Day four, Friday, at Royal Ascot is the last of our previews this week, and I very much hope you've enjoyed the mix of in-house and guest writers who have covered the action so comprehensively. Do touch on some of the links within the post if you like the way our guests present things - they'll appreciate it.
Right, let's get down to business. Seven more head-scratchers, starting with a proper metaphorical case of nits...
2.30 Albany Stakes (6f, Group 3, 2yo fillies)
The Albany, as races come to preview, is always a race full of fun and games, mainly due to the lack of form on offer. Most of the runners have either never run, or only run once and won that race!
However, we do have a favourite emerging in Carla’s Way, who ran a blisteringly above par time at Doncaster at the start of the month for Simon and Ed Crisford. The horse is drawn well in stall 2, so she should be able to get to the rail and be prominent from the outset, which is of real value in a race of this kind (best case is to be drawn either low or high, and race prominently).
At the other end of the draw is Soprano for George Boughey and William Buick, out of stall 16 and another who is likely to be close to the pace. Boughey is notably operating at a 30% strike-rate with last time out winners, and it would not surprise me at all to see this one challenge for favouritism on the day. It should be noted that 17 of the last 19 winners were drawn in stall 10 or higher, but the two exceptions were in the last two years! They came from boxes 2 and 4, close to the rail.
Presented by the "Cleeve Racing" service
A recent run is also a good sign with all bar two winners (going back to the race's inception in 2002) having run within 35 days. Neither Soprano nor Do It With Style fit this stat.
Porta Fortuna looks attractive on paper, the draw from 8 is a bit of a put off as she will race in the middle of the pack, which can be a bit of a graveyard for wins; but the run at Naas was impressive enough and the booking of Frankie Dettori by Donnacha O’Brien cannot be ignored.
Ryan Moore rides Matrika, who will come out of stall 1, and therefore demands closer inspection. Another horse who was successful over Irish Guineas weekend at the Curragh, she ran above par that day and the money has certainly started to come.
Ascot is quite a stiff six furlongs, hence it is interesting to see that 11 of the last 12 winners had run over 6f at some point before their Albany win.
Carla’s Way 7/2
Porta Fortuna 7/1
3.05 Commonwealth Cup (6f, Group 1, 3yo)
Preview by Matt Bisogno
The newest Group 1 at Royal Ascot and one of the best races of the week: a stallion maker, in fact. The likes of Muhaarar and Caravaggio have already sired Group 1 winners from the three colts with three-year-old crops, and it may be that Advertise joins them before the end of the campaign. So who among this year's cohort might join this illustrious band?
In the absence of Cold Case, a bakers' dozen go to post, headed by last season's champion juvenile Little Big Bear. He patently failed to stay in the 2000 Guineas (though his performance suggested it was more than just stamina that let him down that day), but bounced back over a sprint trip in the G2 Sandy Lane at Haydock last time. While that was a comfortable score, the horse in second there, Shouldvebeenaring, is a 25/1 shot here. You can make the case that the runner up should be shorter in the betting, or that the winner should not be even money here; but it's fairly tricky to argue the market disparity is about right.
Little Big Bear was still about five pounds below his two-year-old peak effort at Haydock and, again, you can argue that he's sitting on a season best or that he's not quite trained on as the horse he was. I don't really have a view on that except that he's evens, which is a price I'd need to be happy about all such questions. I am not.
Sakheer, a son of Zoffany, is second choice, and he too flopped in the 2000 Guineas, though less emphatically than LBB. His Mill Reef juvenile win was impressive, over this three-quarter mile trip, and he can't be discounted for all that we have only the soft ground mile run in 2023 on which to conjecture.
That is the case with Lezoo, too, after she finished eighth in the 1000 Guineas. Her only defeat in five races last year was a half length second to Mawj, subsequently 1000 Guineas winner, and her four wins include one over course and distance and one in the Group 1 Cheveley Park Stakes. She looks an out and out six-furlong filly, and the fairer sex have won this twice in the eight renewals and hit the frame five more times, at a slightly better rate than the boys. Lezoo is berthed in the highest box so will need to break alertly and straight
Julie Camacho would be relatively unfashionable in the context of Royal Ascot Group 1's, but she knows how to train a sprinter as demonstrated by her expert handling of Judicial. Shaquille looks another in that mould, a prolific scorer in minor Pattern company - including an easy two length Listed score last time - fully deserving of a tilt at the big time. He's one of the front end pace angles, too, and if getting loose in the lead could take some pegging back.
