The latter comes from the Clive Cox speed camp, and won his debut at this track. That was over five furlongs on softish ground in a four-runner field, however, meaning he has a bit more to prove against conditions than the Meade runner.

I'll take a chance on another once-raced debut winner in the form of Jessica Harrington's Indigo Balance. He won a six furong Curragh maiden beating Decrypt, himself a subsequent winner.

In an open race where those at the head of the market - Sergei Prokofiev (Scat Daddy), Calyx (debut winner), Cosmic Law (No Nay Never), and The Irish Rover (No Nay Never) - all tick one box or another above. But in a race where guesswork is the order of the day, why not side with a couple of 'could be anything' blank canvasses at a price?

Advertise and Indigo Balance for small stakes.

3.40 King's Stand Stakes (Group 1, 5f, 3yo+)

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Back to Group 1 action, and a five furlong dash. There are some very fast starters in this field, perhaps none more so than the electric Kachy, whose performance when smashing his rivals by nine lengths at Chester had to be seen to be believed.

That was Chester, around the bend, and this is Ascot up the straight; that was a Class 3 and this is a Group 1: rapid he is, but I doubt he has the class of a number of these.

Lady Aurelia is also lightning from the stalls, and she comes here bidding to defend an unbeaten course record: she beat a field of 17 by seven lengths in the Queen Mary of 2016, and she beat the same size field in this race last year, prevailing again by daylight, three lengths on that occasion. The daughter of Scat Daddy will be very tough to beat if turning up in that sort of form. But she was beaten on her seasonal bow, albeit when very likely half-cooked and with this in mind. She's going to be a short enough price as the second most popular Lady on Day 1 of the Royal meeting, but I couldn't put you off her.

Battaash is perceived to be Lady A's main rival, this fellow having been a new man since suffering the misfortune of decoupling after fluffing his lines in the 2016 Windsor Castle at the Royal meeting. He's not returned to this piste in the interim so there is something of a leap of faith required to back him at around 9/4, for all that when he's good he's very good. He was generally very good last season, in fairness, and his narrow last day triumph can probably be marked up a jot. Still, of the pair, I'd rather be in Wesley's corner and that of his marauding mare.

The quest for a value loser is not always in vain in this race - as Choisir, Equiano and Goldream have all reminded us since 2003. In that spirit, and although I don't especially fancy him, Washington DC advertised his outside chance when chasing Battaash home at Haydock last time. The five-year-old son of Zoffany has only won once over the minimum since his juvenile season; but then, way way back in 2015, he did win the Windsor Castle from 26 rivals. He's quirky and a late runner, and it is hardly in his favour that Ryan Moore has plumped for a thrice-beaten-this-season stable mate upon which he doesn't wear the Coolmore silks; but 16/1 might just make the frame for the ever more accomplished-looking Donnacha O'Brien.

But, actually, the more I look at it, the more I think LADY AURELIA will win.

4.20 St James's Palace Stakes (Group 1, 1m, 3yo)

My heart is screaming for the underdog, Roger Teal's Tip Two Win. Not only trained by one of the sport's lesser-known names, he is ridden by one of the more under-rated jockeys in the weighing room, David Probert (who just happens to sport the liveries of this 'ere website on his breeches). It would be spectacular for Roger and David, not to mention owner Anne Crowley, if he could prevail.

Having finished closest to Saxon Warrior in the 2000 Guineas, he has a legitimate chance, too. That followed up solid two-year-old form and helped sandwich a brace of lucrative victories in Doha around the turn of the year. Sure, he hasn't the progression of some of these but he has the most in the book of all of them. Come on David!!!

OK, partisanship aside, the most exciting horse for neutrals is probably Without Parole. Trainer John Gosden has brought this fellow along slowly, shunning the bright lights for wins at first Newcastle (actually, that was under the bright lights, last December!) and then Yarmouth, before raising his sights a touch in the Listed Heron Stakes.

That trio of wins are only mildly interesting in or of themselves, but the manner of victory, particularly on Without Parole's second start, has flagged him as a colt of rare potential. The problem for would be backers of a horse stepping up to Group company, not to mention Group 1 company, for the first time is that his price suggests he's already an established top tier performer. As such, fully cognisant that it may end in tears, I want to try to take him on.

Romanised, another from an unfashionable stable - this time that of Ken Condon, bounded forward from his 2018 bow to put the Irish 2000 Guineas field to the sword in convincing manner last time. As a two-year-old, he ran second to Masar, form which obviously looks oodles better in light of the latter's resounding Derby success. He, like Tip Two Win, is more exposed but has achieved more.

French raider Wootton is also a very interesting contender. Unbeaten in three going into the French 2000 Guineas, he was two lengths fourth there. He didn't get the run of the race off what looked steady fractions, and he ought to be suited by a quicker tempo this time. However, whether he wants fast ground remains to be seen. Trainer Henri-Alex Pantall is 0-14 in Britain and Ireland since 2013, including unplaced runners at 5/2, 5/1, 7/1 twice and 8/1.

