With 48 hour declarations now well established on the flat, it is possible to preview Day 2 - Wednesday - at Royal Ascot before Tuesday's races have been run. And so, as we look ahead to the Prince Of Wales's Stakes and five other top class clashes, we may have already cleared a sizeable chunk... or dug an equally large hole! More likely is somewhere in between with much still to play for.
Trends for Wednesday's races can be found in Andy Newton's Royal Ascot Day 2 Trends.
We start Royal Ascot Day Two with the juvenile fillies, and specifically the
2.30 Queen Mary Stakes (Group 2, 5f, 2yo Fillies)
The first fillies' juvenile event of the week and, incredibly, a race Aidan O'Brien has never won. It's far from a playable angle, however, as he didn't have a runner between 2003 and 2008, and then only had two runners in the decade between 2008 and last year. More to the point, his form of 633320000842 suggests it's only a matter of time before one falls in.
Tango, a daughter of No Nay Never, was beaten narrowly on her career bow before dancing home at 1/6 on her more recent start. While none has run from her winning race, the form of her debut has worked out well enough. 16/1 seems sure to truncate before post time.
28 - count 'em - go to post with Tango drawn low in 2. Meanwhile, on the other side, Final Song is berthed in stall 23. A five length winner in a small field on soft ground over this course and distance, the turf will be a tad more rapid now. The form has taken a boost, with Star Alexander winning by six lengths at Bath since.
Good Vibes is one of those unfashionable types with plenty of ability and, if trained by either Aidan or a Godolphin handler, would likely be favourite. Beaten into a five length second by a filly forced to miss the meeting, she has since won twice, most recently in the Listed Marygate Stakes at York.
Four fillies have gone from there to win here, including last year's 25/1 scorer, Signora Cabello. Three of them won at York and the other was second. That could make the Knavesmire runner-up, Mighty Spirit, of faint interest. Drawn down the middle she's run two solid seconds to date and 25/1 is rather fat.
Another with more experience is Flippa The Strippa, a scorer by daylight in the Listed National Stakes at Sandown, in spite of hanging across the track. That waywardness would be a concern but, if she hadn't run errantly she'd have won by more like three lengths and be half the price she is. The Strippa might just flash her brilliance and streak home (groan, sorry).
The first of the Wesley Ward wunners this week lines up here in the fleet form of Anna's Fast. She sure was when storming clear by five-and-a-half lengths in a Keeneland maiden special weight. As usual we're left to project from there to here, but it is worth pointing out that Wes won this with Lady Aurelia and Acapulco in 2015 and 2016.
Ward also saddles Kimari, jockey bookings suggesting this might be the preferred of the pair. John Velazquez rides the daughter of Munnings who won by, wait for it, FIFTEEN LENGTHS on her debut over four and a half furlongs! Johnny V has ridden three Royal Ascot winners, all for WW, and this young lady will likely blaze the trail.
Ickworth looks the pick of the Irish on form, winning a Listed race as the second of her unbeaten-in-two runs to date. She clocked a moderate time but it was a clear cut success.
Verdict: Very tricky as the volume of runners and limited form available to analyse suggests. I backed Good Vibes after her York win and I think she's still a tickle of value at 8/1. Kimari should be a fun watch but might be scrambling from the furlong pole; and both Flippa The Strippa (16/1) and Final Song look capable of going close. I'll take Flippa and the Vibes each way against the field.
3.05 Queen's Vase (Group 2, 1m 6f, 3yo)
Firmly established as a pre-eminent St Leger trial and also a favourite of Aidan O'Brien's, the Ballydoyle legend having won it six times since 2007. That sextet is actually one less than Mark Johnston's seven Queen's Vases and, with Sir Michael Stoute (four) and Saeed bin Suroor (two) chipping in with another six between them, there has been little joy for anyone else since 1998.
If SMS and SbS help us out by absenting, Johnston (two) and O'Brien (four) are predictably well-represented amongst the 13-strong field.
Western Australia heads Aidan's quartet, the son of - you're ahead of me here - Australia showing some of his best form when upped to 1m5f in the Listed Yeats Stakes last time. He'd been a close third in the Vertem Futurity (ex Racing Post Trophy) as a two-year-old and seems to be coming into his own over staying distances. Donnacha O'Brien rides and this lad would be just about jolly for the St Leger should he prevail here. Given that he's 20/1 for that gig currently, if you like him for the Vase it's worth lobbing 20% of your stake on the September Classic.