Noble Style was three lengths behind Shaquille last time and has a bit to prove on his two '23 runs. In fairness, he was far from disgraced in the 2000 Guineas but that was a clunk the last day when odds on; first time cheekpieces might elicit a bit more verve: trainer Charlie Appleby has an astonishing - even for him - 40% hit rate when deploying the sheepskins (14/35, +31.04 at SP).
This is a race that has yet to be won by a horse priced bigger than 12/1, and it's very difficult to see that fact not surviving at least one more year.
On balance, Little Big Bear is comfortably the most likely winner but there remain unanswered questions for a horse trading at levels. I may be missing something with Sakheer because I cannot see how he's less than half the price of Lezoo (who is drifting as I write) - the filly's juvenile form is better than the colt's, and their Classic runs were virtual carbon copies of each other's.
It is possible that one or both hasn't trained on, market vibes suggesting Lezoo is the more likely to fall into those nettles. But I'm going to chance her, each way: on form, she's closest to the jolly and she's a comfortable each way price at 9/1, with books paying four places. And I very much respect the 'cheeky Charlie' angle for Noble Style, who is worth a small win single at double figure odds.
3.40 Duke Of Edinburgh Stakes (1m4f, Class 2 handicap, 3yo+)
Presented by Sam Darby's "Winning Post Profits" service
This is probably my favourite betting race of the meeting, partly because the market rarely seems to consider the draw bias. Logic would dictate that a lower draw would be better around a bend like this but these big field handicaps are very rough and it seems getting a clear run down the outside is far more important than saving ground by going the shortest route. The PRB3 graph below shows just how crucial the draw can be here.
It’s also worth noting that prominent racers tend to do particularly well, presumably because there is so much trouble in running in these races, that being out of the way of the scrimmaging is a massive advantage.
The above image shows draw and pace bias in combination over this course and distance. The eyecatching overperformance comes from prominent/mid division racers from those drawn middle/high but it also shows the only run style you want to back from a low draw is prominent.
There doesn’t seem to be a great amount of pace on here and the pace seems to be dominated by Godolphin runners so you’d assume those horses won’t cut each others’ throats and harm their respective chances. That might put extra onus on the prominent racers in this.
With that in mind the one who sticks out like a sore thumb is the second favourite, Teumessias Fox. He ran well twice here last year and since being gelded he’s won both his races easily, tracking the pace and cruising clear on both occasions. The handicapper has had his say with a total rise of 16lbs following his last two wins.
He’s earned those rises given how impressive he’s been but there is very little substance to his recent scores, which does concern me. I’m a big fan of ‘hot form’ and those two races look to me like cold form. If his winning distances had been smaller I’d be very much against him; but it’s not his fault they’ve been poor races, and he’s won them both so easily it’s impossible to tell where his ceiling is. The main thing in his favour is he seems to be the perfect horse for this race tactically but is he still adequately handicapped?
Likely to be slightly more patiently ridden, but still within that hot zone of being drawn middle to wide and not ridden too patiently, is the early favourite for this, Al Nafir. Whereas Teumessias Fox’s form is a bit ropey, you can’t really get more solid than Al Nafir’s Old Rowley Cup win. He went up 10lbs for winning that race but the runner up is now 10lbs higher as well, plus the 3rd, 5th, 6th, 9th and 13th all won shortly after.
His overall profile isn’t as sexy as some others, he’s tasted defeat plenty of times, but he seems to have a very specific need for this trip and faster ground and the only time he had that was last season when winning one of the hottest handicaps of the season. This will be his seasonal debut which is a slight concern but Charlie Appleby has had many horses ready first time out this season, for instance King Of Conquest won the Suffolk Stakes off a similar absence in May and it’s likely this has been Al Nafir’s target for some time.
