Royal Ascot Day 1 preview and tips

Royal Ascot 2023: Day One Preview, Tips

It's the best week in the British flat racing calendar, and Royal Ascot 2023 promises to showcase the very pinnacle of the sport with runners from around the world competing on the greatest stage. With no more than a few showers forecast conditions are expected to ride on the quick side of good through five days of thrilling action.

In a change from tradition, necessitated by a badly timed dose of Covid and a longer than expected return to full fitness, I've drafted in some help to cover this year's Royal meeting. Specifically, I've asked six pals in the game to each preview one race per day Tuesday to Friday; and I will preview the other one each day. That should make for an interesting mix of styles, and it's an opportunity for a few of the best tipsters around to illustrate their work.

As I always say when I write 20,000 words-plus in the big meeting weeks, it's the same amount of effort that goes into the research whether the picks win or lose, so please try to keep an eye on each contributor's 'process' - how they present their case - as well as their performance in this tiny four-races-each sample. If you like what you read, you can check out more of their work at the links provided; but, of course, this is the geegeez.co.uk Royal Ascot preview, so allow me to kick things off in the Queen Anne Stakes...

 

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2.30 Queen Anne Stakes (1m, Group 1, 4yo+)

Preview by Matt Bisogno

About half an hour after the Royal Procession, which - crucially for racing - will include His Majesty The King and Queen Consort Camilla, a dozen older blueblood thoroughbreds will travel the same final mile, albeit at a considerably more rapid rate, in the Queen Anne Stakes, the now traditional opening act at Royal Ascot.

The straight mile takes some seeing out for both horses and riders and is a pure test of 'getting the fractions right'. As can be seen from the image below, held up horses have the best record on quick ground in this field size over the no turn mile track.

 

 

Indeed, it is worth dwelling on the fact that horses racing either on the lead or prominently are a woeful 2 from 85 (2.35% strike rate), whereas those ridden more patiently have won 14 from 122 (11.5% strike rate). The place percentages and PRB (percentage of rivals beaten) figures corroborate the win numbers: taking one's time is generally the way this gets done.

Fans of the top of the market need not fear, as both Modern Games and Inspiral usually rate in the middle to latter part of the field before making their big moves. Inspiral will be the first of 30-odd Frankie 'bogeys' for bookmakers and if she collects, expect further cuts to the odds of Signor Dettori's mounts later on the card. Her form case is strong, if hardly bombproof; to wit, she won the Fillies' Mile as a two-year-old on Newmarket's straight Rowley course, and she won the Coronation Stakes over the round mile here last year - both Group 1 contests. She also prevailed in last year's Prix Jacques le Marois.

But she was beaten in the Falmouth (straight mile, G1) when sent off 1-7, and was only 11/10 when missing the break in the QEII over course and distance last backend. In spite of winning five of her seven career starts, she's lost her most recent two. She has gone well fresh, which is a positive, but looking closer at the merit of her form, she beat the same filly, Prosperous Voyage, twice, before losing to her, and was four  lengths behind Modern Games in the QEII. Prosperous Voyage is a good filly but she wouldn't be 2/1 in this field, or 3/1.

Moreover, in France, she had a neck to spare over Light Infantry, who re-opposes as a 25/1 shot. Very few ride straight miles better than Jamie Spencer, which makes Light Infantry interesting at his price.

What of Modern Games? There was, for about half an hour, some chat about Charlie Appleby's team being out of form. It wasn't totally unmerited as his usual 25% and up strike rate dropped to a more everyman 12%. Then, of course, the blues started winning again and, at time of writing, he's showing at 38% in the past fortnight. More usefully, he's a 29% hitter over the past year. Modern Games won the Breeders' Cup Mile last autumn, a more different mile G1 you couldn't wish to find; but he also ran second in the QEII over this track/trip combo and won the G1 Lockinge down Newbury's straight eight.

It could be argued that the field that last day was less than stellar; given that a number of them also line up here, that argument is academic. Modern Games looks the more credible for match bet players against the filly, despite conceding three pounds sex allowance to that one.

Let's talk about ratings for a minute. Given that we are 2/1 each of two - Inspiral and Modern Games - you might expect that they'd have a clear ratings edge over the other ten. Well, they are top of the pile, the colt on 121, the filly on 120; but it's a yawning, erm, one pound back to the next pair, Mutasaabeq and Native Trail, both on 119, with Light Infantry 116, and Pogo and Berkshire Shadow on 115. That's quite a congested collective, just six pounds separating seven runners. Regardless of whether either of the two jollies win, the race is screaming for an each way play against them.

