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Royal Ascot 2021: Day 3 Preview, Tips

Royal Ascot 2021: Day 3 Preview, Tips

I’m taking over from Matt for day three of Royal Ascot, but don’t worry, Matt will be back tomorrow. Thursday can often be one of the toughest betting days and with no less than three big field handicaps bringing the curtain down on this card most will be looking for some early winners!

The biggest question mark hanging over Thursday’s racing is the weather, and of course it’s effect on the ground. There are thunderstorms forecast overnight from Wednesday into Thursday and everyone knows how unpredictable these can be. You can get hit with 40mm of rain whilst the next town along can get nothing. They put 10mm of water on the straight course on both Saturday and Monday just to keep it good to firm so it will take plenty of rain to soften this surface, but plenty of rain may well be coming.

2.30 Norfolk Stakes (5f, Group 2, 2yo)

Not much to go on here! Early pace is no disadvantage over the minimum trip here and a high draw is generally preferable over this trip. If there is a real star in this field they’d be well capable of overcoming either of those biases though.

Wesley Ward won this in 2013 and 2018 and there will be no hanging around for his runners. Lucci appears to be the stable first string and given he won just a 4 runner race last time he’s very difficult to assess, other than he looks very quick! He could be difficult to peg back from his high draw. Stable mate Nakatomi beat 10 runners when winning his only start on the dirt last time, also showing loads of speed. What effect any rain has on this pair is unknown, but Wesley Ward’s contingent generally prefer fast ground.

Aidan O’Brien also has two wins in this in the past decade and he saddles Cadamosto here. Amazingly he’s been a non runner six times already this season, twice because of soft ground. His sire No Nay Never won this in 2013 and his progeny often act on softer ground so he wouldn’t be without a hope if plenty of rain does fall but stall 2 might not be ideal.

Clive Cox’s runners massively outperform market expectations at Royal Ascot and he won this in 2012 with Reckless Abandon. This year he is represented by Instinctive Move who won well at Bath last time out. That form has been let down a few times since.

Only one runner can boast two wins from two runs and that is William Haggas’ Second Wind. He’s led on both starts so far, defied a penalty in a novice race beating a subsequent winner, looks well drawn in stall 15 and could be interesting at a fair price.

Norfolk Stakes Tips

Lots of unknowns so difficult to bet with much confidence but SECOND WIND has fewer question marks than most and he’s also won on both good to firm and good to soft which is a bonus ahead of an unsettled weather forecast. It will be interesting to watch the Wesley Ward runners in the market regardless of what happens with the weather.

3.05 Hampton Court Stakes (1m2f, Group 3, 3yo)

A likely short priced favourite here in the shape of Mohaafeth for William Haggas. He was relatively well fancied for the Derby before being pulled out because of the rain so he definitely won’t want to see lots of wet stuff and is likely to be withdrawn if the ground is on the soft side. He was impressive in a small field last time out at listed level and looks a very exciting son of Frankel.

One Ruler carries a 4lb penalty in this courtesy of his Group 3 Autumn Stakes victory last season and he faces a quick turnaround having been well beaten in the Derby just twelve days ago. Both his runs this term have come in Group 1 races so sixth places in both the 2000 Guineas and Epsom Derby can be forgiven and he might find this intermediate trip suits perfectly. He’s versatile with regards to the ground but is vulnerable to an improver.

One feature of this race is a potential lack of pace Aidan O’Brien’s Roman Empire looking the likely pace angle.

It’s not easy to make all over this course and distance, even with an easy lead, and he’ll need to improve to take this having been well enough beaten last time in the Dante.

Given a lack of strong pace it could pay to race prominently here. In handicaps in similar conditions prominent racers have a 47.62% place strike rate. Movin Time is likely to be prominent and he looked an improved performer at 3 when taking a maiden in fairly impressive style last time out. The runner up in that maiden won by 6 lengths next time out and runs in Wednesday’s Queen’s Vase and Movin Time looks capable of further progress over middle distances this season.

Hampton Court Stakes Tips

Not an easy race to figure out but it could be worth chancing MOVIN TIME to prove up to this level (and possibly better). He may enjoy a tactical advantage and whilst several of these have already tried and failed to win good races, he comes here very much on the up.

3.40 Ribblesdale Stakes (1m4f, Group 2, 3yo fillies)

A key form line here could be Newbury’s Fillies Trial Stakes in which the unbeaten Eshaada edged out Gloria Mundi with Aristea and Twisted Reality back in 3rd and 4th respectively. Gloria Mundi was well placed off a slow gallop that day and is poorest drawn of the quartet here so she could be worth taking on. Eshaada undoubtedly looks the one with most potential of the remaining trio and she’s also the best drawn here so she looks interesting, especially if there is rain.

John Gosden has won three of the last four renewals of this race and if he doesn’t win it with Gloria Mundi, the mount of Frankie Dettori, he still has chances with Taslima and Loving Dream. The former looked in need of further when third at listed level last time out. The winner of that race finished 2nd to Snowfall in the Oaks since so it wasn’t a bad listed race but you’d have preferred Taslima to have shown a bit more speed, even at 10f. Loving Dream was well enough beaten in the Lingfield Oaks Trial on soft ground and on his previous good ground 2nd she has plenty of work to do to reverse form with the better fancied Noon Star here.

In hindsight Noon Star’s 3.75 length defeat at the hands of Snowfall looks pretty good form. She’s impeccably bred being by Galileo out of Midday and looks the potential class act in the field, both on form so far and breeding, so she shouldn’t be underestimated.

