Royal Ascot 2014 Day 3 Preview, Trends and Tips
It's Thursday, the middle day, Ladies' Day, Gold Cup Day, or Day 3, of the Royal Ascot festival of flat racing. And with any luck there will be a winner or two in the midst of the below... and don't forget our tipping competition, details of which are at the foot of this preview.
2.30 Norfolk Stakes (Group 2) 5 Furlongs
Incredibly, just nine line up for this year's Norfolk, the smallest field since 2004, when nine also lined up. As a Group 2 that could potentially be a target for any precocious speedball, I find that strange.
All trends in this post are courtesy of the wonderful folk at horseracebase.com
Norfolk Stakes Trends
16 of the last 17 winners won last time out
Four favourites and six second favourites have won since 1997, for a collective profit of 3 points
10 of the last 17 Norfolk winners had run within a month of rocking up here, and 16 within two months
Six furlong winners dropping back in trip are two from 24 for a profit of 12.38 points. Further, they've made the frame 25% of the time.
Trendy types might be Baitha Alga (only six furlong winner in the field), The Great War and Mukhmal.
Norfolk Stakes Form Preview
As with all the juvie races, expect the winner to show more than he has to date. In fact, expect all runners to show more. In that context, those with less scores on the board have more scope to improve, a statement borne out by the following. Since 1997, once raced horses have won eight of the 17 renewals; twice raced have won four; thrice raced have won three; and more exposed than that have a pair of victories.
That statlet should be balanced by saying that the best wins to runs percentage is also with the once raced brigade, whose eight from 52 (15%) is twice as good as the fairly consistent average of 7% for the other groups.
But this is a form preview, not a stat attack, so let's start with the likely favourite, The Great War. This son of War Front, out of a Pulpit mare, is more readily bred for a Kentucky Derby than a Norfolk Stakes; but he's not short of pace. That much was evidenced in two facile canters to glory in two runs thus far, both at heavy odds on.
Just one horse has won from either race since, which gives the form a hollow look, but the clock judges have been happy with his speed numbers, so it's hard to tar him with the same slow brush as those he's beaten. Still, he'll need to progress again, and probably on slightly softer ground than the good to firm he's encountered both races to date.
Mukhmal has a very similar profile - two runs, two wins; same Topspeed rating, same Racing Post rating - but is five times the price. Both have bags of scope, and if anything Mukhmal has shown more tactical versatility, having won on a straight and a round track, and on good to firm and good ground. The one tick in The Great War's box is that he made a giant stride forward from first to second run, whereas Mukhmal was probably more 'ready' the first day, meaning his progression was less striking.
Assuming all that conjecture means anything, we should move on to the trendy one, Baitha Alga. Three starts means he has less room to progress, but at the same time he's achieved more in terms of class than his main market rivals. Specifically, he won the Listed Woodcote Stakes over six furlongs at Epsom a dozen days ago. As mentioned already, the step back in distance is a positive not a negative, and he has lots of speed, having been fastest from the gate the last twice, and was on top a furlong out in that last day romp.
Baitha Alga could be susceptible to a finishing kick, but at the same time he has shown he can keep going for longer than his rivals have demonstrated hitherto. Against that, The Great War is bred for a lot further, so cannot be discounted from battling off a lightning pace.
Wesley Ward wuns won too, this time the once raced filly, To Be Determined. Wesley brought over a Ben Johnson amongst Carl Lewis's last year, when he unleashed the beast that is No Nay Never on a terrified unsuspecting public. That genetic freak of nature (I hope and trust) smashed the living daylights out of the oppo and went on to win the Group 1 Prix Morny.
To Be Determined is highly unlikely to live up to that level of physicality and speed, but that's not to say she can't get competitive. She bounded out of the gate on her only start, but was eight lengths inferior to the winner by the wire. She feels like the weak link in the Ward team and, unless she's made a huge step forward in the intervening five weeks, she ought not to be good enough. I'm against this one.
Mind Of Madness is a possible non-runner after his ten length bashing in the Windsor Castle on Tuesday, form which doesn't look good enough anyway; but there are a couple of once raced 'could be anything' sorts lurking which deserve a second glance.
