Royal Ascot Day 1 preview and tips

Royal Ascot 2024: Day One Preview, Tips

Where does the time go? Barely a week ago, or so it seems, we were cheering home the winner of the Cheltenham varietal of the Gold Cup and now, actually three months later, the Ascot iteration is upon us. No fences, and no racecourse prefix - it is, simply, the Gold Cup - but that's not until Day 3/Thursday, the cornerstone of five sumptuous afternoons of equine action fit for a King.

There are fewer overseas challengers this season, more's the pity, and some of the races look a little weaker than standard, truth be told; but those are the negatives done with. On the plus side, it's an uber competitive week of racing with a far broader array of trainers and jockeys likely to hit the limelight than was the case in mid-March for that other showcase event. And, in the Coronation Stakes, we have what looks one of the best renewals for many a year if they all, or nearly all, stand their ground. That, again, is for another day.

To Tuesday, Day One, and an overture that comprises a trio of Group 1 contests as well as the Group 2 Coventry Stakes: music to the ears, indeed.

After the success of last year's previews, where a nasty dose of the Covid lurgy necessitated a request for some assistance, I've again called in some crack writers to share the coverage of this year's Royal meeting. Specifically, I've asked six top scribes to share their thoughts on one race each per day Tuesday to Friday, leaving the seventh for me. That made for a lovely blend of styles last year, as well as some cracking winners (headlined by Gavin Priestley's excellent 33/1 shout - freely available for some time after publication - on Bradsell), and it's also an opportunity for a few of the best tipsters around to 'show and tell' their modus operandi.

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As I always say when I write these mega-posts 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 your editor to kick things off in the Queen Anne Stakes...

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

Preview by Matt Bisogno

A straight track mile Group 1 for older horses and one that has thrown its share of shocks amidst the shorties in recent years. To wit, in the last six renewals, we've had winners at 1/6 and 2/7, as well as two 33/1 bombs, most recently Triple Time last year. There was also 14/1 Lord Glitters in that list so, in the absence of anything remotely odds-on-looking, maybe we should aim for a bold start to proceedings...

Fourteen are declared, though not Inspiral, one time ante post favourite for the race. Her red, white and blue Cheveley Park Stud silks will instead by worn by Rab Havlin on Audience. The five-year-old gelded son of Iffraaj was last seen making all in the Group 1 Lockinge Stakes at Newbury on his first attempt at a mile. Since 2011, Canford Cliffs, Frankel, Ribchester, Palace Pier and Baaeed have all completed the Lockinge-Queen Anne double but none started bigger than 11/8 for the second leg.

Audience is quite lightly raced for a five year old - just 13 starts to date - and his best form is on decent ground which, after a lot of heavy shower chat, looks like being the prevailing terrain for Tuesday. He's a front runner typically, which was how Circus Maximus got it done in 2020 under a masterful Ryan Moore ride; but, as far as I can tell, that's the only front-running winner since at least 2008. It's just very tough to lead all the way on the straight mile in a double-figure field.

One horse who managed to do that was Big Rock, a six-length winner of the QEII Stakes in a field of eleven on British Champions Day last October. The ground there was soft and he was trained by Christopher Head, who had a strike rate of 27% in France in 2023. The ground here is good and the trainer is now Maurizio Guarnieri, who has a strike rate of 7.5% in 2024 (9/119) in France. Big Rock's owner, Yeguada Centurion, under chief decision-maker Leopoldo Fernández Pujals, removed all of their horses from Head late last year, a migration that also includes Blue Rose Cen, entered later in the week.

Neither Big Rock nor Blue Rose Cen has yet come close to matching their form under Head for new handler Guarnieri, and that is a big concern. Big Rock was sixth, 15 lengths behind Audience in the Lockinge, having been sent off an 11/4 shot. It's a leap of faith to think he can reverse placings even allowing for the fact that he fluffed the start somewhat. In any case, a cleaner break would likely have resulted in him contesting the lead with Audience, an act in favour of neither of them in terms of their win prospects.