Aidan O’Brien won this in 2014, 2016 and 2018 so anything he runs commends plenty of respect. This year’s sole runner is Divinely, who has looked happiest on a soft surface to date. It’s a quick turnaround after the Epsom Oaks though so whilst she’d have a decent chance on form, especially if it turns soft, she’ll need to have recovered quickly from a fairly tough race.

Ribblesdale Stakes Tips

An open contest which seems to be the feature of the day. NOON STAR looks a very promising type who has shown form on a variety of going so far which is enough to persuade me she could be the one in this. Eshaada is potentially the biggest danger whilst Divinely has the form to win this but he’s a risk after contesting the Oaks so recently.

4.15 Gold Cup (2m4f, Group 1, 4yo+)

Can Stradivarius equal Yeats’ record four wins in a row in this? Rain would be considered a negative for him but he’s won this on soft for the past two years so it’s possible all rain does is make him a better price.

This definitely looks a tougher renewal than last year though. Tough front runner Subjectivist won’t mind any rain and although he’s yet to prove his stamina, he’s got better the further he has gone. Last year’s Derby winner Serpentine could hamper Subjectivist’s chances though by taking him on early.

Stamina was always going to be Trueshan’s forte as he made his second racecourse start over a mile and a half. He enjoyed the step up to two miles when beating Stradivarius in the Long Distance Cup by a wide margin. That form shouldn’t be taken literally but Trueshan confirmed himself a smart horse when finishing runner up to Japan at Chester last month. He’s fairly ground dependent so will want as much rain as possible but if it comes he’d have a good chance.

Spanish Mission has improved as a stayer in the past year or so and won what was admittedly a pretty poor renewal of the Doncaster Cup last year. His Yorkshire Cup victory last time out was a career best when accounting for Santiago who reopposes here. He’s one that won’t want any rain and might not enjoy this test as much as some of the slowly run races he has been running in over shorter.

Connections will be hoping the extra distance can help Santiago reverse that form with Spanish Mission. He got within 2.25 lengths of Stradivarius at Goodwood last year and the key to this horse could be rain. His best performances seem to have come when getting cut in the ground and a combination of this trip on softish ground could see a career best, especially with a couple of front runners in the field.

Ascot Gold Cup Tips

The going will have a massive effect on this race. On faster ground STRADIVARIUS looks a very good thing to equal Yeats’ record. He can often come there like he’s going to win by a wide margin only to end up toughing it out. In fact eleven of his last twelve wins have come by a winning distance of 1.75 lengths or less which is relatively 'unimpressive' for a horse considered a bit of a superstar. If you can find an ‘unders’ bet on the winning distance that might make him much better value.

If the ground was to end up softer than good Stradivarius would still be the most likely winner but the each way value could swing towards SANTIAGO who is still unexposed as a stayer and has spent most of his career racing on ground that was probably faster than ideal.

5.00 Britannia Stakes (1m, class 2 handicap, 3yo)

All eyes will be on the Royal Hunt Cup ahead of placing any bets on this and that’s the race most likely to highlight a potential draw bias. Without the benefit of knowing the Hunt Cup result at the time of writing we’ll rely on the Geegeez data to give us the draw pointers.

The data suggests no strong draw bias here but it’s worth remembering that sometimes nearside is favoured and sometimes far side is favoured, which is why both sides of the draw have performed well. It can be easier to get a run when drawn on a flank and the pace data strongly suggests you want to be with something that is patiently ridden so backing central drawn hold up performers will often be riskier than wide drawn hold ups.

Mithras is the early market leader in this for Gosden and Dettori. He only just got home in a traditionally strong Newbury handicap on seasonal debut but this year’s renewal has worked out really poorly and the fact that Mithras was well enough beaten at Sandown next time out is very disappointing and in line with the form of that Newbury run, even if this latest run was in listed company. Perhaps the ground was too soft last time out (might be soft again here) but an 8lb rise for that narrow Newbury win might still be harsh and he could one to take on.

Air To Air is one I’ve had in mind for this race for a while, he looks one of those horses that will be ideally suited by Ascot’s straight mile. He’s been called a few names for seemingly not going through with his effort in the past but after being gelded in March he seems an improved horse. He may have been beaten over 4 lengths when odds on on his following start but he was the only one to make up any ground over what now seems an inadequate 7f. That race has worked out extremely well too.

Bowman, who very much got the run of the race, hasn’t run well since but the runner up has won three times since, the 3rd won on his next start and the 5th went close last time out. Air To Air has since won twice himself and he took apart a fairly decent field last time out on his first start over a mile. He’s a bit more exposed than some but he’s improving and looks the typical Spencer sort on this straight course. His latest win came on fast ground but his previous win in novice company came on soft ground. That softer ground might not be perfect for him but at least he’s proved his versatility.

Roger Varian won this last year and assuming his reserve doesn’t get in he has two high drawn runners in this. Raadobarg has won all three starts this season including the Silver Bowl at Haydock in heavy ground last time out. He’s chased leaders in all three starts this season and could end up too close to the pace, plus he’ll want plenty of rain. Dinoo is the other one for Varian. He’s still a maiden after three runs but split two 100+ rated horses on debut on fast ground before blowing the start in a Group 3 on his second and final start last season. He was once again slowly away in a maiden this season and poorly placed off a modest gallop. You’d hope with a mark of 93 he could have overcome this sort of thing but the mile promises to suit and he could run well if the ground stays fast.

A 7lb rise for winning a 5 runner handicap by less than a length seems a harsh punishment for Aerion Power’s latest success but he shouldn’t be underestimated. The runner up and 3rd came out of that contest and won making that 7lb rise look a bit more acceptable. Stall 1 and a prominent racing style are offputting though and he’d appeal more for something like the mile handicap at Sandown on Eclipse day or one of the 3yo handicaps at the July Festival the following week.

