Sheesh, it was tough for Royal Ascot punters yesterday! Not much to say, except wounds suitably licked, wallet unsuitably replenished, it's time to go in again for day three.
It's Thursday already, and we'll reach the halfway point of the Royal Ascot 2011 meeting today with the running of the Ascot Gold Cup. But before that, the opener is another of the 'baby' races, the Norfolk Stakes over five furlongs for two year olds.
2.30 Norfolk Stakes
Two wins each for Peter Chapple-Hyam, Willie Haggas and Howard Johnson since the turn of the century but none of them send a runner this time, so we'll focus our attentions elsewhere.
We're looking for an experienced last time out winner here, and one probably in the top six in the betting (as all of the last fourteen have been).
Wesley Ward runs Everyday Dave, and he is one of the top two in Wesley's waiding party (sorry). This one won a Chantilly conditions race by eight lengths last time out, breaking smartly and making all. As is the way with US sprinters, he's been given a nice break since, and will be ready to try to take them from the gate to the wire again here.
Bapak Chinta is the likely favourite, after his three lengths debut win over a certain Frederick Engels, form which has been franked in some style by the win of that one in the Windsor Castle on Monday. (Frederick Engels' only other defeat was to Shumoos, who just failed to win the Queen Mary yesterday, from an arguably unfavourable draw).
Crown Dependency represents the Hannon stable, and there was a lot to like about his winning debut over six furlongs. I'm not so sure the step back to five furlongs here is in his favour, though of course he'll stay on well enough in the closing stages. The question is, will that be too little too late?
Pyman's Theory has been beaten twice in his four starts, but won the National Stakes at Sandown last time in good style. It might just be that he'd prefer a bit more give underfoot than he'll get today and, on balance, I'm looking for a bigger improver.
Ultimately then, and with limited confidence, my coins are falling on Everyday Dave to make all.
3.05 Ribblesdale Stakes
Godolphin have won this five times since 1998, including the last two, and they've a decent chance of adding to that record with the filly, Rumh, who is second favourite here.
Whilst this is a step up in trip and class for her, and may arguably come too soon (she ran just seven days ago), she still has a fine chance. That last run was over ten furlongs in a Listed contest, and Rumh prevailed by six lengths, matching a feat she achieved on her antipenultimate (or third last) start.
In between, she ran a valiant third to Dancing Rain and Izzi Top, who have since finished first and third in the Oaks, so her form is watertight.
Add to that the fact that Rumh's a German bred, by a fine middle distance stallion in Monsun, and the step up in trip should garner improvement. I expect a big run from Frankie's filly, and he might be preening and posturing for the cameras once more at around 3.10 this afternoon.
Against him, the prolific Banimpire is favoured in the market. If there's a doubt about the race coming too soon for Rumh, then there has to be a serious doubt about this filly, who raced in and won a Group 3 at Cork on Sunday, just four days ago. That was over a mile and a half, the same trip as today, but it was a hard enough race she had there (it looked a good bit harder than the hands and heels win of Rumh).
This will be Banimpire's seventh race of the season already, and it's possible she's going to have had enough soon. I'm against her on that basis.
Zain Al Boldan was mightily impressive in the Lingfield Oaks trial, but then a bit of a flop in the Oaks itself. She's got something to prove here, and a sterner opponent may prove to be Dorcas Lane.
Lucy Wadham's filly was unraced as a two year old and has now had four starts in her classic term, culminating in a decisive victory in a mile and a quarter Listed affair at Newmarket. She's looked progressive, and may be able to get competitive here, but I'm quite sweet on Rumh and will be having a decent bet on her.
Rumh to win.
3.45 Ascot Gold Cup
A British-based stayer hasn't won this since Godolphin's Papineau received the flying dismount treatment from Frankie back in 2004. Since then, Yeats has won four on the spin and last year Dermot Weld continued the Irish dominance when Rite Of Passage galloped clear.
