Royal Ascot 2016, Day 3 Preview: Gold Cup, Norfolk, Ribblesdale, Britannia Stakes
The middle day, and the flagship race, of the week. And Ladies' Day. The Gold Cup, this year renamed The Gold Cup In Honour Of The Queen's 90th Birthday, is the Group 1 jewel supported by two Group 2's, a Group 3 and two deeply unpredictable handicaps.
As ever, we start at 2.30pm, with the...
2.30 Norfolk Stakes (Group 2, 5f, 2yo)
A race for the rapid. Just eleven go to post this year in the smallest field contest of those open to juveniles, but a favourite of undoubted class. Global Applause won the Listed National Stakes at Sandown last time, beating Mehmas by a length and a quarter. Ed Dunlop's Mayson colt had the best of the draw that day, reversing form from a very good-looking conditions race at Newbury the time before.
That was over six furlongs, and Global Applause looks all speed. As such, if the ground is all right for him, he'll take a lot of stopping, in spite of the surprisingly (to me) poor record of National Stakes winners in the Norfolk: just one - Russian Valour - of the six winners doubled up, and none of the ten beaten at Sandown won here, since 1997.
There is a host of unexposed speedsters in opposition headed by Godolphin's Silver Line. He bolted up at Nottingham last month in an ordinary maiden and, though that may not be especially good form, the boys in blue have plenty of horses from which to choose their squad making his presence noteworthy.
It's also hard to know what to make of Wesley Ward's Red Lodge, a turf winner last time on Belmont's firm lawn. That he's on the plane speaks well for him but, again, ground conditions are a big unknown. His sire, Midshipman, is a dirt influence, and damsire, Aldebaran, has little evidence on which to go, though he did father Main Sequence.
Coolmore are represented by Peace Envoy, a thrice-raced son of Power, himself a Coventry Stakes winner. This lad won a Listed race over six last time, and had previously shown speed to bag a five furlong maiden before running up to King Electric, a winner since, when not getting the best of trips. That was on soft ground offering hope he'll cope with Ascot's conditions but he looks a tad more exposed than some with his form a beat or two behind Global Applause most likely.
Richard Hannon won the six furlong Woodcote Stakes - just - with Legendary Lunch, and he bids for a double double having bagged both races with Baitha Alga in 2014. This son of Dragon Pulse has form on the soft side of good and should probably be unbeaten - a narrow defeat at 1/5 sandwiched between his two wins.
He was gasping for air over Epsom's quick six so the drop back to Ascot's stiff five may be ideal and, as I've said, the trainer knows how to double up. Since taking over from his 'old man', Richard Hannon Jr has saddled three horses in the Norfolk: they've finished 132. Legendary Lunch looks a fair each way bet at around 8/1.
This is a race in which Global Applause sets a clear form standard and remains open to improvement. As such, he's a worthy favourite. But the National Stakes has been an oddly weak portent to the Norfolk, so the relative strength of the Epsom race as a trial - two Woodcote/Norfolk winners since 2010 - points me to Legendary Lunch as a spot of each way value.
Not much from the bookie chaps but, if you don't yet have a betbright account, this is a really solid offer. Click the image to get involved:
3.05 Tercentenary Stakes (Group 3, 1m2f, 3yo)
A tricky race where established Group 2/3 horses line up against rising stars in the Classic generation. The last two winners, Cannock Chase and Time Test, have gone on to prove themselves at higher levels, so it will be interesting to see how the Class of '16 fare in future. First, though, we have the small matter of trying to find the winner.
Blue De Vega is narrowly top-rated, on 107. Michael O'Callaghan's Lope de Vega colt ran second to Awtaad on his seasonal bow and followed that up with a decent third in the Irish 2000 Guineas last time out. That form has been well franked with the first two home there running 1-3 in Tuesday's Group 1 St James's Palace Stakes.
This ten furlong Group 3 is two steps down in class and two furlongs up in distance, and BdV should appreciate both.
