Royal Ascot 2020: Day 4 Preview, Trends, Tips
The fourth day of five at Royal Ascot, and the last for which I offer my tuppence worth; Friday's highlights include the Group 2 Norfolk Stakes, Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes and the headline Group 1 Commonwealth Cup. Yum!
Proceedings commence a little more humbly, however, with the...
1.15 Palace Of Holyroodhouse Handicap (5f, Class 2, 3yo)
Yet another special race this year to start us off is this five-furlong three-year-old handicap. Draw and pace could be material, the map of both looking like this:
One of the features of this big field is the amount of forward-going types, even in the context of a sprint over the minimum. So, whilst early pace might normally be a key to winning, I'll be looking for a horse to finish off through tiring rivals: the race could change complexion markedly in the last half furlong.
The favourite, and a strong favourite at that, is Art Power. The Kingpower-owned, Tim Easterby-trained runner has won his last two in sensational style and might just be superior to handicap grade. But he's 2/1 or so in a field of a score and more.
Around about him in the high numbers are a couple that may be able to give us a thrill at a more working person's price. Keep Busy won one of those slightly sub-par French minor pattern events last backend and has already had two races since the resumption; as such, she's more match fit than most. She didn't seem to get home over Newcastle's straight six but ran well in second in the Listed Scurry Stakes over Sandown's five last time. She's 16/1.
And in the highest stall of all is Mighty Spirit, trained by Richard Fahey and ridden by Megan Nicholls. This Acclamation filly held her form really well in making the first two six times from nine runs, including the Listed Marygate Stakes, last season. She also ran fine races when sixth of 25 in the Queen Mary and third of 24 in the Weatherby's Super Sprint. She's tough and consistent and has a bit of class. She's also an 16/1 chance.
One other to throw into the pot at a big price is Flippa The Strippa. Trained by Charlie 'Battaash' Hills, her form tailed off towards the end of last season, but she was good enough early on to win the Listed National Stakes at Sandown. If she's benefited from the break she will be finishing on the far side better than many and is available at 28/1.
There are eighteen I haven't mentioned.
It's a good sprint handicap is this, with Art Power the obvious one who might just be too good for them. If he's not, I'll take a chance with two drawn high in Mighty Spirit and Keep Busy.
1.50 Albany Stakes (Group 3, 6f, 2yo fillies)
Six furlongs and two-year-old fillies, plenty of whom either won't get home or are not good enough. Wesley Ward's Flying Alaetha is the early favourite, but this turning five furlong dirt winner may not appreciate any rain. In any case it is impossible to quantify her form in the context of an Albany, though we know Ward is 0-for-10, just one placed, with seven of them sent off at single figure odds. Not for me.
Aidan O'Brien is only 1-for-15, though he has had four further placed runners. The winner, Brave Anna, was sent off at 16/1. APOB has had fillies beaten at 5/4, 11/8, 7/4, 2/1 twice and 5/2. Caution is therefore advised about Mother Earth, for all that the sins of her mothers should not necessarily be vested upon her.
Winners of this race have often come at prices, so it might pay to take a chance on something further down the lists. The one with form on the soft side is Golden Melody, trained by William Haggas and ridden by James Doyle. She won her sole start on Haydock's good to soft terrain, seeing off Star Of Emaraaty et al by more than two lengths. She is a natural for the shortlist having stretched away takingly there.
Mark Johnston won this two years ago with Main Edition, and he saddles Ventura Vision. Her sire, No Nay Never, has a fair record with soft ground two-year-olds running six furlongs; she can be expected to be a lot better under these conditions than a Chelmsford second might imply.
But perhaps the man to follow is Mick Channon. He of the windmill celebration of yesteryear has won three Albany Stakes and enjoyed another two placed runners from 16 sent to post. Thus, his entry Mahale commands respect. Only fourth on debut, she stayed on pretty well over five good to firm furlongs at Newmarket that day, a race which has already thrown three winners from four runners further back in the ruck. That great late work, allied to the extra furlong and her trainer's record makes 25/1 very interesting.
There are lots of other interesting candidates in a race where only the outsider has run more than once. But, given that half of the 18 Albany winners to date returned 10/1 or bigger, including 16/1 three times, 20/1 and 50/1, I'm playing 25/1 Mahale each way with four places. 8/1 Golden Melody may be the best value from the top shelf.