Ahlan Emarati won well in a big field at Bath two months ago and, while the break is a worry, he could have improved a fair amount in the interim from what was a very promising start. And Snap Shots won his only start on soft at Haydock. As a son of Kodiac, he could be better on quicker, and the form is looking good so far (just two runners from the race, one of them a winner, the other placed).
The remaining pair are unlikely to be quick enough.
Norfolk Stakes Tips
The Great War is the most obvious candidate, but I can't bring myself to nominate a horse at close to evens in a race of this nature (unless he looks like No Nay Never, in which case, fill your boots!)
Mukhmal is a live alternative, as is Baitha Alga, and it's the last named upon which I'll chance a couple of beans. And Ahlan Emarati might be a player too, if there's no issue behind the protracted layoff.
Most likely winner: The Great War Evs general
Value alternative: Baitha Alga 13/2 SkyBet (money back as free bet if fav wins)
3.05 Tercentenary Stakes (Group 3) 1m2f
A ten furlong Group 3 for three-year-olds only, and a race that has seen winners return at an average SP of 10.3/1 since 2001.
Tercentenary Stakes Trends
Twelve of the last seventeen winners finished on the podium last time. Those that were unplaced last time included fourth in the German 2000 Guineas, and two each unplaced in the Derby and the Dante Stakes.
Horses dropping in class from Group 1 or 2 to this Group 3 have won five from 26 starts, for a profit of 55.5 points. Betting them each way sees 11 from 26, for 64.65 units profit. Obliterator is the only one fitting that bill, having run unplaced in the Irish 2000 Guineas last time.
Tercentenary Stakes Form Preview
Another nine go to post here, and it's a mix of up and comers and lesser pattern race also rans. The favourite is Cannock Chase, who comes here on a hat-trick after winning his maiden on soft and a Class 2 handicap on good to firm. So we know he'll handle the ground. Both wins were over ten furlongs so we know he'll handle the trip. Ryan Moore has ridden him every time so far, and does again, so we know the jockey is dead on. And the trainer - Sir Michael Stoute - is in excellent form, including with a winner on Wednesday at this meeting.
In short, though Cannock Chase has to improve a dozen pounds on handicap ratings, he's clearly better than that mark. He could have run in a handicap but they've chosen to elevate two notches in class, and the Stoute squad rarely tilt at windmills. Still, he will have to perform to a roughly stone better level than we've seen so far, because there is a trio of horses rated 107, 108 and 109, any of which could still step forward.
The most likely is the stat pick, Obliterator, whose Irish Guineas run can be forgotten. Connections said they wouldn't run on soft ground, they ran him, and he finished an eased down last of eleven. Obviously, that wasn't his running. Prior to that he'd got closest - albeit seven lengths back - to True Story in the Feilden Stakes, a race which excited people sufficiently to promote True Story to third favouritism for the Derby.
That is more like his level and that was on good to firm ground. He has his conditions and was looked after the last day. I think he'll go close to winning.
But he's not second favourite. That honour currently sits with Mutakayyef in most lists. This chap has only won a Class 5 maiden so far. In fairness, he's clearly better judged on his second in a Listed race, just a neck behind Barley Mow (re-opposes). That is Listed form and this is Group 3 and, though both have the chance to progress being lightly raced colts, I think the pair of them have something to find with Obliterator on his Group 3 form behind what looks (looked?) a Group 1 animal.
Barley Mow made the running that day, and it's a tactic that could see him gobbled up in this deeper event. He's not for me.
Cloudscape is closely matched with Cannock Chase on a line through Windshear, but that is handicap form and is somewhat academic when considering which has the greater prospect of improving. Cloudscape was far behind the same owner's Barley Mow, and Mutakayyef two starts back and was beaten in Class 3 last time. There is nothing especially different about conditions in this race, and he looks place lay material.
The best backed horse in the race at time of writing is Luca Cumani's Postponed, ridden by Andrea Atzeni. Regular readers will know of my admiration for the Italian's riding skills, and I also admire the other Italian's training skills!