Well fancied 4yos have dominated this race in the past decade so that pair look the most likely winners but I’m reluctant to back Al Nafir at the price because of the absence and I can’t back Teumessias Fox because the races he’s been winning haven’t been strong enough for my liking. With so much else in his favour, I might feel very annoyed if Teumessias Fox is well placed and scoots clear off a no more than even gallop whilst everything else in behind meets trouble in running but so be it.
For various reasons I’m against the majority of the field (Nagano reluctantly because of his absence) but one at a big price I want to have on my side is HMS President. He’s run well in four races here previously without winning and he won a really hot contest last time out at Newmarket. The 2nd, 4th, 6th, 8th and 11th have all come out and won and several that ran well are yet to run again so that race could look even hotter within the next few months. He’s only up 3lbs for that which seems very kind. That race was over a couple of furlongs further, on easier ground, but HMS President is equally effective in these conditions and even ran well here on fast ground over 10f last season so there are no concerns about his speed.
HMS President did win last time out but he’s seemed to shirk it in a finish previously, a trait that has seen him finish 2nd in nine of his 33 runs. I’m happy to back him each way at 25/1 with a few bookies at the time of writing, but I also acknowledge the aforementioned pair are more likely winners and could easily relegate him to 2nd if he does indeed run well. So as well as that each way single I’ll be looking to back both Al Nafir and Teumessias Fox in straight forecasts with HMS President finishing 2nd, just as consolation in case he again finds less than expected in a finish.
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4.20 Coronation Stakes (1m, Group 1, 3yo fillies)
Presented by John Burke's "Victor Value" service
The Group 1 Coronation Stakes run over a mile is one of Europe’s premier races for three-year-old fillies. First run in 1840 its been won by some great fillies in recent years including Attraction, Russian Rhythm, Sky Lantern, Winter and Alpha Centauri. The race often brings together the winners of Newmarket’s 1000 Guineas with the French and Irish versions and can be a defining moment in a filly's career.
Just seven have been declared for this year’s race. Sadly, that septet doesn't include 1000 Guineas winner Mawj who misses the race due to coughing. That means we won’t see the much anticipated rematch between Mawj and Tahiyra.
Tahiyra was runner-up at Newmarket and went one place better when running out a decisive winner of the Irish 1000 Guineas at the Curragh. With no Mawj in the line-up, Dermot Weld's entry is likely to go off a very short-priced favourite. She’s got the change of gear that stamps her a high class filly and it would be great to see her put in a performance that shows her to be the best Classic female miler in Europe. Despite being a big fan of Tahiyra, on quick ground I think she could be vulnerable. However, which if any of her six rivals can take advantage?
The reliable Meditate finished runner-up to Tahiyra in the Irish 1000 Guineas as she did in last year’s Moyglare Stakes. Strictly on the formbook she can’t beat the favourite but quick ground does give her a chance of doing so.
Comhra seemingly put in a much improved effort when 1½ lengths 3rd of 10 in Irish 1000 Guineas. The application of the first time cheekpieces probably played their part in that good performance and if they continue to have the desired effect there’s no reason why she won’t be in the shake up.
Sounds Of Heaven improved plenty on her juvenile form when winning a York Listed race last month. She had one of today’s rivals, Queen For You, a short head back in second that day and I think she can confirm placings with that filly. The daughter of Kingman seemingly appreciated the quick ground at York so underfoot conditions should pose no terrors for her. I think she’s an exciting prospect who’s open to plenty of improvement and could be the one to take advantage should the firmer turf prove to be the undoing of the favourite.
Verdict: Tahiyra is the one they all must beat, and she may be good enough to get away with quick ground on this occasion. At the prices, though, I have to take her on. The obvious one is the consistent Meditate who will love the ground and should give her running. If there were three places available, I would be interested in Comhra each way. However, there aren’t, so I’m happy to take a chance on the improving Sounds Of Heaven who can give her trainer Jessica Harrington a third success in the race since 2018.