Mutasaabeq goes from the front, and although Circus Maximus was able to win in that manner under a masterful Ryan Moore ride in 2020, I'd be against such tactics normally. Mutasaabeq is likely to face contention from Pogo for the lead, and in any case has done his winning in small fields at Group 2 level. Native Trail often races prominently, and may also be a little closer to the heat earlier than ideal. His form is perfectly plausible, away from an abortive two-race ten furlong adventure. On his first spin this term, he ran flat behind the aforementioned Muta on what also his first start after a wind op.

Last year started with a win in the Craven, second in the 2000 Guineas and a win in the Irish 2000 before running a close third in the Eclipse; it ended, one run later, with a pasting at the hands of an imperious Baaeed in the Juddmonte International at York. Back at a mile and if ridden with restraint, he can reverse form with his last day conqueror, though he doesn't look any sort of bargain in the market.

Chindit is another who tends to race up with the pace, as he did when the middle man of seven in this race a year ago; he was whacked eight lengths by Baaeed there, but one must remember that Baaeed dished out plenty of spankings in 2022. It should also be noted that, during the closing stages of the Lockinge, in which Chindit finished second to Modern Games, he tried to bite that rival! Presumably that was a one off but it does rather bring into question his temperament...

Let's come back to Light Infantry. David Simcock's globetrotter has run some crackers in defeat: he was a staying on second over an inadequate seven furlongs in last year's G1 Prix Jean Prat, was a staying on neck second to Inspiral next time out in the G1 Jacques le Marois, and was a two length staying on sixth of 20 over seven and a half in the G1 Golden Eagle at Rosehill, Australia, after that. Sure, he's taken time to find his form this season but, on his third and most recent outing was a short neck second in the G1 Prix d'Ispahan over nine and a half furlongs. He actually led there but, if Spencer bides his time here, this fella is likely to finish well. And he's 20/1. He's my each way against the field, four places with 365 if you can get them.

 

3.05 Coventry Stakes (6f, Group 2, 2yo)

Presented by the "Cleeve Racing" service

Royal Ascot, Day 1... and for the Royal meeting, Cleeve Racing's head advisor, Mike C, will be previewing some of the major 2-year-old races, and providing a shortlist for Geegeez punters to consider.

Tuesday, is the Coventry Stakes... this is a race, in more modern times, where it has paid to look away from the favourite, with winners at 150/1, 11/1 and 8/1 going in in the space of the last three renewals. A wise man once said, "trying to make sense of 2 year-old form is similar to Michael Fish predicting the weather"... but was he right?

Well, looking at the market, the impressive River Tiber sits 2 wins from 2 runs and has posted speed figures above par at Navan and Naas respectively. Asadna burst onto the scene for the Boughey yard, and on the clock, is arguably the quickest horse in the race (when one considers weighting - they will all run off a level 9st 3lbs here).

Bobsleigh, at a much bigger price, catches the eye after chasing down the front-running Balon D’Or at Epsom just before the line. That hold up style, however, may prove his undoing as he will need to be passing some serious horses this time. Jockey Charles Bishop may be wise to ride him sightly more prominently on what is likely to be decent ground (assuming the rain largely stays away!). 11 of the last 12 Coventry winners won their prior start, an angle which removes five from the field, though none shorter than 40/1.

Givemethebeatboys has secured the Dettori magic for the race, and had the beating of Noche Magica (well regarded for the Norfolk on Thursday) when scoring at the Curragh on Irish Guineas weekend. Jessica Harrington’s horses come into the meeting with a 26% strike rate over the last 14 days, and she's 7 from 29 at Ascot in the past five years, so her runners are not to be ignored.

A 66/1 shot here, Politico won over 6f at Chester and James Doyle has been jocked up by Charlie Johnston. If able to improve for the firmer ground, this front-runner is well drawn in 4, and will certainly want to get out and see it all before him; if he gets rolling, and you can get extra places with your bookmaker (Sky 6 places, 365 5 places), he may take some catching if the race falls apart behind.

