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Royal Ascot 2019: Day 3 Preview, Tips

Two down, three to go, and humpback day at Royal Ascot, better known as Ladies' Day, features the main event of the entire week, the Gold Cup. That stayers' Group 1 is ably supported by five other top tier clashes, each of which will have a winner worth finding. So let's try...

If you missed them, here are Andy's Royal Ascot Day 3 Trends.

We kick off in the...

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

Another impossible juvenile race kicks things off on Thursday, the Norfolk being a five furlong charge. The quickest of the British and Irish seems to be Sunday Sovereign at this stage. Paddy Twomey's relatively experienced son of Equiano has won the most recent two of three starts, by three lengths from Coventry winner, Arizona, and then by seven lengths in a weaker affair. He's quick, is drawn in amongst horses and will give his new owners as good a chance of a Royal Ascot winner as they'll have all week. He's won in a big field and deserves to be favourite.

But there are plenty in the field capable of making big strides forward, potentially beyond what Sunday Sovereign has achieved. Matthieu Palussiere won the Albany in 2017 and watched two of his five juveniles run very well last year. He runs Real Appeal which looks his best chance of the week, the Listed winner having changed hands for £265,000 on Monday. All four of his races have been decided by a head or less, three of them in his favour.

Ventura Rebel was the shock winner of the Ascot 2yo Trial, seeing off the 4/11 favourite, Lady Pauline, a Wesley Ward aspirant who misses the gig through injury. Outpaced early, when he found stride he was far too strong and won going away. He may get similarly outpaced here so, with less likelihood of this calibre of field capitulating, it looks a tough ask for the Pastoral Pursuits colt.

The Wes wepwesentative is Maven, half length winner of a maiden special weight at Aqueduct. The standard of such contests at the New York track would be generally higher than at Keeneland where most of the Ward juvies prep, so the shorter winning margin should not be considered a negative necessarily. Still, as with all the transatlantic raiders, it is a) difficult to peg the form and b) difficult for a young horse to handle the travel and the preliminaries and the very different race setup.

There are some whispers about the chance of Air Force Jet, a narrow winner at Navan last time. Collateral form through Lorelei Rock gives him plenty to find with Sunday Sovereign, but word is he's moved forward a lot in the past fortnight.

The once raced maiden A'Ali could run a decent race. He just missed out in a good finish at Ripon on debut but had pulled nine lengths clear of the third. He looks sure to improve for that and might be a touch of value.

Verdict: It's a very difficult race and one in which I'll be trying to get through the multi-leg wagers only. I think SUNDAY SOVEREIGN looks a legitimate favourite, I can't peg the value of the American or French raiders, and I think A'Ali might be worthy of very small each way support.

3.05 Hampton Court Stakes (Group 3, 1m 2f, 3yo)

A ten furlong three-year-old Group 3. They bet 11/2 the field which sheds light on its competitiveness and, really, it's not a race in which I have a strong view. The market does tend to settle on the right horses with 13 of the last 16 (and all of the last seven) winners returning 8/1 or shorter.

I wouldn't generally be one for soundbites but I thought it was interesting that Oisin Murphy, who has a hundred rides this week, pegged Fox Chairman as his best bet on Racing TV, especially as he's not riding it! Unraced as a two-year-old, the Chairman won a Newbury maiden first time out (second and fourth won since) before running third to Circus Maximus in the Dee Stakes on deteriorating ground at Chester. He is supposedly training well and should be able to improve again on just his third lifetime start. That Circus won the St James's Palace Stakes on Tuesday is hardly a negative.

He is vying for favouritism with Cape Of Good Hope, one of two Aidan O'Brien entries. From a favoured cross - Galileo out of a Danehill mare - this lad won the Epsom Derby Trial in April but didn't make the line up for the main event. He did however run a decent fourth in the French Derby, and that level of form gives him a strong chance dropping to Group 3.

Roseman is another lightly raced entry and his form got a boost after his last day vanquisher, King Of Comedy, ran a neck second in the St James's Palace Stakes. He'd previously won a Nottingham novice by five lengths, but his run style - on or close to the lead - can leave him susceptible to a classy horse with a kick. Stall 13 probably doesn't assist his cause either.

The Chester Vase form is brought to the fore once more this week, this time in the shape of King Ottokar. A winner twice on soft ground he was no match for Sir Dragonet - who was? - at Chester; but that race is working out quite well and, if the rain came in any substantial amount, it would enhance his chance.

A place behind Roseman in the Heron Stakes last time was Sangarius, Sir Michael Stoute's Kingman colt not given a hard time when his chance was gone. He was a little awkward on the track there, too, though he'd run fine on quick ground previously. Sir Michael won this in 2009 and 2014 so the symmetrists will consider he's due another one!

Headman, another Kingman colt in the ownership of Prince Khalid Abdullah, took the competitive London Gold Cup handicap on his prior start. That race normally flags Pattern performers and it was there where Headman's trainer, Roger Charlton, saddled Time Test to win before doubling up in this in 2015. We have been duly warned.

Plenty of others with some sort of claim.

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Verdict: I have backed Fox Chairman on the basis of public jockey hearsay. Not big or clever and the price has truncated somewhat, though he's clearly in good form. But the each way play might be 9/1 Headman. Roger Charlton has a blueprint from Time Test and he may be able to execute the same play in the same colours.

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

The Ascot Oaks, after a fashion, a mile and a half Group 2 for fillies.

Aidan O'Brien has won this three times in the last five years and saddles the fancied Fleeting. Winner of the Group 2 May Hill Stakes over a mile on her final start as a two-year-old, the daughter of Zoffany finished last in the 1000 Guineas on her 2019 bow. Stepped up to this trip in the Oaks, she showed that previous run to be all wrong when a fine third, a level to which the rest of this field must aspire at this stage.

Of course, the nature of Royal Ascot racing is the convergence of the established and the aspirational; so it is perfectly possible that a contender may prevail. Primus inter pares in that regard is Queen Power, a Shamardal filly who ought to be well suited to this trip. Winner of two of her three starts, she was probably beaten by the race distance rather than ability in the middle leg. That mile contest saw her narrowly fail to get by the winner but she made no mistake upped to ten furlongs in a Listed race last time. She could make it a very good day for her trainer, Sir Michael Stoute.