Hawkbill is next in the ratings, on 106. Charlie Appleby's Kitten's Joy colt has won his last four, includig over this trip last time out at Newmarket in a Listed race. He beat the re-opposing Abdon there, a horse who was having just his second career start. There is a fair chance, then, of a form reversal, though whether Abdon can finish in front of all-comers is another question entirely: the race they contested last time has thrown six subsequent runners, none of which have even made the frame. In Abdon's defence, his maiden win was on soft turf so he should handle conditions better than many.
Richard Hannon's Steel Of Madrid probably wants faster ground to show his best, his best being 104 and nudging upwards. He was well beaten in the Craven on his only try on softer than good, but he may have needed the run more than most that day. Regardless, he has questions to answer.
Goddolphin's second string is Saeed bin Suroor's Prize Money, second on his last two starts, including most recently in the Cocked Hat Stakes. Like most of this field there is more to come from the Authorized colt, but he is another for whom quicker ground would probably have been advantageous.
Long Island Sound is unbeaten in three - two all weather runs and a conditions race at Killarney on good ground. This is a big step up in class but, as with Godolphin, Ballydoyle has plenty to select from for these races generally. His bare form is some way from the pick of these but he has yet to see a rival in front of him at the jam stick. Ryan Moore is his usual big positive to a runner's chance.
It was a moderate maiden - no placed efforts from five subsequent starters - that Mulk won at Chester last time. But he won it convincingly over this trip. That was his second start, having beaten all bar Sky Kingdom on debut, on good to soft. That one ran third to Abdon and Hawkbill on his next outing, and Mulk can be expected to make a good hop forward for his patient trainer, Sir Michael Stoute.
This is a very deep contest. I have shares in three horses with Michael O'Callaghan so my heart hopes Blue De Vega can win. His form looks a bit better than the Abdon/Hawkbill form on the face of it, and he should stay. Mulk seems over-priced on a line through Sky Kingdom. Sure to be primed for this step up in class, his trainer won this race in 2009 and 2014, in which context 14/1 each way is a reasonable play.
3.40 Ribblesdale Stakes (Group 2, 1m4f, 3yo fillies)
The 'Ascot Oaks', that is something of a back-handed complimenet to both racecourses and both races! As with the preceding Tercentenary Stakes, this is a race where early Classic form collides with later-blooming unexposed three-year-olds ready to unmask themselves as top tablers.
The Oaks form is well represented by the filly that closest to Minding, Architecture. Hugo Palmer is having a tremendous run at the moment, his Galileo Gold taking over the stable star mantle for Covert Love last term, and this filly could add further G1 success to his palmarès in due course.
Although no match for the hampered-in-running Minding, she pulled eight clear of third-placed Harlequeen who was herself 14 lengths ahead of the rest. The margins were more akin to a Welsh National than the Oaks and it may be that the race was pretty moderate down the field. But Architecture can be excluded from that comment given her proximity to the established star of the Classic fillies.
On ratings she has a stone advantage on the best of the rest so, if this race doesn't come too soon (less than two weeks since that big Epsom effort), she'll be hard to beat even allowing for the steps forward of her rivals.
The pick of the opposition may prove to be Even Song, who was mooted as super-sub in the Oaks when there was a brief injury scare regarding Minding. She skipped that contest and comes here fresh. She has to reverse form with Chicadoro, let alone, leap twenty pounds in the ratings to win here - assuming the favourite runs to form - and some encouragement comes from the fact she was staying on so well over ten furlongs in the Newmarket race in which Ralph 'call me Raif' Beckett's filly finished three lengths ahead of her.
She'd be more stoutly bred than Chicadoro as well, but her position in the betting owes more to reputation than form, or even promise.
Johnny G's Sovereign Parade won a Salisbury maiden on her sole racecourse visit. She was green and took her time to pick up there, eventually going away over the ten furlong trip. That was on good to soft, so the drying ground ought to be all right, but whether she can bound up to this level is anybody's guess.
Hugo has a solid-looking second string in the extremely appropriately named We Are Ninety, a filly who has won three of her four races. The form of her sole defeat has worked out well, with Oh This Is Us winning his next two starts. Moreover, We Are Ninety showed improved form when stepped up to ten furlongs last time to win a good Listed race at Newbury, often considered an Oaks trial. She was all out there to beat Beautiful Morning, and she's not certain to stay this extra quarter mile. But if her stamina holds out she's over-priced at 12/1.
