Royal Ascot Round Up 2014

Royal Ascot 2014 round up

Royal Ascot 2014 round up

So that was Royal Ascot 2014. How was it for you?

As is the case every year, there were winners and losers, and this post is dedicated in equal measure to both of them. It will take in along its meandering path TV viewing figures, competition winners, and - of course - the horses.

We'll start with the telly. Channel 4 has been under pressure of various sorts with its horse racing production pretty much since it acquired a monopoly to transmit racing to terrestrial TV audiences in 2012. The main points of that pressure have been raised elsewhere on here, and it is not the purpose of this blog to reprise them.

However, last week was a huge one in terms of the fundamental commercial viability of the station's coverage, in light of dramatic decreases in both viewing numbers and audience share during Epsom's Derby weekend.

So how did the numbers stack up last week? And, as importantly, what changes did C4 introduce to attempt to halt the slide?

Before I go on, I think it is important to say that I am a supporter of Channel 4's coverage of racing. Not necessarily in its current format, but I do believe the channel is extremely committed to the sport.

I also feel that the general media consensus of C4-bashing rather cherry picks its data to serve that negative end. The headline figure is that average viewing across the week was down from 658,000 to 583,000, a drop of 13% or so. But that figure does not offer a fair comparison.

Firstly - and implicit in this is the nub of the issue - C4's share of the TV viewing audience was actually up on last year. In that context, the channel can be argued to have done a decent job.

Indeed, the recruitment of Frankie Dettori - insightful and media-savvy - is a great addition; and, specifically for Royal Ascot, Gok Wan was a surprisingly (to me, anyway) good presenter and fused the necessary fashion blethering with the racing pretty well. In getting behind the scenes about the morning wear palaver, I - as a confirmed informal dresser - learned some new stuff that was of mild interest. And I'm generally not at all interested in such things.

I think it is hard to crab C4's effort in terms of Royal Ascot, and there are clear signs of their determination to turn the viewing situation around.

There are still issues - such as the lack of variety in the form analysis department; the banality of some of the immediate post-race interviews (which, in fairness, did seem better than usual - personally, I'd be happy to dispense with, in favour of a more considered view after the jockey has spoken to connections); and the pointlessness of asking all members of the cast for their tips, as though they all have an equally relevant contribution to make on that score.

But in covering all thirty races at the Royal meeting; in merging the requirement to reflect the social/fashion elements of the fixture with the high class racing; and in bringing in A-Listers in Frankie and Gok, who know their business and have keen existing audiences, C4 has bounced back well since the flop of Epsom just a fortnight prior.

It's a long game, and a legacy super-tanker doesn't turn in a short space of time. It is my opinion that the channel has earned the right to slightly more empathic, if not supportive, media coverage. Alas, it is seemingly the malady of British racing, and its mainstream media, to search for stains which others may not notice or consider material.

The Royal Ascot viewing figures need to be taken in the macro context: in a context which externally recognises the rise of live streaming on the internet, and of catch up TV; a context which accepts that people spend more time surfing than they do watching telly; and a context that, consequently, accepts that comparing viewing figures year on year is a meaningless likeness, unless it is undertaken against the backdrop of the overall reduction in viewing figures.

Audience share is a far more contextual measure, and the C4 numbers were up on that basis. We should further keep in mind that there is a World Cup on and, despite the disappointing performance of the home team (for some of us), it has been utterly riveting fare. And, moreover, the rather splendid weather will have given cause for many to take a walk in the park, or to sit in a beer garden, rather than jab their finger at the remote control.

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These are all material factors in the somewhat two-dimensional 'viewing figures' debate, which have been largely (and conveniently) overlooked by some members of the press who should be - and usually are - more responsible.

Let's hope C4 can build on what I thought was solid progress last week, in the coming weeks and months.


To the sport itself now, and it was a great week for high class action, and also for followers of the top end of the market. (I avoid the use of sayings like "a great week for punters", which assume we all back favourites religiously).

Tuesday is always a high class day, and this year was no exception, with Toronado underlining his Group 1 credentials in the very first race. Some people consider that this race should be moved to later in the day, or even later in the week, but I don't agree. I think it is a suitably high profile race with which to shout to all-comers that Royal Ascot has opened for business.