And what of Gustav Klimt? Like his namesake's paintings, this fellow has always been more impressionist than lifelike when it comes to top class winning form, though it should be remembered he was Saxon Warrior's better-fancied stablemate in the lead up to the 2000 Guineas, and he did run third in the Irish equivalent. Progressive as a juvenile it is starting to look as though he hasn't improved from two to three as much as others in the line up, though he retains the scope to bounce back yet.

This is a truly fascinating clash of established form versus unexposed early-season three-year-olds, and it is hard to choose between them. What is for certain is that my heart says Tip Two Win; but one rarely needs to invest capital where one is already emotionally in the game. Thus it becomes a choice between the unexposed sorts Without Parole and Wootton. The former may be the pick for all that I don't want to back him at the price. Indeed, I'm not betting in the race: it's too difficult with not enough meat on any wagering bone to justify a punt.

5.00 Ascot Stakes (Class 2 handicap, 2m 4f, 4yo+)

Twenty older horses, many of them used to facing obstacles rather than morning suits, and the first of the week's near impossible handicap puzzles. A trend may be our friend in the circumstances, so here are three:

13 of the last 16 were won by a predominantly National Hunt stable, including the last eight

10 winners since 1997 (92 runners) won last time out, for a LSP of 19.50 points

The best win and place strike rates were achieved by horses returning from an absence of 14-60 days

That leaves five, though there is a strong possibility that bubba was lobbed with bathwater in the above. Did I already mention I find this meeting tough?

No matter, for our shortlist looks promising, as follows: Whiskey Sour, Look My Way, [White Desert, Sam Missile], Garo De Juilley

Outsider Garo De Juilley has not been seen on the level since notching a four-timer in France in the autumn of 2015. The last of that quartet was in a big field mile and a half Saint-Cloud handicap, where as far as I can tell he carried top weight off an official rating of 43.5, which I think equates to 95. I might be wrong here, but that gives him a bit of a chance off the same mark. He's changed stables twice since then, first to Paul Nicholls and now to Sophie Leech, for whom this will be the six-year-old's first run. He's fit from hurdling and might run better than 66/1, especially if you can nab a bonus place or two.

More likely perhaps is Whiskey Sour from the Willie Mullins yard. Mullins has won this twice in the last three years and three times in the last six. He has other bullets to fire but none with the matching profile to my guessing game trends above. This five-year-old had a successful hurdling season, including winning a Grade 1 at Christmas and running second in the Punchestown Champion Novice Hurdle (also Grade 1) when last seen. He won his final two flat starts last term, both fifty grand big field Galway Festival handicaps - in the space of five days, so comes here progressive in that sphere and battle proven. Christophe Soumillon is an eye-catching jockey booking for the 10/1 chance, though Whiskey Sour will need plenty of luck in the run if adopting his usual hold up tactics.

Look My Way repelled the fast-finishing Coeur De Lion in the consolation Chester Cup last time and ought again to get first run on that rival. But the stiffer test of Ascot could play to the presumed stronger stamina of the latter who may finally bag the big one he's promised for so long - albeit that it will be too late for connections who flogged him at the sale last month (looks like some of the outgoing syndicate bought him back in for £110,000, half of which they could claw back here).

Charlie Appleby is looking to supplement his Derby win with a Royal Ascot score to truly mark his 2018 season. He'll have a number of fine chances in better class races than this, but White Desert should not be under-estimated. It may not have been much of a race he won last time, in the context of this gig at least, but he won it by six lengths. The application of first time cheekpieces may have been a factor, and those are retained. He has solid turf form as well as the services of William Buick, who rides the course well.

A winner at the track last month, Sam Missile bids to double up in this notably better race off a seven pounds higher mark. That will make life trickier but Jamie Osborne's five-year-old remains unexposed at staying trips.

The last two above are, of course, not from NH yards, so as per the arbitrary pruning of the field at the start of this race preview, I'll choose from the other trio. Whiskey Sour's run style concerns me in a race of this nature: he might have a lot to do in the last quarter mile and there will be plenty of horses going backwards and getting in his way in the short home stretch.

Garo De Juilley is worth a very small each way fun punt, as his flat form of old was both progressive - he's on a five-timer - and high class. The ground is a bit of a question mark, how much flat ability he retains is a bigger one, but 66/1 justifies the tickle.

Look My Way is usually thereabouts, stays quite well and is likely to be in the right place turning for home; with his trainer in fine form just now, 16/1 is fair enough even if there is a chance that Coeur De Lion - among many others! - will go by him in the final furlong.

5.35 Wolferton Stakes (Listed, 1m2f, 4yo+)

A change to both the race order and conditions, with the Windsor Castle moved to later in the week and its replacement as the Tuesday nightcap, the Wolferton Stakes no longer a handicap. It might have been marginally easier if it was a handicap in truth as 5/1 the field attests.

I genuinely have no clue how this will play out, so the following is little more than to fill the gap between race five and the end of the piece. With that said, if you're still reading, John Gosden won three of the last seven handicap renewals and has also had two placed runners, from ten sent to post.