2.25 Norfolk Stakes (Group 2, 5f, 2yo)
Another juvenile heat, this time the fast five of the Norfolk. If the Albany often goes to a price, this Group 2 has tended to be a top of the market affair, two-thirds of the winners since 1999 returning 6/1 or shorter. The race has been a platform for stallions such as Dutch Art, No Nay Never, Johannesburg and Approve, and perhaps another will promote his claims for the breeding sheds at this early career juncture.
This is a race in which Wes has gone well, with a pair of winners from seven starters. Likewise, Aidan, whose haul reads 3 from 20, 6 more placed, a run that started with the magnificent Johannesburg.
Favourite, and short enough at 6/4, is Eye Of Heaven. The Mark Johnston runner beat Get It - fourth in the Windsor Castle earlier in the week - on their respective debuts, and they had subsequent Windsor Castle winner Tactical behind them in third. It is fair to say that that was an above average novice. Eye Of Heaven did it comfortably enough there and probably deserves to be jolly in spite of ground conditions being potentially quite different here; whether you're excited by an offer close to evens is another question. I am not especially. It does mean that the rest are varying degrees of each way prices.
Wesley runs Golden Pal, a son of Uncle Mo who didn't get home over four-and-a-half furlongs on debut at Gulfstream; how he'll handle the straight five is up for grabs. Although Ward has a solid history in the race, his recent Royal Ascot record is less good: a seven-runner washout last year and just one from nine in 2018. He is eminently capable of delivering winners on this stage, but they're all plenty short enough against the recent macro.
Like Golden Pal, Aidan's runner, Lipizzaner is also an Uncle Mo child: he's found one too good on both starts to date, but has shown both ground versatility and the ability to deal with a big field. His trainer won the Norfolk in 2015 and 2017 and should be on the premises once more.
The Lir Jet looked very good when romping his debut at Yarmouth and has since been acquired by Qatar Racing. Still trained by Michael Bell, whose two previous Norfolk entries ran second and third, but as far back as 2003 and 2006, the Jet will have to cope with better opposition and softer turf; but he is very quick and he might just do it.
From a very small sample, the juvenile progeny of Due Diligence have done really well on softish ground and that is a nod to Jo Jo Rabbit, a four-length winner on his second and most recent start.
This is a race that revolves around Eye Of Heaven who could be very smart and may just win. But his price offers nothing to value players given how many unexposed and well-bred rivals square up. In that spirit, I'll take a chance that 6/1 The Lir Jet can handle these conditions, and will have a small each way stab at 14/1 Jo Jo Rabbit, whose trainer Archie Watson can ready a rapid juvie. Four places, more if you can find 'em!
3.00 Hardwicke Stakes (Group 2, 1m4f, 4yo+)
A mile and a half Group 2 for older horses, and a race in which Sir Michael Stoute has a stranglehold: he's won no fewer than eight since 2006! Of course, that would be too easy... he doesn't have a runner this year!!
Mark Johnston is a four-time winner, though the last of that quartet was in 2005. He's only saddled four runners since, including Universal who was third in 2013. Communique was last a year ago. That one lines up again this time but it is his stablemate Elarqam who appeals more. That one, a Frankel half-brother to Maydanny, who ran earlier in the week, amongst others, just failed to peg back Lord North on his seasonal debut.
Lord North was a clear-cut victor in the Prince Of Wales's Stakes on Wednesday, beating Addeybb, who Elarqam had behind him when winning the York Stakes. In between times, he was third in the Group 1 Juddmonte International and, while stamina has to be taken on trust, his form looks as good as any in the field.
Last year's Derby winner, Anthony Van Dyck, is an obvious alternative. However, in six post-Epsom runs he's yet to revisit the winner's enclosure; and the fact that there was a mere three-quarters of a length covering the first five casts a further fog of doubt over the form. If that wasn't enough, he was also thumped in the King George over course and distance, though in his defence that may have come soon enough after two Derby efforts - he was runner up in the Irish Derby between Epsom and Ascot.
Defoe won this race last year, looking like a progressive horse in the process. Things haven't really panned out that way in three races since, however, including a further run over track and trip so he, too, has a little prove.
A winner over course and distance last October was Morando, and by six lengths, too, in a Group 3. This is a step up in grade with the ground likely to be a little less testing and he has a bit to find with an 'A game' Defoe on last year's Hardwicke form. That said, if it was very wet, he'd come into play.
Hamish steps into Group company for the first time, the William Haggas-trained four-year-old progressing through the handicap ranks last season. He needs to find nearly a stone with Elarqam.