Britannia Stakes Tips

Many of the fancied runners in this seem quite likely to race not far off the pace which is rarely the place to be over the straight mile, especially in this race where there is a lot of early pace spread across the track. Perhaps some will be ridden more patiently but nothing is likely to be ridden with more patience than AIR TO AIR. Confidence would be increased if the ground gets no softer than good and if some of the lower drawn runners go close in the Royal Hunt Cup.

5.35 King George V Stakes (1m4f, class 2 handicap, 3yo)

Only a handicap but often won by a very smart sort, last year’s winner Hukum scored at Group 3 level later in the season. The draw may have a fairly large bearing on the result here.

A massive 17 of last 24 12f handicaps with 16 runners or more on ground ranging from good to firm down to good to soft have been won by double figure draws. Low draws have a PRB of just 0.41 with middle draws and high draws earning PRBs of 0.54 and 0.55. Fairly strong preference would be for something breaking from stall 8 or higher and this information hopefully makes narrowing down this difficult field a little easier.

Handicap debutant Nagano heads the market early for Roger Varian and he’s going to have to be extremely useful to win this from stall 2. He looks at least fairly handicapped off 94 based on his win over Mystical Dawn on his penultimate run (that runner has since gone close off 90) but he’s difficult to back from this draw in such a competitive race.

This is often won by a top trainer so it’s a surprise that John Gosden hasn’t had the winner of this since 1997. He runs First Light here who might be just about okay in stall 7, for all higher would probably have been better. Some will see form with John Leeper and be drawn to that but in that race, when First Light was 3rd, Moktasaab was 2nd, 2.5 lengths ahead of First Light, and he’s since been beaten in a handicap off 79. First Light has since won a soft ground Ripon maiden by 12 lengths but that race didn’t take much winning and there are probably better handicapped rivals, especially if it doesn’t turn soft here.

Sir Lamorack represents Aidan O’Brien who won this in 2019 and he seems to have a nice draw in 11. He ran on soft and heavy as a 2yo but his two runs this season have come on the all weather and good ground. He was withdrawn at Chester due to good to soft ground which might be an indication this runner will want the rain to stay away. He’s already proved himself in handicaps, he was an easy winner of a 10f handicap at Leopardstown last time out and the placed horses from that have placed again so it was okay form. He’s up 15lbs for that win so he’ll need to improve for the step up in trip, which he should do.

Kondo Isami is interesting on his York form. He beat Tashkhan by a short head there and Tashkhan won 3.25 lengths next time out. That runner actually reopposes here but Kondo Isami is 8lbs better off this time around so should have no problem confirming form. Kondo Isami got collared late on next time out at Doncaster over further and he might not have quite stayed, but he was also beaten by a runner completing a four timer so it wasn’t a bad effort. He looks Mark Johnston’s best chance and is well enough drawn in 9.

If the ground got very testing one who might prove overpriced is Act Of Wisdom. He was a heavy ground winner over 10f as a 2yo which suggests he’ll be a strong stayer and fast ground didn’t suit last time out at Newmarket. That 5th last time was still a good effort though with the winner and 3rd winning next time out. From stall 14 he could outrun his odds if the word soft appears in the going by race time.

King George V Stakes Tips

Plenty in this who could be anything and it’s a race that is potentially more interesting going forward than it is a betting medium here. If having a punt the value in this contest could lie with KONDO ISAMI if the ground is no worse than good, he’ll enjoy a likely fast pace and has plenty in his favour. If it’s softer than good then ACT OF WISDOM would come into the equation and he could be a bit underestimated in this. They might not be as potentially well handicapped as some but are both capable of running into a place at least granted suitable ground conditions.

6.10 Buckingham Palace Stakes (7f, class 2 handicap, 3yo+)

What an easy race to end the card with! As usual in these contests the draw and pace will play their part. By the time this race is run there may be a clear draw bias to either side but without that information at the time of writing it seems an advantage to be drawn in either low double figures or very high (20+).

There isn’t such a need to be held up over this distance as there is on the straight mile. There is still some benefit to being patiently ridden but early pace holds up much better than it does in big fields over a furlong further.

You don’t see many 3yos run in this but William Haggas heads the early betting with Aldaary. He’s a course and distance winner but might have been better served by a mile and he’ll definitely want the rain.

Boardman is interesting chasing a four timer. The way he travels through his races means he should be ideally suited by this course but he’s potentially drawn a little lower than ideal in 9. He beat Ejtilaab last time out and that horse won his next start. He’s another that wants a little bit of rain.

One that won’t want the rain is Karibana who was a bit of an eyecatcher on soft ground here in May before winning at Chelmsford, nailing a well handicapped front runner on the line. He looks like he’d be ideally suited by fast ground at this course and although stall 11 is okay statistically a higher draw might have been preferable.

Persuasion has to be of some interest. He’s looks to have been saved for this since winning at Haydock six weeks ago.

The runner up has won since from a 3lb higher mark, the 4th went extremely close next time out on ground that didn’t suit and has the chance to frank the form on Wednesday in the finale and even the 5th went close on his first run on fast ground since. Persuasion only went up 3lbs for that win and whilst most of his form is on faster ground, he has finished 2nd on heavy ground so even if the ground softens he should be fine. Stall 24 looks good at this stage.

Buckingham Palace Stakes Tips

If the ground stayed on the fast side I’d be inclined to forgive Karibana for stall 11 (low double figures do have a decent record after all) and get involved each way. If betting early or simply looking for a solid selection in this contest PERSUASION seems to tick all the boxes and he can even be backed if the bad weather hits the course as he should be fine regardless of underfoot conditions, something that can’t be said about many here. The majority of the pace in this race is drawn high which could give Persuasion an extra edge over Karibana, even if the ground stays fast.