Unlike other meetings, people don't turn up at Royal Ascot just before the third race. They get there early, have a picnic and a Pimm's - or a pie and a pint, and they're there for the full six races (note, not seven or eight, like other meetings where cards have expanded with a resultant dilution of quality elsewhere).

That said, there was a case for moving the feature race each day from the third to the fourth on the card, and that was another successful change this year.

The fourth race on Tuesday was the St James's Palace Stakes, won in striking style by Kingman. In swerving rapidly into the lead inside the final furlong, Kingman showed he had electric acceleration and cemented his place as the top Classic generation miler this term. He will be a strong favourite for the Sussex Stakes at Glorious Goodwood given the excellent record of three-year-olds against their elders (weight for age and all that), and I'm looking forward to seeing whether Toronado takes his seat at the Sussex table.

Clock watchers - and especially the sectionalistas, who seem to largely hang out on twitter - were moistened by the performance, and you can get a view on their excitement for Kingman here.

In the sprint department, Eddie Lynam again showed his power - actually, he showed his Powers: Sole Power winning the King's Stand on Tuesday, and Slade Power the Golden Jubilee on Saturday. In between, the relatively small-time Irish handler unleashed another speedster in Anthem Alexander to win the five furlong Queen Mary. That gave Lynam a 75% strike rate on the week, which is frankly preposterous. Excellent work.

The biggest disappointment of the week, the loss of three horses aside, was the defeat of the amazing Treve. She wasn't suited by the distance or the going, but most of all she was inconvenienced by what has subsequently emerged as pulled muscles in her back. She is the sort of older horse that the flat variant of our sport absolutely must cherish if it wants to retain its appeal, and so it is to be hoped she enjoys a speedy convalescence, and can return to a racetrack near us in time for late season events, most notably the Arc.

Despite her trailing in third, it was an excellent race with genuine Group 1 horses beating her. The Fugue is a machine on lightning fast ground, and she (re-)confirmed that ten furlongs is her range when readily despatching of Magician, himself operating under optimal conditions.

Thursday's Gold Cup was a belter. The first three home were separated by just a neck and a short head, with stories everywhere. The oft-maligned (occasionally by me!) Joseph O'Brien rode one of his uncomplicated stormers on Leading Light, 10/11 favourite. In fact, that might not do him enough credit, because a car park draw, some mid-race scrimmaging, and a devil of a fight to hold off the other podium protagonists showed 'son of Aiden' in a very good light.

That he was repelling the Queen's defending champ, Estimate, at the death added spice to the tale; and that long-time leader, and hugely popular dual purpose race mare, Missunited, was fractions back in third, made it an epic of a Gold Cup. My big-priced fancies are still running, and it's a race in which I have a pretty consistent profile... of finding loser after loser after loser.

Friday started with a possible early contender for next year's 1000 Guineas. Cursory Glance deserves at least that for those tempted to wager so far in advance, and her post-race quote of 20/1 for the Newmarket Classic looks fair enough, given that she fair scooted away from some speedy types, and that she's bred to get the mile. Against that, she might need it quick - something far from guaranteed in early May - and her sire, Distorted Humor, is a noted producer of 'early types' (i.e. two year olds).

One to take from that race was Malabar. Flagged in my preview of the race last week at 33/1, she ran on stoutly to be denied second by just a head and a neck. She'll clearly win races, though is likely to be a very short price next time she lines up.

The King Edward VII Stakes - the Ascot Derby, as it's become known - was won in facile fashion by Eagle Top, a Johnny G-trained dark'un having just his third run. He'd been 'wrong' when only fourth last time, and showed his true colours here to hack up. He'd lobbed into the race and then booted more than three clear of the second, Adelaide, and almost six clear of the third.

I guess it might be another King next on Eagle Top's agenda: the King George over the same course and distance. However, the trainer is in no rush and may wait for late season targets like the Arc. Clearly this fellow is held in very high regard.