French raider, Olala, is one of a number of further interesting entries in a very difficult betting heat.
Even Song may prove herself to be as talented as her PR suggests, but ARCHITECTURE sets a really solid bar to which her rivals must aspire. She's worth a small win bet at 3/1 or bigger. Stablemate We Are Ninety will be a topical and, consequently, well backed alternative, I should think, and she might be a touch under-rated/over-priced at time of writing. She does need to prove she stays.
4.20 Gold Cup in Honour of The Queen's 90th Birthday (Group 1, 2m4f, 4yo+)
A massive field of 18, the biggest for more than twenty years, for the feature race of the week. And that in spite of the presence of an even money favourite in Order Of St George.
A reasonably late maturing son of Galileo, Aidan O'Brien's colt has won his last four starts by an aggregate of 28.5 lengths, a sequence which includes an eleven length mauling of his field in the Group 1 Irish St Leger.
With the very sad loss of Brown Panther in that race, and the general mediocrity of much of the rest of field, one shouldn't get too carried away by the winning margin, even though the visual impression was striking. That may be hair-splitting on my part because this chap's form is some way better than his 17 rivals.
So we should pile in, a la "the bigger the field the bigger the certainty"? Well, perhaps. But before so doing, consider that the Ascot race is over two and a half miles, which is fully three-quarters of a mile further than Order Of St George has traversed in his racing career so far.
We know he has the speed to put plodders to the sword over a mile and six, but two and a half? Not sure. Not yet, anyway.
With form on soft ground the only other niggle about his chance is the prospect of it being a messy race. There is no better rider to chart a passage than Ryan Moore, however, and Order Of St George will have every chance of staking a claim to be "the next Yeats".
His price, evens, will be unappealing to most, but it is probably at least fair. I expect he'll go off odds-on so do look for early price boosts on the morning of the race if you like him - as I've tried to demonstrate, there's not too much to dislike.
But there will be each way and 'without the favourite' betting, too, so we should poke around a bit further in search of an alternative winner in an alternative market.
The usual suspects are all much of a muchness - Flying Officer may try to lead, Max Dynamite should be loitering around the frame, Clever Cookie and Mizzou and Pallasator will get in each other's way and largely disappoint - but there are FIVE overseas raiders a couple of which are interesting.
For instance, what if I told you that the one-two from last October's Group 1 2m4f Prix du Cadran were entered here and are priced at 25/1 and 50/1 respectively?
There, Mille Et Mille staved off Kicky Blue by a length and a half, with the likes of Fun Mac, Simenon, Bathyrhon and Clondaw Warrior well beaten off. The beaten horses there would not be at the same level of some of this field but we know that the French un-deux stay the trip well enough.
The winner most definitely had the run of the race that day - I piled into Bathyrhon, sigh - and benefited from top of the ground. The second, Kicky Blue, was also favoured by racing close to the pace but he should appreciate softer turf more then his Cadran vanquisher and could go better than a 66/1 poke. Mikael Barzalona will ride.
Tiberian is another mildly intriguing raider. He got closest to the smart stayer, Vazirabad, in the Priz Chaudenay over 1m7f on Arc weekend, and he promises to stay the extra half mile here. With form on very soft ground and a flexible run style he might beat some of the domestics, making 40/1 a tiny bit tempting for an each way tickle.
And then there's the German entry, Wasir, who was second in a Listed contest over this trip on soft ground. German horses are generally bred more for stamina so that may have been a deeper race than it sounds. He normally races prominently or on the lead, as he did when beating the decent Alex My Boy (favourite for the Cadran before withdrawing) over two miles in a Group 3 last time. He's got got form on soft and good, and he's 100/1.
In summary, there's every chance that ORDER OF ST GEORGE will stamp his authority on this field. But the overseas party has some really interesting players who could make the frame at big prices. Wasir and Kicky Blue are too big at 100/1 and 66/1 respectively, while Tiberian has a spot more class than the pair of them, so a check of the 'without' market in the morning is a must.
If you're thinking of having a crack at a bigger price, Skybet are paying 1/5 the odds FIVE places. Click here for that.
