In theory, Day 1 is the easiest. That may not bode well if you're already licking your wounds, but with 24 contests still to come there are many opportunities for salvation yet. And, if you went well in the opening skirmishes, don't be getting complacent now...
Day 2's revised line up starts with the juvenile fillies, and the
2.30 Queen Mary Stakes (Group 2, 5f, 2yo Fillies)
Two shy of two dozen fully unexposed fleet-footed fillies dashing harem scarem up the straight five strip: what could possibly go wrong? Where do I start? Perhaps with some numbers...
Peter May's figures have the following as top five:
So Perfect 82
Little Kim 79
Gossamer Wings 78
The rest 72 or lower
Timeform see Shades Of Blue (99p) as top of this pile, with Servalan (94p) and Come On Leicester (93p) next in.
Whilst keeping in mind that all of these young ladies are capable of stepping forward significantly, it is the case that some need to do so more than others regardless of which set of numbers one peruses.
The pace map, which again is subject to change as the field will respond unpredictably to the big occasion, might look a little like this:
The above is sorted by draw, and we can see that there is plenty of pace on both flanks, perhaps marginally more so high than low. The fly in the ointment, and the missing line in the grid, is Chelsea Cloisters. Wesley Ward's juvenile entries always demand close scrutiny at this meeting, and they almost always burn away from the traps. Frankie has the steering job: he may elect to veer towards high numbers or to time trial it down the middle. Either way, his filly could be the speed of the speed.
It's a guesser's race, in truth, and one I'm not inclined to get seriously involved in. I'll be taking Clive Cox's Shades Of Blue, Richard Fahey's Kodyanna, along with the Wez wunner, on the placepot. And I might just have a tiny play on Karl Burke's Little Kim: she only won a Carlisle event on debut but did it in a decent time, with the yard's horses generally improving a fair bit from first to second run. She's 33/1, which is a guesser's price in a guesser's race.
3.05 Queen's Vase (Group 2, 1m 6f, 3yo)
Run prior to last year over a two mile trip, this step back to a mile and three quarters makes the Queen's Vase a trial for the St Leger. A field of twelve has assembled, among them Derby also rans and lightly raced staying types. Actually, the only Derby runner is ninth placed Kew Gardens who will be close to favourite for this. He had looked a stayer in the Lingfield Derby Trial before being used as a pacemaker in the Derby itself; here he's expected to be allowed his own head and has already demonstrated a touch of both stamina and class.
But there may be one (or two) to improve past him from this upwardly mobile collective. Lurching into the unknown as we are here, with most of these never having faced this sort of trip, pedigree can offer pointers. That said, I'm going to start on a tenuous footing by discounting the Galileo's in spite of their winning two of the last three, and four since 2007; and in spite of the race being cut back two furlongs. Feel free to skip what follows!
Geegeez Gold has pedigree data which helps understand the performance of sires based on their two-year track record. For instance, we can see that Kew Gardens is a son of Galileo out of a Desert King mare. Galileo's have won at a solid one-in-eight clip (12.43%) in flat staying races, and tend to do very well as three-year-old's. But 11/4 doesn't particularly excite about the pedigree/form combination, hence casting the net more widely.
We can see that Nelson, a son of Frankel, has more to recommend on pedigree. Out of the Oaks second and Irish Oaks winner, Moonstone, he is clearly bred to stay. Frankel's flat stayers have struck at a rate of 18.67% thus far.
Stream Of Stars, by Sea The Stars, also has an 18%+ hit rate with stayers; and look down the list at Henry Candy's Sovereign Duke. He's by Jukebox Jury, who has had 33% winners in flat staying races, and 53% placed. Out of a Lando mare, he's bred for stamina all day long, and yet this is his first try beyond ten furlongs.
Now, of course, it's possible he got found out in that Group 3 last time, but it is also possible that he didn't appreciate the lack of pace in the small field. Here, with Johnston and O'Brien saddling multiple runners, there is likely to be a strong gallop. Which makes 33/1 of mild interest: I'd rather be beaten six lengths with a 33/1 poke than a head at 5/2! Each to their own, I guess...
3.40 Duke Of Cambridge Stakes (Group 2, 1m, 4yo+ fillies & mares)
At last, a race with a bit of form and, therefore, a bit of hope of finding a winner. Only a bit of hope, mind.