Facteur Cheval was the closest horse to Big Rock in the QEII, and his sole start since was a short head verdict in the Group 1 Dubai Turf (1m1f, good) at Meydan in March. He held several positions during the race before just getting the best of a duel in the final furlong. As mentioned, his sire Ribchester won this race, and as well as silver here last autumn, he was an unlucky second in the G1 Sussex Stakes last summer. He is a top notcher who handles most underfoot conditions, stays a straight mile well, is tractable in terms of run style, and may have improved from four to five.

Roger Varian saddles the progressive Charyn. Third in last season's St James's Palace Stakes on the round mile at the Royal meeting, he'd started to look exposed by late summer; but this season began with back-to-back scores at Doncaster and Sandown before a runner up slot behind Audience in the Lockinge. Although the form figures look good, however, there has been no breakout in his ratings: he looks a rock solid 115 (or so) horse. Maybe that will be good enough to win this year but there is also a slight niggle about his ability to handle good to firm, should it be that quick on the opening day. He's yet to race on it and, by Dark Angel, might just be better suited to a little ease.

Maljoom was a big sectional eye-catcher in the 2022 St James's Palace Stakes, as I flagged at the time. Alas, he was then not sighted for 15 months before running down the field in the G2 Joel Stakes (1m, good to firm) at Newmarket last September. On his only subsequent run, in the Queen Anne trial race at Ascot seven weeks ago, he was too keen and taken to the front before running out of gas towards the finish. A bigger field with some pace to aim at ought to see him settle better, though that '22 SJP was not a vintage renewal (though nor especially is the '24 QA).

Hayley Turner is almost as adept at riding this straight track as Jamie Spencer, and she executed the waiting tactics to perfection when bringing Docklands with the proverbial withering run to snaffle the Britannia Handicap a year ago. They almost repeated the feat in the valuable Balmoral Handicap last autumn but didn't get the clearest transit and had to settled for third of 20; that off a 10lb higher mark. This season, Docklands has run second in a pair of Listed contests, form which doesn't obviously translate to a podium finish in a Group 1. But we know the track and trip will suit, he's ground agnostic and will be given every chance; he just might not be good enough.

It's really tricky to know what to make of Dolayli. Francis-Henri Graffard's five-year-old has been running mainly on all-weather and over further in recent times and has yet to race on a quicker turf surface than good to soft. In spite of those imponderables, his form is decent: six wins from ten lifetime starts and a length fourth in the G1 Prix Ganay last time (1m1 1/2f, soft). I'd expect Mickael Barzalona to be patient with him and, if you don't believe Big Rock's official rating (I don't), then he's very little to find with the best of the rest. But this will be quite a different examination from those he's sat hitherto.

Poker Face looks relatively exposed but did get to within a length and a quarter of Charyn in a Sandown Group 2 this season, giving the winner three pounds; on that basis alone, a price disparity of 20/1 vs 3/1 might be wrong, though it's more an argument against Charyn's price than for Poker Face's in my book. PF was another far back in the Lockinge though he did win a mile Group 2 at Longchamp last September.

We're into the long grass now, where Brave Emperor was progressing nicely, from a German G3 to an Italian G2 to a valuable Qatari stakes race. The Hong Kong Champions Mile came next, and he was well beaten - eminently forgivable - before a slightly more difficult to excuse tail end finish in the Ganay. He wasn't beaten far there and may not get nine furlongs. Archie Watson is to be noted at the Royal meeting, with five winners to his name already, including three last year; but it's not easy to see this one getting his week off to a flyer.

Third in last year's 2000 Guineas, Royal Scotsman failed to back that effort up in three subsequent Group 1 races in 2023. Dropped to Group 3 level last time, he made all in the Diomed Stakes at Epsom. His run style is normally held up, however, and I expect Jamie Spencer will revert to type - for horse and rider - here. With plenty of Group placed form as a juvenile as well, he's not completely out of the question.