Frankellina is a bit of a conundrum: she looked unlucky when fluffing the start in the Musidora Stakes at York, and she looked to be given too much to do in the Oaks itself, eventually finishing a five length sixth. That gives her three-and-a-half lengths to find with Fleeting, who was also waited with at Epsom, and there is no obvious reason why she should turn the tables. She wears the second cap, with owner Anthony Oppenheimer also cheering Star Catcher. She was third in Queen Power's Listed race, having led most of the way. There's plenty of pace from the likes of Peach Tree and Shambolic so maybe Star Catcher will be ridden more patiently. On strict form, she has little to find with Queen Power, but the extra quarter mile is expected to suit the latter more than the former.

I'm not especially inclined to look too far down the betting list in a race which has been won by a filly priced 10/1 or shorter for the last dozen years.

Verdict: The market seems to have this about right, making it a match between Fleeting, Queen Power and 'the field' as I write. Fleeting has the more established form - third in the Oaks - but QUEEN POWER might be progressing more quickly. And, in any case, she bring a pretty strong level of ability to the table, too.

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

The feature of the day, and indeed of the entire week, is the Gold Cup run over two and a half miles. Stradivarius is the reigning champ, the sort of guy who is probably even better than he looks given that he doesn't tend to win by far. In fact, his last six wins have been achieved by an aggregate of just eight lengths which, in the domain of stayers, is a series of fine margins. That makes his rivals think they have a chance - which of course they do - but when push comes to shove, the old fiddle keeps pulling out a little more.

Stradivarius seems to treat all ground conditions and race distances alike, only just getting going at the end of the mile and three quarters Yorkshire Cup last time. In this race last year, the son of Sea The Stars was three-quarters of a length too good for the classy French horse, Vazirabad; Torcedor was just a head further back in third.

This year, the Gold Cup seems on the face of it to have more depth. Cross Counter has been bashing all-comers around the globe, bagging the extremely valuable Melbourne Cup and then the Dubai Gold Cup in Meydan. Those races are up to two miles, however, and this is an extra half mile on top, stamina for which is not assured for the son of Teofilo.

Dee Ex Bee looks to have found his metier since being stepped up to staying trips: fourth in the St Leger last autumn has been followed by a brace of Group 3 wins at two miles. This is further - and better class - again, and like Cross Counter, he too is not guaranteed to see it out.

It's then double figures the rest. Flag Of Honour has seen the backside of the magical filly, erm, Magical thrice in a row this season. That is a high level at ten furlongs, and is all the more meritorious given he won the Irish St Leger over a mile and three-quarters last backend. I'd be concerned about his stamina at this trip, however; he was running out of gas over two miles in the Long Distance Cup on Champions Day and - at the risk of repeating myself - this is another half a mile of green road.

Magic Circle is interesting: he won the Chester Cup over an extended two and a quarter miles this time (ish) last year, then ran away by six lengths in the Henry II Stakes, and has been upped for the Cups this term. Given that this year's less impressive Henry II winner, Dee Ex Bee, is second favourite, this chap might be over-priced at around 20/1 as he's very likely to improve from his Chester prep.

Capri appeared not to stay when upped to nigh on two miles, and Called To The Bar is another with stamina questions.

Verdict: Most of these have to prove they can see out twenty furlongs, and most of them won't be able to. Guessing as to which will is for braver/smarter people than me, so I'm happy to cheer the champ and punt a rag. I hope STRADIVARIUS wins because he's a bit of a dude: keeps finding more, almost toying with top class agitators. For a wager, I'll take the proven stamina of Magic Circle at 20/1 each way.

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

No no no! 30-odd three-year-olds hurtling up the straight mile is sado-masochistic stuff from a wagering perspective.

Still, remarkably, 6 of the last 9 winners returned at 10/1 or shorter. So that might help. A bit.

Nope, I really don't have any idea. Pass.

5.35 King George V Stakes (Class 2 Handicap, 1m4f, 3yo)

This is a little bit easier; only a little bit, mind.

Although it seems counter-intuitive, higher drawn horses have had the best of this. Check out this graphic of the last five years: 1m4f handicaps at Ascot, good to good/soft, 14+ runners, sorted by actual draw (i.e. removing non-runners).

 

IV3 is the average winning Impact Value of a stall and its next door neighbours and, as you can see, high fares very well. Low and middle draws still win of course but it might be prudent to focus on the bigger numbered berths.

Top weight Constantinople, from that Galileo/Danehill cross, has stall 18. He won a Group 3 last time, proving that he's already a Group horse in a handicap. We have to go back to 2001 and Beekeeper to find the last winning top weight but he might just double the 21st century tally, for all that he's a short price so to do.

Sinjaari, drawn 22, was a fast-finishing second behind Headman in the London Gold Cup when last seen. That form may have been boosted earlier in the afternoon by his narrow conqueror, but either way the step up to a mile and a half looks perfect for this fellow.

Further back in that Newbury race was Majestic Dawn, trained by Paul Cole and ridden by David Probert. He had a rough beginning last time, stumbling out of the stalls and finding himself at the back of the field. But he ran on into a never nearer seventh, beaten six lengths. He'd previously won a Newbury maiden by six lengths so, given a smoother transit, he could outrun his current 33/1 quotes.

Questionare makes his handicap debut in very different conditions from the pair of conditions races in which he's been narrowly defeated. Frankie takes the mount and we'll see what he can do from stall five.

Another low drawn fancied horse is the Andrew Balding-trained Fox Premier. A winner of his last two, both in small fields, he'll need plenty of luck in running with his waited with style.

Aidan O'Brien has three others besides Constantinople, perhaps Eminence being the pick of them. Drawn 19, he was a winner of his only handicap, on soft ground. By Sea The Stars, there's a good chance he'll appreciate this longer trip, Wayne Lordan getting the ride.

Loads more chances, naturally enough.

Verdict: Aidan O'Brien has a strong hand in this, his Constantinople the penalised class of the field. I'll chance the London Gold Cup form, however, in the shape of Sinjaari each way. From that same race, the Hail Mary play is Majestic Dawn at 33/1 or so.

**

This feels like the toughest day of the week so far, and Tuesday/Wednesday weren't easy! The last two races are not for me, so here's hoping we get something on the board early doors. Win, lose or draw I'll be back for more tomorrow...

Matt

Royal Ascot 2018: Day 3 Preview, Tips

Two down, three to go, and humpback day at Royal Ascot, also known as Ladies' Day, features the centrepiece of the entire week, the Gold Cup. That stayers' Group 1 looks an excellent renewal, though wagering there - and indeed throughout the Thursday card - provides pitfalls aplenty. No matter, for on the day when lassies don their finery, rarely was it truer that faint heart never won fair maiden. So let's have a crack! We kick off in the...