Politico and Bobsleigh are big prices, and at 66/1 & 20/1 would be the each-way plays at small stakes, and I'd certainly be looking for extra places or other concessions. River Tiber looks the right favourite and you would be brave to not think AP O’Brien and Ryan Moore will rule the meeting once more; at the odds, however, towards the top of the market, Givemethebeatboys, who goes through the sales ring Monday ahead of the meeting, looks worthy of an each way play. The Frankie factor may shorten the odds further in the morning, hence if you fancy that one, get on overnight.

 

3.40 King's Stand Stakes (5f, Group 1, 3yo+)

Presented by Gavin Priestley's "Festival Trends" service

Since 1997, we have had 11 winners from the 26 renewals of the King's Stand that were trained outside of the UK and Ireland (France, America, Hong Kong, Spain and Australia) making it the most 'international' race run at Royal Ascot in the last quarter of a century. Ireland's contribution in that time consists of dual winner Sole Power, who is the only Irish-trained horse to win the King's Stand since 1987, with 32 Irish-trained horses to have tried since 1997.

Australian runners top the table of international raiders with five wins this century, all five having contested the Group 1 Lightning Stakes at Flemington that February. Four of the five won that Group 1 with the other (Nature Strip) failing by a short-head in second. This year's winner, Coolangatta, is set to line up and she must therefore be respected having won that very important trial by ½ length from the subsequent Group 1 winner I Wish I Win.

We've had a 3yo, 4yo, 5yo, 6yo and a 7yo win in the last six years with a pretty even spread of those age groups throughout this century but no horse over seven has won the King's Stand in the history of the race as a Group 1 (1973). Based purely on the win % strike rate of each age group the 6yo and 7yo's just shade their younger counterparts.

Charles Hills has probably been the best trainer record in the race with his last nine runners finishing 272722145. These runs have come from just three horses including his runner again this year, Equilateral, who has finished 2-7-5 in the 2019/2020/2022 renewals. He'll be bidding to become the oldest ever winner of the race but it's difficult to see him winning as an 8yo when he was unable to win in his younger days as a 4,5 or 7yo.

Six of the seven winners between 2003 and 2009 were overseas winners that didn't have an official BHA rating but the odd one out through those seven years, and all of the last 13 winners, have been rated 111+. That means a lot of the runners in this year's field don't quite 'cut the mustard' compared to a typical King's Stand winner. This includes the well fancied filly Dramatised (currently rated 108).

But, five of the seven winners between 2010 and 2016 had their previous run in the Group 2 Temple Stakes at Haydock and, although the race hasn't provided the winner since then, there have been seven horses to come out of that race to finish top five here including at odds of 50/1 and 66/1. Dramatised beat Equilateral in this year's Temple Stakes by a length with Existent 4th and Mitbaahy, Happy Romance, Annaf and Twilight Calls further behind in 5th, 6th, 8th and 9th respectively. All five winners and the nine further placed horses that last ran in the Temple Stakes had all finished in the first seven. Annaf and Twilight Calls therefore have it to do to reverse form here.

Fillies or mares have only won the race four times this century but those winners came from a much smaller number of runners than their male counterparts which actually gives them a better overall % strike rate. You would be foolhardy to dismiss any female runner in this race based purely on their sex especially as we find three exceptional female sprinters at the head of the betting market: two 3yo fillies from opposite sides of the globe, Coolangatta and Dramatised, and the multiple Group 1-winning 6yo mare Highfield Princess.

On both the trends and current form it would seem that the race winner is likely to come from this trio with my preference being to side with HIGHFIELD PRINCESS. She racked up a Group 1 hat-trick last Summer before rounding off her year with a 4th in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint. She's a versatile mare who has won Group 1's on ground ranging from Soft to Good to Firm and has won from 5f to 7f. She made a very encouraging seasonal debut when, despite her sex allowance, she still had to give weight to the entire field yet just failed by only ½ length to hold on in the closing stages of the Group 2 Duke of York Clipper Stakes at York.

This is going to be fast and furious with some international 'speedballs' who like to race from the front sure to make it a real five furlong dash, and that might just help the selection who likes to race prominently herself and who will be quite content to get a tow into the race before unleashing her stamina-packed finish.

For those looking for a bigger price to get stuck into, I'm also having a small each way bet on BRADSELL who returns to the scene of his greatest victory to date, last year's Coventry. Things haven't really gone to plan since with defeat in last season's Phoenix Stakes and two 3rd place finishes so far this year but he's had excuses and this drop back to 5f looks a great move from his trainer. He hasn't quite got home in either of his starts in 2023 but both times he came through to lead at around the furlong pole and this fast run 5f race could be just what he needs to see him return to something like his best.