Prior to the Irish raiders, there was a French raider in Westerner from the Ellie Lellouche yard bagging the Cup. So what will happen this year?
Well, the Irish are represented by Fame And Glory, the former Irish Derby winner and favourite here, and Fictional Account; and the French will cheer Kasbah Bliss and Brigantin. We Brits have the remaining eleven in our corner!
The race revolves around the high class Fame And Glory and, specifically, around whether or not he will stay three quarters of a mile further than he's ever raced before. If you believe he will, then he is a good thing against these, as his only defeat since losing in the race Geegeez sponsored this year on debut in 2010, was when finishing fifth in the Arc last year.
FaG is by Montjeu out of a Shirley Heights mare, which is a pedigree that many top National Hunt sorts would love. In other words, he's bred for the Gold Cup trip.
But... he didn't win easily when stepped up in trip last time to 1m6f. In fact, you might ask, 'who?' about some of horses close up there. Indeed, one of them was the staying on Fictional Account, who is a 20/1 shot here. So if you fancy FaG, you might consider FA a better wager, each way at 20/1. Or you might not.
Duncan is clear second favourite and he's a horse I love to hate. I'm no fan of this one and believe he'll be found out today. Sure, he won the Yorkshire Cup (over 1m6f) beating Blue Bajan. Prior to that he was stuffed in the Arc having won the Prix Foy.
Duncan is not bred for staying trips and I think this is a throw of the dice by connections desperate to bag a Group 1. Like I say, I love to hate this chap and I'm probably (in fact, almost certainly) being overly critical. But I do not think he'll even make the frame. He doesn't have enough bottle.
Luca Cumani was quoted as saying his Manighar would be staying on 'slowly', and that puts me off him, even in a race where they'll all most probably be doing that - at least those that do stay; Holberg is another flatterer to my eye and isn't for me; and Kasbah Bliss is surely too old at nine years young, despite finishing third in the Prix du Cadran last October.
One that will stay and is genuine, and does have a touch of class, is Blue Bajan. He ran a staying on stormer in the Chester Cup on his first run for David O'Meara, a stable in form as mentioned in our piece of the same name last week. Then he just failed to peg back Duncan in the aforementioned Yorkshire Cup when his rival got first run on him.
On his only run since then he won the Group 2 Henry II Stakes at Sandown, beating short-priced favourite Holberg in the process. That was on rain softened ground, but he's got winning form on all going, so that's not a worry here. At around 14/1 as I write, he looks solid each way value against the jolly.
Brigantin is a progressive four year old, but he might just be a bit too young to stay this marathon trip and he'll surely have his chances in years to come.
The one other worthy of consideration - to my eye at least - is the second Irish runner, Fictional Account, to whom I referred earlier.
He's from an unfashionable stable which is why he's a nice price, but consider this: he won a Listed two miler here at Ascot last autumn as a 16/1 shot under hands and heels riding, AND he's twice got to within a length and a half of Fame And Glory over inadequate trips. I can see this chap running a blinder, despite breeding that suggests he should be out of breath stretching out over a mile!
I'm going for an each way touch on Fictional Account and Blue Bajan, both of whom I'm hopeful will run big races.
4.25 Britannia Stakes
Thirty handicap 3yo's charging around Ascot a robust punting proposition do not make. So kid gloves only for this one, though if we can find the winner we should be rewarded well enough.
Weight seems to be key, with most winners lugging nine stone or less; and so does a last time out placed run, though LTO winners have struggled more (2 wins from 106 starters and a lumpy level stakes loss).
Barry Hills won this last year, and he's triple handed here, including two who fit the above bill to a tee. They are Captain Bertie and Ektibaas, who will be ridden by the Hills brothers, themselves winners of the last two renewals of the race.
That confluence of coincidence and statistical fact, allied to the usual futility of trying to find a winning horse needle in a losing horse haystack, means I'll cease my search there.