5.00 Britannia Stakes (Class 1 Handicap, 1m, 3yo)
The three-year-old Hunt Cup, and a race on which I don't propose to spend a lot of time on the basis that it is waaaaaay too hard for me.
In fact, I have to be honest and say I don't have an iota of a clue here.
John Gosden has won it three times, placed twice more, so 16/1 Predilection, third to Sea Of Flames in a Listed race should be respected. The latter is trained by David Elsworth and is three from three over this mile trip, all on Lingfield's poly surface. Her turf form is some way behind that and 50/1 is probably a fair reflection.
Zhui Feng is top rated on Peter May's speed figures, licensed to Geegeez Gold. He ran a fair race in the 2000 Guineas to be beaten less than ten lengths by Galileo Gold, and was probably prepping for this when down the field, staying on, over Goodwood's seven furlongs.
Oh This Is Us, mentioned favourably in another context above, bids for the four-timer but may be better known to the handicapper than some of these.
Sir Michael Stoute has won this and saddled six placed horses since 1997, so Mustashry needs a check on this handicap bow. Second in a small field Chelmsford maiden (four winners from five runners since), he won his maiden at Thirsk by six lengths. That form is not good enough to win this, but he could be any amount better than he's shown thus far.
Then again, so could most of the rest...
Impossible redefined is the Britannia Handicap. Mustashry is no more than a token selection, and one of several placepot bullets.
Paddy are offering 1/4 the odds the first SIX places on this race. Click here for that.
5.35 Kig George V Stakes (Class 2 Handicap, 1m4f, 3yo)
Only marginally less difficult than the preceding heat, this 18 runner uber-competitive handicap is widely perceived to favour inside drawn runners. But William Buick's superlative ride on Space Age (no, I didn't back it) in the race last year highlighted the folly of that perception.
Drawn 20, Buick took his time to tack across and settled himself in a handy position, ready to get first run. Meanwhile, as often happens, those drawn low were looking for cover and finding themselves stuck for a run when they needed one, notably the 9//4 favourite under Ryan Moore.
Gold's draw data reveals that middle has an advantage over high, which in turn has been favoured over low. Do note though that there's not much data in the sample so, while the logic holds, the evidence is partial.
The tables are turned this time, with Buick drawn seven on a horse who likes to bide his time. That combination could see him trapped on heels this time, and he's skinny enough irrespective of his form credentials on that basis.
Those drawn middle to high with a prominent run style include Platitude, Point Of View and The Major General.
Platitude is Sir Michael Stoute's second string, his other runner, Shraaoh, berthed in four. He makes his handicap debut here, as do six others, after four slightly underwhelming efforts in Pattern company. It is unlike Sir Michael to tilt at windmills, the implicatio being that this Dansili colt shows more at home than he does on the track.
The step up in trip looks in his favour on breeding - out of a Sadler's Wells mare, related to 1m6f winners - and Ryan Moore should be able to manufacture a tactical position from the widest gate of all, just as Buick did last year.
Point Of View is trained by Roger Varian, has stall 17, and won his maiden last time over this twelve furlong distance. He's really well bred - by New Approach out of a Cape Cross mare - and did no more than was needed in that inaugural victory. His galloping style should be suited to Ascot on easy ground, but whether he's good enough, or experienced enough, I have no idea.
The Major General is the Ballydoyle runner, with son Donnacha in the plate. He beat Claudio Monteverdi in Listed race at this range last time, that race being on good to firm, and he won his maiden the time before on yielding to soft. Regally bred - by Galileo out of a Danehill mare - he cost 1,500,000 euros as a yearling, so still has a bit to do to recoup the pennies!
Consistently prominent in his races, The Major General should be able to get handy without expending too much energy from box 13.
Loads of others with chances, obviously.
I'm liking the symmetry of Buick winning from the outside gate while Moore was boxed up inside last year, and the roles being reversed this time: Moore has the widest berth, Buick an inside post. So much for the form book, eh?
Well, this is a race where most are capable of showing more than they've been able to so far, and in that context it makes sense to side with one which I believe will get the run of things in what is traditionally a messy affair. Platitude gets the nod on that basis.
p.s. how are you getting on as we approach the middle of the week? Up? Down? Best bet? Worst bet?!! (I've had a few of those already)