SELECTIONS: 5/2 HIGHFIELD PRINCESS WIN / 33/1 BRADSELL EW (As many EW places as you can get)

Click here for news of Gavin's 'Horses to Follow from Royal Ascot'

 

4.20 St James's Palace Stakes (1m, Group 1, 3yo)

Presented by John Burke's "Victor Value" service

The St James's Palace Stakes has a rich history and has seen some of the best three-year-old milers in the sport compete for the winner's first prize. It often attracts top-class horses who have previously contested one of the mile colts' Classics earlier in the season. It offers a chance for the leading three-year-old milers to establish themselves as the best in their age group. Nine have been declared for this year’s renewal and it promises to be the race of day one of Royal Ascot.

All the Guineas form lines come together in this year’s race: we have Newmarket’s 2,000 Guineas winner Chaldean and the third home Royal Scotsman; the Irish 2,000 Guineas form is represented by winner Paddington, and we also have the French 2,000 Guineas runner-up, Isaac Shelby. Add in a couple of progressive up in class contenders in Cicero's Gift and Mostabshir and we have the makings of a cracker of a contest.

It was good, good to firm in places on the round course on Monday morning and so far most of the thunderstorms/heavy rain missed Ascot with light rain forecast for Tuesday. If the ground has eased that will be a big boost to the chances of ante post favourite Chaldean. The son of Frankel is likely to be ridden prominently. However, there looks to be plenty of pace on and horses ridden more patiently to tend to be the ones to be with over this round mile.

Second in on my ratings is Paddington. The son of Siyouni has won all three starts this season and created a good impression when winning the Irish 2,000 Guineas. Tactically versatile, he’s open to more improvement than Chaldean and is bidding to give Aidan O’Brien a ninth success in the race.

Royal Scotsman ran terribly in the Irish 2,000 Guineas last time. That performance was too bad to be true and whist I think the round track will suit the colt better he does have questions to answer after his run at the Curragh.

Isaac Shelby was runner-up in the French 2,000 Guineas and should be suited by the anticipated strong pace. He's another who is ground versatile, having won on good to firm as a juvenile and nearly won a Classic on very soft last time, and I think there could be more to come from this colt who has solid each way claims.

Cicero's Gift has been well supported in the ante-post market. A winner of his sole juvenile start, he has won both his races this year and produced a Group 1 level turn of foot to win at Goodwood last month. He's yet to race on quick ground but there’s no reason on pedigree why he can’t be effective on it.

Mostabshir is another who has been well backed in the ante-post betting. He's back up in class after winning a novice stakes last time, but there was plenty to like about that quick ground success at York.

I find it difficult to make a case for the other three runners Galeron, Charyn and Indestructible. Of the three, Galeron was just 3¼ lengths behind Paddington in the Irish 2,000 Guineas and should be suited by the likely pace of the race.

Verdict: Of the front two in the betting - Chaldean and Paddington - I’m firmly in the latter’s camp. The price has gone on Cicero's Gift but he remains an exciting prospect. The same can be said of Mostabshir but there’s a bit of juice left in his price, and he could drift on the day. The market seems to be underestimating Isaac Shelby’s French Guineas form, but I think it would be unwise to do so, and I think he can go close. Paddington is the most likely winner but at 10/1 Isaac Shelby looks the value each way play.

Isaac Shelby – 10/1 @ Paddy Power & Betfair Sportsbook (paying 3 places)

 

 

Royal Ascot 2023: Victor Value

 

5.00 Ascot Stakes (2m4f, Class 2, 4yo+ Handicap)

Presented by Josh Wright from "Racing To Profit"

The trainers...

As always a thorough stamina test awaits this year's runners and riders, with the trip just shy of 2m4f. It's an unsettled forecast which is never overly helpful and the course could receive up to 6mm of rain on race day, on watered ground. It has been very dry, however, and whether this changes the ground too much it awaits to be seen, but even on decent ground there is rarely a hiding place in this contest. I'll assume it will be no worse than 'good'.

Unsurprisingly given the distance, dual purpose trainers, many with a focus on the jumping game, have done very well in recent years. Willie Mullins leads the way, winning this on four occasions in the last eleven renewals, from nineteen runners. Ryan Moore has ridden three of those winners and that combination, with last year's second Bring On The Night, heads the market with the odds compilers taking few chances.