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

A shortish field of ten, though not hugely out of keeping with recent tradition. A few interesting patterns - let's call them trends - have emerged, as follows:

- All bar one of the last 15 winners had a pre-race RPR of at least 106. Only Vintage Brut, Konchek and Land Force fit that bill

- Six of the last ten winners were by US sires. Just Pocket Dynamo, Shang Shang Shang and Land Force tick this box

Land Force is of clear interest on this basis, then. But... he was beaten last time out, over six furlongs, and has never won at the minimum. Those are both negatives in the context of the trends. And yet I still want to be with this son of No Nay Never, the 2013 Norfolk winner. He showed good speed in the Listed Marble Stakes last time, only fading in the last furlong or so.

The other to catch my eye in a race where they'll pretty much all move forward on what they've demonstrated to date is Pocket Dynamo. The Robert Cowell-trained son of US stallion Dialed In is that sire's first British runner as far as I can tell. He was second in a Brighton maiden on debut - hardly Royal Ascot form, though the winner and third have won since - before showing more in winning a Chelmsford novice and then a quite valuable conditions race at Longchamp. He was tenacious in victory there, is more experienced than many and, with an RPR of 105, falls just one note short of ticking both my trendy boxes above. He's 20/1.

Wesley Ward's Shang Shang Shang is the favourite, and could win. In truth I don't know much about the horse, but I do know his trainer is 'only' one from six in the Norfolk, the solitary victor being the aforementioned No Nay Never. Four of his other runners were sent off bigger than NNN's 4/1 SP, with a number of them drifting notably on the day. Keep an eye on the market if you want to back this lady.

Vintage Brut and Konchek represent the Listed National Stakes form, running 1-3 there, and Racing Post consider it the best form in the race allotting them the top two RPR's. Vintage Brut had the favoured rail draw that night at Sandown, whereas Konchek was drawn wide and carried wider before rattling home. Clive Cox's colt must have a great chance to turn the tables on this fairer strip.

But I'll take Land Force and Pocket Dynamo at double digit odds against the field.

3.05 Hampton Court Stakes (Group 3, 1m 2f, 3yo)

The first of four races restricted to three-year-olds on day three is the Hampton Court Stakes. Such races are not really my thing, as I struggle to assimilate what horses have achieved with what they might be capable of doing. Today's preview will be lighter than usual on that basis, and should be taken more lightly also (unless I get all six winners, in which case I meant it, and I hope you backed them all!!)

Although only a Group 3, three of the last four winners - Cannock Chase, Hawkbill and Benbatl - went on to Group 1 glory. The other in that recent quartet, Time Test, was G1 placed on multiple occasions.

Godolphin have won the last two, and they own the early favourite for the 2018 renewal, Key Victory. A winner of his first two starts, he was beaten only three lengths in the French Derby last time. This will be his third run since the beginning of May and, if William Buick can hold a position, he should run well: the worry is that he might encounter traffic problems in this big field around the tight Ascot bends.

Charlie Appleby saddles Key Victory, and also Nordic Lights. This son of German stallion, Intello, was unraced as a juvenile and encountered defeat for the first time in the Dante Stakes at York. Disregarding the facile winner there, he was only a length and a half off second and should progress again. James Doyle rides.

Rounding out the Godolphin triumvirate is Saeed bin Suroor's National Army, who leaps up in grade after winning a novice stakes on debut at the start of the month. He beat fourteen rivals in a fair time and the second home has since bolted up in a similar race. Christophe Soumillon is an interesting jockey booking for a completely unexposed colt with a potentially good draw (if not held up).

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Lots more unexposed types where your guess is as good as mine, but one other worth a quick mention is Mini P. Second in a Newbury maiden over this trip on his only start, his trainer Brian Meehan normally knows what he has and is capable of producing big priced surprises.

But, honestly, I haven't a clue.

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

The Ascot Oaks. Ten more unexposed three-year-olds, some of whom ran in the Oaks at Epsom and some who did not. WILD ILLUSION is the clear form pick. She was fourth in the 1000 Guineas and second in the Oaks, clear of the third there. With no Forever Together to fret about here, a repeat of that Classic run gives her daylight over her rivals that day, though it could be argued that the well beaten and re-opposing Magic Wand didn't handle the track.

Of the rest, Sir Michael Stoute's novice stakes winner, Sun Maiden, looks the main danger. She won that little race by fully twelve lengths and in a fair time. It would be no shock if this typically beautifully-bred Juddmonte filly (Frankel half-sister to multiple Group 1 winner, Midday) prevailed but 3/1 doesn't set the pulse racing.

The likes of Musidora second, Dancing Brave Bear, and Johnny G's Highgarden are interesting projects for the season, but this looks a really good chance for the twice Classic-placed Wild Illusion.

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

A super race in prospect even in the absence of last year's winner, Big Orange. The field is headed by the 2016 champ, Order Of St George, pipped by Big Orange in his repeat bid last term; and last year's Queen's Vase winner, Stradivarius, who went on to beat Big Orange at Goodwood. Further spice is added to the pot by the presence of French staying superstar, Vazirabad, himself a triple Group 1 winner.

In such a race as this we need to consider more than merely the respective form credentials of the field: pace is a key component. Last year, Big Orange was gifted a lead early in the race that he never relinquished, fending off the desperate late rally of Order Of St George and Ryan Moore in the dying strides.

Order Of St George is one of those hide behind the sofa horses. He has obvious class and stamina, but he gets beaten when he probably shouldn't a little too often for comfort. Although winning eleven of the twenty stakes races in which he's competed, he's been beaten at odds on in four of them, including at 1/7. Ouch. He was a little workmanlike last time in a Listed race but that was a prep for this. He may well win and good luck if you want 7/4 about that. I do not.

Stradivarius is the other vying for market leadership. As well as the Queen's Vase and Goodwood Cup, he was a very close third in the St Leger and Long Distance Cup in a terrific three-year-old season. He looked better than ever when bolting up in the Yorkshire Cup on his seasonal bow for this campaign, and could be the champion stayer in 2018. He does have to prove his stamina for this longer trip, something which is not a given for all that he looked robust enough at the two mile range. Again, 2/1 is insufficient in what is a hot race.