Like Docklands, Witch Hunter was a handicap winner at Royal Ascot 2023, in his case over seven furlongs in the Buckingham Palace Stakes. That man Spencer did the steering on the 50/1 shot then but he's deserted the Richard Hannon-trained five-year-old in favour of Royal Scotsman.

Karl Burke sends Flight Plan, winner of a Leopardstown Group 2 (1m, good) on Irish Champions Weekend. This chap was thumped on seasonal debut in the Lockinge before a slightly more hopeful performance when 3rd in a G3 over an inadequate seven furlongs. Upped to a mile here, he should do better; but he will have to do a good bit better.

And what of Cairo? He was 2nd in the Irish 2000 Guineas last spring when trained by Aidan O'Brien; but his best efforts since were a neck defeat to Brave Emperor in Doha and, since changing to the Alice Haynes yard, 2nd in a Listed race over a mile and a furlong at Leopardstown last time. He was unlucky in running there, without suggesting it would have changed the result, and he could conceivably travel well through the first half of the race. He has a good bit to find on the figures though.

And rounding out the field is Hi Royal. My first instinct was to strike a line through this fella's chance, but then a couple of things caught my eye. Firstly, he's a four-year-old and remains a colt where plenty in this field have been de-tackled. Second, and more interesting, is the record of his trainer Kevin Ryan with older horses at Royal Ascot. Since 2013, he's sent out 21 four- or five-year-olds that went off 33/1 or shorter. Six of them won and another four were placed. Of course, one of that sextet was 33/1 Queen Anne winner Triple Time twelve months ago.

 

 

As I write, Hi Royal is 66/1 so wouldn't fit the 'system' criteria, but he has a run two back that gives him a bit of a form squeak in any case. That was in the G3 Earl of Sefton over nine furlongs at Newmarket, where he was just run down late on. The drop back to a mile in the Lockinge last time saw him get closer than a number of better fancied rivals here having been agitated in the stalls and possibly losing his race there. He's ridden here, as he was at Newbury, by a certain Ryan Moore and I'm inclined to think he's worthy of a tiny speculative wager.

Queen Anne Summary

The opening race of Royal Ascot 2024, the Queen Anne Stakes, is a real headscratcher. The best form line by a way is Big Rock's G1 course and distance score last October; but the horse has run only once since - very moderately - and that on his debut for a new stable that generally fires at a much lower level, in terms of both quality and strike rate, than his previous conditioners. Taking Big Rock out of the equation, Audience recorded a breakout effort last time in the G1 Lockinge on his first try at a mile. It's possible he could continue to progress at the new trip but his run style - going from the front - is similar to Big Rock's and also Brave Emperor's on a track and at a trip that rarely favours contested early speed.

 

 

The solid one is Facteur Cheval, who comes here off the back of a Group 1 win, albeit over nine furlongs and in Dubai; but he can back that up with placed efforts in four straight European G1's beforehand. Therein lies his problem: he does tend to find one too good and, at a price unforgiving of such a trait, he may again frustrate win players. Meanwhile, Charyn has hit a winning groove and some consistency in his performance ratings: they're unsexy but might be good enough. I just don't like his price.

Bits and pieces of place cases can be made for almost all of the rest and it might be a race to bet a couple of rags at massive prices. Better that than have a good win bet on a fancied horse that finishes second in my book. As I say, you can almost pays your money and takes your chance, so it is in that "I'm sorry, I haven't a clue" context that I offer most tentatively 20/1 Royal Scotsman who comes here off a win and was 3rd in the 2022 Coventry; and 66/1 Hi Royal whose price demands a nicker each way - four places at least!

It will at least get ever so slightly easier on occasion after this...

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

Presented by John Burke's "Victor Value" service

First run in 1890 and named after the 9th Earl of Coventry, the Coventry Stakes is arguably the premier juvenile race at Royal Ascot. Winners of this race often go on to compete in higher-profile events later in their careers. Notable recent winners include Caravaggio (2016), Buratino (2015), War Command (2013), Dawn Approach (2012) and Canford Cliffs (2009).