Suggestion: Sounds Of Heaven – 12/1 general
5.00 Sandringham Stakes (1m, Class 2 handicap, 3yo fillies)
Presented by Josh Wright from "Racing To Profit"
It’s highly unlikely lightning will strike twice for me this week in fillies only handicaps but in I dive into what looks another challenging contest, this one for 3YOs only. Yet again I’ll be using my own trends and trainer pointers to help me out.
As this is a race for fillies only, it’s worth recapping some of my musings from Day 2, which did help me land on Villanova Queen, having unearthed Jessica Harrington’s fine record with the girls at this meeting. She’s now 4/14,6p with Royal Ascot Fillies and runs Foniska in this contest. She couldn’t, could she?
As per my preview on Day 2, John/Thady Gosden and Simon/Ed Crisford all have decent records with their fillies and are represented here also with four runners between them. As do Roger/Harry Charlton, they have a reserve here, so require a couple to withdraw in order to get a run. Roger Varian has a few runners also, and he operates at a greater than 15% win SR with his fillies.
Looking more closely in this race and trainers’ records with 3YO Fillies, the majority have a solid enough record, all bar four trainers with a greater than 10% win SR with such types. Roger Varian, William Haggas, John Gosden, Charlie Appleby all have between 17% and 19.5% win SR with their 3YO fillies and could be a group to focus on more generally with such types, and maybe in this race. I’d advise against backing them all though as you’d quickly burn through your betting bank.
One other trainer I’ll flag is Owen Burrows… it could be worth noting that at Ascot (all meetings), in handicaps, straight course only, he’s now 15 bets / 4 wins / 6p / 26% wsr / +10 Betfair SP. With those sent off 10/1 or shorter, 4/10, 6p. He runs Embrace in this, who ran in the 1000 Guineas when last seen. The yard are flying, 3/7, 5p in last 14 days, 78% rivals beaten. This filly also makes handicap debut, and Burrows is 5/19, 8p +3 SP with such types in the last 2 years, another stat worth noting. He operates at a 26% win SR with all his handicappers, which is a bit mad really, he knows the time of day and is worth keeping onside more generally.
Whatever my pokes do in this race, hopefully some those stats are of use moving forwards.
Those yards represented who look in particularly fine fettle include…Charlie Appleby, Aidan O’Brien, Ed Dunlop, Jessie Harrington, Owen Burrows and John/Thady Gosden.
Turning our attention to the ‘trainer race records’ – those trainers to have won the race previously in the last 15 renewals, represented this year…
- Coppice / Marksman Queen / Bridestones (John/Thady Gosden)
- Clounmacon (Johnny Murtagh)
- Magical Sunset / Rich (Richard Hannon)
As always, those runners are worth a closer look.
The trends for this are not as ‘strong’ as some of the other races this week, but a profile of having placed at least once in the last two starts, having placed once or twice this season and having had 2+ runs this season would have found 12 of the previous 15 winners (12/131 qualifiers, 33 places, just +12 Betfair SP) although this profile was 0/13 last year… however, if it bounces back, we’d be looking at a long list of eight in which we could focus…
Coppice, Jackie Oh, Marksman Queen, Choisya, Clounmacon, Orchid Bloom, Novus, Balalaika
Winning on seasonal return isn’t impossible in this, Roger Varian’s Cell Sa Beela the only one trying to do so this year.
William Haggas (0/15, 2p) and Aidan O’Brien (0/9, 2p) haven’t hit the board in this race in the period, which could pose a question for trends qualifiers Jackie Oh and Orchid Bloom, although given the yards, maybe just a matter of time.
To the horses…
To my eyes this race is towards the ‘nearly impossible’ end of the Royal Ascot puzzle scale and I’ve banked on my trends helping me out. Unexposed 3YO fillies, most in form, some having been highly tried, others more battle hardened in handicaps. Some of these will relish a strong pace and take big steps forward. The ground could also be plenty fast enough, which is an unknown for a fair few.
I will just mention the pace/race set up… almost all the sustained pace looks to be drawn middle to high, with Mrs Harrington’s Foniska the only pace setter low – she could get free on the front end, dropped in trip, with fast ground an unknown and is no forlorn hope to make all.
