Royal Ascot 2020: Day 3 Preview, Trends, Tips
Humpback Day at Royal Ascot, perhaps better known as Gold Cup Day, and another seven head-scratchers for punters to unravel. The feature is the Group 1 for stayers and there is a trio of handicaps, and a similar number of minor pattern events, in support.
1.15 Golden Gates Handicap (1m2f, Class 2, 3yo)
Another of the 'for one year only' races gets us underwat, this time the ten furlong three-year-old Golden Gates Handicap, a boon for those too slow for the Brittania and lacking the stamina for the Duke Of Edinburgh. The Royal Ascot Ryanair if you will. There is not much in the way of draw and pace data to go on for fields of this size though what there is suggests a largely fair go for all.
With horses qualifying for a mark after just two runs at the moment there is even less to go on than your average early season three-year-old handicap. Regular readers will know that these events are a weakness for me so what follows will be mercifully brief:
Maori Knight has shown he can handle a little cut in the ground, and that he stays. He may try to lead from the front, which won't be easy but you'll at least get a run for your money at around 9/1.
And the 20/1 Yoshimi might be generous if there is any further rain. He stayed on nicely enough into third behind Palace Pier at Newcastle over a mile last time and is bred more for this trip.
Let's move on...
1.50 Wolferton Stakes (Listed, 1m2f, 4yo+)
An immediate comparison with the preceding three-year-old handicap is offered by the Wolferton Stakes run 35 minutes later over the same course and distance. The Wolferton at least has a historical profile for all that it's morphed from a handicap (from inception in 2002) to a pattern race since 2018. Indeed, it was won last year by none other than Addeybb, subsequent dual Group 1 winner.
John Gosden has a peerless record in the Wolferton, winning it four times since 2011, and he is doubly represented, by Dubai Warrior and Crossed Baton. The latter, winner of the Listed Churchill Stakes on the Lingfield all weather last autumn, is the chosen mount of Frankie Dettori. Second in last year's course and distance Group 3 Hampton Court Stakes, he probably wouldn't want it too soft but has otherwise fair credentials.
Rab Havlin reunites with Dubai Warrior, on whom he won twice before Christmas including in this grade. Frankie rode the Warrior last time when he added a Group 3 to complete an all-weather hat-trick but he was well beaten on his only turf run, in a French Group 3.
Top rated is Regal Reality, whose 119 figure is deserving of Group 2 company if taken at face value. Third to Enable and Magical in last season's Group 1 Eclipse, he also wasn't beaten far in the G1 Juddmonte International. With both of those top level races being the same range as this Listed event, Regal Reality has outstanding form claims. His trainer, Sir Michael Stoute, has won this twice in the past, and yet his runner is only the third choice in the betting.
Favourite at time of writing (Tuesday afternoon) is Fox Tal, a four-year-old son of Sea The Stars trained by Andrew Balding. He's got form on all ground, was third in a Saint-Cloud Group 1 at the trip and has Silvestre driving. He's been off for eight months, though, and is short enough to my eye.
Sandwiched between the Fox and Reality, in market terms at least, is Sir Dragonet, runaway winner of last year's Chester Vase. He was then a very close fifth in the Derby before flattening out a little in two subsequent 2019 outings. He has had a livener this season, when second at Naas in late March, and is a definite contender.
The rest are 16/1 and bigger and, of them, King Ottokar will handle give better than most, as he did when third in the Hampton Court Stakes last year. He becomes interesting given the weather..
I fear Sir D and Crossed Baton but I think Regal Reality's form looks very strong for the grade. If he's straight enough and if it hasn't got too wet, which it might have, for this 2020 debut he should be bang there, and 15/2 is playable.
If the rain has come in any quantity, King Ottokar is value on his Royal Ascot run last year at 16/1, 5 places with sky.
2.25 Jersey Stakes (Group 3, 7f, 3yo)
Another slightly betwixt and between sort of race is the Jersey: since the six-furlong Commonwealth Cup emerged as a powerhouse Group 1 alongside the established mile races for the Classic generation, the Jersey perhaps finds itself a tad marooned. Nevertheless, it will welcome another fullish field in 2020 and remains solidly worthy of its Group 3 status.
Richard Fahey has won this twice from just five runners, Ribchester in 2016 and Space Traveller last year. As such, his Ventura Lightning is interesting. This will be the grey son of No Nay Never's first attempt beyond six furlongs and, out of an El Prado mare, there is scope for improvement. Ventura enjoyed a satisfactory warm up in the Group 3 Pavilion Stakes at Newcastle a fortnight ago which ought to have brought him to concert pitch. He's a general 20/1 chance.