Saturday's final day was a good one for Sir Michael Stoute, as the week as a whole had been, and he enjoyed a back-to-back double courtesy of Arab Spring and Telescope, the latter charging seven lengths clear of his field. Both were impressive, though, and the former - winning a handicap here - looks every inch a Group horse, and might be a smidge of value next time in Group 2 class.

The Wokingham was won by the well-backed Baccarat - maybe that should be the well-bacc'ed Baccarat. My two were a little unlucky. Glen Moss won the race on the far side by over a length, but that was only good enough for ninth overall. And Seeking Magic looked as though he was feeling the ground a bit, finishing a six length eleventh. Ho hum.

Overall, it was a great week. Attendances were up 5%, all of the races were covered on terrestrial telly and, despite three equine fatalities, the ground staff did a fine job of ensuring safe and fair ground in a very dry week.


And finally, we had a competition. 115 of you entered, and some did better than others! An impressive 42 of you broke even or better, with seven players achieving a greater than 100% ROI. Nice shooting, and I hope you all followed up your tips with real cash, which you're still counting now. 🙂

To the winners, and at the top of the pile, with six winners from 18 selections, and a profit of 760 points, is racingguy, aka Paul Graham, aka 'Scottish Paul'. I've known Paul a long time, and he was responsible for some of the smarter elements of geegeez' look and feel back in the day.

He's a keen punter, and I know it will have given him great satisfaction to claim this title. The £100 will be a welcome bonus too!

Paul had an amazing week, notching winners at 20/1 (Field Of Dream), 14/1 (Born In Bombay), 10/1 (Richard Pankhurst) and 9/1 (Baccarat), as well as a couple of shorties.

The runners up prize of various Royal Ascot goodies goes to Richiebhoy in what I'm assuming could be a Scottish 1-2. Richie's five winners from twelve picks included Domination (12/1), Hootenanny (7/2) and Slade Power (7/2).

Stod180 also pushed hard but couldn't find the winner he needed to get in the mix on Saturday, meaning he settles for a prizeless (though kudos-rich) third. His consolation is that a nice winner at Ponty yesterday leaves him well placed for the monthly prize in the tipping league. If you're not yet playing that game, why not? We give away £240 in prizes EVERY MONTH, and it's free to enter. Full details are on the 'Rules' tab here.

That's all from me. What did you think of the Channel 4 coverage? And how about the racing? How did you get on? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.


Royal Ascot 2014 Day 2 Preview, Trends, Tips

Royal Ascot 2014 Day 2 Preview, Trends, Tips

Royal Ascot 2014 Day 2 Preview, Trends, Tips

Royal Ascot 2014 Day 2 Preview, Trends, Tips

The second of five days of the Royal meeting, and this day has historically been comfortably the toughest of the lot.

So, after a largely punter-friendly opening day, tread carefully here and, if you get out level, you've done well! We start as always at dentist o'clock, i.e. tooth hurty, with the...

2.30 Jersey Stakes (Group 3) 7 Furlongs

A trappy start to a trappy card, demonstrated by winners at 11/1, 12/1 and 20/1 in the last five years. It's a race for three year olds only, and these are the trends.

Jersey Stakes Trends

Twelve of the last seventeen winners were first or second last time out, with another pair finishing fourth.

Of the fourteen Jersey winners since 1997 to have an official rating, ten were rated 106 or higher, from 48% of the runners. That would eliminate thirteen of this year's field.

15/17 winners since 1997 had run this season, between 16 and 60 days ago

Only two of the 47 horses to have won at beyond seven furlongs had the speed and class to win this. They both won over a mile on their previous start (from just 13 who did).

Those of interest from a trends perspective include Giovanni Boldini, Big Time, Muwaary, and Mustajeeb.

Jersey Stakes Form Preview

I'll come right out and say it. I really like one in here. Trained by John Gosden and dropping back from a mile when beaten just two lengths in the French 2000 Guineas, Muwaary must have a really solid chance. That he was pitched into that Group 1 having previously only won a maiden and a Class 2 handicap, both at this distance, speaks of the regard in which the Oasis Dream colt is held. He's been freshened up since his French Guineas run and, though he's far from a sexy price, he has definite claims, a wider than optimal draw notwithstanding.