Ian Williams knows how to win this race also, having bagged it twice in recent years. He's throwing four darts at this year's contest: Zinc White, Law of The Sea, The Grand Visir and East Asia. Alan King (Tritonic) and Nicky Henderson (Ahorsewithnoname) are the two other trainers with runners in this year's renewal to have won the Ascot Stakes previously. Their runners deserve an even closer look.

Keeping an eye on those trainers who've previously been successful in a race is a worthwhile 'way in', as you'd like to think they've targeted the race again and know the type of horse required to get the job done. In these big Festival handicaps I do also like using my own trends to help narrow down the field. The danger with trends and 'shortlists' is that you can be blinded to other runners, but again, as a 'way in' or 'starting point', I find them useful.

 

The trends...

My 'trends profile' for this race, looking at the last 15 renewals...

15/287 total runners, 61 placed horses (including winners) 

15/15 had 11+ career runs (10< : 0/70,13 places)

14/15 had won at Class 3 level or above (had not: 1/84, 13p)

14/15 had won over at least 2 miles in career (had not: 1/78, 12p)

14/15 had never run in race (had: 1/39, 2p)

14/15 had 2+ handicap wins in career (0-1: 1/118, 20p)

 

Applying those trends would have found 12 of the previous 15 winners, 12/91 runners, 29 placed horses (including winners), +151 points to Betfair Exchange Starting Price, if backing them all. The horses to hit the profile this year are:

Ahorsewithnoname, Callingthewind, Zoffee, Solent Getaway, Tritonic, Urban Artist, Prince Imperial, East Asia 

Every winner in the previous 15 renewals has also run in at least four handicaps. Plenty with fewer than four have placed, but as yet none have got their heads in front. From that list above, Ahorsewithnoname and Urban Artist need to overcome their handicapping inexperience.

For those of you who enjoy finding your own winners, those initial eight 'qualifiers' could be a worthwhile starting point, along with the trainers list above also.

*

So, where does that leave me... after much cogitating...

Calling The Wind - I want to have the Richard Hughes runner onside here at double figures, with as many places as I can get my hands on.

 

Any users of Geegeez Gold and the 'Instant Expert' tab will see why he appeals as an EW proposition in this race - see above.

Provided he drops his head we should get a run for our money and he's one of the few horses in here proven over the trip on the flat (and over further), which should count for plenty as they enter the final 1/2 mile. He also won't mind what the weather does. The horse hits my trends profile and has yet to be out of the places at Ascot, with a course record of 1/5, 5 places. Two of those places were in the last two runnings of the Queen Alexandra Stakes, which is over a couple of furlongs further and that distance may just stretch him here.

This trip looks his optimum, especially if he can get a more prominent position and just lob along. If he settles (he was a bit fresh when last seen), he should just keep galloping at the end, when many have had enough. He's just a very likeable stayer and this mark of 99 looks workable. With Billy Loughnane's useful 3lb claim, he's just 2lb higher than when winning a decent handicap at Goodwood over 21.5f. In fact this is just his second ever flat handicap over 20f or further, and there could still be some upside potential in such conditions. I'd like to think this has been the plan and Richard has his string in fine form... 5/22,8p in the previous 14 days, 59% rivals beaten. Everything looks set for a monster run here and he should be able to get out and slot in handy. Hopefully he can give the favourite something to think about entering the final couple of furlongs...

Of course, the rest of the field may be chasing home Bring On The Night. I don't think anyone is going to be shocked if he puts up a bold show and maybe he will just win. He hasn't been seen since finishing second in this race last year, but we all know Willie can ready one off a long break. Hopefully he may be plenty fresh enough but, if he repeats last year's effort, he sets a rather good standard, given he bumped into Coltrane that day; that one has since won at G3 and G2 level, and is now 19lbs higher than when taking this. I'm not sure there's a future Coltrane in this line up, and Bring On The Night is open to plenty of improvement also and a worthy favourite, but not a price I like diving into in these sorts of races.

Calling The Wind: 1 point each-way 10/1-12/1

Click here to join Josh's RTP newsletter

 

5.35 Wolferton Stakes (1m2f, Listed, 4yo+)

Preview by our own David Massey

The Wolferton looks a wide-open affair this year with bookmakers currently going 7-2 the field (4s if you’ve a Bet365 account, you lucky people). 