The French have a great record in this race, including winning the last two renewals but, surprisingly, as unrepresented this year. Of the domestics, Sir Michael Stoute is the main man, with four victories since the race's inception in 2004. But he doesn't have a runner either. Crikey.
Yet still there are a couple of minor trainer angles, the first of which may be considered a negative. Saeed bin Suroor has saddled ten mares in this, none of them winners. Three of the ten made the frame and that could be the best that either Promising Run or Arabian Hope will achieve.
More interesting is the record of the brilliant James Fanshawe. He has had two winners in this race, and three further places, from just seven runners. The winners were 10/1 and 11/8 with placed horses as big as 25/1, all of which makes Tribute Act worthy of a second glance. She's finished second on her last two starts, either side of the seasonal break, both in handicaps and both here at Ascot.
Handicap form is not generally expected to be good enough to win a Group 2, particularly not with more exposed animals, and in truth it is only the Fanshawe angle that puts her in the mix. But she was close up behind Urban Fox on that '18 debut, with the William Haggas runner re-opposing and priced at half Tribute Act's odds. This will have been Fanshawe's target in which case his filly can be expected to step forward from her last run in a race where the 2016 winner was a similarly unconsidered price.
All that said, by far the most likely winner is HYDRANGEA, a Group 1 winner from a mile to a mile and a half last term. She carried a five pound penalty for that but is rated the best of these by six pounds and more and could progress again this season, as a number of O'Brien fillies have, most notably the superstar, Found. She'll undoubtedly come on for her opening run of the campaign (2nd in a Group 2 last time) so, in what looks a fairly shallow heat for a Group 2, the 7/4 Hydrangea may not last.
4.20 Prince Of Wales's Stakes (Group 1, 1m2f, 4yo+)
Seven go to post for this ten furlong Group 1 - each way backer sigh heavily, particularly in light of the presence of an odds on jolly. That imposing shadow is cast across his field by the mighty CRACKSMAN. He may have had a bit of a fright at Epsom last time, but it would be fair to say that he's no fan of that Möbius strip configuration: indeed, it could be argued that he should be marked up for being able to get the job done in the circumstances.
He is eight pounds and more clear of the next best on official ratings - Hawkbill - and the most likely in the field to run his race. I'd imagine he'll be sent off at closer to 1/2 than his current quote of 4/6, which actually looks value if you have a few spare sixes knocking about.
Poet's Word is comfortably second choice in the betting, which is good news for those of us who like to bet 'without the favourite' in such lop-sided contests. Good news because I think he's rather short all things considered. Yes, he hails from the Sir Michael Stoute Academy of Bring-'em-along-slowly's, and yes, he was a comfortable winner of the Brigadier Gerard Stakes (Group 3) last time; but he was trounced by Hawkbill in Dubai two runs back, and has never won at this rarefied level.
Hawkbill on the other hand has, twice. He won the 2016 Coral-Eclipse, and the Dubai Sheema Classic three months ago. There is often a doubt about Dubai form transferring to mid-summer races in England, something with which a heavy defeat behind Cracksman in the Coronation Cup at Epsom last time seemed to tally. But I expect Hawkbill to come on plenty for that and, hopefully over the jetlag, he can be backed each way without the favourite.
Cliffs Of Moher and Eminent are similar prices. The former must be considered a disappointing sort after promising so much with that close second in last year's Derby. He has since been beaten seven times from eight starts, the sole notch coming in a soft Group 2 at Naas.
Eminent, likewise, has largely let supporters down since a close fourth in the same Epsom showpiece. He too has a solitary hollow-looking Group 2 score in the interim. Although none of Cracksman's rivals are bombproof reliable, Hawkbill is the one with the two Group 1 victories, and the one with the best form this season. Hawkbill may also make the running, a fair tactic on this turning triangular circuit.
Of the rags, Royal Julius is only a pound behind Cliffs Of Moher on official figures. He followed up a heavy ground Group 2 second with a good ground Group 2 victory last time, albeit that was in Italy. That at least shows he can travel and win, so 66/1 might appeal to the Hail Mary players.
5.00 Royal Hunt Cup (Class 2, 1m, 3yo+)
No three-year-olds, as usual, that age heading for other pots at the meeting, so it's basically an older horse cavalry charge up the straight mile. Four-year-olds have won eight of the last eleven renewals, and represent the sort of unexposed improving type that plunders most of the Royal Ascot handicaps.