Talking of progressive four-year-olds, Fanny Logan won a trio of Listed races last term, and then a Group 3 before running an excellent three-length fourth in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Santa Anita. She was patently given too much to do on her seasonal bow at Haydock and, bred for the trip, is more interesting than many in receipt of her gender allowance.
Of the monster prices, Alounak's overseas form - in any of Germany, Canada or America - would give him an outside chance of making the first four. Remember, the Hungarian Nagano Gold nearly took the whole enchilada in last year's race, failing by only a half length at whopper prices.
At the risk of egg on face for a second time this week, I'm against a Ballydoyle favourite. I much prefer 3/1 ELARQAM to Anthony Van Dyck and have backed him accordingly. 17/2 Fanny Logan is playable each way and the big swingers might try 50/1 Alounak.
3.35 Commonwealth Cup (Group 1, 6f, 3yo)
This newish race, now in its sixth year, has been a hit from the get go. Winners like Muhaarar, Caravaggio and Advertise (pictured, top) have scorched the Ascot turf in dazzling victories.
Top rated this year is the filly Millisle on 115. She was sent off 4/1 for the 1000 Guineas but clearly didn't stay the trip and this looks much more appropriate. She raced exclusively at five and six furlongs last term, winning the Group 1 Cheveley Park amongst others. Sprinting is her game and, if the exertions of two trips across the Irish Sea for two races in a fortnight don't fatigue her, she is the one to beat. Her profile mimics that of last year's winner, Advertise, who put a non-staying Guineas run to bed in this.
Favoured is Pierre Lapin, unbeaten in two including a Group 2 at Newbury last September. He's been off for nine months, though most of Roger Varian's have been forward enough on their first run of the year. He has a few pounds to find with Millisle on form though clearly has scope to progress after just two spins.
Golden Horde had a few goes as a juvenile, winning the Group 2 Richmond Stakes at Goodwood and running close up behind Earthlight twice, including in the G1 Middle Park last backend. Again, fitness must be taken on trust.
Wesley Ward has brought the rapid filly Kimari across. She was a head second to Raffle Prize in the Queen Mary here last June and a staying on fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint in November. She opened her account over six furlongs in April and certainly has credentials to get involved: unlike many of Wesley's she settles well so Frankie will have every chance.
Lope Y Fernandez is another who comes from an abortive Guineas bid, this time in the Irish 2000 where he was a trouble-making third to Siskin. His sprint form was good last year though not quite at the level of a couple of these.
France is represented by Wooded, a six-furlong Group 3 winner last month. As you'll know if you've been reading these previews all week, I'm not a big fan of the French flat form just now, and am carpet opposing this colt on that basis. His form is at lower Group level anyway.
Remember when Mum's Tipple blitzkrieged his field by eleven lengths at York last year? He's been whacked twice since, most recently when not at all at the races in the 2000 Guineas, but a repeat of that effort on the Knavesmire would likely be just about enough.
This is another cracking serving of the Commonwealth Cup with lashings of speed and more than a little spice. I think it might go the way of the fillies and, to that end, I like both 7/1 Kimari and 11/1 Millisle to show the boys the way home.
4.10 Queen's Vase (Group 2, 1m6f, 3yo)
A recognised St Leger trial these days but it arrives ahead of the Derby in this topsy-turvy 2020. In point of fact, the Queen's Vase has actually become a top class rehearsal for future Cup horses, with all of Estimate, Stradivarius, Leading Light and Kew Gardens prevailing since 2012. What a National Hunt stallion Stradivarius is going to make! 😉
Since 1998, three trainers have operated a near cartel on the Vase: Mark Johnston has recorded seven scores, Aidan O'Brien six, and Sir Michael Stoute four. SMS is unrepresented this season as, remarkably, is 'Always Trying' (to win the Queen's Vase). Thankfully, APOB runs a pair.
Santiago is the choice of Ryan Moore, the son of Authorized stepping up from a mile and looking bred to appreciate it. He'll need to, though, as his form to date is only average.
Frankie Dettori is enjoying plenty of Ballydoyle partnerships as a result of the Irish/overseas riders having to go through quarantine, and he's on Nobel Prize, a brother to Highland Reel, Idaho and Cape Of Good Hope. He, too, steps up from a mile and he, too, has a pedigree that screams improvement. Those siblings really catch the eye and I expect this fellow to be a player.