Course Form Could Prove Crucial In Tough Ascot Handicap

With Haydock’s card still in doubt we head to Ascot for Saturday’s preview, specifically the bet365 Handicap Chase which will be run at 3pm. The race will be shown on ITV4 and looks a fiendishly difficult puzzle to solve but as usual the aim of this preview will be to shed some light on possible angles using the brilliant form tools on offer with Geegeez Gold.

Pace

As usual we begin with pace to find what run style might be best suited to this contest here.

The Pace Analyser shows us that this sort of distance at Ascot on the chase course often most suits those who race prominently. We don’t have a huge amount of data here admittedly but the win percentage and place percentage figures speak massively in favour of prominent racers and from just 10 races prominent runners have produced a huge Win PL of 62.5 and an IV of 2.44.

Front runners are next best according to the data we have ahead of mid division and then hold up performers.

If we narrow things down further to races run only on soft or heavy ground we lose some of our data so I’ve included slightly smaller fields too to add some more data in. In total we are looking at seven races and five of those have been won by prominent racers. Prominent racers have also provided twice as many placed finishers as any other running style. Front runners and prominent racers combined have produced 60% of the placed horses from less than 50% of the runners.

Let’s have a look at the pace map for this race:

There could be a contested pace here with Colorado Doc, Bennys King and Dashel Drasher all likely to be keen to get on with things. Of that trio Bennys King is the only one who has proven he can dominate and win in big fields at this kind of level.

Prominent racers were most favoured by the course pace analysis and Young Wolf, Espoir De Guye and Good Boy Bobby seem most likely to fill those prominent positions just off the pace.

Instant Expert

Instant Expert is always extremely useful in races of this nature. Let’s first take a look at the place data across all codes:

Now the win data, only for chases:

Both are sorted by course record as I always like proven right handed form at right handed courses over jumps, especially course form.

Good Boy Bobby and Jerrysback seem most reliable in this sort of going, the former has extensive experience in soft or heavy ground and seems guaranteed to go through it with few problems. The runners with the biggest going questions marks are relatively unconsidered in the betting it seems.

Plenty of runners have a decent record of at least placing in class 2 races. Espoir De Guye has won both his chases in class 2 company whilst Dashel Drasher and Acting Lass are both 2 from 3 in class 2 races. Good Boy Bobby may have failed to win in both his class 2 chases but he was runner up in both contests so shouldn’t be judged harshly.

Bennys King and Dashel Drasher both have a 100% record of placing at Ascot whilst Espoir De Guye and Acting Lass are 2 from 3 and 2 from 4 respectively in terms of placing. There are six course chase winners in the field. Espoir De Guye has 2 wins from 3 runs here with Dashel Drasher the only horse showing off a 100% win record over these fences.

Good Boy Bobby has not yet raced here which can’t be held against him but what does stand out as a worry is his failure to win in four runs at this kind of trip.

It was previously mentioned that Benny’s King has proven he can dominate big fields, he has won two of his three races in this sort of field size whilst Espoir De Guye is one from two.

So according to Instant Expert Espoir De Guye, Dashel Drasher are potentially amongst the most solid contenders, for all Dashel Drasher is unproven in big fields, with Gold Old Bobby having a fair few question marks hanging over him for one that is so well fancied in the betting.

Trainers

With Ascot such a prestigious track it could be interesting to see how each of the trainers involved here perform at the course. For this we can use the Query Tool.

Sean Curran comes out on top in terms of course IV from the past five years but with just two runners in that time we can’t draw too many conclusions. That’s certainly not a negative for the chances of Domaine De L’Isle though.

Jeremy Scott has also had limited qualifying runners from two from seven is a very good strike rate and that would be a another plus for Dashel Drasher.

Of the trainers with much more experience here over the past five years Harry Fry, Paul Nicholls, Venetia Williams, Nigel Twiston-Davies and Philip Hobbs all have more than their fair share of winners whilst the records of Jonjo O’Neill, Brian Ellison and Philip Kirby are less than impressive, although the latter two trainers have only had limited runners here.

Jockeys

Going can have an effect on jockey performance so let’s take a look at how these jockeys have performed here at Ascot on soft or heavy ground over the past five years:

Matt Griffiths, jockey for Dashel Drasher, has only had one ride here on soft or heavy but it was a victorious one and it would be quite remarkable if he could make it two from two here. Brian Hughes and Harry Skelton, who ride Windsor Avenue and Bennys King respectively, both have more experience and strong records here on testing ground.

The data suggests Harry Cobden, Sean Bowen and Daryl Jacob underperform at Ascot in soft or heavy ground so that is possibly a negative against the chances of Capeland, Acting Lass and Good Boy Bobby.

Verdict

Good Boy Bobby does have some questions to answer but he certainly brings strong form into this. His Cheltenham run a month ago, when 4th, has been working out nicely with three subsequent winners in behind and the winner going on to finish a decent 3rd next time. He’s short enough in the betting though so happy enough to leave him alone.

Bennys King is well proven around here and for him it’s mainly a question over whether he’s still well enough handicapped to win a race like this. He should run well but could be slightly vulnerable for win purposes.

Dashel Drasher has lots going for him and is two from two at Ascot over fences and hurdles. Ability to run well in bigger fields can be overlooked in races like this and he wasn’t at his best in bigger fields earlier in his career and much of his best form has come in smaller fields so he could be worth opposing here.