Of the front three in the market, I suspect VAZIRABAD offers a little value. Alain de Royer-Dupre's six-year-old has many T-shirts for being there and doing that: he's won two G1 Prix Royal-Oak's, a G1 Prix du Cadran, and has never been out of the first two at races beyond a mile and a half. Indeed, his full form string is 6211111/117121/211112-211, which is rather spectacular when you consider that the last 18 of those 22 runs have been in Group company.

He'll be ridden patiently, but as a veteran of so many races in France he clearly has the gear change required to quicken off a pedestrian gallop. 5/1 looks a very solid each way play.

With little obvious pace in the field, it may be that Torcedor, who adopted pressing tactics in a Group 3 here last time, may again play catch me if you can. He was a nine length fifth (when waited with) behind Big Orange last year, before running up in the Long Distance Cup on Champions Day and, most recently, that five length score last time. Ascot, then, holds no fears. Nor either does fast ground, so 10/1 could be another reasonable each way play - perhaps without the favourite - about a horse whose form ties in pretty closely on a number of lines with Order Of St George.

I'm struggling to make much of a case for the rest, the pick of which might be Desert Skyline.

Really looking forward to this one!

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

No idea. Genuinely no idea. Winners since 2007 at 33/1, 28/1, 25/1 and 20/1 twice mean the market has no idea either. Seriously, why the hell would anyone bet in a race like this?

Crack On Crack On was a good winner last time in a big field at Haydock, and he's ridden by geegeez-sponsored jockey, David Probert. He's improving fast, like most of these. Similar comments apply to Corrosive, who is now on a four-timer after a big field course, distance and going win last time; and Richard Hughes' George Of Hearts, who steps up to a mile having not quite reached the winner over seven here last time.

Twenty-seven others worthy of mention. Where's Mr Felt Tippy's magic pen sticker when you need him?!

5.35 King George V Stakes (Class 2 Handicap, 1m4f, 3yo)

More of the same for all that there are 'only' 21 runners this time. Draw has been material: double digit stalls have bagged ten of the last dozen. Why? Not sure, but I presume because it is very difficult to lead all the way in such a big field over such a trip; and if you don't lead from a low draw, you're probably in the pocket screaming for room entering the straight.

So on that basis I've deselected half the field. Honestly, if you've got a better idea, I'm all ears...!

This has been a decent race for the top of the market, too, with two-thirds of the winners since 1997 coming from the top four in the betting.

That leaves me with Cross Counter and Baghdad.

Godolphin colts have won three of the last four renewals, so Cross Counter is your winner. Maybe.

**

Royal Ascot really is a super tough meeting at which to back winners, and I make no apology for being almost flippant in some of my analyses above, particular in the last two races. This is probably a sensible time to remind readers that nothing on these pages constitutes financial advice - duh!

Good luck with your Thursday wagers. I've a feeling we'll need it!

Matt

Royal Ascot 2017: Day 3 Preview, Tips

Royal Ascot 2017: Day 3 Preview, Tips

The middle day of five already, Ladies' Day, and the historical highlight, the Gold Cup. In truth, it's a less thrilling card in terms of quality, but a single winner should leave a surplus for anyone lucky/smart enough to locate such a rare find. That's the task of this post, so let's get on with it, beginning with the...

2.30 Norfolk Stakes (Group 2, 5f)

A fast five furlong dash for two-year-olds, there is the prospect of another juvenile track record after Rajasinghe's lightning Coventry victory on the opening day. The micro-system flagged here throws up McErin and Sioux Nation.

Wesley Ward runs McErin, a twice raced colt who has yet to be seen publicly on turf. Not obviously a wagering proposition. But WW is a master with five furlong speedballs, as already demonstrated by Lady Aurelia on Day One (Happy Like A Fool yet to race at time of writing). This son of Trappe Shot is reportedly a much better work horse on turf and it is a long way to come if you don't believe your horse can act on the surface. The leap of faith required makes the price - around 4/1 and expected to be available at 9/2, perhaps even 5's on Thursday morning - so there may be some value there given the trainer's record: he won this in 2013 with the powerhouse, No Nay Never.

Aidan O'Brien brings Sioux Nation to the party, a chap who took three attempts to break his maiden and was then whacked when raised in grade. Again, not obviously a contender for a Group 2 at the Royal meeting. But APOB has had a 12/1 winner, Waterloo Bridge, and two seconds, at 8/1 and 9/4, from six Norfolk starters since 2009. His son of Scat Daddy should act much better on the Ascot road so, while the form is not there yet, there is every reason to believe, especially as he has a similar late-maturing profile to 2015 winner, Waterloo Bridge, who was also one from four when arriving here. With Ryan Moore riding, the standout 25/1 is not going to last, and the general 20's will be under some pressure too.

The Brocklesby winner, Santry, is two from two now, having supplemented his opening day success with a smooth effort in a conditions race. Both runs so far were on a soft surface, however, which leaves a question mark now.

There are lots of unexposed sorts in here, and perhaps the National Stakes form will take a further boost after Sound And Silence's win in the Windsor Castle on Tuesday. The winner and second from the Sandown race line up here, with Frozen Angel perhaps the value to reverse form with Havana Grey. In another juvenile guessers' race, though, I'll stick with my Wes and Aidan angle.

Bookie specials on this race

Bet365: 1/4 1-2-3-4 plus risk-free bet to same stake if you back 4/1+ winner (max £50)

Ladbrokes: Bet £20 on this race and get £10 free bet on 3.05

Skybet: Money back as a free bet if 2nd or 3rd in this race (max £20)

Paddy: Money back as a free bet if 2nd, 3rd or 4th to SP favourite (max £25)

Betfair sports: Free bet to same stake as any 3/1+ winner you back (max £25)

**

3.05 Hampton Court Stakes (Group 3, 1m2f)

A big field of three-year-olds comprising the usual proven class droppers and unexposed aspirants. Mirage Dancer heads the market and is a solid option. In two runs to date he's won a maiden (quite rare for Sir Michael Stoute horses to win on debut) and was then an eye-catching fourth to Cliffs Of Moher in the Dee Stakes. There, he was all at sea around the very tight turning circuit, whereas here he can put that additional experience to good use on the slightly more galloping plains of Ascot.

Bay Of Poets was in front of Mirage Dancer at Chester, and has since run all right in the Prix du Jockey Club. This trip and ground should be ideal, but I believe Mirage Dancer has the scope to progress past him. Godolphin have a second and third string to their bow in Benbatl and Tamleek. Benbatl brings the best form to the race, his second in the Dante and fifth in the Derby surpassing what his rivals have achieved thus far. But it is also form which screams 'beatable' (almost an anagram of Benbatl!), and I'll be disappointed if he's good enough.

