It's a simple concept, and one which might set the tone for the week, as this quintet promises to take the lion's share of the wagering pounds across the week. We start, rightly enough, with the opening race on Tuesday, the...
Queen Anne Stakes 2013: ANIMAL KINGDOM
Animal Kingdom is a very good horse. As a three year old, he won the Kentucky Derby, and was second in the Preakness Stakes. As a four year old, he ran second in the Breeders Cup Mile. And this year, he won the Dubai World Cup. That's an impressive CV, true enough, but let's consider that form in the context of the Queen Anne, a straight mile turf race.
The Kentucky Durrrrby and Preakness are both run on dirt over a mile and a quarter. Hmm. The Breeders Cup Mile was run round Santa Anita's inner turf oval, a track which rivals Chester in the tightness of its turns. Hmm. And the Dubai World Cup is run on tapeta over a mile and a quarter. Hmmmmm.
Animal Kingdom has run four times on turf, and won only once, in a six runner claiming contest. Although US claimers can be much higher quality than UK ones, this race was only worth £18k to the winner, and the form proved little more than that Animal Kingdom still resembled a table after injury, in that he retained a leg in each corner.
In fairness, he did what was asked there, which was more than he did on his first turf run, when beaten over a mile in an optional allowance claimer.
In the Breeders Cup Mile, he smashed up an over the top Excelebration, and ran close to the top class Wise Dan. That was a fine performance, and a literal interpretation of it would justify his current quote of 4/6. But is it a race in which we can take a literal view of the form? In my view, probably not.
This term, he kicked off in a Grade 1 turf handicap over nine furlongs, and was no match for the smart Point Of Entry. He then shipped to Dubai and beat Red Cadeaux in the World Cup. The form of that race is perenially questionable, and I see no reason why this year would be any different. (Curlin, five years ago in 2008, is the last horse to win a race of any description after winning the Dubai World Cup!)
Animal Kingdom hasn't won over a mile on any surface ever. He's lost three of the four times he's run on turf. And he's got to overcome the hoodoo of Dubai World Cup winners in completely alien conditions.
At 4/6 - or even money! - he's a blowout for me. He can win, but he's no price at all so to do.
King's Stand Stakes: SHEA SHEA
In the very next race, the King's Stand, we see another international raider put in at short odds, in the form of Shea Shea, Mike de Kock's South African raider - again via Dubai.
Shea Shea was fast enough and good enough to win the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint in Dubai, and two Group 1 sprints in South Africa as well. His overall win record of ten from nineteen is impressive, and he did it quite comfortably and in a track record time the last day at Dubai.
His record after a break is inconclusive, however, and it's 80 days since he ran around the world of sprinting in the Emirates. Perhaps I shouldn't write this, but I do have a suspicion that Shea Shea would have been in receipt of chemical assistance in Dubai, which he wouldn't be able to rely on here. As such, I'd expect his form to be at a slightly lower level, though I can't prove that.
Against him are some very fast horses, including the progressive Aussie raider, Shamexpress; and the best of the home defence, which might be Reckless Abandon, or a more battle hardened beast like Sole Power or Swiss Spirit.
In summary, I give Shea Shea a fair chance, even with a suspected slight step back in form level, but I'll be trying to beat him, and there are plenty of horses to serve that purpose in here.
St James's Palace Stakes: DAWN APPROACH
And the next race on Tuesday is the St James's Palace Stakes, one of the races of the week. Dawn Approach, formerly unbeaten but ran with - well, reckless abandon - last time in the Derby, bids to emphasise his position as champion miler-elect, by duffing up the pretenders, Magician, Toronado, and the rest.
Whereas the Queen Anne is a straight mile, this is a mile around the turn, and that - as well as the much shorter trip, and the presence of faster animals, will make this a much more suitable race setup than the Derby was.
Let's be clear: Dawn Approach's Guineas form is a lot better than anything any other horse in this race has achieved. The only questions are whether that Derby effort - just seventeen days ago - has left its mark; and whether team tactics can bugger him up again.
On the first point, Jim Bolger wouldn't be running if he didn't think he'd got the horse back and right. On the second point, the presence of short runners like Garswood and Dundonnell - both of whom are probably better sprinters - implies there ought to be enough pace on to play to Dawn Approach's strengths.