But, those drawn in the lower third or so could have their work cut out, unless there’s a track bias and low just rides quicker come Friday. I’ve ended up with three horses drawn 18+, so we’ll see if I’m on the right side…
Jackie Oh – 7s – one for Aidan O’Brien who’s yet to win this but does have a couple of placed efforts to his name. She hits my trends and I was impressed with her Irish 1000 Guineas effort, not far off them 2f out and not exactly stopping come the line when others went forward. The front two in that are classy and this is quite the drop in class. Ryan can ride a patient race drawn high and there’s a chance she gallops all over these, able to cruise along at a higher speed than a fair few in here. Fillies under big weights have won this and she could outclass them for her red hot connections. Her half-sister won this in 2020 also.
Novus – 16/1 - 25/1 – the first of two bigger priced EW pokes. Gary Moore is in fine form, as is his filly, who could well relish this step up to a mile, given there’s stamina galore on the dam side. She certainly wasn’t stopping at Goodwood when bolting up, in a race working out well. She brings a touch of ‘handicap hardiness’ to the party which could be a positive, and she looks to be drawn in the right place and has Andrea Atzeni to help her. She’s got a low weight and just looks overpriced. I suppose fast ground is a question, given her recent form on softer, but it’s more of an unknown and she ran well on Good to Firm over 5f on debut. So, here’s hoping. But at the odds, worth an interest EW wager.
Balalaika – 50/1 - 66/1 – she may be nowhere good enough here but Hayley Turner has won this twice in the last four years and it could be significant that she’s been booked. The horse arrives in form and drops back slightly in trip from Hamilton’s stiff 9f, which looked to stretch her a tad. That was a Sunday Series handicap and they’re competitive affairs which should stand her in good stead here. She can take a pull and they were aggressive with her there. She’s the sort who may well appreciate being buried off a relentless gallop and these are the conditions that can transform horses like this, leaving behind previous form. She hits my trends, Rebecca Menzies is a very good dual-purpose trainer and I’ll trust in Hayley to sneak her into 5th or 6th, which would be a decent result. And you never know!
It’s likely I haven’t mentioned the winner of course but I hope you’ve enjoyed the read and my other previews. You can read similar musings by joining my FREE Newsletter at the link below…
5.35 King Edward VII Stakes (1m4f, Group 2, 3yo colts & geldings)
Presented by Gavin Priestley's "Festival Trends" service
Sandwiched in the middle of the Derby and Irish Derby, the 'Ascot Derby' is usually a poor shadow of either of those Group 1's, and the Epsom winner hasn't shown up here in a very long time. We have therefore to be content with the also rans from Epsom, a few that missed it for one reason or another, a number of lesser lights from the O'Brien stable and a few trainers tilting at windmills hoping to pick up some place money.
The trends say we need a run as a 2yo, 1-3 seasonal runs, 2-7 career starts and the most recent within the last 12-56 days in a class 1-3 race where they finished top 4 (unless it was the Derby). Interestingly, 12 of the last 16 winners had yet to win a Group race.
This year we have the Derby runner-up making an appearance which brings a bit of class to proceedings. The last time the Derby second turned up was in 2010 when At First Sight finished 4th here having chased home Workforce at 100/1 on his previous start. King Of Steel ran a remarkable race considering it was his seasonal debut and he only gave way in the last half furlong with the front two pulling four lengths clear of the remainder. He is a worthy favourite.
We also have the 7th, 9th and 10th lining up to give the race a Derby Consolation look about it.
It is worth noting that only six winners of the King Edward had their last run at Epsom since 1997 but four of those have come in the last six years and four of the six runners in this years field did contest the Derby. Those six winners in total had finished 3rd, 5th (twice) and 10th (three times). Bizarrely, simply backing the 10th home in the Derby when he shows up here would have given you results of 1-3-1-1-5 and a LSP of +12.25pts. That weird and completely accidental stat would point to the chances of Arrest who was sent off favourite at Epsom but seemed to lose his chance before the race had even been run having boiled over before the start.