This has been a race for Galileo down the years, the super sire notching five winners since Mahler, his first Royal Ascot score, in 2007. He's fathered three of the last four Queen's Vase winners. First of his four sons to line up may be Norway, a quiet fancy of mine for the Derby frame but who was all over the shop on that peculiar piste. Ryan Moore takes the ride.
Heading a brace of Charlie Appleby runners is the very lightly raced Jalmoud. A winner on the second of two lifetime starts, in a Newmarket novice stakes that has worked out only all right (second beaten twice since, third won and then ran second in a Listed race), he has to find a few pounds with the pick of that. The extra range might help as too will the fact it's only his third lifetime start, so it is not inconceivable, though I feel his 103 rating may be a bit high.
Andrew Balding saddles an interesting outsider, Dashing Willoughby. Only just behind Norway when they were both whacked by Sir Dragonet at Chester, Willoughby has some decent form tie-ins prior to that, including in the aforementioned Vertem Futurity. He, like Nate The Great, is a son of Nathaniel, that one looking for his first Royal Ascot winner as a sire. He almost got it form this fellow last year when he finished second in Arthur Kitt's Chesham.
Verdict: An intriguing heat that is bound to have a bearing on the St Leger market. WESTERN AUSTRALIA is worth backing from the same stake unit (say, 80/20) for both this and the Doncaster Classic, at 7/2 and 20/1 respectively.
3.40 Prince Of Wales's Stakes (Group 1, 1m2f, 4yo+)
Arguably the race of the week, the Prince Of Wales's Stakes field is headed by a pair of fillies - Magical and Sea Of Class - that may end up locking horns again in the autumn if not before.
Magical has the fitness edge on this occasion, having already run - and won - three times this campaign. In beating the same horse, Flag Of Honour, each time it can be argued that the form is hollow. I respect that line, but the thrice runner-up is a Group 1 winner in his own right, taking the Irish St Leger last season, and has a number of top class efforts with which to back that up. For her part, Magical put seven long-looking lengths between herself and the Flag last time.
On a line through Enable (does anyone put lines through other horses any more?), there is little between Magical and Sea Of Class, William Haggas's filly running an unlucky short neck second in the Arc. This is her first run since and she'd be entitled to need it; but the betting has spoken positively of her well-being. Her turn of foot is a noteworthy asset which sets up an interesting tactical script, with Magical (and indeed the as yet unmentioned Crystal Ocean) more likely to be prominent.
Sir Michael Stoute's ability to coax improvement over the course of three, four and even five seasons is rightly famous. In Crystal Ocean we have the second example this week - after Mustashry - of such a project. Second in the St Leger as a three-year-old, he won the Hardwicke at the Royal meeting last year as well as finishing second in both the King George and the Champion Stakes, both on this track. A brace of comfortable Group 3 victories have promised more in 2019, though there is a niggle that he may again have to settle for minor honours in the top grade.
Waldgeist is a high class animal which I've singularly failed to accurately peg across two seasons now. One of my biggest bets of last season was win and place on him in the 2018 Breeders' Cup Turf; having run a mighty fourth in the Arc he sulked, flunked and clunked his way to a never-sighted fifth in the Churchill Downs season finale. It's possible the ground went against him a little there, and it's also possible that he didn't travel (form of 131225111141 in France, 42455 outside France). I just have to let him beat me - and beat me he probably will!
Zabeel Prince has been quietly progressive, claiming the Group 1 Prix d'Ispahan on his most recent start. Now six, he'd competed largely at a mile until this season, the step up in distance seeing him unbeaten in two including that G1 score. A French ten furlong contest however has a very different pace to it than a typical British one. Still, he could compete for the frame under the excellent Andrea Atzeni.
Of the outsiders, the Japanese will probably pile into the new 'World Pool' (a commingled tote pool where money from Hong Kong, Japan and other jurisdictions will be bet alongside UK tote funds, and that is expected to swell the turnover significantly) making 'their' filly Deirdre a curiously lop-sided price. She's 50/1 with our bookies but might go off a single figure price on the tote.
Her fourth in the G1 Dubai Turf (1m1f) is not a mile from what's needed to get involved, but she's not looked quite the force of last year in three 2019 spins.
Verdict: A good cast with two high class fillies bidding to be leading lady. MAGICAL's fitness edge gets her the nod, though Sea Of Class is feared, her turn of foot a powerful asset in a ten furlong Ascot race. It's no match race, however, and the likes of Crystal Ocean and Zabeel Prince - as well as, heaven forbid, Waldgeist - would only register as mild upsets. 2/1 about the selection is short enough, but I am struggling to see past her.
