Royal Ascot 2014: Stat Pack
This week it's the biggest flat meeting of them all, Royal Ascot. And, despite coming just eleven days after Epsom's Derby, we can look forward to the usual heady aggregation of equine bling parading across the Berkshire heath. Those regally-bred nags, of course, will be whooped and hollered by an even greater aggregation of human bling (some of them also regally-bred) from the Royal Enclosure, as well as less-monied race fans on other parts of the track, in betting shops, and on sofas across the nation.
In this post, I want to bring to your attention three pointers for the week which will hopefully steer you on a course toward wagering fruitfulness. Or, at least, aid safe passage from the live danger of punting ruin on this most treacherous of stretches in the racing calendar.
Not all Royal Ascot cards are made equal
The first port of call is to address the fact that Royal Ascot is a 'marathon not a sprint': it comprises thirty races spread over five days, Tuesday to Saturday, six apiece. Despite the number of betting puzzles being set steady at six a day, the respective difficulty level varies significantly.
In a study I undertook last year, it was revealed that - generally speaking - Tuesday is the 'easiest' day, inasmuch as it has historically produced the lowest winning starting price average.
Of course, last year yielded winners at 20/1, 16/1, 9/1, 8/1 and 15/2, and just one winning favourite, Dawn Approach at 5/4. Despite that, I'd expect the average to return to somewhere close to the historical 7.15/1, which has been the 'easiest' day to find a winner from any of the three major festivals (Cheltenham and Aintree completing the trio).
If Tuesday is less than kind, proceed with caution on Wednesday, especially if your modus operandi is generally to back horses close to the top of the market. The Wednesday has historically been the toughest of the Royal Ascot week for punters, with 33/1 Belgian Bill again pushing up the average SP last year, to a dash beyond 10/1.
Dodging the handicaps is almost certainly a prudent play all week, if you've the willpower so to do. Only playing them by proxy - in a placepot, for instance - is a viable alternative for those, like me, who struggle to resist the challenge/temptation.
If Tuesday is the easiest, and Wednesday the toughest, where do the other three days fit in? Well, Friday is another punter-friendly card, relatively at least. Again, last year, big odds winners in the handicaps (12/1 and 25/1) skewed the numbers up. Only larking about with the handicaps looks an increasingly savvy tactic.
Saturday is home to the Wokingham Handicap, and was the hardest card of a punter-perishing pentagram last year, aggregating at 65/6 (i.e. combined odds of 65 across 6 race winners). That's a smidge shy of 11/1 on average, and that in turn is a good three points above the historical average.
All other things being equal, this year should be easier for punters. But perhaps not much easier. Swerving the handicaps will unquestionably make life more straightforward - and reduce the number of brain teasers from thirty to a more manageable 21.
Bankers and Blowouts
Last year's featured five were all correctly nominated as either a banker or a blowout, which means - obviously - attempting to repeat the feat is lunacy. So I'll cut to the chase for each, and cut five to three as there don't appear to be as many hotpots this time.
Queen Anne Stakes - Tuesday - Toronado
He's a bit of a beast is this fellow. Won a muddling Craven (four runners) on good to firm before running the worst two races of his career on the same firm footing subsequently. He looks a very smart horse with a bit of juice in the ground and, if at his best on his first start since last August, he's better than these, as the top official rating in the field implies. He was a most unlucky loser in the St James's Palace Stakes last year, and he looks banker material to kick the meeting off.
St James's Palace Stakes - Tuesday - Kingman
The vintage mile Group 1, in which Toronado was denied last year. Run on the round course to the Queen Anne's straight track race over the same distance, this features a re-match between Kingman and his 2000 Guineas vanquisher, Night Of Thunder. There was no fluke to the last named's Classic victory, and he may well progress again from there to here.
And Night Of Thunder will not be the only top notcher Kingman has to fear. This race also includes Toormore; 2013 Coventry Stakes blitzkrieg, War Command; and, the highly talented Outstrip, who was found to be wrong after disappointing in the 2000 Guineas.