Espoir De Guye’s name kept popping up in Instant Expert as a solid contender and he represents a trainer that does pretty well here for a jockey that does pretty well here in testing conditions. He’s still lightly raced, proven at Ascot and should be well enough placed. He clearly didn’t stay 3m on his last run and a return to this trip will suit (he wouldn’t mind dropping even further in trip in all likelihood). He’s a fair enough price for an each way punt in what looks a really tricky race.

King Set To Be Crowned In Balmoral Handicap

The complexion of this race may have been slightly different had the Challenge Cup not been abandoned a couple of weeks back with several of the main contenders here having been set to contest that race. It certainly looks a cracking contest and hopefully a race where we can find a few strong pointers.

Draw

The straight course draw bias at Ascot tends to play its part in many races but the bias can change from meeting to meeting or even race to race so there are rarely any guarantees.

Ascot Mile Draw Bias

High draws have generally been favoured on the straight course this season but that may not be the case here. The ground is likely to be soft on Saturday and mile races on ground ranging from good to soft all the way to heavy have tended to favour those drawn middle to low.

The win data doesn’t tell us a lot in this sample but the place data suggests a middle draw can be strongly favoured with almost twice as many places from middle draws compared to low draws and 50% more placed horses from middle compared to high draws. The PRB figures seem to back up what the place data tells us too with low draw PRB the worst at 0.46, high drawn PRB is next best at 0.5 and middle draw PRB is 0.54.

There is a logical explanation for the above data. As previously mentioned the draw bias can vary at Ascot. When it favours the far side the higher drawn horses will generally struggle. When it favours the near side the lower drawn horses will struggle. Either way the middle draws nearly always have a pretty fair chance so of course they tend to do well.

At this particular meeting the ground nearest to the stands’ side is railed off and the stalls are positioned on the far side of the course. So compared to a standard meeting at Ascot the higher drawn horses actually race in what is normally the middle of the track and the lower drawn runners are positioned where they’d normally be.

The effect of this in recent years has been that the jockeys have tended to want to stick towards the far side rail. Last year’s first two home were drawn 21 and 20 but that doesn’t tell the whole story – they ended up on the far rail and looked to win in spite of their draws. The runners the previous year also headed towards the far rail and stall 8 was responsible for the winner but it’s also worth noting that five of the highest nine drawn runners were amongst the first seven finishers. In 2017 they largely came down the middle and although the winner came from stall 3, he actually finished nearer the stands’ side than any other runner. The next four finishers that year were drawn 18, 17, 15 and 23.

So what the above tells you, that draw data doesn’t necessarily do, is that if they elect to go far side as they have done for the past two years, the high draws are probably slightly disadvantaged but still well capable. If they go up the middle of the course then high draws may well have the advantage. Now we don’t know before the start of the race where they are likely to go so all in all, the safer bets will probably be in the middle.

Pace

Looking at a similar sample of data as we did for the draw, it looks very much as though we should lean towards those who are likely to be held up.

Ascot Mile Pace Bias

Only one winner has made all in these conditions since 2009 and that was Musaddas in 2015. He proved very well handicapped on the day (won another handicap two starts later) and the fact that only three front runners have placed, producing a place strike rate of 11.54% suggests only extremely well handicapped front runners should be considered.

The place strike rate gets progressively better the further back in the field you are and extreme hold up tactics seem to work well over a mile in these conditions with an almost 100% improvement in place strike rate compared to all other run styles. An IV of 1.44 is also much stronger than all other pace types and there have been more held up winners than all other run styles combined. So unlike the slightly inconclusive draw stats we had, we have some very conclusive pace data here.

Balmoral Handicap Pace Map

There is unlikely to be a frantic pace to this race with only one likely front runner in the field so a degree of caution should be applied in regards to following the above data that suggests you want to be at the very back of the field. The data is still very strong though so you may well want to be no further forward than mid division on this occasion.

The Jockeys

I’ve seen some interesting jockey stats about which jockeys are worth following at Ascot on different types of ground and they seem worth exploring here with very testing ground likely.

Ascot Jockeys In Soft Ground

The above data shows the jockeys in this race that have previously rode at least once on ground that is between good to soft and heavy in an Ascot handicap before, sorted by IV. This data is more useful ahead of Champions Day as a whole rather than just this race but it does give a good guide as to which which jockeys might be worth a couple of extra pounds advantage.

Considering the lack of data for some riders, the major positives seem to be Nicola Currie (Graignes), William Buick (Blue Mist), Ben Curtis (Kynren), Jamie Spencer (Hortzadar), Jim Crowley (Raaeq), Hollie Doyle (Solid Stone), Frankie Dettori (Alternative Fact) and Oisin Murphy (Bell Rock). It’s worth noting that Nicola Currie’s wins have come courtesy of her association with Raising Sand, a soft ground Ascot specialist who is ridden here by Saffie Osbourne, so a slight pinch of salt must be taken with her figures.

The major negatives appear to be Stevie Donohue (Raakib Alhawa), Andrea Atzeni (Prince Eiji) and Tom Queally (Ropey Guest).

The Runners

Raaeq

He took his form to a new level last time out with an easy win here over 7f on similar ground to this. That was his first run on a soft surface and he seemed to improve for it. He runs with a 6lb penalty which leaves him 5lbs well in still. He’s only had five starts, has never finished out of the first 2 and looks the obvious ‘group horse in a handicap’.

He seems to be the sole pace angle in the race which could suit him but it’s going to be a lot harder dominating a 20+ runner field over a mile than an eight runner 7f race.