Tamleek is in a similar boat to Mirage Dancer in some respects whilst lacking the optical appeal in his Chester run (behind Venice Beach and Derby winner, Wings Of Eagles, in the Vase). He could be the each way play.

Ryan Moore chooses Orderofthegarter over Taj Mahal, but his lad has been racing on soft surfaces since a debut second on good to firm six runs ago. This is a drop in class from his last two G1 spins but, again, it would be somewhat disappointing if there was nothing progressive enough to beat him.

Bookie specials on this race

Bet365: 1/4 1-2-3 plus risk-free bet to same stake if you back 4/1+ winner (max £50)

Betfair sports: Free bet to same stake as any 3/1+ winner you back (max £25)

**

3.40 Ribblesdale Stakes (Group 2, 1m4f)

The Ascot Oaks, sort of, this is a mile and a half G2 for three-year-old fillies. Alluringly, twice beaten - the second time heavily - by Oaks winner, Enable, is favoured. But the daughter of Fastnet Rock has stamina to prove to my eye. After all, she was bested by fully eleven lengths when third at Epsom.

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Sir Michael runs Mori, winner of the Listed Height Of Fashion Stakes at Goodwood last time. Unraced as a juvenile, she won her maiden at the second request over course and going. That was ten furlongs, as was the Goodwood run, so she too has to demonstrate staying power. But with her imperious breeding - by Frankel out of multiple Group 1-winning mare, Midday - she ought to see the trip out. Her mum did, and her dad's brother (Noble Mission) did too. I'd take her as the class riser over Alluringly dropping down a level.

The Irish have won this five times in the last six years, and only twice with an Aidan O'Brien runner, which makes John Oxx's Naughty Or Nice of mild interest. Oxx saddled the winner of this, Sahara Slew, back in 2001, and has since overseen the career of the peerless (for some, including me) Sea The Stars. Oxx is not the force he was, sadly, but he has a respectable record at Royal Ascot, four of his eight runners since 2009 making the first four.

This filly is unbeaten in two, the latter a 1m5f Listed contest; not for her stamina reservations then. Whether she's quite quick enough could be a more pertinent question, the answer to which lies in a quote of 12/1 generally, which is worth a nibble each way to find out.

John Gosden runs four, and that reads like an attempt to snaffle black type for one or two of them rather than a robust bid for Ribblesdale glory.

Bookie specials on this race

Bet365: 1/4 1-2-3 plus risk-free bet to same stake if you back 4/1+ winner (max £50)

Betfair sports: Free bet to same stake as any 3/1+ winner you back (max £25)

**

4.20 Gold Cup (Group 1, 2m 4f)

The feature race of the week, the Gold Cup. A thorough test of stamina always, but it may be the horse which can best quicken after two and a quarter miles that gets the plaudits.

On the face of it, Order Of St George looks fairly bombproof. The defending champion, he was three lengths too good for the best of the rest a year ago. Although that was on soft turf, his record on good to firm at staying trips reads 111. With at least two confirmed front runners in the field, Ryan Moore should be able to bide his time and quicken through tired horses. I think he'll win.

So it may be that a forecast and/or exacta is a more appealing play for those that fail to get excited by an even money shot that should be 4/6.

Big Orange is not in my thoughts, as he looks sure to be locked into a compromising pace battle and will be forgiven for wilting late on. Similar comments probably apply to Torcedor, Nearly Caught and 2015 winner, Trip To Paris. No, it's late runners I'm looking for, and I'm hopeful that Martin Harley will take back aboard Sheikhzayedroad and play his hand on the reliable old boy towards the end of the show. If he does, I reckon he might be both the each way play and the exacta 'underneath'.

Sheikhy was a winner over two and a quarter in the Doncaster Cup, and over two miles here in the Long Distance Cup on Champions' Day, last year. He's won in Britain, Dubai and Canada and, although he might prefer a spit more juice in the ground, he's got plenty of very good form on fast.

If Jamie Spencer reverts to type atop Quest For More, delaying his effort, that one could also outrun his odds of 16/1.

Bookie specials on this race

Bet365: 1/4 1-2-3 plus risk-free bet to same stake if you back 4/1+ winner (max £50)

Betfair sports: Free bet to same stake as any 3/1+ winner you back (max £25)

Paddy: Money back as a free bet if 2nd, 3rd or 4th to SP favourite (max £25)

**

5.00 Britannia Stakes (Class 2 Handicap, 1m)

This is not really my thing. Too difficult. That said, five of the last seven winners were 10/1 or shorter, and only four of the last twenty winners were outside the top ten in the betting, so maybe I'm overthinking it...

The strong-travelling Son Of The Stars should settle better if buried mid-pack and, with just three runs under his belt, he's got plenty of improvement in him off a mark of 95. Trainer Richard Hannon is 0 from 8, one place, so far; and his dad, Richard Hannon, Sr., was 0 from 45 (six places) since 1997, which is a little off-putting, even if we shouldn't necessarily visit the sins of the fathers upon the sons. Hannon also runs The Grape Escape and Medahim.

Sir Michael Stoute has a winner at least, when the race was run at York, and another five places, from a fairly profligate 23 attempts. City Of Joy, on a hat-trick, is his entry. Off a mark of 94 and drawn in the middle, Ryan Moore's presence in the saddle suggests the current 10/1 about his chance will truncate before the stalls open. He'll be held up for a late run in a race that doesn't look overly blessed with early toe.

I've already said too much about a race where I don't have any edge, so I'll throw a lucky dip pick from the top end of the market, exclusively in hope rather than expectation: Maths Prize has had just the one run this term, when fifth to Shutter Speed at Newbury over a mile and a quarter. Presumed to strip fitter for the outing, and dropping back in trip, his juvenile form was solid and included two wins and a close up third to Derby runner, Khalidi. Drawn in the middle, where I think the race may unfold, and with a prominent racing style, this lad could give The Queen a winner on Gold Cup day. And at 20/1 as I write!

Naval Warfare, whose first two races were the same pair as Maths Prize's, made all to win on his first three year old start last time. He looks more of a man this term so, with little early pace predicted, he could carry the field deep into the final furlong. Joshua Bryan's seven pound claim means geegeez.co.uk sponsored jockey, David Probert, misses the gig, but also means Naval Warfare is only four pounds higher than the last day. He too is a 20/1 poke with a squeak.