The market is headed by the unbeaten-in-two Gosden/Dettori entry, King Leonidas, a son of Kingman out of a black type-winning Galileo mare: nice! He's laughed at his rivals in a brace of Newmarket novices, the form of the first of which has worked out poorly and the second of which has yet to be tested. He is clearly talented; his street smarts for a big-field class elevation have to be taken on trust.
Second choice Molatham can count a seven-furlong verdict over Wichita amongst his four career starts. Trained by Roger Varian for Sheikh Hamdan, and ridden by Jim Crowley, he perhaps didn't get home when trying a mile for the first time on his final run of last term; the drop back to seven looks right though he will have to overcome a 250-day layoff.
Aidan O'Brien runs the American Pharoah colt, Monarch Of Egypt, just six days after his midfield finish in the Irish 2000 Guineas. That was a terribly messy race and the Monarch had no run at all. His form did tail off a little last season after a couple of close finishes with Irish 2000 winner Siskin, a level that would put him in the photo if reproduced two grades lower here.
With cross-channel interloper Celestin the question is whether you believe his run behind Victor Ludorum in the French 2000 Guineas. If you do, he's probably the bet, the winner's form being just about bombproof. But with second favourite Ecrivain running no sort of race, and most of the rest behind him unfancied, it looks a little questionable. What we can say is that Celestin can quicken off steady fractions and handles softer ground.
2019 Gimcrack second, Lord Of The Lodge, steps up to seven for the first time. That form behind Threat stands comparison but this straight test will ask questions of a fairly pacy pedigree (though he does have Cape Cross as mum's dad).
The Richard Hughes-trained Mister Snowdon is quite interesting at a bit of a price. He is unbeaten in two runs, a feature of both being how he has quickened from off the pace to win going away. The most recent of the pair was at Yarmouth - another straight seven - and, while this is a big step up, I like that sectional profile. There are many others to consider in a hard to call affair.
Having a bet in here is somewhere on the brave-foolhardy continuum and you'll better understand towards which end you reside once the result has been established. There would be few complete surprise winners and, as such, it might be worth tilting at a couple of windmills. Monarch Of Egypt can go well, but I'll chance Mister Snowdon and Ventura Lightning for beer tokens only. [I recognise the general weakness of my fancies in these previews, but it needs to be understood that they are a devilish set of conundrums, most of which constitute some form of vanity punting. To come out in front we'll need to be very lucky as well as pretty good]
3.00 Chesham Stakes (Listed, 7f, 2yo)
The longest two-year-old race of the week is the seven-furlong Chesham Stakes. While the distance may be the same as the preceding Jersey Stakes, comparison across age groups make little sense. Nine once-raced juveniles - seven colts, two fillies - go to post.
The Charlie Appleby-trained Shamardal colt Modern News looks a worthy favourite based on the form seen to date. He needed almost every inch of Newmarket's six furlongs to get by the leader on debut and, with his trainer having an astonishing 33% strike rate second time out, he'll take a lot of beating. The fact that a certain Pinatubo scored for the same connections last season should not be overlooked.
But, naturally, it's deeper than one horse. Ballydoyle are represented by Battleground in a race they've previously won four times, including in 2016 (with subsequent dual 2000 Guineas scorer, Churchill) and 2017. Battleground, like Churchill, arrives here off the back of a debut defeat; and, like Churchill, was allowed to find his stride on that opening day and finish off his race. The first son of the outstanding race mare Found, he is certain to be much better than he's shown so far.
The Andrew Balding-trained Bright Devil was something of a shock debut scorer, coming home at 25/1 that day, but with his handler having a 20% second time out record, the son of Dark Angel can be expected to show improved form (like pretty much all of them, to one degree or another). He made all last time, which will be a difficult challenge over seven furlongs here.
Mark Johnston trained the Chesham winner three times in four years at the turn of the century, but has had little luck since: he's nought from twenty since 2003, just three places. That run includes nine at a single figure price, one of them sent off at 5/4. Tentatively stepping out of that shadow is Golden Flame, a son of Golden Horn who ran second on debut at Haydock. A second season sire, Golden Horn didn't have his first winner until July last year, and those are enough reasons for me to oppose this fellow at this stage of his career.
First Prophet, trained by Charlie Fellowes, is a son of first season sire New Bay, himself second in the French 2000 Guineas, winner of the Prix du Jockey Club and Prix Niel and third in Golden Horn's Arc. His five runners in UK and Ireland to date have yielded two winners and a further place. Regardless of how First Prophet performs, and he'll likely find one or two too good, New Bay is a sire to keep on side, for now at least.