Key Trends (Last 5 Years):

Previous Runs: All five winners and 14 of the 15 placed horses had run once or twice before the Coventry.

Trainer: Archie Watson has had 1 winner from 5 runners with 3 places, yielding an each-way return of +£8.80.

Draw Bias: Recent winners were drawn in stalls 3, 6, 17, 2, and 6, suggesting a slight preference for low to mid draws.

Top Contenders:

Camille Pissarro (Aidan O’Brien) - Impressive debut winner at Navan; narrowly beaten (a head) in the Group 3 Marble Hill last time. Strong credentials for top connections and likely to handle quicker ground well.

Cowardofthecounty (Joseph O’Brien) - Battled well to win on debut on soft to heavy ground at the Curragh. Needs to prove himself on a quicker surface but is open to plenty of improvement if he does.

Midnight Strike (Joseph O’Brien) - Stylish winner on debut; third in the Marble Hill (half a length behind Camille Pissarro) last time. Should be competitive if adapting to quicker ground conditions. Oisin Murphy is booked for the ride. Stablemate of Cowardofthecounty.

Andesite (Karl Burke) - Overcame greenness to win a York novice on debut last month, with the form holding up well. Ascot’s stiffer track could play to his strengths, and he’s the sole Karl Burke runner in the line-up.

Catalyse (Richard Fahey) - Easy debut winner at Hamilton 16 days ago. Steps up in class but looks open to significant improvement and is the pick of retained jockey James Doyle.

Electrolyte (Archie Watson) - Comfortable winner at Ayr on debut, handles good ground well. Solid contender despite retained jockey James Doyle opting for Catalyse. A good each-way contender for a trainer with an excellent race record.

Arran (Paul & Oliver Cole) - Front-running winner at Newmarket on debut in April; form boosted by subsequent winners. Has potential for further improvement and is another with each-way claims.

Coventry Stakes Verdict

The Coventry Stakes is always an exciting race, and this year is no exception. Among the favourites, I prefer Cowardofthecounty over Camille Pissarro. However, considering the current odds, I see the value in backing Andesite and Electrolyte.

Betting Advice: Initially, I considered Electrolyte for an each-way bet, but I've decided to keep Andesite onside as well.

Electrolyte: £3 each way at 28/1 (William Hill & bet365, paying 5 places)
Andesite: £11 win at 9/1

I wouldn't recommend taking lower odds than these. However, if Electrolyte places, a small profit is gained.

 

 

3.45 King Charles III Stakes (5f, Group 1, 3yo+)

Presented by Gavin Priestley's "Festival Trends" service

We have had 11 winners from the 27 renewals of the Kings Stand, now King Charles III Stakes, since 1997 that have been 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. This year Ascot has attracted a single overseas runner, Asfoora from Australia. Ireland's contribution in that time period consists only of dual winner Sole Power who is the one Irish-trained horse to win the Kings Charles III from the 33 runners to have tried; but I'm banking on that all changing this year with one of my best bets of the meeting.

VALIANT FORCE did me and my subscribers a big favour at this meeting last year when winning the Norfolk at an enormous price (150/1) and I think he can follow Bradsell's lead from this race 12 months ago and come back to win the Kings Charles III as a 3yo having won a 2yo race at the Royal meeting the previous year. He's been on my radar for this ever since that win last year and this 5f speedster has done little to change my mind in four starts since. He flopped on his run prior to the Norfolk last season when tried over 6f and found his stamina stretched again over that trip when trying the Group 1 Prix Morny on his first run after the Norfolk when only 5th to Vandeek.

We didn't see him again until the Breeders Cup when, back down to 5f from a wide draw, he flew home to get beat just 1/2 length by Big Evs, closing on the winner all the way to the line. He stayed in America after that run to join Jorge Delgado where he ran 2nd over 5f on turf and 4th over 6f on dirt earlier this year. He's recently re-joined Adrian Murray and makes his first start this side of the pond since the Morny run and first run for 94 days. There have been plenty of winners of this race coming off a break including the 3yo Dominica in 2002 who won on seasonal debut.