Bookie specials on this race

Bet365: 1/4 1-2-3-4-5 plus risk-free bet to same stake if you back 4/1+ winner (max £50)

Paddy: Money back as a free bet if 2nd, 3rd or 4th to SP favourite (max £25)

Betfair sports: 1/4 1-2-3-4-5 plus free bet to same stake as any 3/1+ winner you back (max £25)

Victor, Ladbrokes, Coral 1/4 1-2-3-4-5

Skybet, Paddy 1/5 1-2-3-4-5-6

**

5.35 King George V Stakes (Class 2 Handicap, 1m 4f)

Another huge field handicap where the pin is a better guide than my digi-quill. I've learned one thing, however, and it is this. Of those horses making their handicap bow in the race, seven won - from 98 to try - and 30 were placed. That works out at 35% winners, 37.5% places, from 27.37% of the runners. Not a massive edge, but an edge nonetheless.

It's a race that has thrown up plenty of bigger priced winners, too, so I'll throw a blind dart (tuppence each way) on Sheila Lavery's Twin Star at around 33/1 (expect bigger nearer the time, especially on the exchanges). Handled by an under-rated Irish  trainer, this lad looks to have been well placed in here: he won a ten furlong maiden on good to firm at Navan before running a two length fourth to the re-opposing Homesman, trained by Aidan O'Brien. Twin Star gets a five pound pull for two lengths, having been the horse running on best of all at the finish. The extra quarter mile and the return to a quick surface are positives, and the price makes it close to a free go.

Elsewhere, and more obviously, Mark Johnston, whose record is a winner and a place from just two runners in this race, saddles Sofia's Rock and considers him one of his better chances of the week. A winner three times in small fields he has second top weight, but the trainer's conviction will need to be more than robust if this one is to get the lead - his normal style - from box 20.

Atty Persse was considered a Derby candidate at one point, but has since lost his unbeaten record over ten furlongs. Nevertheless, he steps up to a mile and a half now, which I expect to suit. He looks a legit jolly, if you're unconcerned by the widest pitch of all in 22. High draws have done pretty well in this race, including four of the last five winners.

Good luck wherever your pin lands in this one, and indeed all afternoon. It's trappy-looking fare, but great fun!

Bookie specials on this race

Bet365: 1/4 1-2-3-4 plus risk-free bet to same stake if you back 4/1+ winner (max £50)

Betfair sports: Free bet to same stake as any 3/1+ winner you back (max £25)

Skybet, Paddy 1/5 1-2-3-4-5

Matt

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Royal Ascot 2016: Day 3 Preview

Royal Ascot 2016, Day 3 Preview: Gold Cup, Norfolk, Ribblesdale, Britannia Stakes

The middle day, and the flagship race, of the week. And Ladies' Day. The Gold Cup, this year renamed The Gold Cup In Honour Of The Queen's 90th Birthday, is the Group 1 jewel supported by two Group 2's, a Group 3 and two deeply unpredictable handicaps.

As ever, we start at 2.30pm, with the...

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

A race for the rapid. Just eleven go to post this year in the smallest field contest of those open to juveniles, but a favourite of undoubted class. Global Applause won the Listed National Stakes at Sandown last time, beating Mehmas by a length and a quarter. Ed Dunlop's Mayson colt had the best of the draw that day, reversing form from a very good-looking conditions race at Newbury the time before.

That was over six furlongs, and Global Applause looks all speed. As such, if the ground is all right for him, he'll take a lot of stopping, in spite of the surprisingly (to me) poor record of National Stakes winners in the Norfolk: just one - Russian Valour - of the six winners doubled up, and none of the ten beaten at Sandown won here, since 1997.

There is a host of unexposed speedsters in opposition headed by Godolphin's Silver Line. He bolted up at Nottingham last month in an ordinary maiden and, though that may not be especially good form, the boys in blue have plenty of horses from which to choose their squad making his presence noteworthy.

It's also hard to know what to make of Wesley Ward's Red Lodge, a turf winner last time on Belmont's firm lawn. That he's on the plane speaks well for him but, again, ground conditions are a big unknown. His sire, Midshipman, is a dirt influence, and damsire, Aldebaran, has little evidence on which to go, though he did father Main Sequence.

Coolmore are represented by Peace Envoy, a thrice-raced son of Power, himself a Coventry Stakes winner. This lad won a Listed race over six last time, and had previously shown speed to bag a five furlong maiden before running up to King Electric, a winner since, when not getting the best of trips. That was on soft ground offering hope he'll cope with Ascot's conditions but he looks a tad more exposed than some with his form a beat or two behind Global Applause most likely.

Richard Hannon won the six furlong Woodcote Stakes - just - with Legendary Lunch, and he bids for a double double having bagged both races with Baitha Alga in 2014. This son of Dragon Pulse has form on the soft side of good and should probably be unbeaten - a narrow defeat at 1/5 sandwiched between his two wins.

He was gasping for air over Epsom's quick six so the drop back to Ascot's stiff five may be ideal and, as I've said, the trainer knows how to double up. Since taking over from his 'old man', Richard Hannon Jr has saddled three horses in the Norfolk: they've finished 132. Legendary Lunch looks a fair each way bet at around 8/1.

This is a race in which Global Applause sets a clear form standard and remains open to improvement. As such, he's a worthy favourite. But the National Stakes has been an oddly weak portent to the Norfolk, so the relative strength of the Epsom race as a trial - two Woodcote/Norfolk winners since 2010 - points me to Legendary Lunch as a spot of each way value.

Not much from the bookie chaps but, if you don't yet have a betbright account, this is a really solid offer. Click the image to get involved:

betbright_Ascot

3.05 Tercentenary Stakes (Group 3, 1m2f, 3yo)

A tricky race where established Group 2/3 horses line up against rising stars in the Classic generation. The last two winners, Cannock Chase and Time Test, have gone on to prove themselves at higher levels, so it will be interesting to see how the Class of '16 fare in future. First, though, we have the small matter of trying to find the winner.

Blue De Vega is narrowly top-rated, on 107. Michael O'Callaghan's Lope de Vega colt ran second to Awtaad on his seasonal bow and followed that up with a decent third in the Irish 2000 Guineas last time out. That form has been well franked with the first two home there running 1-3 in Tuesday's Group 1 St James's Palace Stakes.