Johnny G saddles two here, the better fancied of which appears to be Monarchs Glen. This Frankel gelding seemed to be getting it together at the end of last season with a brace of wins in Listed and Group 3 company. That was prior to a thumping in a Dubai Group 1 first time up this season. If one can overlook that setback - class and the travel are acceptable excuses - and if he can pick up that previously ascendant thread, then 10/1 is fair in a race which is no great shakes. Frankie Dettori rides, his mount wearing a hood for the first time.

Gosden's other runner, Muntahaa, has been disappointing since winning a mile and a half Group 3 last midsummer. But the fact he won a G3 puts him a step ahead of many of these, with race conditions (fast ground, decent pace, big field) reasons to be hopeful.

Elsewhere, Henry Candy has an excellent record when teaming up with Harry Bentley (11/31, +18.49) in the last two years, and they try with the filly, Chain Of Daisies. She looks like she might get a softish lead, and may find this more straightforward than the Group 2 Musidora she contested last time. The shorter straight here than at York is in her favour making 16/1 attractive about a filly with a verdict over Ulysses in her back catalogue (same ground and distance, Group 3).

Good luck!

Matt

Royal Ascot – A Stunning Success

Royal Ascot delivered on so many levels, with thrilling finishes, heroic performances, and a few shock defeats along the way. Ballydoyle and Godolphin flexed their muscles and again proved dominant, whilst Wes Ward, James Fanshawe and Michael Bell landed their own outstanding victories during a truly glorious Royal meeting.

Richard Fahey and Team Godolphin, got the ball rolling, with success for Ribchester in the opening Queen Anne Stakes. He’d comfortably taken the Lockinge in May, and was duly sent-off favourite to confirm his status as top-miler. Mutakayyef came with a promising challenge late-on, but when asked for maximum effort by pilot William Buick, Ribchester found plenty to finish more than a length to the good. “He’s an exceptional miler,” proclaimed the thrilled jockey.

Another useful Godolphin miler is three-year-old Barney Roy, trained by Richard Hannon. He was tasked with reversing Guineas placings with Ballydoyle’s latest sensation Churchill. O’Brien’s dual Guineas winner was a short-priced favourite to add the St James’s Palace Stakes, though Barney was also well-backed, and a thrilling duel was anticipated. Unfortunately, an expectant crowd were to be disappointed, as Churchill put in a below-par performance, leaving Hannon’s colt to take the spoils. A hard-fought victory left connections considering a step-up in trip for the talented three-year-old, with the Eclipse a likely target.

One horse that did put-in a dazzling opening day performance, was American filly Lady Aurelia. A year earlier she had romped to victory in the Queen Mary, and Wes Ward was hoping for more of the same. She certainly didn’t disappoint, quickening clear approaching the final furlong for a three-length success. Last year’s winner Profitable, along with the Abbaye winner Marsha, were both put firmly in their place.

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Another filly with a look of invincibility is Aidan O’Brien’s Winter. The dual-Guineas winner added the Coronation Stakes with the minimum of fuss, and though she’s been busy, her trainer hinted that the Falmouth in just a few weeks, could be the next target. She appears to be thriving for racing, and is a relaxed and powerful performer. The team will hope to get Churchill back on track, but his demise in the St James’s may have an impact on future targets for this filly. She has the potential to hold her own against the boys, should O’Brien take that route.

Ballydoyle had further major success along with a high-profile defeat, in a trio of wonderfully thrilling Royal Ascot renewals.

Highland Reel has become a phenomenon in recent years, and his globetrotting success has taken earnings towards the six-million mark. His gutsy victory in the Prince Of Wales’s typified his qualities. Ridden prominently throughout, he forged ahead in the latter stages and fought off all-comers before stretching clear late-on. This trip looked on the short-side to me, but Highland Reel was not for passing. “He's an incredible horse. He has pace, courage, tactical speed,” said a thoroughly satisfied trainer.

With the yard’s senior citizen doing the business, it was the turn of one of the youngster stars to shine. Caravaggio did exactly that in winning a thrilling Commonwealth Cup. Godolphin provided the main challenge with the lightning quick Harry Angel, and powerful travelling Blue Point forming a dual-assault. For much of the six-furlongs O’Brien’s charge appeared to have plenty to do, and indeed approaching the two-furlong pole he looked in a spot of bother. However, his finishing burst was exceptional, and the Godolphin pair were unable to hold on.

Caravaggio is an exceptional horse, but I remain convinced that he is vulnerable at this trip, especially on a flat track. Nevertheless, it will take an exceptional performance to end his current unblemished record.

Caravaggio was the Royal meeting banker for many, but Ballydoyle had another near-certainty running in the Gold Cup. Order Of St George was defending his crown, and sent-off a short-priced favourite to do so. Turning for home, Ryan Moore had plenty of ground to make up, but would undoubtedly be confident that the favourite had time to get on top. Unfortunately for Moore and his team, Big Orange was on the front end, and with James Doyle kicking-on at the two-furlong pole, Moore and his charge were suddenly on the back-foot. Order Of St George closed to within a nose, but Big Orange refused to fold. In a stunning finish, Michael Bell’s popular stayer held on for a famous victory.

It was arguably the highlight of a terrific week, which saw so many wonderful performances at one of the World’s most famous sporting events.

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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)

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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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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.

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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.

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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
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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

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