The two that didn't run at Epsom are Relentless Voyager, who was third in the Italian Derby last time out, and Continuous, who had run third in the Dante but was only 8th in the French Derby. He'll be looking to bounce back from that run with the form of his York run giving him every chance. He's definitely the pick of the pair who side-stepped Epsom and can't be discounted given his illustrious connections (won the race last year with the Derby 5th).
With that emerging trend for trainers to target the race with an also ran from the Derby, usually with those that had failed to handle the course or had an excuse for a poor run at Epsom, I'm going to side with the beaten favourite from the Derby to continue that fine run of horses finishing down the Blue Riband field before running well here.
SELECTION: ARREST (WIN) at 3/1 general
6.10 Palace Of Holyroodhouse Stakes (5f, Class 2 handicap, 3yo)
Preview by David Massey
There’s been some burn-ups over the years at Royal Ascot but I can’t remember the last time I saw one as loaded with pace as this is.
Using Geegeez pace map it points to no fewer than a potential TWELVE front-runners if you look at the run styles from their last two runs, and that increases to 16 if you make it three runs. The potential for the pace to unravel in the last half-furlong is there for all to see and although I’ll be the first to say that hasn’t happened a lot this week as yet, we’re barely halfway as I write this and the ground is expected to continue to quicken up as the meeting goes on.
So the way I’m looking at this at the moment is one that is very much an ar*e-covering exercise. I’ll chance my arm with something that might get clear and not come back, along with a couple that are likely to come from off the pace and weave through late, always an exciting watch at Ascot.
Mick Appleby went quite close to winning this race with Fantasy Master back in 2021 and he’s got one of the fastest in the field in Michaela’s Boy, who now finds himself back in handicap company after good efforts in the 3yo Championships at Newcastle, where he again found 6f too far, and in the Listed Westow Stakes at York on his latest start where he had little chance on the figures but outran them to finish third. Freddie Larson has been unable to claim his 3lb on either of those starts but can do so here, so he takes off most of the 4lb he was raised for York. His early gate speed could take him clear of these and it’ll then be a matter of hanging on in the last 200yds.
The other three I think are worth a mention are all “first-timers” of one description or another.
In the case of Walbank, it’s a first start for Dominic Ffrench-Davis, with Amo Racing shuffling the pack as they do every now and then. Previously with David Loughnane, he went off favourite for the Norfolk last year and only found The Ridler too good. He lost little in defeat in the Molecomb but wasn’t seen after that until a below-par effort in the Westow, finishing well behind Michaela’s Boy. Ffrench-Davis doesn’t get too many first-time winners with other's castoffs though it’s interesting to note Maxi King won first time for him after leaving Loughnane earlier this year, so it can be done. The addition of blinkers might spark him back into life.
Sweet Harmony looks one of those that will be held up off the pace to come through late, having form over both 6f and 7f, and there is the chance they’ll simply go too quickly for her. Having said that, she had the speed to lead over 6f at Haydock and looked worth a try at 5f on that running, finishing fourth to Get Ahead - just touched off in Group 2 company at Chantilly on her next start - after weakening late. Had she been equipped with blinkers she’d have been even more interesting, as trainer Richard Spencer has a very good record when applying such headgear first time, but she’s still of some interest with the cheekpieces today.
A final swing will be Brave Nation, who looked a speedy 2yo last year, winning on debut and then finishing fourth in the Norfolk. Things unravelled rather quickly after that and in four starts since he’s only beaten two horses home. However, there was just a glimmer that all isn’t totally lost at Newmarket last time, as he travelled into the race nicely enough before finishing weakly again; hopes now rest on him being gelded since that effort. According to the H/S1 report, Michael Bell is 5-25 with first time gelded runners in the last two years (for a small profit to level stakes) and if it does turn him around you’ve a well-handicapped horse, being some 11lb lower than this time last year. There’s all sorts of risks attached, of course, but at 66-1 you don’t have to pay much to find out what, if any, ability remains.
And that, dear reader, is that. 28 races covered by seven writers, five of them guests, across four days; and a great couple of winners already in their midst. Thank you for making geegeez.co.uk a part of your Royal Ascot 2023 experience and, if you like what we do and are not yet a member of our multi-award winning* Gold racecards and form tools service, you can take it for a spin for as little as £1 at this link.
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