This ten furlong Group 3 is two steps down in class and two furlongs up in distance, and BdV should appreciate both.

Hawkbill is next in the ratings, on 106. Charlie Appleby's Kitten's Joy colt has won his last four, includig over this trip last time out at Newmarket in a Listed race. He beat the re-opposing Abdon there, a horse who was having just his second career start. There is a fair chance, then, of a form reversal, though whether Abdon can finish in front of all-comers is another question entirely: the race they contested last time has thrown six subsequent runners, none of which have even made the frame. In Abdon's defence, his maiden win was on soft turf so he should handle conditions better than many.

Richard Hannon's Steel Of Madrid probably wants faster ground to show his best, his best being 104 and nudging upwards. He was well beaten in the Craven on his only try on softer than good, but he may have needed the run more than most that day. Regardless, he has questions to answer.

Goddolphin's second string is Saeed bin Suroor's Prize Money, second on his last two starts, including most recently in the Cocked Hat Stakes. Like most of this field there is more to come from the Authorized colt, but he is another for whom quicker ground would probably have been advantageous.

Long Island Sound is unbeaten in three - two all weather runs and a conditions race at Killarney on good ground. This is a big step up in class but, as with Godolphin, Ballydoyle has plenty to select from for these races generally. His bare form is some way from the pick of these but he has yet to see a rival in front of him at the jam stick. Ryan Moore is his usual big positive to a runner's chance.

It was a moderate maiden - no placed efforts from five subsequent starters - that Mulk won at Chester last time. But he won it convincingly over this trip. That was his second start, having beaten all bar Sky Kingdom on debut, on good to soft. That one ran third to Abdon and Hawkbill on his next outing, and Mulk can be expected to make a good hop forward for his patient trainer, Sir Michael Stoute.

This is a very deep contest. I have shares in three horses with Michael O'Callaghan so my heart hopes Blue De Vega can win. His form looks a bit better than the Abdon/Hawkbill form on the face of it, and he should stay. Mulk seems over-priced on a line through Sky Kingdom. Sure to be primed for this step up in class, his trainer won this race in 2009 and 2014, in which context 14/1 each way is a reasonable play.

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

The 'Ascot Oaks', that is something of a back-handed complimenet to both racecourses and both races! As with the preceding Tercentenary Stakes, this is a race where early Classic form collides with later-blooming unexposed three-year-olds ready to unmask themselves as top tablers.

The Oaks form is well represented by the filly that closest to Minding, Architecture. Hugo Palmer is having a tremendous run at the moment, his Galileo Gold taking over the stable star mantle for Covert Love last term, and this filly could add further G1 success to his palmarès in due course.

Although no match for the hampered-in-running Minding, she pulled eight clear of third-placed Harlequeen who was herself 14 lengths ahead of the rest. The margins were more akin to a Welsh National than the Oaks and it may be that the race was pretty moderate down the field. But Architecture can be excluded from that comment given her proximity to the established star of the Classic fillies.

On ratings she has a stone advantage on the best of the rest so, if this race doesn't come too soon (less than two weeks since that big Epsom effort), she'll be hard to beat even allowing for the steps forward of her rivals.

Your first 30 days for just £1

The pick of the opposition may prove to be Even Song, who was mooted as super-sub in the Oaks when there was a brief injury scare regarding Minding. She skipped that contest and comes here fresh. She has to reverse form with Chicadoro, let alone, leap twenty pounds in the ratings to win here - assuming the favourite runs to form - and some encouragement comes from the fact she was staying on so well over ten furlongs in the Newmarket race in which Ralph 'call me Raif' Beckett's filly finished three lengths ahead of her.

She'd be more stoutly bred than Chicadoro as well, but her position in the betting owes more to reputation than form, or even promise.

Johnny G's Sovereign Parade won a Salisbury maiden on her sole racecourse visit. She was green and took her time to pick up there, eventually going away over the ten furlong trip. That was on good to soft, so the drying ground ought to be all right, but whether she can bound up to this level is anybody's guess.

Hugo has a solid-looking second string in the extremely appropriately named We Are Ninety, a filly who has won three of her four races. The form of her sole defeat has worked out well, with Oh This Is Us winning his next two starts. Moreover, We Are Ninety showed improved form when stepped up to ten furlongs last time to win a good Listed race at Newbury, often considered an Oaks trial. She was all out there to beat Beautiful Morning, and she's not certain to stay this extra quarter mile. But if her stamina holds out she's over-priced at 12/1.

French raider, Olala, is one of a number of further interesting entries in a very difficult betting heat.

Even Song may prove herself to be as talented as her PR suggests, but ARCHITECTURE sets a really solid bar to which her rivals must aspire. She's worth a small win bet at 3/1 or bigger. Stablemate We Are Ninety will be a topical and, consequently, well backed alternative, I should think, and she might be a touch under-rated/over-priced at time of writing. She does need to prove she stays.

4.20 Gold Cup in Honour of The Queen's 90th Birthday (Group 1, 2m4f, 4yo+)

A massive field of 18, the biggest for more than twenty years, for the feature race of the week. And that in spite of the presence of an even money favourite in Order Of St George.

A reasonably late maturing son of Galileo, Aidan O'Brien's colt has won his last four starts by an aggregate of 28.5 lengths, a sequence which includes an eleven length mauling of his field in the Group 1 Irish St Leger.

With the very sad loss of Brown Panther in that race, and the general mediocrity of much of the rest of field, one shouldn't get too carried away by the winning margin, even though the visual impression was striking. That may be hair-splitting on my part because this chap's form is some way better than his 17 rivals.

So we should pile in, a la "the bigger the field the bigger the certainty"? Well, perhaps. But before so doing, consider that the Ascot race is over two and a half miles, which is fully three-quarters of a mile further than Order Of St George has traversed in his racing career so far.

We know he has the speed to put plodders to the sword over a mile and six, but two and a half? Not sure. Not yet, anyway.

With form on soft ground the only other niggle about his chance is the prospect of it being a messy race. There is no better rider to chart a passage than Ryan Moore, however, and Order Of St George will have every chance of staking a claim to be "the next Yeats".

His price, evens, will be unappealing to most, but it is probably at least fair. I expect he'll go off odds-on so do look for early price boosts on the morning of the race if you like him - as I've tried to demonstrate, there's not too much to dislike.

But there will be each way and 'without the favourite' betting, too, so we should poke around a bit further in search of an alternative winner in an alternative market.