Split stakes, small, on Captain Bertie and Ektibaas. (With the usual apologies for not doing due credit to the duty of finding big field unexposed handicap winners!)
5.00 Tercentenary Stakes (aka Hampton Court Stakes)
One of my Epsom Derby ante-post portfolio runs in this race, with Marksmanship - for it was he - lining up for the Ballydoyle battalion. He's one of the favourites here, along with Tazahum for Sir Michael Stoute, and Luca Cumani's Alkimos.
He was impressive when winning his maiden on debut, and the second, third, fifth, sixth and seventh have all won since. The fourth has twice been placed, and is one of those sorts of horse.
But he's been off a while so is presumably not entirely straightforward.
Sir Michael's Tazahum won nicely last time, beating Fury, Neebras et al. Fury was a non-runner yesterday when fancied for the Jersey Stakes and Neebras ran a belter to only be beaten two and a half lengths by Frankel on Tuesday. I'd say that's the best form in the race.
Clearly, this chap is on the upgrade, and has won three of his four starts - including both this term, most recently as above and before that when seeing off Captain Bertie. A big run from him in the preceding race would be a further tip for this lad.
Alkimos won stylishly last time and was following up a previous win, both over the ten furlong trip runners encounter here. That was quite a recent run, on June 4th, but he never came under serious pressure and won going away. He'll be a tough nut to crack here too.
Laajooj represents the Godolphin squad and the form of his two wins this term look a bit flimsier than those of some of his rivals. He may have been unsuited by the tight turns at Chester however, but for which he'd have notched a hat-trick this term.
Hunter's Light scooted up by six lengths at Newmarket last time, but that was in a maiden and he'll need a lot more here. Of course, he may find it!
Sir Henry's Midsummer Sun won by a similar margin in a similar race type on his last run, but that was over a mile and a half and it's not clear that this fellow's strong staying pedigree would demand a drop back in trip.
Bottom line, this often goes to the top end of the market, and I'm finding it hard to see past Tazahum and Alkimos. Again, I'm going to split my stakes across the pair. Fence sitter, extraordinaire!
5.35 King George V Stakes
A very tricky day's punting concludes with a very tricky race - how else?! Specifically, the King George V Stakes, a handicap over a mile and a half. There have been a couple of big priced winners in the last few years, notably Cosmic Sun at 66/1, but generally this goes to a fancied runner, which at least gives us cause for a degree of hope.
My shortlist comprises Census, Well Sharp, and Charles Camoin.
Census has had four runs, winning the last two and looking better for the longer trip last time. The Hannon-Hughes axis has been the one to follow this week, and this lad will give us a run for our money, though - as you'd expect - this is a fair bit tougher than he's faced to date.
Well Sharp is a big priced runner and a bit more of a speculative. He won a three runner Redcar handicap by seven lengths last time, which is obviously not the most well aligned contest in terms of today's event. But this son of Selkirk looks like he'll go better as he goes further, and I'm expecting improvement for the addition of a quarter mile to the taxi meter today. Whether there's sufficient progress to get jiggy here is to be confirmed, but 50/1 is fair value, I'd say.
Finally, Charles Camoin was only in front on the line last time over the helter skelter of Epsom's ten furlong trip, and he came from last to first there. He's by Arc winner Peintre Celebre, and both breeding and visual inspection of his races imply he'll stay, and stay well.
At 18/1 in a place, he might be the pick of the prices, and I'm on.
Three against the field: Census, Charles Camoin and Well Sharp, the latter pair each way.
This looks a fiendishly difficult day's punting, and the placepot ought to be well worth copping, if you've the requisite luck or skill to achieve such a feat. After yesterday's disaster, I'll keep my plays on that score to myself. (I can hear the sighs of relief from here!)
Best of luck today, and do leave a comment below with your 'Fursday Fancies' (as they don't say in Saarf Laaandon).