4.20 Duke Of Cambridge Stakes (Group 2, 1m, 4yo+ fillies & mares)
Now this is tough. Seventeen older mares racing on the straight mile for a Group 2 contest.
There have been fifteen renewals of the race formerly known as the Windsor Forest Stakes, and all bar two went to a filly which made the frame last time out. All bar one of the victors had scored over a mile-plus previously, and the same number had at least a Group 3 score to their name.
Those three angles reduce the field to just five, though I want to retain the Group 2-placed pair of Rawdaa and Red Tea for now. The shortlist, then, includes that duo as well as I Can Fly, Anna Nerium, Nyaleti, Threading and Veracious.
Rawdaa, a strict chuck out on trends, is favourite as I write. Lightly raced with just seven starts, she was a close second to Lah Ti Dar in the Group 2 Middleton Stakes at York's Dante meeting last month. While she seems to be improving, this step back in trip, albeit on a taxing straight track, combined with a propensity to bridesmaid duties (four seconds in seven starts) means she'll not be for me, though she may again catch the bouquet.
Joseph O'Brien's Red Tea is an interesting Irish contender. A five length winner in a handicap field of 27 on the Curragh's (nearly) straight mile, she backed that up with a closing third in a much smaller field last time over the same course and distance. This stiff straight mile looks right up her street and she's improved plenty for the change of scenery, having formerly been with Peter Hiatt.
Aidan O'Brien runs I Can Fly, a filly who is very good on her day, as she showed when a neck second to Roaring Lion in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes over course and distance last October. But she throws in plenty of duffers along the way. Second in the race in which Red Tea was third, the latter perhaps ought not to be nearly three times the price.
Sir Michael Stoute trains Veracious for Cheveley Park Stud. Another lightly raced filly, she won the Group 3 Atalanta Stakes at Sandown last term, and has been running over nine furlongs the last twice, slightly disappointing as favourite on both occasions. Clearly thought to have plenty of ability, hence the market confidence, she should be spot on for this third dance of the campaign. Her overall win profile is off-putting, however.
Veracious was sent off the well-backed 5/4 jolly last time but was only third to Anna Nerium in an Epsom Group 3. Richard Hannon's filly was comprehensively outclassed on both attempts at Group 1 prizes and, while this is a rung below, she may not have the requisite improvement.
Threading won the Group 2 Lowther Stakes as a two-year-old and the Listed Michael Seely Stakes at three. She was also an excellent second in the Group 1 Coronation Stakes at last year's Royal Ascot meeting. Now four, she makes her 2019 bow 266 days after she last ran and looks likely to need it even if she was otherwise good enough, which I suspect she possibly is not.
Those without a win at a mile-plus or in Group class include Pretty Baby and Agrotera, both prominent in the market but both with a bit to prove. The former has won at Group 3 level but that was over seven furlongs; this mile feels more like nine furlongs so, while she hasn't yet failed to stay as far, she has to demonstrate stamina at a price which fully assumes she will see it out.
Agrotera is a course and distance winner, in the Class 2 Sandringham Handicap (downgraded last term to avoid, like the Wolferton, having Listed handicaps at the meeting) of 2018. Distance no issue then, but has she the class? Defeats in a pair of Listed contests this term suggest not, for all that she beat a fair field in an all weather Listed fillies' event last time.
Verdict: A big field but plenty who either probably don't stay or are probably not good enough. The 'now' filly seems to be RED TEA, whose Curragh form looks decent and repeatable. She takes a little while to hit top stride but finds plenty thereafter so, with the likes of Pretty Baby and Shenanigans expected to take them along at a fair lick, she's a surprisingly warm fancy. 14/1 each way has been taken.
5.00 Royal Hunt Cup (Class 2, 1m, 3yo+)
Red Tea would have actually had a pretty strong chance in this race had she lined up here rather than the preceding Duke Of Cambridge. As it is, 30-odd capable 'cappers will career down the same straight mile. Abundant ability as well as luck with the draw and in running are prerequisites: it is not a race for the fainthearted!
Let's first try to fathom the draw: New Graduate, the strong favourite, is boxed in one with a prominent run style. All around him are hold up types so he might get something of a solo on the far side. Meanwhile, in the middle, Zhui Feng should carry that group forward from stall 14. And Vale Of Kent is expected to play pied piper for high - stands' side - from trap 29. The likelihood of at least two groups is shorter than even money in my view, and it could be that the balance of the pace is middle to high. Topweight Cardsharp is drawn 33, from where three winners have emerged of the eight to be housed therein since the field was expanded to include reserves.