The usual suspects are all much of a muchness - Flying Officer may try to lead, Max Dynamite should be loitering around the frame, Clever Cookie and Mizzou and Pallasator will get in each other's way and largely disappoint - but there are FIVE overseas raiders a couple of which are interesting.

For instance, what if I told you that the one-two from last October's Group 1 2m4f Prix du Cadran were entered here and are priced at 25/1 and 50/1 respectively?

There, Mille Et Mille staved off Kicky Blue by a length and a half, with the likes of Fun Mac, Simenon, Bathyrhon and Clondaw Warrior well beaten off. The beaten horses there would not be at the same level of some of this field but we know that the French un-deux stay the trip well enough.

The winner most definitely had the run of the race that day - I piled into Bathyrhon, sigh - and benefited from top of the ground. The second, Kicky Blue, was also favoured by racing close to the pace but he should appreciate softer turf more then his Cadran vanquisher and could go better than a 66/1 poke. Mikael Barzalona will ride.

Tiberian is another mildly intriguing raider. He got closest to the smart stayer, Vazirabad, in the Priz Chaudenay over 1m7f on Arc weekend, and he promises to stay the extra half mile here. With form on very soft ground and a flexible run style he might beat some of the domestics, making 40/1 a tiny bit tempting for an each way tickle.

And then there's the German entry, Wasir, who was second in a Listed contest over this trip on soft ground. German horses are generally bred more for stamina so that may have been a deeper race than it sounds. He normally races prominently or on the lead, as he did when beating the decent Alex My Boy (favourite for the Cadran before withdrawing) over two miles in a Group 3 last time. He's got got form on soft and good, and he's 100/1.

In summary, there's every chance that ORDER OF ST GEORGE will stamp his authority on this field. But the overseas party has some really interesting players who could make the frame at big prices. Wasir and Kicky Blue are too big at 100/1 and 66/1 respectively, while Tiberian has a spot more class than the pair of them, so a check of the 'without' market in the morning is a must.

If you're thinking of having a crack at a bigger price, Skybet are paying 1/5 the odds FIVE places. Click here for that.

5.00 Britannia Stakes (Class 1 Handicap, 1m, 3yo)

The three-year-old Hunt Cup, and a race on which I don't propose to spend a lot of time on the basis that it is waaaaaay too hard for me.

In fact, I have to be honest and say I don't have an iota of a clue here.

John Gosden has won it three times, placed twice more, so 16/1 Predilection, third to Sea Of Flames in a Listed race should be respected. The latter is trained by David Elsworth and is three from three over this mile trip, all on Lingfield's poly surface. Her turf form is some way behind that and 50/1 is probably a fair reflection.

Zhui Feng is top rated on Peter May's speed figures, licensed to Geegeez Gold. He ran a fair race in the 2000 Guineas to be beaten less than ten lengths by Galileo Gold, and was probably prepping for this when down the field, staying on, over Goodwood's seven furlongs.

Oh This Is Us, mentioned favourably in another context above, bids for the four-timer but may be better known to the handicapper than some of these.

Sir Michael Stoute has won this and saddled six placed horses since 1997, so Mustashry needs a check on this handicap bow. Second in a small field Chelmsford maiden (four winners from five runners since), he won his maiden at Thirsk by six lengths. That form is not good enough to win this, but he could be any amount better than he's shown thus far.

Then again, so could most of the rest...

Impossible redefined is the Britannia Handicap. Mustashry is no more than a token selection, and one of several placepot bullets.

Paddy are offering 1/4 the odds the first SIX places on this race. Click here for that.

5.35 Kig George V Stakes (Class 2 Handicap, 1m4f, 3yo)

Only marginally less difficult than the preceding heat, this 18 runner uber-competitive handicap is widely perceived to favour inside drawn runners. But William Buick's superlative ride on Space Age (no, I didn't back it) in the race last year highlighted the folly of that perception.

Drawn 20, Buick took his time to tack across and settled himself in a handy position, ready to get first run. Meanwhile, as often happens, those drawn low were looking for cover and finding themselves stuck for a run when they needed one, notably the 9//4 favourite under Ryan Moore.

Gold's draw data reveals that middle has an advantage over high, which in turn has been favoured over low. Do note though that there's not much data in the sample so, while the logic holds, the evidence is partial.

Low stalls are at a slight disadvantage in big fields on Ascot's 1m4f run

Low stalls are at a slight disadvantage in big fields on Ascot's 1m4f run

The tables are turned this time, with Buick drawn seven on a horse who likes to bide his time. That combination could see him trapped on heels this time, and he's skinny enough irrespective of his form credentials on that basis.

Those drawn middle to high with a prominent run style include Platitude, Point Of View and The Major General.

Platitude is Sir Michael Stoute's second string, his other runner, Shraaoh, berthed in four. He makes his handicap debut here, as do six others, after four slightly underwhelming efforts in Pattern company. It is unlike Sir Michael to tilt at windmills, the implicatio being that this Dansili colt shows more at home than he does on the track.

The step up in trip looks in his favour on breeding - out of a Sadler's Wells mare, related to 1m6f winners - and Ryan Moore should be able to manufacture a tactical position from the widest gate of all, just as Buick did last year.

Point Of View is trained by Roger Varian, has stall 17, and won his maiden last time over this twelve furlong distance. He's really well bred - by New Approach out of a Cape Cross mare - and did no more than was needed in that inaugural victory. His galloping style should be suited to Ascot on easy ground, but whether he's good enough, or experienced enough, I have no idea.

The Major General is the Ballydoyle runner, with son Donnacha in the plate. He beat Claudio Monteverdi in Listed race at this range last time, that race being on good to firm, and he won his maiden the time before on yielding to soft. Regally bred - by Galileo out of a Danehill mare - he cost 1,500,000 euros as a yearling, so still has a bit to do to recoup the pennies!

Consistently prominent in his races, The Major General should be able to get handy without expending too much energy from box 13.

Loads of others with chances, obviously.

I'm liking the symmetry of Buick winning from the outside gate while Moore was boxed up inside last year, and the roles being reversed this time: Moore has the widest berth, Buick an inside post. So much for the form book, eh?

Well, this is a race where most are capable of showing more than they've been able to so far, and in that context it makes sense to side with one which I believe will get the run of things in what is traditionally a messy affair. Platitude gets the nod on that basis.

Good luck!

Matt

p.s. how are you getting on as we approach the middle of the week? Up? Down? Best bet? Worst bet?!! (I've had a few of those already)