Royal Ascot 2015: King's Stand Stakes Preview & Tips
The second Group 1 of the opening day, and this is for the fleet. Tardy starters, short runners, and slow coaches need not apply.
The king of the King's Stand is unquestionably Sole Power, Eddie Lynam's eight-year-old is bidding for an unprecedented third win in the race. As well as aiming to be the first horse to bag a hat-trick in the race, he will also bid to be the first of his age to prevail since at least 1973.
This is a race in which overseas runners have nicked the pot numerous times in recent seasons. Little Bridge in 2012 was the last, and before that there was a five year spell between 2005 and 2009 when the trophy was packed in a suitcase annually. 'We' only regained it when ex-Spanish flyer, Equiano, was relocated in Lambourn with Barry Hills in 2010.
The raiding party stands at just three this year, but they're a talented trio and command respect, as we'll see.
There is only one place to begin this preview, however, and that is with the returning hero, Ireland's champion sprinter, Sole Power. This lad is getting on, as I've mentioned, but he still commands the utmost respect. His form can look a little inconsistent to the naked eye, but inspect it closely and a few key points emerge.
Firstly, ignore his six furlong runs. Sole Power is a five furlong horse, no question. How else can one explain a record of five Group 1 wins at the minimum, and no wins of any description from ten runs over six furlongs?
Secondly, beware traffic jams. Over five, when Sole Power has been beaten, it is generally because he gets stuck for a run at a crucial time.
And thirdly, his form on softer than good is far less impressive. No wins in seven starts, despite some solid efforts in defeat.
Removing his six furlong efforts, those on softer than good, and races where the comment references trouble in running, the Power's Group 1 form figures read 18327417111. Five wins in eleven starts, and four in his last five.
If that sounds like I'm making excuses for him, I'm not. At least, not in the main. Rather, I'm trying to highlight the generally optimal nature of race conditions: five furlongs, good (to firm) ground, and... well, traffic in a 19 runner field will always be some sort of issue. But at least stall six will give his rider, Richard Hughes, some options.
Connections are bullish, and they believe Sole Power to be in as good a form as ever. If that's the case, 7/2 will find many buyers.
But the massed ranks in opposition will take advantage of any chinks in his ageing armour. Muthmir heads the pretenders, according to the betting at least, and he's unbeaten in two runs over less than six furlongs. The pick of that pair was his last day win in a French Group 2, a number of rivals here further back. He got checked in his run there but quickened smartly to win by a Gitanes paper on rain softened ground.
Despite Muthmir's class and his ascendant profile, I worry about the combination of fast ground and five furlongs though, on the plus side, the stiff finish will help him. He's too short for my tastes at 9/2, but he'd be far from a shock winner.
The clock, at least the GMT version, says Mecca's Angel is the fastest in the field. Lightly raced and most progressive, Michael Dods' filly has gone from handicaps a year ago to the top of the sprinting grades. She may not have finished improving yet, but this represents a far sterner test than anything she's encountered thus far.
She did have good horses behind when easily winning a Group 3 in France last time - Hot Streak, Maarek, Catcall, Spirit Quartz and Pearl Secret were all at least two-and-three-quarter lengths her inferior, and there's no clear reason any should reverse form.
Aside from the grade, the other niggle is the ground. Mecca's Angel's form is almost all on good or softer. This will ride on the fast side of good, and she's yet to prove she can handle it. That minor irritation is scratched somewhat by noting that she's only raced on quicker once - running well over six furlongs - and she seems to have a 'top of the ground' action, to my - granted, rather untutored - eye.
As short as 11/2 with Coral, she's as big as 8/1 with Hills, totesport and Betfred, and the latter price looks a smidge on the fat side.
The most obvious of the three overseas (Irish excluded) runners is Shamal Wind, representing the Australian barn of Robert Smerdon. She won a Group 1 handicap over an extended five at Caulfield last time (end of February), and comes here fresh. That was a breakthrough G1 win and, while I honestly have no real idea how good she might be, she's probably not the best Aussie sprinter we'll see this week, and I wonder how she'll cope over a straight track: her main asset seems to be an electric gear change around a turn.
It's 14/1 your pick bar that quartet, and there are some interesting runners therein.
Although G Force probably needs six furlongs to show his rapid best, Pearl Secret's seven wins have all come over five. They include a Group 2 last time which was close to a career high, and despite having seven pounds or so to find with a few, he could run a big race under ideal conditions.
One at a massive price who could offer something of a run for a bean or two is the ex-Robert Cowell-trained Spirit Quartz. Rated as high as 115 in his pomp in 2013, he lost his way after that. But a switch to France and Xavier Nakkadchji has seen him return to close to his best.
Generally a prominent racer, he's not been beaten far by the likes of Muthmir and Mecca's Angel this term, and was a half length fourth in the Prix de l'Abbaye at Longchamp last year. That's top class sprinting form, and the ground will be fine. He'll be any price you like on the exchanges and I'll have half a sausage win and place on there.
King's Stand Stakes Tips
A field full of fast sprinters, but four that look worthy of primary focus. Sole Power is on a hat-trick in the race and will take some stopping with a clear run. Muthmir and Mecca's Angel are both upwardly mobile, especially the filly; and Aussie, Shamal Wind, is the wild card.
I love Sole Power, but I can't really back him at 7/2. Maybe at 9/2 if that happens. At the prices now, Mecca's Angel looks too big at 8/1 on that Prix de Saint-Georges run.
Pearl Secret could make the frame, and for a bit of fun, Spirit Quartz looks capable of out-running triple digit exchange odds.
King's Stand Stakes Selection:
Mecca's Angel each way (8/1 totesport, Betfred, 1/4 1-2-3)