Royal Ascot 2017: Day 1 Preview, Tips
The greatest summer meeting of them all, Royal Ascot 2017, is a feast of top class racing spanning five sumptuous days. In what looks set to be scorching weather conditions, fast ground specialists ought to be an exclusive play all week, a week that starts with a sextet of fiercely combative heats, among them three Group 1's.
The first of six on the day, and thirty across the week, is the...
2.30 Queen Anne Stakes (Group 1, 1m)
On figures, this is Ribchester's to lose. Godolphin's progressive last day Lockinge winner has the best form, and is lightly raced; if there is a niggle it's whether he wants lightning fast ground. The son of Iffraaj was beaten on his sole good to firm start last term, albeit shaping like he's improved since then. He's a worthy favourite and will make plenty of multiples as the week kicks off.
For small money, I'd rather tentatively take my chances, each way, with Lightning Spear. This fellow does enjoy rattling turf and has little to find with the favourite on a couple of pieces of form. Drawn high - Ribchester is in stall one, the early speed probably low to middle - he has made the frame without winning in all three course and distance spins, including last year's renewal of the Queen Anne. 5/1 is probably fair enough.
As with all races all week, there are plenty of others with chances, including the ultra-consistent Mutakayyef (in the first three in 14 of his 15 career starts). Todd Pletcher's US raider, American Patriot, who loves lightning fast ground may be the most interesting outsider in the field at around 25/1.
3.05 Coventry Stakes (Group 2, 6f)
The Coventry is a six furlong dash for two-year-olds only, and tends to shape the very early 2000 Guineas betting. The caveat, which applies seemingly to all of the juvenile heats at Royal Ascot this year, is that a certain American gentleman - Mr Wesley A Ward, Esq. - may have a hand, or a hoof, in the finish.
He tests the water here with a colt owned by Coolmore, called Arawak. Arawak is very difficult to quantify off a single run, and win, in a dirt maiden special weight over five furlongs. What I can relate is that Wesley's best record comes at the minimum distance, and he has only twice had runners in the Coventry, both big prices, both well beaten.
Looking to Peter May's excellent ratings, he was kind enough to share the winning performances with me from previous renewals, and they make for some interesting observations. Firstly, all winners since 2009 had won their prior start. The longest price of any of those Coventry-winning horses when winning their prior start was 5/2, and five of the eight winners since 2009 came from the first four in the ratings (20/1 War Command did not have a rating).
This year, De Bruyne Horse tops the May ratings - featured on the geegeez Gold cards - and he's followed in by Brother Bear. It is Jessica Harrington's colt I like, and have backed. Unbeaten in two starts to date, the latter a facile victory in the Listed Marble Hill Stakes, he's drawn in the middle from where I'd imagine he will stalk the pace and pounce if he's good enough. He's offered at 9/2 currently.
I've also backed Romanised, who was an impressive winner of his maiden and comes here directly off the back of that effort; and I think another once raced colt, Nebo, might be smart. Both of that pair are around 16/1.
3.40 King's Stand Stakes (Group 1, 5f)
A second G1, this time for speedballs over the minimum trip. The Palace House Stakes winner has an exceptional record in the King's Stand in recent years with five winners from the Newmarket contest prevailing in this, including the last four, since 2010.
The very speedy Marsha represents that form line in 2017, having been a taking winner at HQ six weeks ago. Her run style is to be waited with, which may be viewed as both a positive and a negative in the context of this year's race. It is a positive because there is a ton of early speed and she'll not get caught up in what will quite likely be a meltdown ; and it is a negative because Luke Morris will need to thread a passage through a potential wall of fatigued horses from a draw in stall nine. I backed her at 8/1 straight after the Palace House Stakes, and implied readers might do likewise in this post. She is still 4/1 in a place and I think she'll be a point shorter on the day.
That is better than main market rival, the trailblazing Lady Aurelia, who has to do something like a solo from the widest gate of all, stall 18. She has a little bit to prove for me, and though she's a perfectly credible winner, and may be 'the speed of the speed', I don't want to get involved at around 3/1.
I'm not much of a fan of Signs Of Blessing in the context of this race - cue easy win - a horse whose form is pretty much all on soft ground over six furlongs. This ain't that.
One of the better big prices is Goldream, winner here three years ago, and patently not at the races last term. Now eight, his best days could be behind him, but he's got very close to both Marsha and Profitable this season, that pair the last two winners of the King's Stand. But his age puts me off a little.