Ascot 7f Pace Bias

The above image shows how well front runners do in small fields here in softish ground. Compare that to the first image in the pace section of this article which shows the record of front runners and you see very different figures. He’ll probably need to be at least a Group 2 performer to win this from the front and although he looked to improve for the ground last time out, he also probably improved for the drop back to 7f, a distance at which he is unbeaten. No surprise if he wins but judgement call is to oppose at the price.

Tempus

Course and distance winner who will enjoy conditions. Seemingly had no excuses last time out when well drawn in the Cambridgeshire when running with plenty of credit in 6th (only 0.25 lengths away from 3rd). He maybe would have preferred softer ground that day but it would be difficult to argue he didn’t stay. He’s 2lb higher here and there is still a nagging doubt about him never really having beaten much (beat fourteen runners in two wins this season and none of them have subsequently hit the frame in any race). Even last time out he still finished worst of the well drawn form horses, albeit not beaten that far. Looks certain to run pretty well but not sure he’s well enough handicapped anymore to win a race as deep as this.

King Ottokar

One I quite fancied for the abandoned Challenge Cup but I had two slight doubts. The first was the drop back to 7f, which may have actually suited but it was a risk for a horse that had previously run so well at 10f. The other doubt was the trainer form with Charlie Fellowes’ horses not running that well at the time but he’s had five wins and three places from his last thirteen runners so that’s no longer a concern - in fact it's a positive.

He was a big eyecatcher last time out at Doncaster, making up ground effortlessly 3f out before running into the back of horses. He found less than seemed likely when getting clear which probably tempted connections to drop him back in trip but the ground was on the fast side then and it could have been just as likely that the ground compromised his finishing effort, not the trip. Both his wins have come in soft ground and so has all his best form.

The subsequent form of his last run isn’t great but remarkably none of those subsequent runs from the opposition came in similar conditions with most running on soft ground since. If you look back to Royal Ascot 2019, the last time King Ottokar ran to form on soft ground, he was just a neck behind Fox Chairman. That horse quickly developed into a 110+ rated horse so King Ottokar certainly should be well handicapped here off 100. The only doubt this time around is stall 22 as this could be major disadvantage if they all go far side. It wasn’t a barrier to success last year though and the going stick readings are quicker on the stands’ side which gives some hope they may come middle to stands' side.

Keats

This listed winner from two weeks ago runs under a 6lbs penalty making his mark 107. That would put a lot of people off but when a horse is trained by Aidan O’Brien and it runs in an Ascot handicap people take notice. His runners make a 7.0 LSP in Ascot handicaps since 2009 so that respect is warranted. All three of those winners came at Royal Ascot though over the years and none were rated higher than 104 so this would be some performance to win and Keats has only ever won on good ground. He looks one of the easier well fancied horses to oppose.

Njord

Another Irish challenger and a much more interesting one. He’s been a big improver going up 41lbs in the handicap over the past two seasons, often running well in big field handicaps. His record on ground with the word ‘soft’ in the going description during that time is 1231125 and that latest 5th was when meeting trouble in running off a 2lb higher mark when still beaten less than 2 lengths. The 1st, 3rd, 4th, 6th and 7th from that race have all placed since so it wasn’t a bad race. He was last seen when 4th on good ground in a 9f listed race. He was 1.5 lengths behind Keats that day giving that rival 5lbs and he now receives 2lbs so it would be a slight shock if Keats could confirm that form. Keats is drawn 21 and Njord is drawn 4 so a stands’ side draw advantage seems to be the only thing that could swing things in Keats’ favour.

Given his consistent profile and liking for conditions he looks a fair each way shout and should run very well if a low draw isn’t an inconvenience.

Raising Sand

He was my fancy in the abandoned Challenge Cup but I’m slightly more lukewarm about his chances here. He loves soft ground and Ascot plus Saffie Osbourne is a useful 7lbs taken off his back but I’ve always thought he was a bit better over 7f than a mile. His two mile wins at Ascot have come off marks of 89 and 92 in smaller fields than this whereas his two 7f wins here have come off 97 and 103 in fields of 15 and 23.

He ran well over course and distance in the Hunt Cup this season from a poor draw but was ‘only’ 6th in this two years ago off 102 in similar ground and that sort of finish may be most likely again this time around.

River Nymph

He won comfortably here two starts ago and followed that up with another easy success when beating two next time out winners at Newbury. He was well fancied for the Challenge Cup that was abandoned and should still be well handicapped despite going up 11lbs for his latest win. He ran well over Lingfield’s 6f earlier this season and although well handicapped that day (18lbs lower) and looking like he wanted further it does still cast some doubt over his ability to get a mile.

The sire’s runners tend to get worse the further they go and this isn’t really the kind of ground you want to be testing your stamina in so he’s much easier to oppose here than he was over 7f, although he’s respected based on his achievements this season. Stall 14 gives the jockey some options at least.

Bell Rock

Finished 3rd in the Cambridgeshire, a quarter of a length ahead of Tempus. That run was a career best but he was well drawn that day, has seemingly improved for trips beyond a mile on his last two starts and is unproven on soft ground. There is also a doubt mark over the first time cheekpieces. Bell Rock is by Kingman who has a 17.67% strike rate with his progeny. That drops to just 12.82% when cheekpieces are applied which isn’t the worst record but is hardly a ringing endorsement either. Too many question marks.

Blue Mist

He's generally been expensive to follow and although he won a big pot here in July, that was over 7f in a race where only one of the first fourteen finishers has won since. He doesn’t convince over a mile and William Buick, who rides well here on soft, will need to get some improvement from this horse to reach the frame.

Orbaan

He has some decent form to his name with a 7th at York in August potentially a career best with the 5th and 6th winning handicaps since. He’s been behind Tempus twice this season though without real excuses and although a 6lb swing in the weights should get him closer it might not be enough to get 3 lengths closer. He should run creditably but in all probability he’ll finish just outside the places. He can win in slightly calmer waters.