Richard Hannon has enough juveniles to know which are the best in the yard, and Concessions gets the nod here. Winner of a three-horse race at Chelmsford (Seattle Rock last) on his sole spin thus far, it is not easy to quantify that form in the context of a Chesham: the trainer's five previous runners in this were all sent off at big prices, four of them running creditably in fourth or fifth of double-digit fields.
Hannon also saddles the New Approach colt, Clarendon Cross, who was doing his best work at the finish over seven panels at Haydock (March Law fourth). Although he bungled the start there, he was still beaten nearly four lengths and he has more improvement to find than most of these.
All of this nonet will end up better than they've had the opportunity to display hitherto; but the balance of probabilities is that the Godolphin and Ballydoyle colts are the smartest. I will take my chance with the longer-priced of the pair, Battleground, who is bred to be very good and who is certain to be straight for this second day at school. 7/2 seems fair enough.
3.35 Gold Cup (Group 1, 2m4f, 4yo+)
The Gold Cup has been the province of multiple winners, most recently and perhaps most famously being Yeats' four-timer between 2006 and 2009. With owner Bjorn Neilsen in no rush to make a National Hunt stallion of his pride and joy, Stradivarius returns for a third tilt at the most prestigious staying race in the flat calendar.
Now six, the son of Sea The Stars saw his ten-race winning streak ended by Kew Gardens in the mud here last October, going down by a nose in an epic tussle. He was also beaten on his first start of 2020, though that was far less of a surprise as he took on a legit twelve furlong Group 1 horse over that one's trip. As a trial for this main event, it was better than good. With the ground not likely to be a concern and the opposition a notch below last season most likely, the hat-trick bid is a probable not a possible.
Who, if any of them, might give Stradivarius a race? The key player could be Cross Counter, the finisher in last year's renewal. He got to inside two lengths of Frankie that day, staying on; and if he can get less revved up beforehand this time, might give the champ something to think about. But he failed to get past Stradivarius twice last term and there's no real reason why form should be reversed now.
Technician, in the same ownership as Chesham runner Bright Devil, was a good staying three-year-old last term now stepping up into Cup company. His best form is on soft ground, but the son of Mastercraftsman has a bit to prove stamina-wise for me.
It's 12/1 bar that trio with Nayef Road perhaps making most (but still limited) appeal of the remainder. He was close to the pace at Newcastle when running away in the last quarter mile to record a two-mile Group 3 score; but this is a challenge of an altogether different kind.
For Hail Mary players, the outsider of the field, Mekong, may run better than a 66/1 shot. He was a six length fourth in the Champions Long Distance Cup in which Stradivarius was beaten last October, having completely missed the break. Since then he's picked up over £400,000 in prize money without winning, almost all of it for a second placed effort in Saudi Arabia in February. He is a habitual slow starter but if he can concede less ground at the stalls, he may hit the frame at a whopping price.
Ultimately, this looks STRADIVARIUS' race to lose, and I don't think he will. I hope he wins, and I hope Mekong might offer some sort of a run at massive prices for tiny stakes in a race that looks all about the favourite.
4.10 Britannia Stakes (Class 2 Handicap, 1m, 3yo)
Two impossible straight mile three-year-old handicaps to close, this one being as difficult a race as you'll find at the meeting. Winners have come from across the track, from all sorts of price points and from a plethora of different trainers; so there's not much to cling to from the historical.
There are three tenuous angles which I'm going to deploy for shortlisting purposes, taken from Andy Newton's big race trends here, fully cognisant that the winner has likely been discarded. Those dodgy differentiators are:
- A previous winner at seven furlongs or a mile
- Did NOT win last time out
- Did place last time out (I've used top four)
That gives me six horses: Verboten, Cherokee Trail, Shared Belief, He's A Keeper, Grove Ferry, and Enemy
Enemy is favourite in some lists after just two career runs, a debut first and a subsequent second. Trained by John Gosden - whose debut winners are well worth following, as Jon Shenton highlighted here - Enemy found only Mister Snowdon too good in a Yarmouth novice 15 days ago. That one bids for Jersey Stakes glory earlier on the card so will offer a nod to the value of the form ahead of the Britannia.
Gosden has three further runners in the field, of which Verboten is both better fancied than Eshaasy and on the shortlist; Cherokee Trail also makes the shortlist. Verboten, a Godolphin runner, went from a Yarmouth novice to the Group 1 Vertem Futurity last year such, presumably, was the way he was working at home. He was only 8/1 in that G1 but ran down the field behind 2000 Guineas winner, Kameko. On his first run this campaign, he stayed on into a close fourth over seven furlongs at Lingfield (all weather, turning track). This is a stiffer stamina test for a pedigree that offers mixed messages - speed from No Nay Never, resolution from a High Chapparal mare. Frankie Dettori rides, Oisin Murphy getting first dibs on Enemy who is in the Qatar Racing ownership.