Profitable has the opposite draw to Lady Aurelia, in stall one, and he may just find himself away from the main action. That's about the only downside for him and he should again run his race. I slightly prefer his former owner's Priceless, however, and backed that one prior to the Palace House in the hope she would prevail there. She didn't, running a solid fifth, but she did win next/last time out, at Haydock in the Group 2 Temple Stakes on firm ground. 14/1 is still an attractive price, and ostensibly a bit on the big side.
4.20 St James's Palace Stakes (Group 1, 1m)
A mile round the turn for three-year-olds only, with dual 2000 Guineas winner, Churchill, bidding to win a second battle with Barney Roy, runner up at Newmarket. It's a compelling match up, with Churchill bringing a higher level of form and Barney Roy presumed capable of greater improvement after just three runs to date.
Much was made of the Ballydoyle team tactics in the 2000 Guineas, with Aidan O'Brien fielding a squad and controlling the race. He saddles three this time, including the guaranteed pacemaker, Lancaster Bomber: it certainly won't be the first time a lancaster bomber has set the scene for a Churchill victory. (sigh, it needed writing!) Godolphin also run Thunder Snow, second to Churchill in the Irish 2000 Guineas, and now racing on a notably different surface - it was yielding when they last met.
In truth, this makes little appeal as a wagering proposition. I expect the favourite to confirm superiority over his Curragh conquest, and more than likely over his Newmarket underling too. The prices offer little appeal for anything except perhaps a really dull straight forecast.
Nevertheless, it remains a race to savour between an established high class horse and potential top notcher.
5.00 Ascot Stakes (Class 2 Handicap, 2m4f)
Twenty runners in a handicap and a 3/1 favourite trained by Willie Mullins. You'd be forgiven for thinking we were at Punchestown, but no, this is Royal Ascot. Mullins had a battalion entered at the five day stage, but relies on Thomas Hobson - ridden by Ryan Moore - to get the job done. Mullins has run eight in the race, and won it twice, down the years, so odds of 3/1 about this year's challenger are accurate on the representation front at least.
Thomas Hobson was a 100-rated handicapper when trained by John Gosden, but he did his winning on soft ground. Indeed, he's won nothing more than a Class 4 handicap and a maiden hurdle on good ground, and has been well beaten on his only try on good to firm. He certainly won't be a shock winner, and there's a fair chance he'll make his own running in a race that can involve more hard luck stories than a shift at The Samaritans, but he's not lugging my cash at that price.
One that has the right credentials to be involved is Alan King's Oceane. For a trainer who has a lot of runners on the flat, I was surprised that he's only had two previous entries in this race; this year, he saddles three.
Oceane is the outsider of the trio - Who Dares Wins and Rainbow Dreamer his better-fancied stablemates - but he loves fast ground, has very good form at the track, is within hailing distance of his last winning rating, and handles a big field well. I do have a slight reservation about whether he'll see the trip out on the level, but he's a sporting price at 16/1.
5.35 Windsor Castle Stakes (Listed, 5f)
A big field of sub-top class but largely unexposed juveniles over the minimum trip. Tricky territory. Six of the last eight winners also won last time out, including scorers at 14/1 and 20/1, and two Wesley winners, one of them at 33/1 (those days are long gone!). That trims 24 down to eleven, which is a fair start.
Only the Wes winners scored off a solitary previous run, which may (or may not) count against Roussel and Marchingontogether. Interestingly, perhaps, three of the last six winners had already run thrice, and this may be a race where experience counts. Or, more likely, it's just coincidence. Certainly the longer term trends point to twice raced animals as being the prime movers.
Declarationofpeace is an obvious starting point. He was deemed by bookmakers good enough to be outright ante post favourite for the Group 2 Coventry, and yet here he is, two rungs lower down and he's not even the jolly. That hardly screams confidence. It may be that owners, Coolmore, wanted to separate Arawak and this guy, in which case he could see solid support in the run up to the race. That would be significant, all the more so because the others vying for market leadership are both trained by Wesley Ward, who also handles Arawak for 'the lads'.
Reading the soundbites from Wes, he may slightly prefer Nootka Sound to Elizabeth Darcy. Both are fillies taking on the boys, and both figure at the top of the betting. Importantly, perhaps, Nootka Sound has a middle draw while ED is marooned in the two box. Frankie Dettori rides Nootka Sound and this will be point and shoot territory: if she sees the trip out, it will take a fast one to gun her down.
Of the speculative bigger prices, Tom Dascombe's Dragons Tail is fast and his form is working out well. He won on second start, by four and a half lengths, the third and fourth (re-opposing Dahik) having won since. He's 20/1.
Good luck with your Day One wagers, and remember, we have oodles of top stuff for the Royal meeting, whether you're a free or Gold subscriber (more top stuff if you're Gold, natch! 😉 )