Kynren

Was amongst the favourites for the Challenge Cup but a run at 6f at York last week looked a mistake with him finishing well beaten. No surprise to see him bounce back from that at a track where he has run plenty of good races but this trip seems to stretch him a bit – he’s finished 5th, 5th and 6th over course and distance on softish ground and those first two runs were off lower marks. He’ll need a career best to take this, although he’s nicely drawn in 13.

Alternative Fact

Frankie Dettori is an interesting booking, he’s finished 2nd and 3rd on this horse in two runs and is clearly booked when a big run is expected. The last time they paired up was here in the Silver Hunt Cup when just 1.75 lengths behind Sir Busker, who has since rated 15lbs higher. Alternative Fact has gone up 7lbs himself since then though having run three excellent races at Haydock, where he often gets his required ground. His last run at York when 6th of 20 deserves marking up as he was drawn very wide and ended up with too much to do.

He doesn’t scream brilliantly handicapped but the course and the ground are in his favour, as is the jockey booking. Stall 16 isn’t the end of the world, even if they go far side, and he’s one at a price that could easily run into the places and looks nailed on to give his running.

Best Of The Rest

It's slightly surprising to see Solid Stone priced up at 20/1 given he’s normally overbet (started favourite in eight of his thirteen runs including five of his last six). He hasn’t encountered this sort of ground since his 2yo days though and has presumably been kept away from it on purpose. He’d have a chance if handling conditions.

Greenside will handle the ground and does well here but looks better at 7f these days. Prince Eiji has run well on both starts here and handles the ground but he ran a shocker last time out and Atzeni doesn’t have a good record here in soft ground. Ropey Guest will like the ground and has Ascot form but he looks better at 7f and he’d have had a better chance had the Challenge Cup gone ahead.

Jamie Spencer could potentially get a tune out of Hortzadar but he looks handicapped to the hilt now and hasn’t run well in two starts at Ascot. Graignes has some smart French form in Group 1 races but if he was capable of winning this off  104 you’d have expected him to run better in similar conditions last time out in a Group 3.

Verdict

This perhaps isn’t quite as difficult a puzzle as it first seems with some of the main protagonists not likely to be seen to best effect over a mile on soft ground. Other simply don’t look well handicapped anymore.

The most interesting trio may well by King Ottokar, Njord and Alternative Fact. Tempus and to a slightly lesser extent Raising Sand should run well also but neither are fancied for win purposes.

Njord seems to enjoy the hustle and bustle of these kinds of races and is still reasonably handicapped. He seems most interesting at the prices of those drawn low. Meanwhile Alternative Fact is perhaps the ‘safe each way’ given he has everything in his favour and he’s not drawn far from the middle. At around 12/1 (well backed in the past 24 hours) with as many as 6 places on offer he’s worth a bet.

But as far as likely winners go King Ottokar seems to have an awful lot in his favour. He loves soft ground, he has run well here before, his trainer is in excellent form, he’s run well in a handicap on his last start and has been dropped 2lbs since then and he’s completely unexposed as a miler still. If there is one question mark it’s his very high draw but by the time the three reserves have come out he’ll effectively be racing from stall 19. If a high draw was to be an advantage he’d look an extremely good bet but we won’t know that until it’s too late. He’s shortening all the time and 8/1 in a big field like this might still seem short but he’s a very interesting runner and I’m willing to risk the draw. It might be worth backing him win only as around 8/5 to finish in the top 5 or 6 might not look great after a couple of furlongs if they all go far side.

Previous Winners Of Interest In Challenge Cup

The big handicap this weekend is the Challenge Cup at Ascot and with ‘just’ 18 runners set to go to post it may turn out to be an easier puzzle than the usual big field Ascot handicaps.

The ground is going to be a huge factor with somewhere in the region of 20-30mm of rain potentially falling on Friday and Saturday. It takes a lot of rainfall to make the straight course at Ascot heavy but it might not be far off that come race time on Saturday.

Before we look at each runner’s form and ability to handle underfoot conditions let’s first look at the draw and pace set up for the race.

Draw

Ascot 7f draw bias

All metrics point towards high being favoured over low, although it’s worth noting that there isn’t a huge difference in PRB (percentage of rivals beaten) across the board.

Looking just at handicaps run on soft or heavy, there is far less data but it seems to swing things back in favour of lower draws.

Soft ground draw bias at Ascot

What’s particularly interesting here is the PRB figures. There isn’t much between middle and high here but the low draw PRB is 0.57 which is a huge leap from the middle to high PRB.

It’s worth noting that the reason there are only 18 runners here is the field sizes are limited at this meeting because half of the course is railed off to save the ground for Champions Day. This possibly renders much of the above draw data irrelevant.

Three of the last four renewals of this race have been run on soft ground and the draws of the first five finishers in those races are as follows:

2019 – 17, 9, 6, 5, 13
2018 – 17, 18, 15, 11, 16
2016 – 16, 8, 11, 10, 12

Now that’s a fairly small sample but it’s the most relevant draw data we have for this individual race. It seems significant that in those races eleven of the top fifteen finishers were drawn in double figure stalls and no runner from the lowest four stalls managed to finish in the top five at all.

It’s by no means certain that this trend will continue but it does seem as though a higher draw will be preferable to a lower draw at this meeting on soft.

Pace

Pace is not only important in telling us what race position the winner is most likely to come from, but where the pace is drawn can have an strong impact on a possible draw advantage.