Saga heads them up for the King and Queen, and the Gosden/Dettori combination, so I don’t need to tell you he’s bound to be well backed on the day; if Frankie’s already got a winner or two on the card, he'll be shorter still, with bookmaker liabilities on the multis running up. Nearer the time you’ll need to consider whether Saga has simply been overbet if that scenario unfolds, in which case there will be value elsewhere. 

However, right here right now, we’ve no idea what’s going to happen and so I’m trying to find what value there is today. Saga has only won one of his ten starts to date - in itself, not a problem, as recent winning form is no barrier to winning this - and his Ascot record in full reads 1628, his second coming in the Britannia here last year when he would have won with a better start. He still has to fully prove that a mile and a quarter is his trip though, and almost on that alone I’d want to try and take him on. 

The first one that caught my eye for this was Sir Michael Stoute’s Solid Stone, purely as I was at Sandown on Brigadier Gerard night and to my eyes he looked badly in need of his seasonal outing. He was meant to make the pace for Desert Crown that night but in truth he didn’t set much of one, the fractions to halfway not quick, and once he was headed I expected him to drop right away, given his level of fitness.

However, to my surprise, he rallied well in the closing stages to get back past Cash for third, a most promising seasonal debut. Last year he only needed the one run to put him straight before winning at Windsor on his second outing, and he then went on to finish third to Juan Elcano in this very race. He’s fully effective on the ground and at the trip, and clearly handles Ascot, so there are plenty of plus points. I’d expect Richard Kingscote to ride him forward from stall 11 - even though there are plenty of pace-pressers, front-runners are somewhat thinner on the ground - and race front rank throughout. 

At an even bigger price I’ll be risking a few shekels each-way on Checkandchallenge with Skybet’s 5 places each-way. He’s yet to even try ten furlongs but the pedigree - he’s a half brother to White Shaheen, who was a winner at 12f, amongst others - gives hope and so do the visuals, often getting a little outpaced in his races before staying on at one pace again. He’s been very highly tried in Group 1 and Group 2 company on his last four starts, taking on the likes of Modern Games and Bayside Boy, beaten only 2½l in the QEII last year  and he’ll be one that’s ridden cold out back with Atzeni looking for the gaps late. I’m expecting prices north of 25-1 tomorrow and at that point, he’ll be getting a few of my hard-earned quids. 

 

6.10 Copper Horse Stakes (1m6f, Class 2 Handicap, 4yo+)

Presented by Sam Darby's "Winning Post Profits" service

Before going through the field in a race like this I prefer to review potential draw and pace biases so that I can upgrade/downgrade each runner as I look at them, based on how advantaged/disadvantaged they are likely to be.

You don’t get too many big field races over this marathon distance at Ascot unfortunately and this race itself has only had three previous renewals so I’m not going to get overly attached to any pace or draw data due to the small sample size.

From the data we do have, prominent racers enjoy a fair sized advantage with mid-division next best. Extreme rides (either on the pace or held up) seem disadvantaged. There only seems to be one habitual front runner in this field, although a few others have made the running on just one of their most recent starts. I think this race will be run at no more than an even gallop which won’t suit those held up or the ‘grinders’, it will suit those near the pace and those with a relative turn of foot at these distances.

As for the draw, again due to the limited sample size I’m taking these figures with a slight pinch of salt but the higher draws have struggled on what limited evidence there is.

Rolling three stall average percentage of rivals beaten at the Copper Horse Handicap distance

Rolling three stall average percentage of rivals beaten at the Copper Horse Handicap distance



I’m using some fairly broad parameters to increase the sample size but judging by this PRB3 data I’d rather be on a horse drawn in single figures than double figures.

There will be plenty of interest in this race due to the inclusion of Vauban in the field. Willie Mullins’ 2022 Triumph Hurdle winner is a fascinating contender and you’d have to assume he’s well in here off a flat rating of 101 given his hurdle rating is 160.

Mullins also has the second favourite in this race for good measure in the form of Absurde. How much he has in hand from a mark of 101 completely depends on how much he’s improved for the switch to Mullins from his previous trainer in France and it’s just speculation really.

I can never really be a backer of these Mullins horses in Royal Ascot handicaps. So many of them run well but they are nearly always very short, most of them are unproven on fast ground when they come here and it’s pure guesswork as to how well handicapped they are .