In one of the poorest renewals of the King Charles III for many a year (there's been at least one runner in the field rated 115+ since at least 2007), with just 3lb splitting the top eight runners on official ratings, he won't be lacking in class and has nothing to find with the favourite on that run at the Breeders' Cup last year, where he travelled noticeably further than the winner.

With the ground in his favour, the stable in form and a good draw (five of the last seven winners were drawn 10+) I think he has an excellent chance of repeating his course and distance win from last year.

SELECTION: VALIANT FORCE (EW) at 16/1 general / 12/1 6 places Skybet

 

4.25 St James’s Palace Stakes (1m, Group 1, 3yo)

Presented by Josh Wright from "Racing To Profit"

To race four we hurtle and hopefully by this stage my esteemed blogging colleagues have got us off to a flyer. This preview is rather unoriginal in that I cannot see past the favourite, Notable Speech, who at 11/8 still looks good value to my eyes, but as I type that price is vanishing.

Before talking about the race in more depth, allow me to share some content that may be useful more generally, whatever the result of this race.

In what follows, I've had a look at all Royal Ascot Group 1s, for 3YOs only.

Since 2010, those horses officially rated 121+ (Notable Speech 122, next in 118) are 6 winners from 12 runners, 8 have placed (including all winners), for a Betfair SP Actual vs Expected of 1.17. Remarkably, they’re still performing above market expectations.

If we go back to the start of 2008 and look at Royal Ascot / Group 1s / 3YO Only / Top Rated on Official Ratings…
54 bets / 20 wins / 31 places (incl. wins) / 37% sr / +22 SP / +32 BFSP / BFAE 1.37

Not bad. Looking at those sent off 10/1 or shorter SP improves those figures to 20/47, 31p, +39 BFSP, and at the last three meetings, 6/9,8p, +16 BFSP.

Within those criteria, if we just focus on those that finished in the first two on their last start…
32 bets / 16 wins / 22 places / 50% sr / +27 SP / +34 BFSP / BFAE 1.47

This is a decent little micro angle to keep onside at the Royal meeting moving forwards, with this race, the Commonwealth Cup and the Coronation Stakes the 3YO races in focus.

Moving back to the St James's Palace Stakes...

Notable Speech – of course he hits this micro angle, and indeed horses in this race who were sent off favourite having been last seen winning the 2000 Guineas, are 2/3, 3p. Charlie Appleby has saddled two SJP favourites: Pinatubo, who finished 2nd, and last year’s winner Coroebus, sent off 10/11 fav. Notable Speech may end up such a price.

At the previous five Royal Ascot meetings it has paid to keep Charlie Appleby and William Buick close, especially with horses aged three and who won their last start… 4/12,7p, +11 BFSP.

The yard enters this week in blistering form: in the last 14 days, 4/10, 6p, 79% of rivals beaten, against a 365 day average of 66%. It’s not a bad time for the string the come alive!

The horse… it was hard not to be impressed by Notable Speech at Newmarket on his turf debut. He’d previously had three races on the AW, easily winning a conditions stakes at Kempton on his penultimate start, a performance which had the clock watchers and sectional timing maestros purring. In the 2000 Guineas, he settled very well, looked straightforward, and had to get himself into the race on the far side, on the wing, moving up effortlessly and putting the race to bed in a matter of strides. I suspect were he following Rosallion through that race he’d have been even more impressive. It was visually stunning and of course he’s still open to stacks of improvement.

He knows how to race around a bend from his Kempton sorties and has tactical speed – that could be a big advantage here in a race which doesn’t look likely to be strongly run, on paper anyway! Buick may not want to be as far back as he was at Newmarket, but he appears the sort who can race wherever his jockey wishes to place him, given his change of gears and the ease with which he moves through a race. This will be the fastest ground Notable Speech has faced, which is an unknown, but of course he may relish it. That is the only chink I think those opposing him may cling to.