Postponed himself, a son of Dubawi, is bred for this trip, and he has little to find with the 1-2 from that Newmarket Stakes Listed race to which I've alluded already. The trainer is making positive noises, and Postponed was good enough to be third in the Craven behind Toormore, albeit that that one has not franked the form especially.
Of the other three in the race, Spark Plug is unbeaten in two starts, and was a cosy enough winner last time. He'll have come on a lot for his seasonal debut, as most from the stable do, though he will have to find almost twenty pounds on a strict interpretation of the official ratings. That's not impossible, but there are more likely candidates.
Tercentenary Stakes Tips
A tricky race with cases to be made for several. I'm siding with the class dropper, Obliterator, though I wouldn't especially expect him to be well named.
Selection: Obliterator 13/2 BetVictor
Each way alternative: Postponed 9/1 bet365, BetVictor
3.45 Ribblesdale Stakes (Group 2) 1m4f
A mile and a half for Classic generation fillies, and the first test of the Oaks form usually. Inchila is the sole representative from that race this year, it only having been run 13 days ago, and she was fourth in the Oaks, unlucky not to have been second.
Ribblesdale Stakes Trends
The Irish have won four times since 2001
Eleven of the last seventeen finished 1st or 2nd last time
Of the sixteen horses to have won at a mile and a half, three won the Ribblesdale for a level stakes profit of 8.5 points
12 of the 17 winners in that time had won at 1m2f or further, for a profit of 22.46 points
That gives a trends shortlist of Final Score, Criteria, Vazira and Wonderstruck. Inchila could arguably be added to that list, so unlucky was she not to be second in the Oaks.
Ribblesdale Stakes Form Preview
A French raider is at the head of the market as I write. Trained by Alain de Royer-Dupre, Vazira would have been unbeaten but for missing the kick last time, staying on to good effect to be a never nearer three length second. That was over a mile and a quarter, and even her trainer says she has to prove she stays. On the bright side, she's by Sea The Stars, who stayed a mile and a half all right, though it could be argued his best trip was a quarter mile shorter.
Despite holding the trainer in the highest regard, I have to look beyond Vazira at the prices.
Inchila comes in next, and the question with her is whether she can run to the same level as the Oaks less than two weeks later. If she can, she has a fine chance to win. Her price of 4/1 rather assumes that she can, and I wouldn't be certain so, again, I keep searching.
Johnny G runs Bright Approach in just her third race, and she took the eye when keeping on into third in Listed class last time, without too much pressure being exerted. Gosden reported her to be in season after that, which means we can mark that effort up fractionally and in any case she will have plenty of improvement after just two starts. I quite like her chance.
Wonderstruck is interesting too. Described by her trainer, Willie Haggas, as a "backward type", it's a bold move to bump her straight into a Royal Ascot Group 2 after a solitary Class 5 maiden win. Still, Haggas is as wily as he is Willie, and he's definitely Willie, so her chance has to be respected in the guessing game about progression. I can't bring myself to back her on the basis of the trainer quote and the form book, but she's another that wouldn't be a surprise result in a really open race.
Italian horse, Final Score, is trained by Marco Botti's brother, Stefano, and she was good enough to win the Italian Oaks last time over a mile and three. How that form translates here is anyone's guess, especially with no British or Irish runners in the race. It was a Group 2, and for that she is shouldered with a three pound penalty.
Ribblesdale Stakes Tips
It's a bit of a guessing game and, in the circumstances, I'll side with a man who knows what it takes to get this job done, John gosden. He won it with Michita in 2008, and though Bright Approach would have less in the book than her forerunner, she is open to lots of improvement. It's tentative though, and to be honest I won't be betting in this race.
Tentative/token selection: Bright Approach 6/1 PP
4.25 Gold Cup (Group 1) 2m4f
For purists, this is the big race of the week, the Gold Cup. For most, however, it's merely the showcase race on Thursday, and an interesting puzzle for punters to unravel.