It's obviously a terribly difficult race in which to find the winner but a couple of trends might help us get to a workable short(er)list.
- All bar one of the last 17 winners had won at the trip previously. Eight of these have not.
- 14 of the last 17 winners were aged four or five. Eight of those remaining are older (and one might still win, of course).
We're still left with 17 potential winners. Last time out winners have only won twice since 2004 which seems a remarkable statistic, especially when you consider that that group includes nine beaten favourites or joint-favourites. I was tempted by the 8/1 New Graduate last week; having missed the boat I am not attracted by the 6/1 now. He was super-impressive at Ripon, form which is working out well, and he's probably a Group horse. But his draw and his price, and the fate of many of his last day victor/jolly peers, is enough to look for what might be a sliver of value elsewhere.
Last year's winner Settle For Bay, the classy Robin Of Navan and the potentially well-handicapped and well-suited Raising Sand are all around 12/1, and co-second-choices in the market; the latter pair are also both older horses. So, for all that I quite like the form chance of both, particularly Raising Sand, I'm resisting the urge to back them - for now at least.
It would be an incredibly unbelievably amazing training feat should David Marnane saddle Settle For Bay to back-to-back Royal Hunt Cup wins. Indeed, Wikipedia tells me the last such horse was Master Vote in 1948/49, seventy years ago. Marnane is a peerless target trainer who is riding through relatively hard times at the moment, but he continues to show what he can do when he gets a smart one, and I'd love to see him double up. But I won't be betting on it even though his mile form is very, very hard to crab.
If the bad news is that we've probably indiscriminately lobbed the winner, the good news is we'll have at least 16/1 about our value loser!
And who might that be?
Looking at those drawn middle to high, with form in big fields and ideally with a hold up run style, the quartet of King's Field, Clon Coulis, Petrus and Seniority dodge the pseudo-quasi-arbitrary draw, pace and trends bullets to comprise my shortlist.
Maybe Joseph O'Brien left Red Tea in the Duke Of Cambridge Stakes because he had King's Field for this one. With just nine races to his name he's still improving, he has form in big fields and his pilot, Donnacha O'Brien, will have options regarding which side of the track to race. 25/1 is worth a stab.
Clon Coulis is a dual Listed winner, including on the round mile here, and was running to a high level on the all weather when last seen on Finals Day on Good Friday. I'm not totally convinced about the big field but Jamie Spencer will perfectly complement this mare's natural hold up style and they might cruise into contention down the middle of the pack. 28/1 is the top price currently available.
A dancer of many similar dances is Petrus, winner of Doncaster's Spring Mile on the opening day of the season. He followed up in a valuable race at Bath on Good Friday and has since run with credit once more in a decent Newbury handicap. There is a suspicion the handicapper has caught up with him now; moreover, he was only mid-div in last year's Britannia over the same track and trip, and off a three pounds lower mark.
Seniority would be a Royal winner - well that would be marvellous for most, I'd say. Five pounds higher than when a four length eighth last year doesn't suggest William Haggas's runner is thrown in, nor I'm afraid does his form on straight tracks (780). It'll be a hats off job, but it won't carry my cash.
Verdict: Obviously enormously competitive. No surprise - a little frustration but no surprise - to see any of New Graduate, Raising Sand, Robin Of Navan or Settle For Bay win. But I'm splitting my (smallish, this is bravado betting) stake between King's Field and Clon Coulis. Both seem favoured by conditions, both thrive off a solid pace, and both have quietly ascendant profiles. Importantly, both are around the 25/1 mark.
As usual, get as many extra places as you can. Six should be a minimum and you might find a generous soul paying eight places come the day.
5.35 Windsor Castle Stakes (Listed, 5f, 2yo)
A 24 runner five furlong juvenile event where they bet 8/1 the field. The Hunt Cup is easier!
I won't be betting in this race, and I'll be taking ten of them on the multi-race place bets.
The one I'll mostly be cheering, though, is geegeez.co.uk's sponsored jockey, David Probert, aboard Symbolize. He has plenty to find on the form of his debut win, but that victory took connections by surprise as they were expecting the horse to need more time. He's come on a good bit since then - I assume similar comments apply to pretty much the entire field - and he'd be a cherished moment for the 'geegeez lucky pants' shown in the image atop this post!
Trippy trappy stuff on day two - good luck!