He's a cracking horse is Kingman, and he could win this. But, with such strength in depth lining up against him, he's a blowout... just.
Prince Of Wales's Stakes - Wednesday - Treve
Treve was a devastating winner of the Arc last autumn. And she gave best only to a match fit Cirrus Des Aigles when losing her unbeaten record at the sixth time of asking. Here she might have to take on The Fugue at that one's optimal trip of ten furlongs, as well as Magician and Mukhadram and a couple of other genuine Group 1 horses. But... She's a machine. She'll win. Banker.
Trainers for your Tracker
The Tracker in geegeez Gold (I believe other service providers also offer a similar, if inferior, product 😉 ) is a great place to keep tabs on your favourite handlers, pilots and nags.
Turning our focus strictly to Royal Ascot, and although the likes of Aidan O'Brien and Willie Haggas are profitable to follow with their fancied runners, I'd like to bring to your consideration five others who fire less bullets, but are generally a dead aim when they do pull the Royal Ascot trigger.
In alphabetical order, then, and focusing only on the 20/1 or shorter entries:
Accused of tilting at windmills down the years, he's proved the doubters wrong time and again, most recently when pulling on his dancing shoes in the Ascot unsaddling enclosure last year after Rizeena's smash up job in a huge field Queen Mary. That filly may well be back this time, in the Coronation Stakes, and it would be unwise to discount her prospects, despite a slightly sub-par effort in the 1000 Guineas.
Brittain also has options in the Jersey Stakes and a couple of the handicaps.
Dascombe is having a decent season, with 38 winners at a 19% clip. His flag bearer will again be Brown Panther - cue the tiresome 'Michael Owen is such an asset to racing' brigade - and that one will again have a fine chance. I say 'again', because he won a handicap here in 2011. Curiously, in the two June's since then, Dascombe has elected to run the Panther at Pontefract in a Listed race there.
Although he's generally best known as a trainer of two year old's (and Brown Panther), two of Dascombe's three Royal Ascot winners have come in handicaps. And six of his eleven runners at the Royal meeting have been in the first four, a remarkably consistent effort.
Far better known as a trainer of National Hunt horses, Hendo has a few dual purpose nags, and he often targets the Ascot Stakes in particular, a race he won with Veiled in 2011. Last year, Forgotten Voice claimed the Wolferton Handicap; and Caracciola won the Queen Alexandra Stakes, aged twelve, in 2009. Eight of Henderson's thirteen runners since 2008 have finished in the top six, again testament to the noteworthy status of stable entries.
Henderson has both Suraj and Lieutenant Miller entered for the Ascot Stakes this time.
Hughie has perhaps not quite hit the heights that his early training successes suggested he might, but he's still a wily operator capable of snatching a big Royal Ascot handicap. And, though he's not had a Royal Ascot winner since 2011 - when he had two - his runners have continued to knock on the door.
An overall performance since 2008 of four winners and two places from 17 runners is excellent. Three of Morrison's winners in that time came in handicaps.
Hewie has a fair number of entries, exclusively in handicaps, so keep an eye on him.
And our quintet is concluded with northern raider, Kevin Ryan. A slinger of much mud, some of which sticks, Ryan might not be the most obvious entry in a list of shrewd target trainers, but he's been far more selective with his entries at the Berkshire track in Royal week. Just fifteen of them have left the gates priced 20/1 or less since 2008, and three of them won, with another making the frame.
Indeed, Ryan has enjoyed a winner at each of the last three Royal Ascot's, two of them with juveniles. His most notable entry this week is probably Hot Streak, favourite for the King's Stand Stakes on Tuesday. He has a large squad entered at this stage, but those priced 20/1 or shorter will be a far more workable subset.
So there you have it. A few titbits to mull in the remaining hours between now and the tapes rising at 2.30pm tomorrow for what should be an absolutely fantastic week of punting. Best of luck whatever you're wagering.