Gold Cup Trends
There has been a bit of draw bias in this over the years, with just three of the 75 horses drawn in double digits since 1997 winning (4%), compared with the 9.6% win rate of those drawn lower. Which is interesting, quirky, and probably relevant. Especially given that Leading Light, the 5/4 favourite, is drawn 14 of 15.
13 of the last 17 winners were 1-2-3 last time out
15 of the last 17 winners were aged four to six. The exceptions were both Yeats, for his third and fourth triumphs in the race
Seven of the last 17 favourites have obliged, for a profit of 1.51 units
14 of the last 17 winners last ran between 16 and 60 days ago
That gives us a trends shortlist of Brown Panther, Pale Mimosa, Shwaiman, Ralston Road, and the poorly drawn Leading Light (if you ignore the draw trend!)
Gold Cup Form Preview
Leading Light is the favourite, and he bids to improve an excellent recent record for jollies in the race. Overlooking his Arc flop, he's won his last six, including a two mile win in the Queen's Vase at this meeting last year on good to firm ground. This will be another half mile again, and it is impossible to be certain he will stay. However, that rings true for most of the rest too, and he was staying on at the death in the Vase.
He followed his Ascot win with victory in the St Leger at Doncaster, and then bolted up in the Vintage Crop Stakes, a Group 3 over a mile and three-quarters, by three lengths from decent yardstick Royal Diamond (rated 114). He has what might be called a favourite's chance, and is unquestionably the most likely winner.
Against his strong form, the negatives are that car park draw and the trip. He might be good enough to overcome both, but 5/4 is short enough in the circumstances. However, new customers at 888sport can have 4/1 for a tenner, and that looks on the generous side of very fair. Click here for that one.
Those for whom the trip is no concern are last year's winner, Estimate, Simenon, Missunited and Saddler's Rock.
Estimate is 11/1, which on the face of it seems high given that she did the Queen's Vase/Gold Cup double in 2012/13, and also noting the fine record of repeat winners (only eleven different winners in the last sixteen years). So why the big price? Mainly because a) she lost her third and last start of last year, here; and b) she's not had a prep run.
The second of those is probably more relevant than the first, and trainer Sir Michael Stoute has been at pains to express how difficult it's been to get her here. Still, she wouldn't run if she wasn't at least mostly fit, and mostly fit could see her make the frame, given her abundant stamina.
Missunited has done all her winning at a lower level and generally on much softer ground. She's not seriously considered here, and nor - after too many expensive failures - is Saddler's Rock. He's won a Doncaster Cup and a Goodwood Cup, but hasn't claimed gold since August 2012.
Simenon is a little harder to write off. A neck second to Estimate last year, and with a fitness edge on that one this time, 22/1 looks good each way value. He's been a globe trotter since then, placing fourth in the Melbourne Cup last November, then running on Tokyo, Singapore, Dubai and here at Ascot on soft ground. His best flat form is on quicker than that and, though I'm trying to make excuses for him, he does need to come back to his best. If he can do that, 22/1 is very big.
Brown Panther is the main market rival to Leading Light, at a respectful distance it should be added. He's been in great form this year, winning at Chester and Sandown on soft. He has to prove that two and a half miles is within his compass, but there's little doubt he's bred for it. The ground could just be a touch quick for him, but then again maybe not, and he's a definite player given his proven fitness and form.
Tac De Boistron is a doubtful runner, and won't start unless there's rain. Even if there is rain, that's hardly cause for optimism and connections have bigger fish to fry in the Far East later in the year. He looks a place lay if he does run.
Altano is a player. He was given a shocker of a ride last year, when a fast-finishing fifth, beaten less than four lengths, in this race. He's won twice since, including the Prix du Cadran at Longchamp - a Group 1 - and his pilot won't leave it so late this time. Has has stall one and will surely be ridden midfield. Chance.
Pale Mimosa represents Dermot Weld, a man who won this in 2010 with Rite Of Passage, and his entry this time has credentials. But... she's another for whom the ground might be too fast, irrespective of the reported 4mm of water being sprinkled on the track Wednesday evening.