My general approach is just to hope they get beaten, be it on merit or by luck, and look for some each way value against them. Vauban may well win but I think you’ll find better 7/4 shots at Thirsk or Ripon this week (amongst other places).

The Joseph O’Brien-trained Point King is probably the most likely front runner and, although he has a ‘bad’ draw in 16, by going forward he could easily negate that. He’s fairly unexposed but has been showing his hand to the handicapper by running well in Listed races around this distance so I wouldn’t be in a rush to back him.

The conjecture continues with Charlie Appleby’s Ruling Dynasty, who makes his handicap debut after winning a 12f novice contest on his only run this season. He’s by far the least exposed in the field having had just three runs but his form last season at least is nothing special. On his second career start he beat a now 69-rated rival off level weights by less than 2 lengths. He was impressive last time out at Haydock, stepped up in trip, but it’s almost impossible to determine the strength of that form. Out of principle I’m against anything making a handicap debut off 97 in a race like this, especially a horse by Night Of Thunder, a sire who has had limited success beyond 12f.

I would have been quite interested in a small each way bet on Raymond Tusk given he’s generally available at 66/1 and has run several good races here before. He’s drawn really wide and I can’t understand how the handicapper has put him up 2lbs for finishing a well beaten 3rd last time out so I’m swerving him.

If Ascot really caught the thunder showers I’d be keen on Postileo but I’m not sure he’s as well handicapped on faster ground as he is in softer conditions. Meanwhile Cemhaan is a horse I’ve followed for some time and conditions are ideal for him but he’s surely badly handicapped now having gone up 9lbs for winning easily last time when getting a very soft lead on a day when Kempton was really favouring front runners.

On the assumption of fast ground there are two horses I’d consider as possible bets…

The best piece of flat form from any of these runners has to be finishing 2nd (beaten a neck) in the 2020 St Leger and we have the opportunity to back that runner, Berkshire Rocco, off a mark of 99 here. Not only that, he’s finished 2nd in a Group 3 over this course and distance and won a Listed race over it.

Having missed most of last season through injury, he hasn’t quite returned the same horse that was rated 116 at his peak but he has generally been running well at his new level. That was at least the case over the winter but on the face of it he’s run below par on both runs since a 58 day break. He was definitely below par on All Weather Finals Day at Newcastle, however his last run, when 10th beaten 7 lengths in a handicap at Newmarket, is better than it first looks. The 2nd, 4th, 6th, 8th and 11th have all come out and won since and Andrew Balding is adamant he wants better ground, so that run can probably be upgraded a fair bit given it took place on soft turf.

He’s drawn a little wider than seems ideal (11) but he should be well placed if he races prominently, as he often does. Decent ground should suit him perfectly and it’s been almost two years since he ran on good or better ground so we could see an immediate improvement from him based on underfoot conditions.

I’ve also got some interest in another runner who missed most of last season and that’s Aaddeey. He’s been a particularly frustrating horse for me to follow as I was convinced he was very well handicapped off marks around 100 in 2021 due to several good runs in warm races but I was also convinced he wanted good ground. He’s won twice since then on soft ground!

I do think he might be even better on top of the ground though and, after losing his form in his final two runs last season for Simon & Ed Crisford, he’s back this season for Archie Watson. That stable switch, and a wind op, seemed to get him back to form last time out as he won pretty cosily at Ripon. He had the run of the race that day and it wasn’t a particularly strong event but he’s at least proved his well being again, even if it’s cost him a 4lb rise.

He’s only gone this far once before and didn’t seem to quite get home but that was in soft ground and a few other things didn’t go his way that day so whilst the jury is still out on his stamina, it’s certainly not as though he definitely doesn’t stay. He used to be held up for previous connections but I’d be quite happy to see him track the pace this time from his lowish draw. If he does that it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s one of the runners going best turning for home.

This race looks a lot tougher than previous renewals due to several unknowns but I do think there is a little bit of value in backing both Aaddeey and Berkshire Rocco each way given they are both generally available at 16/1 (bigger in places) at the time of writing. I couldn’t be massively confident though so I could only advise very small stakes on this one.

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And so endeth a bumper yomp through the form of day one of Royal Ascot 2023. For the first time this week, my thanks go to the team of smart judges who have each taken a turn at the wheel across the seven races. They'll all be back for Day Two, as will I. Let's get this party started!

Matt

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