Challenge Cup Pace Map

There is a possible contested speed here with front runners drawn in stalls 5, 7 and 13. Every runner in the field should have speed to track so there certainly shouldn’t be a micro advantage based on where the pace is.

Ascot is generally thought of as a course for hold up horses but they’re not necessarily majorly advantaged at this trip on softer ground.

Soft ground pace advantage

No run style has produced more wins or placed runners than being held up with cut in the ground but that’s from more runners. Prominent runners actually seem to offer the best value (IV 1.33) with front runners performing worst of all.

The Place % data is very similar across the board though so we should get a very fair track and the pace at which this race is run will likely determine where the winner comes from more than anything else. With three front runners in the field this could set up for something more patiently ridden.

The Runners

Kynren

Last year’s winner carries 4lbs more this time around. He ran poorly in his first two starts this season but benefitted from a wind op last time when a creditable 5th in the Ayr Gold Cup off this mark, over a trip short of his best. Three of his four wins have come on soft ground and he’s only been beaten by one runner in two course and distance runs (beat 40 rivals home in those two races) so everything looks in place for a big run and William Carver claims 5lbs. He’s drawn very low in stall 3 though.

River Nymph

Progressive 3yo who has won his last two starts comfortably, rising 17lbs in the process. The 2nd and 3rd from his last win have both come out and won since so he’s fully deserving of his latest 11lb rise and he is also proven in soft ground. This course and distance winner is entitled to run extremely well if tracking the pace from stall 12 although it’s worth noting his trainer Clive Cox was quoted as being glad the ground had dried a little last time out (on soft) so if it was to go heavy it might not be ideal.

Raising Sand

A regular fixture in this race, he was below par last year but won this two years ago and was 3rd to smart pair Accidental Agent and Lord Glitters three years ago. He’ll be ideally suited by conditions here but it’s just a question of how well handicapped he is. He won here last year off a 4lb lower mark and was 1st home on the far side in the Royal Hunt Cup off a 1lb higher mark on his only start this season. He was 8th overall in that race and the first 4 home all won at least once since so that’s strong form considering his draw was so bad on that occasion. He’s fared better this time around in stall 11.

Saffie Osbourne is a very interesting jockey booking. She’ll be claiming 7lbs and has a 28% strike rate in the past fortnight. Her claim could definitely be the difference between a good run in defeat and victory.

Blue Mist

Finally came good here in July after many near misses but that race worked out poorly with no horse from the first seven home winning since and he’s now 5lbs higher. He once again found next to nothing back here a month ago and he’s not one to completely rely upon.

King Ottakar

One that might be overlooked here. He’s largely struggled for the past 12 months but there were definite signs of life back in handicap company last time out at Doncaster over a mile He was cruising 2f out, making up ground with ease, until he ran into the back of the leading group and lost his momentum. He finished well enough but the way he travelled and his finishing effort perhaps suggested he’d be best suited by this drop in trip. That run came on ground that was faster than ideal so he deserves to be marked up again. He’s won twice on soft and is down 2lbs so has a leading chance if the trip isn’t too sharp. Stable form not great though.

Shelir

Has benefitted from being ridden more forward in his recent starts having often caught the eye from off the pace (including here). Should find conditions in his favour but doesn’t look that well handicapped anymore and may find dominating this field difficult.

Greenside

Runner up in this last year off a 7lbs lower mark and although he’s been running well again this season he’s 3lbs worse off with Kynren ignoring jockey claims. He’s likely to run fairly well and a place isn’t out of the question but a win seems very unlikely.

Admirality

Often the bridesmaid, he’s finished 2nd on his last four racecourse appearances. He’s up another 3lbs and although still competitively handicapped he has often seemed better on faster ground.

Best Of The Rest

Orbaan should enjoy the ground and isn’t badly handicapped but whether or not he wants 7f in this tough a race is open to debate.

Blown By Wind will pop up at a big price at some point and he’s probably at his best in testing ground but he’s often slowly away. If he breaks on terms he’s one to consider as an in-running back.

Young Fire is interesting back up in trip on this ground. He’s won two of his last three starts at 7f on soft ground but he possibly goes best at Haydock.

What If The Ground Turns Heavy?

Eight of these runners have never encountered heavy ground before and seven have run on it only once so form on very testing ground isn’t easy to find. Blown By Wind and Ropey Guest both have a 100% record of at least placing on heavy but both have only run once on it.

Instant Expert on Geegeez Gold is an excellent tool to get huge amounts of data for each runner and it can be just as enlightening to look at sires in Instant Expert, especially in extremes of going.

Heavy Ground Sire Stats Instant Expert

Garswood, sire of complete outsider Gabrial The Wire, has an excellent record in heavy ground as a sire as does Dubawi, who gave us Greenside. The sires of Kimifive, Hey Jonesy and Jack’s Point also produce plenty of mudlarks but that trio of runners may struggle to see 7f out on very deep ground.

Verdict

Perhaps the most interesting runner here is River Nymph, who is the one who is potentially still a fair bit ahead of his mark despite going up plenty for his last two wins. If the ground is no worse than soft he looks sure to run very well.

King Ottakar is very tempting on this ground having caught the eye last time and he is certainly overpriced at 10/1 at the time of writing. It looks as though the drop to 7f should suit but it’s a risk, and the trainer form is worrying.

So slightly unoriginal but it may pay to stick with Kynren and Raising Sand. They’ve won this for the last two years between them and were both better than the bare form of their more recent runs. They may not be amazingly handicapped but both have talented claimers on board which could make all the difference. The draw is possibly a concern for Kynren so unless previous races tell us low is better than high then Raising Sand has to be the most solid each way selection at 7/1. Raising Sand has won here for the past four years and can hopefully make it five in a row.