However I’m struggling to find a negative or a substantive reason from which to oppose him. He’s the best horse on all the figures and brings the best piece of recent form to the table, Rosallion subsequently winning the Irish 2000 Guineas, having got closest to Notable Speech at Newmarket. Richard Hannon’s charge is the best he’s trained apparently, but I can’t see why he overturns the form here, assuming Notable Speech runs his race, of course. He has his own questions if this is a slow pace, as he can take a firm grip and will need to settle. Maybe he will be chasing the favourite home again, and the forecast, or reverse forecast could be a way to play, if wishing to get involved for interest.

Aidan O’Brien always has the capacity to crash the party, his Henry Longfellow currently third in the market as I type. The fast ground is an unknown to him, and there's a chance he may have preferred rain. With his trainer expecting him to leave behind his poor effort in French 2000 Guineas on 12th May, maybe the Ballydoyle team will have transformed Henry as they did City of Troy! On pedigree he should improve plenty for this 1m trip, but he needs to. I would like to think he’ll be battling it out for 2nd place with Rosallion, but I suppose this game is rarely that straightforward! We shall see.

I’m firmly in the NOTABLE SPEECH camp, which may be very unoriginal but I’m minded not to be overly creative for the sake of it. I think the latter two mentioned need the favourite to underperform, and the others require all the top three to have an off day, or to themselves step forward considerably on the evidence to date. The favourite could make 11/8 look value, if you don’t mind a short price. In any case, do note some of the stats above, as they’re sure to help you land on a few winners moving forward, whether during the rest of this week, or next year!

 

'Ever fancied owning a share in a racehorse? Josh now has 11 horses in training and over 170 shareholders.

Keep informed by joining his Racing To Profit Syndicate email list for free, HERE>>>

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If you're betting placepots or jackpots (or quadpots or Scoop6) at Royal Ascot, you're much better off using Tix - it's free so check it out today!

 

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

Preview by our own David Massey 

It would be easy enough, given that Ahorsewithnoname won this for Nicky Henderson last year, to think that this is a race dominated by jumps trainers; but that’s not really the case given Andrew Balding, Alan King and Ian Williams, twice, were also winners of this in the past five years. Granted, King and Williams are dual-purpose, but you get the drift.

The Irish trainers dominate the market this year, with Mullins, Elliott, O’Leary (sister of the suspended Tony Martin) and Jarlath Fahey training the first four in the betting; and, whilst the unexposed My Lyka is going to garner the majority of interest on what is only his second start for Willie, of that front four, if you had to have your house on one to run his race, it would have to be Pied Piper.

Far better known as a top-quality hurdler, he’s still a useful tool on the Flat and ran a cracker to be second to The Shunter in the Cesarewitch last autumn, staying on all the way to the line. He was trying to give the winner 2lb there, and it was merely another excellent effort in a raft of competitive handicaps, Flat and hurdles, that he regularly contends.

It’s worth remembering his sixth place finish in this two years ago when he didn’t get the best of runs: whilst by no means an unlucky loser, he’d surely have gone closer with a clear passage. He was trying to give winner, future Group 1 horse Coltrane, 3lb taking into account Callum Hutchinson’s 5lb on the day, hardly a shoddy effort.

Those looking for something at a bigger price might consider the evergreen Tritonic and another of the Irish contingent, Nusret.

Tritonic was third in this last year and is 5lb lower this time around. Two runs this season have been no more than satisfactory, although the sprint for the line at Southwell last time after they crawled through the race would definitely not have suited him. The question is whether he still wants to do it at the age of seven, and it’s a fair question to ask; but he’s got his conditions today, and maybe the reapplication of cheekpieces might just buck his ideas up. He has a decent draw to work from and could keep drifting in the market, as he’s not a sexy selection at all, so don’t worry if you don’t get BOG from your bookie - back it at Betfair SP.