Of the big prices, Ralston Road doesn't have a huge amount to find with Leading Light on St Leger running. He was six lengths back that day, as a 100/1 shot, and he stuck on really likeably when dead heating the fast-improving Clever Cookie at York last time. He's by Dylan Thomas which gives hope he can stay, but that's a guess. In any case, 80/1 allows for a bit of a guess!
Gold Cup Tips
A really good betting heat if you feel Leading Light is worth taking on. I do, and I like a couple. Brown Panther might be the most obvious, and it's with a heavy heart that I plunge further down the lists, but I'm going to take a couple each way.
Each way speculatives: Altano 12/1 Coral, FOUR places, BOG / Simenon 22/1 BetVictor (20/1 Coral, 4 places BOG - could drift)
Mad massive priced each way poke: Ralston Road 100/1 BetVictor (66/1 Coral, see above)
5.00 Britannia Stakes (Class 2 Handicap) 1 Mile
A 30 runner cavalry charge down the straight track for three year olds only.
Britannia Stakes Trends
14 of the last 17 winners were placed 1-2-3 last time, from just 56% of the runners
15 of the last 17 winners have carried 9-01 or less
15 of the last 17 winners were rated 97 or lower
Surprisingly, perhaps, 11 of the last 17 winners had yet to win at a mile
Some of the trends profile types are First Flight, Free Code, and Idea
Britannia Stakes Form Preview
It's a huge field of unexposed sorts, and I readily concede that I expect this particular punting soduku to be beyond me. I like the trends, though, and especially the one about the non-winners over a mile, which I think is really quirky. The theory must be about scope to improve for the extra furlong, and I buy that.
It looks hard to win with a lot of weight too, so the top ones have to go, in favour of more lightly weighted dark horses (and grey ones). And a placed effort last time is a prerequisite for consideration in this preview at least.
Suzi's Connoisseur makes the identity parade on the basis of a running on third in a competitive Epsom handicap. He's not bred for a mile and it's a relatively easy seven at Epsom. On balance, I think he's a seven furlong horse, and won't get home.
Beau Nash, with one win from eleven starts, and bred for sprint trips, is not one for me either.
First Flight, however, does appeal. With just four runs on the board, he wasn't beaten far in a seven furlong Group 3 last summer. Two runs on soft this term may not have suited, and he ran well enough to be placed both times despite that. The form of those runs looks all right, with winners from both, and could well step forward for a truer pace and quicker turf. That said, the one box, with a lot of the pace middle to high, is a worry.
Free Code is another at a price worth tickling. He ran a neck second to Spark Plug (runs in the second race, a Group 3) over a mile, sticking on when perhaps not suited by the run of the race. That first try at today's race distance hinted at more to come, and he should be cherry ripe on his third start of the campaign, starting from a stall right in the pace mix. 33/1 with Paddy paying SIX places is a bet.
And then there's the most likely of the trio, Sir Michael Stoute's Idea. He's won over seven furlongs, on Kempton's poly and soft turf, and the son of Mizzen Mast will has a lineage that screams ten furlongs let alone a mile, so progression looks a given.
Non-trends possibles include the likes of Bilimbi (no real excuse last time, given a soft ground winner previously), Hors De Combat (huge respect for James Fanshawe, and he beat three of these in a cosy win last time), Born In Bombay (nutted by Hors De Combat last time, and may have been in front too soon), and Hunters Creek (dropping down from ten furlongs and Listed class)... amongst many, many others.
Britannia Stakes Tips
Three against the field: Idea 11/1 BetVictor 5 places (9/1 PP SIX places), First Flight 16/1 Skybet / BetVictor 5 places, Free Code 40/1 BetVictor (33/1 PP SIX places)
Paddy are paying SIX places, most other bookies are paying FIVE places
5.35 King George V Handicap (Class 2) 1m4f
A tricky, tricky, tricky contest, with big-priced recent winners including 20/1 Elidor last year, and 66/1 Cosmic Sun in 2009, the longest priced Royal Ascot winner this century.
King George V Handicap Trends
16 of the last 17 winners were placed 1-2-3 last time out, from 73% of the runners
The good horses have been able to win this handicap, with eleven of the last 17 winners carrying 8-11 or more. That's 65% of the winners from 44% of the runners
Not much else to go on, except that no 'proper' hold up horse since Munsef in 2005 has won this. Favour those who generally sit no worse than midfield.