But... the average odds of those eleven winners were over 17/1, and the eight 4yo winners averaged out at just greater than 15/1. Further, 18 of the last 21 winners were aged four or five. What else?
Half of the last 20 Hunt Cup winners were first or second last time out.
That leaves nine: Zhui Feng, Afaak, Saltonstall, Repercussion, Escobar, What's The Story, Mukalal, Kynren, and Seniority, the last named - owned by HM The Queen - sneaking in as a result of a stablemate being declared a non-runner. Who'da thunk it?
Zhui Feng is the reigning champion, a been there seen that sort of guy who loves this place, big fields and fast ground. But he's eight pounds higher this time, and looks increasingly susceptible to younger improving types. Still, he's quite likely to run his race.
Drawn next door is Saltonstall, last day winner of a decent Curragh handicap and flying the flag for the 2016 winning stable of Mick Halford. He's lightly raced, has very good mile handicap form, including when second in a 20 runner field, and gets the tongue tie for the third time having worn it previously in the aforementioned win and second placed runs. 14/1 with as many extra places as you can get looks fair enough.
Repercussion is another with decent big field mile handicap form, but his best form is with cut in the ground; not so Escobar, whose last day victory on this sort of turf and over this trip marks him as an improver for the step up to a mile. But the other one I want on my team is David Barron's Kynren.
Hyper-consistent, the four-year-old son of Clodovil has career form of 311132, including in a mile Class 2 big field handicap, and he gave the impression last time that a fiercely run race would fit his bill. There's a bit of 25/1 knocking about as I write, and I'll try a slice.
The Queen's Seniority comes here in search of a hat-trick after back to back Chelmsford handicaps. That level turning all weather mile could not be more different from this straight uphill turf one so, while connections are greatly respected, my chips are chucked elsewhere.
5.35 Jersey Stakes (Group 3, 7f, 3yo)
A tough finish - not as tough as the Royal Hunt Cup, of course, but very tricky all the same.
Placed in any Guineas, or ran close ish in the 2000 Guineas, looks a route in, albeit one not lost on the market. The last four winners fitted that bill and, with the pure sprinters now squirreled away to the Commonwealth Cup, we have a theoretically easier task. That doesn't help too much when presented with 23 runners on the race card!
Those on my list are James Garfield, Expert Eye, Headway, and Could It Be Love.
James Garfield crossed the Atlantic last autumn to contest the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf: although no-showing that day, he bounced back with a win over seven the Craven Stakes on his seasonal debut. He's been kept busy since, with a four length seventh in the 2000 Guineas followed by a drop to six furlongs in the Sandy Lane Stakes where he again finished quite close but again failed to make the frame.
Staying on over six, not getting home over a mile, and a winner over seven this season... this looks ideal in terms of trip and ground, represents a drop in class, and he's close to top rated in the field. 14/1 is playable each way, again especially if you can burgle an extra place.
Expert Eye is a bit hot and cold: he was electric when winning the Group 2 Vintage Stakes, a performance that saw him installed as ante post favourite for the 2000 Guineas. Three subsequent defeats, two of them heavy, two of them behind James G give him plenty to find. A price of 9/1 does not appeal for all that a reversion to the Vintage form would make him very tough to beat.
Headway, a proverbial cigarette paper second in the Coventry Stakes last term, has a mixed score card since then. Third in the Gimcrack, he won a Listed seven furlong all weather prize first time up this season before running a limp race in the 2000 Guineas. He didn't have the best trip there but even so was disappointing and has a little to prove now. Again, his price is short enough all things considered.
Could It Be Love is the other I like. She just failed to get home when second in the Irish 1000 Guineas, so this drop in trip looks tailor-made. Ryan Moore steers the daughter of War Front, which is always a plus, and she'll further benefit from a three pound fillies' allowance.
Interesting horses abound, including the six-timer-seeking Society Power, Irish 2000 also ran Symbolization, Wesley Ward's US raider Hemp Hemp Hurray, and the trainer switching full brother to American Pharoah, St Patricks Day.
But I'll take Could It Be Love to lead them a merry one, before perhaps James Garfield sweeps by in the last half furlong.
Trippy trappy stuff on day two - good luck!