Nusret is a useful dual-purpose sort for Joseph O’Brien and ran respectably when fifth at the Punchestown Festival, sticking well to his task in a Listed Handicap Hurdle. It’s worth remembering how very easily he won the Race To The Ebor Handicap at the Curragh last June; despite having to wait, and wait again, for the gap to appear, once it did he quickened through it and won a very comfortable half a length, looking like there was a lot left in the tank. He ran to a similar level at Leopardstown next time, the slight drop back in trip counting against him, and whilst this extreme stamina test is something new to him, he’s worth a crack at it. A mark of 91 is very workable if he stays.

 

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

Preview by Rory Delargy

The complicating factor for me in the Wolferton is the presence of my punting bête noire, Checkandchallenge, in the field. The son of Fast Company was last behind Mqse de Sevigne in the Group 1 Prix d’Ispahan last time, but was beaten less than 3¾ lengths in a tactical race, and the sixth that day, Marhaba Ya Sanafi, won a Group 3 at the weekend. William Knight has never had his horses in better form, and I can feel the inexorable cliff-horse pull. Must. Resist. Temptation.

Phew, that was close.

The draw is always worth a look at Ascot, irrespective of trip, and while this is a relatively new race at the meeting, there have been enough runnings to make a judgment. Despite the layout of the track suggesting low numbers should have the best of it, that hasn’t been the case, and the only horse to win from one of the two lowest stalls in the race’s history was 13/8 favourite Rainbow Peak in 2010 (he was drawn 16 of 16 back in 2010 before the numbering method changed). High numbers, especially those held up, can also struggle, though three winners in the last decade have come from stall 12.

In terms of pace, no horse has made all since 2006 when the race was run as a handicap, but even hold up horses can find trouble on the run to the bend with three getting the in-running comment “badly hampered” last year. Ideally, you want a horse with the relative early speed to take a handy position behind the leaders and be able to make a move early in the straight.



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With the ability to cope with firmish ground (the ground will be quickening throughout the day) a prerequisite, it’s easy to make a shortlist and, being brutal about it, I’m down to two horses fairly quickly. Israr stands out in terms of recent form and race conditions, while he’s got the ideal run style to give him every chance. As such he’s a deserving favourite, and I’d not put anyone off his chances.

The other on my short list is Astro King who can be forgiven a rare below-par effort over 1½m at Newmarket last time. Twice placed at this meeting for Sir Michael Stoute, he’s an improved performer for current connections and ran a cracker to be second in the Group 3 Earl of Sefton Stakes on his return to the UK in April.

Both of Astro King’s wins for Daniel & Clare Kubler have come on good to firm ground and he is better at 1m1f/1¼m than a mile. His stall is the same one that Contributer, Addeybb and Royal Champion have scored from, and he should get a nice tow into the race from habitual front-runner Cemhaan, making him look a decent each-way bet at around 14/1.

Recommended: 1pt e/w Astro King @ 14/1 (general – 4 places)

 

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

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

This is still a relatively new race with only four previous renewals and, with this course and distance generally only seeing small field races during the rest of the year, draw and pace data remains relatively sparse. What data we do have (Geegeez Gold racecards, PACE tab) suggests that there is a slight advantage being drawn lower and you probably don’t want to be miles off the pace.

 

 

There doesn’t look to be much pace contention with A Piece Of Heaven probably the sole forward-going type. That factor, and the tendency for prominent racers to be advantaged, suggests anything that is held up in the rear here is going to need to be extremely well-handicapped, and lucky in the run, to win.

 

 

It’s difficult to make strong conclusions from the limited draw data but when sorting the dividual draw data table (Geegeez Gold racecards, DRAW tab) by PRB3 it seems telling that the top performing berths are the nine single-figure stalls and the seven worst performers are the double-figure stalls.

Stall 14 has previously won so it’s not as though we can just put a line through the higher draws, but we can probably slightly mark up those who have a lower stall.

On to the runners…

I’m always a little frustrated by these staying handicaps at Ascot as Willie Mullins tends to farm them with horses that are almost impossible to back. That said, I’m looking to bet him in one later in the week!