Factoring pace into the mix gives us a shortlist of Truth Or Dare, Black Schnapps, Windshear, Elite Army, Wrangler, Gold Trail, and Personal Opinion. If Arab Dawn or Captain Morley were ridden more prominently, they'd be interesting, But, of course, we won't know that until it's too late!
King George V Handicap Form Preview
The last race on a very tough day. With all of the runners capable of varying degrees of improvement, and all of them needing to step forward at least a bit, this is yet another guessing game for form book fans.
In the circumstances, it makes sense to take a leap of faith with one from a yard capable of readying one, and to look for some established level of form as well... I think.
Horses returning to the track within a fortnight have an 8% strike rate, compared with around 5% for longer breaks, and it could be that peak fitness is an edge in a race where every edge is a valuable one.
Let's start with the form book... Mark Johnston saddles four, and Silvestre de Sousa legs up on Fire Fighting, an experienced animal with ten runs - and three wins (one disqualfication) - on the board already. Those wins came on Kempton poly, good to soft, and good to firm, so it is perfectly possible that he simply couldn't handle the soft ground when beaten thirteen lengths last time.
It is also likely that the step back to ten furlongs was against him, as he had previously been less than three lengths behind Wrangler over today's range on the soft stuff. I have a suspicion, based on piecing together various elements of Fire Fighting's form photofit that quicker ground the mile and a half will be optimal. He is clearly susceptible to those with more scope, but their lesser experience levels the playing field a tad, and he's well drawn to go hard from the front, with SdS a fine judge of pace.
It obviously won't be easy to fend off all comers, though stable mate Muteela did it on Wednesday, and that's factored into a better than fair price of 25/1.
Nearer the top of the market, and fumbling somewhat blindly in the realms of the 'what might happen' by trying to guess the biggest improver (geez, it sounds pointless, doesn't it?!), my lucky felt pen landed its figurative blob on Windshear, Richard Hannon's Hurricane Run colt.
Just four runs so far, and all of them in the first two (two wins, two runners up), Windshear looks like he'll love the extra quarter mile and the quick sod. He's match fit after three runs this season, and will have been kept back specifically for this. His second last time was behind Tercentenary Stakes favourite, Cannock Chase, and you can expect this fellow's price to collapse accordingly if that one wins.
On the downside, he's drawn in the car park in the widest box of all. However, he's tactically versatile having been held up to win on debut - and last time when second to Cannock Chase - and having also made all in the past. I'd expect Hughesie to drop him in, and look for the gaps to be six or seven back turning in. It's then a matter of whether he can get a clear run, and whether he does improve for the extra two furlongs. 8/1 is reasonable if not stellar in that context.
Given the average SP of the winner in this race in recent years, we can say that they've all got some sort of chance, and I'll not detain you any longer trying to guess which others could improve into the frame!
King George V Handicap Tips
One from the top: Windshear 8/1 general
One from anywhere else (each way): Fire Fighting 25/1 general
That's all for day three, but don't forget the tipping competition. After the first two days - three to go - the leader is richiebhoy (a Celtic fan, I'm guessing!), with 612.50 profit. He is ahead of stod180, on 575 profit, with frank1954 third on 365. There will be lots of good priced winners during the rest of the week, and just one could propel you into the prize positions. Details below...
It's open to all registered members of geegeez. Registration is free and can be done here.
As well as a cash prize of £100, I'm also throwing in a runner up prize which consists of the Day 1 programme (featuring Toronado and Kingman), the Royal Ascot magazine, and the Royal Ascot media guide.
To enter, just add your tips via the racecards (click the tip icon next to the horse you fancy), select your stake; win or each way; and click 'Tip'. Easy as pie.
You must enter at least ten tips across the five days of Royal Ascot. That could be two a day, five each on Tuesday and Saturday, ten on Saturday, or... well, you get the idea. But at least ten tips.
Higher scorer wins £100 cash. Nice!