Born With Pride is the favourite, trained by William Haggas. He won a Listed race over a mile on heavy ground on his career debut, testament to the esteem within which he is presumed to be held. It must have been a little disappointing, then, that he could only trail home seventh of nine on his next and most recent run 16 days ago; though that lifetime bow augurs talent, he's not much of a price on the recovery trail.
Godolphin's Al Dabaran was beaten in two back end runs in France so, while my casual dismissal of such form lines is going to go bad at some point, he's readily overlooked for all that he is the highest rated in the field and has a nice staying pedigree. He's had more tries than many of his rivals and my guess is that some will improve past him for this far greater test of stamina.
Berkshire Rocco is really interesting. Trained by last year's winning handler, Andrew Balding, he comes here from the Lingfield Derby Trial, a route trodden by four Queen's Vase winners since 2002. None of that quartet ran better than second at Lingfield, the position Berkshire Rocco occupied behind English King, himself favourite in most lists for the Derby. Rocco was seven lengths and more ahead of the rest of the Derby Trial field.
The remainder make limited appeal.
A fascinating race as always, and one in which the top three in the market have won 19 of the last 23 renewals. There are five horses vying for favouritism, the best backed being Born With Pride, Santiago and Nobel Prize. The weakness of Berkshire Rocco does put me off and, because of that, I'm siding with Nobel Prize, who comes from an excellent family, looks certain to stay well, handles give, and gets Mr Ascot, Frankie Dettori, on top. He's 11/2 in a few places.
4.40 Duke Of Edinburgh Stakes (Class 2 Handicap, 1m4f, 3yo+)
Friday ends with a big field mile and a half handicap. Keep in mind the weird draw bias against the low numbers. This PRB3 chart illustrates things clearly, with the dark blue line representing big fields, actual draw, and ground between good and soft.
Three trainers have impeccable records: Mark Johnston, Sir Michael Stoute and Hughie Morrison.
Now't from Stoute once more, and just a single arrow for Mark Johnston, the poorly-drawn (stall three) West End Charmer. A four-time winner last season, all in smallish fields, this is a different task from a tough post.
Durston also has an ostensibly poor draw in four, though he too has form credentials. He actually won over nearly two miles last year and that leads me to wonder whether he'll quite have the boot for this, especially if needing to thread a passage on the inside.
Hughie, whose Duke Of Edinburgh Stakes record is three winners from six runners - wow - saddles Le Don De Vie. Exiting from stall ten - plum - he has Ryan Moore booked for the steering job, not that I'm saying it will be a steering job, you understand! Don was a three-time winner last season on the undulations of Epsom (twice) and Goodwood. This more conventional track shouldn't pose a problem, nor should a nearer-front-than-back run style.
Hereby, a misser of the cut earlier in the week, gets in this time and bids to extend her winning sequence to five. Again this is a much bigger field but she had the speed to win around Chester and the stamina to score in Listed company over 1m6f on soft ground during that victory roll so she's not underestimated. Trap nine is workable, though the last single digit stall winner was in 2008.
Frankie and Johnny partner with El Misk, ideally housed in 15 and with a prominent racing style. He has, however, done all his winning - three of them - on all weather surfaces, and has earned joint top weight in that process. He won't shock if he wins but he's not for me at the price.
At a much bigger quote, Indianapolis can outrun his odds. A course and distance winner off 95 last summer, he is just four pounds higher here; he has a wide draw in 19 - last five winners drawn 12, 14, 19, 19, 21 - and represents a trainer, James Given, with a fine record in staying races in the past two years (five wins from 25 runs, four more placed, A/E 2.34, IV 1.85). Jockey Ben Curtis is hardly a negative.
Sixteen more with chances!
Obviously a head-scratcher of a chin-stroker of a brow-furrower of a puzzle. At the prices, always at the prices, I'm settling on 12/1 Le Don De Vie for Le Don de D(ukeofedinburghstakes), Hughie Morrison; and 33/1 Indianapolis for another shrewd outfit, extra places aforethought.
And that's that for this week. Saturday's eight race jamboree will be a case of every many and woman for themselves. It might well be the case that such news is a merciful outcome after four days of reading through my losers. Regardless of win or lose, the effort and thought poured in is always the same: sometimes we are made to look good, more often to look somewhere between daft and imbecilic. Such is the folly of publicly nominating gambling outcomes. Happily, you, dear reader, are cut from the kind of considered cloth that takes the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune as part and parcel of racing's wagering fabric. Or, in plain English, you get it.
I very much hope you've got it - or at least got some of it - this week.