Generally they have little to no flat form in this country and often have something to prove on fast ground and over the trip they are running. This year’s favourite is slightly different, though. Belloccio is pretty exposed, having run fifteen times on the flat in the UK for David Menuisier. If you were building a profile for the horse from those runs you’d say he was a top handicapper around Kempton (Listed winner) but not a turf horse at all having beaten only ten rivals home in his last eight flat turf runs. If he was still with his old trainer he’d likely be an outsider for this.

So the big question is how magical is Willie Mullins at transforming horses? Belloccio won a maiden hurdle on his only start for his new trainer with a winning margin of nine lengths so suddenly things look more positive in regards to running on turf but I still have strong reservations. The runner up from that race was beaten three times as far next time out at the same level and the third was pulled up on his next start. Despite the impressive winning margin, a poor maiden hurdle score doesn’t necessarily prove he’s thrown in off a mark of 100 here.

He’s also seemingly been kept away from fast ground throughout his career which is another reason he’s opposable. Mullins had the one-two in this last year but if he ever had a runner at Royal Ascot that is opposable it's this horse. I’m not saying he can’t win, but I am saying he’s a terrible price.

Fox Journey is a horse I followed last year and his last run over this trip was an excellent 3rd in the Melrose Handicap behind Middle Earth. He seemingly took his form to a whole new level on his first start this season when winning a 12f handicap by 11 lengths, and the handicapper could have been a lot harsher than giving him only a 9lb rise for that. I have suspicions about the strength of that form so I’m not sure how well handicapped he is now but he at least seems to have conditions in his favour so could go well.

A Piece Of Heaven is another who won easily last time out and he showed plenty of versatility dropping back to 12f, having previously won over two miles. This looks a much tougher race than the last two he’s won and he’s gone up a total of 16lbs for those so I wouldn’t be especially quick to back him from stall 18, even if he could get across and secure an easy lead.

The one I like the most is Bague D’Or, but by the time you read this he’s probably going to have been balloted out of the race as he’s the first reserve at the time of writing. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that there’s a non-runner before the cut off because he remains unexposed at this trip with form figures of 1121 on good or better ground, including a course and distance success. His only defeat at 14f on decent ground came at the hands of Trawlerman, who went on to win the Ebor on his next start and subsequently rate 21lbs higher (and is a warm fancy in the Gold Cup market).

Bague D’Or won at Newmarket on his first start this season, in pretty comfortable fashion, and he can race mid-division to prominent so should be well placed in this from stall 9 if he does get a run. On the assumption he doesn’t get a run, we need a backup selection and conveniently there is a runner in this who was just two lengths behind Bague D’Or last time at Newmarket and is now 4lbs better off. That runner is Intinso and if the first time tongue tie can help with his habitual keenness he could have a massive chance here.

If both Bague D’Or and Intinso get to run I still prefer the former (they are both around the 12/1 to 14/1 mark) but you could argue that Intinso has a great chance of reversing Newmarket form. Intinso was probably unsuited by leading that day so can potentially be marked up a little and he’s also more lightly raced than Bague D’Or so could improve further, especially if settling better.

Intinso has run three decent races this year, winning easily at Wolverhampton before finding a tactical race over 11f at Kempton a bit too much, but he still stayed on into 3rd, doing best of those not up with the pace throughout. Then last time out he probably could have done with a lead when beaten by Bague D’Or.

He’s drawn in stall 2 and if he can settle on the rail, just behind A Piece Of Heaven, he may be ideally positioned turning for home and could be seen to very best effect. It’s also worth noting that Amtiyaz, who won this for the same connections in 2021, is a half-brother to Intinso.

So, to summarise, I’m pretty keen on an each way wager on 14/1 BAGUE D’OR if he does get a run (stakes returned if balloted out); but, in the likelihood he doesn’t get in, I’ll be having a small bet on 14/1 INTINSO instead at the same sort of price.

 

Sam Darby's Winning Post Profits

 

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And that's how our team sees the opening day of the 2024 Royal Ascot meeting. Lots of prices to go at and perfectly possible to have a complete wipeout, but one winner will likely cover the losers. Be lucky, and keep some powder dry for the battles to come!

Matt

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