It is testament to the pulling power and the political ability of John Gosden that he can train horses for all of Qatar Racing, Godolphin, Sheikh Hamdan and Coolmore, and run them all in the same race! Cherokee Trail represents the last named firm, with Ryan Moore doing the steering. More experienced than his stablemates, this son of War Front (Galileo is nearly always in the dam's blood, if he is not the sire) drops back to handicap grade after three spins in pattern class. He'll obviously find it easier, has proven stamina and the best connections; but he might just be marooned a little in stall two, with the pace possibly coming down the middle. At least he should get a clear passage from there.
Gosden is a three-time Britannia Stakes winner, albeit from 34 runners, so he certainly knows what is required.
Shared Belief would be the first winner not to have run in the same calendar year since, I think, at least 1997, but of course there are mitigating circumstances in this truncated pandemic-affected season. A handicap debutant for Archie Watson - whose two-year record with such horses is 24% from 108 starters, whose layoff stats are 23% from 105 starters and whose 14-day form at time of writing is 30% from 33 starters - he won't be lacking for preparation!
Since a seven furlong soft ground maiden win this time last year, Shared Belief has been highly tried in a trio of pattern races, most recently running behind Group 2 King Edward VII Stakes winner, Pyledriver. He has a middle draw, a 'get on with it' run style and is a 40/1 shot.
He's A Keeper is the same price, and in truth I find it harder to make his case. Beaten five lengths and more in his last three starts, he has at least had a spin this season, but I'm not sure he'll stay a mile in what ought to be a truly run affair.
More credible, perhaps, is Grove Ferry. Progressive last term, winning twice in novice company before finishing one place ahead of Verboten in their respective 2020 pipe openers. Team Balding was flying at that time, though so too was Team Gosden, and this son of Excelebration has a high draw and a waited-with style of racing. He is ridden by David Probert, in the geegeez 'lucky pants', so fingers crossed.
As ever, there are bundles more with fine prospects that I've failed to mention.
4.40 Sandringham Stakes (Class 2 Handicap, 1m, 3yo fillies)
For a fillies' version of the Britannia, this is typically a top of the market affair. Or was until recently. Three years ago, Con Te Partiro won at 20/1 for Wesley Ward, and was tipped in this preview. (I know, it was probably the last winner I flagged, hoo hoo hoo). And last year, 33/1 Thanks Be - not tipped here, or many other places for that matter - got the whole enchilada for Hayley Turner and Charlie Fellowes in that controversial finish. Second was a 7/1 chance who really should have been awarded the race. 19 of the preceding 20 winners had returned 12/1 or shorter, as did the 2018 victor.
It is not typically a race in which to be too cute.
What could be less cute than a 7/4 favourite in a field of 18? Step forward, African Dream. Johnny G's thrice-raced filly was a close second to Stylistique just a week ago, that one bringing genuine Group 2 form to the table. A mark of 80, when her nose vanquisher is rated 106, underscores the 'well in' factor, and she is ideally berthed in 14 with a patient run style and pace around her. If the race doesn't come too soon, she'll probably win.
Because Kieran O'Neill keeps the ride on the favourite (good job, well played connections), Frankie must 'settle' for Dubai Love, a 101-rated Nottingham maiden winner. She was beaten on her sole subsequent start, when trying to make all over a mile at Kempton, and she wouldn't be obviously well treated, particularly not in comparison with her barn mate.
Sir Michael Stoute saddles the twice-raced Soffika. A daughter of Zoffany out of a Sakhee mare, she's bred for middle distances for all that she's yet to win beyond three-quarters of a mile. However, that doesn't really tell her tale: she was a keeping on second in the Group 3 Sweet Solera Stakes over seven at Newmarket last summer and can be expected to progress as most of her trainer's projects do.
At bigger prices, the Richard Spencer-trained Odyssey Girl has been super consistent, running in the frame in her last five races. She is more experienced than her rivals and has performed well in big field sales races. She might outrun her 25/1 odds.
And perhaps Al Rasmah is better than she was able to show in a tactical race last time. She finished best of the seven at Haydock (one mile) and will be delivered late by Andrea Atzeni here.
There are some nice fillies in this field but it is rare that we see a horse so potentially well treated as AFRICAN DREAM. A literal interpretation of her run a week ago makes her almost two stone ahead of the handicapper!