I love the horse, and I was sorry to see him implode in the Derby. Back on familiar territory (won the Coventry here last year), I think he'll win and win well, against decent but not tip top class rivals in Magician and Toronado, both of whom may owe more to the respective PR machines than actual form in the book (though both are capable of improvement).
Prince Of Wales's Stakes: AL KAZEEM
We move to Wednesday, and the Prince of Wales's Stakes. Al Kazeem is, to some extent, the new kid on the block, and he takes on more established players in Camelot, French raider, Maxios, and The Fugue.
Camelot is the biggest name - over here at least - having won the 2000 Guineas and the Derby last year, as well as the Irish Derby and finished second to subsequently disgraced Encke in the St Leger. This season he won a Group 3 on his first start, but then... he bumped into Al Kazeem in the Tattersalls Gold Cup. And he was brushed aside.
Al Kazeem is a lightly raced five year old, who has been brought along slowly and effectively. In two runs as a juvenile, he was good enough to win the second - a big field Newbury maiden over a mile. A frustrating three year old year brought just one win, in a ten furlong handicap, and four seconds, the last three of them in Group company.
He only raced once last year, in the Group 2 Jockey Club Stakes, and he won impressively. Then, this season, after a clear win the Gordon Richard Stakes, a Group 3, he recorded that decisive verdict over Camelot.
He is still progressing from run to run, and this trip and ground should be fine for him. With the likes of The Fugue and Maxios, as well as Camelot, it won't be plain sailing, but I think Al Kazeem just about deserves banker status.
Coronation Stakes: JUST THE JUDGE
Just The Judge, beaten by Sky Lantern in the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket before snaffling the Irish equivalent, is around 6/4 to win this. But it's a cracking contest, with some depth.
As well as the English and Irish 1000 Guineas winners, the French 1000 Guineas winner, Flotilla, is also entered, as is the frustrating but talented What A Name, and Irish raiders Viztoria, Moth and Snow Queen.
They're unlikely all to show up, and indeed Just The Judge herself has an entry in the Ribblesdale Stakes as well. But she will probably run here, and she might take a lot of beating. Caught short by a match fit Sky Lantern on her seasonal bow in the Newmarket Guineas, she only needed to run to a similar level for a clear cut success in the Irish equivalent. She could have been called the winner a long way out there, so well did she travel and, after just five career starts, improvement should follow.
Flotilla should pose more of a problem than Sky Lantern to my eye, having won a firm ground Breeders Cup Juvenile and a good ground French Guineas. She's smart and progressive, and the trainer - Mikel Delzangles - is respected.
This ought to be a very good race and, it's not one to be piling into I don't think. I do like Just The Judge, and she could easily win. But at the price, I think I have to mark her down as a blowout.
So there you have it. Five of the big races, five short-priced favourites bidding to cheer punters... and I'm against three of them!
In truth, aside from Animal Kingdom, which I think is really short and must drift on the day; and Dawn Approach, about which I retain the faith, the other trio could go either way, and they're fairly marginal decisions. Such is racing, a game of fine margins, and never more so than at the Royal meeting.
Now then, if you've not yet done your Royal Ascot homework, I can thoroughly recommend Gavin Priestley's Royal Ascot Statistical Analysis book. He sold out of the physical copies in just a few days, but you can get hold of a digital version of this sixty page 'data bible' instantly, and start genning up right away.
The book includes sections on each day's races (of course), and also views on the top trainers, jockeys, specific race types, the draw, lay stats, and... four simple systems to play at Royal Ascot.
Some pearls which you might like to know include:
- Two of the three odds on favourites in the Queen Anne Stakes have been beaten in the last twelve years. Frankel - at 1/10 - was the only odds on shot to win. Animal Kingdom this year looks like being odds on in this race..!
- Only one Coventry winner in the last twelve years had had more than two runs - Dawn Approach last year. And all won last time out, and all bar one were priced at 8/1 or shorter.
- Only three of the 125 horses ridden by a jockey claiming an allowance have managed to win a Royal Ascot handicap in the last ten years. 7lb claimers are 0 from 13 (just one place).
There are literally hundreds of snippets from which to glean a much-needed advantage, and you can work the book race-by-race or take a race type as a whole, whichever you prefer.
It's available for download now priced at just £9.99, and given how long it took to put together, and how well-researched it is, that's a snip. I'll have this close to hand all weekend, and all next week! [Alternatively, if you want Gavin's full trends service for the meeting, you can get that AND the book, for just £19.95]