Mustajeeb is in the same ownership - Sheikh Hamdan - and is trained in Ireland by Dermot Weld. He won a Guineas trial but was comprehensively outpointed in the Irish 2000 by Kingman. Still, he was good enough to hang on to third, seven lengths behind the winner on ground that might have been too testing, and this looks a fair opportunity. My reservation is whether he really wants to be dropped back in trip, and that's enough for me to overlook him at the prices.

Giovanni Boldini has had plenty of racing already - seven starts to date - and that septet includes a silver medal in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf behind Outstrip. In his last four runs, including three this year, he's raced in four different countries: America, Dubai, France and Ireland; and this will make it five countries in five runs!

The form of his French Guineas run behind Muwaary et al gives him enough to find, and he looks far more exposed than the Hamdan duo. Moreover, I'm far from convinced he needs dropping in trip, having been a miler at two, and run on over ten furlongs in the UAE Derby.

French raider Redbrook looks more compelling. 'Only' a winner of a Listed race so far, he looks to be progressing apace. Having scrambled home in a mile conditions stakes (form not worked out), he was commanding in strangling that Listed field the last day over seven furlongs at Longchamp. He is capable of finding similar improvement to the Hamdan pair, and Frankie Dettori will ride a prominent race, though his wide draw is not ideal.

There is a plethora of unexposed types in behind, but they look either not quite good enough, or unsuited by the specialist distance. Musical Comedy, for instance, has raced exclusively at six furlongs to date, and no higher than Listed class. That Is The Spirit ran at Epsom just twelve days ago and was almost caught by Parbold over that easy strip on his first attempt at Listed grade. The latter should reverse form this time, and may be value at 16/1.

Of course, either of those, or numerous others could improve into the frame. One that could outrun big odds is Big Time. He was second to Sudirman (re-opposes) in the Group 1 Phoenix Stakes last year, and was fifth in the Irish 2000 on his seasonal bow. All Big Time's prior form was on top of the ground, so the soft to heavy on the Curragh the last day - allied to lack of match fitness - can be excused.

If he has trained on - still an 'if' at this point - then 14/1 looks all right.

Sudirman, for his part, went on to be second to Toormore in the Group 1 National Stakes, and fifth to Astaire in the Group 1 Middle Park Stakes. He was disappointing on his first run this term when only fouth of nine in a Listed event over six, but if he has trained on, he has the best official rating in the field, and retains scope to improve a dribble. 28/1 with Coral looks wrong. [Note, since writing this, and taking the 28/1 he's been cut to 16/1, which looks about right]

Jersey Stakes Tips

Oddly strong fancy: Muwaary 5/1 Coral / Winner
Each way alternatives: Big Time 14/1 general / Sudirman 16/1 Coral

Enter your Jersey Stakes tips here

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3.05 Queen Mary Stakes (Group 2) 5 Furlongs

Two year old fillies, all on the improve, and hurtling rapidement down the five furlong straight for as long as they can.

Queen Mary Trends

Sixteen of the last seventeen winners were either first or second last time out, and the other winner was third. None of the 62 horses unplaced last time won, and only two of them placed.

13/17 had had one or two previous runs.

13/17 had won either once or twice already.

That gives a fairly long shortlist of Anthem Alexander, Blue Aegean, Dangerous Moonlight, Harry's Dander, Spanish Pipedream, Arabian Queen and Polar Vortex.

Queen Mary Form Preview

So many unexposed and rapidly improving fillies makes for a tricky puzzle, ostensibly at least. In reality, the favourite has won six times since 1997, for a level stakes profit, and the winner is more often than not from the top three in the betting.

A sensible place to start then is with the trio vying for a 'F' to be appended to their starting price, Tiggy Wiggy, Anthem Alexander, and Spanish Pipedream.

Tiggy Wiggy is the most experienced of these, with four runs to her name. She won the Listed National Stakes last time, having been second in the Listed Marygate Stakes the time before. The last day, and when she won her conditions race, the going was soft. In between, her defeat was on good ground and, in the face of that limited evidence, she does have a question to answer if the rain stays away, as is currently forecast.

Moreover, she is far less likely to leap forward in terms of performance level than the once and twice raced posse, and trap 22 - the widest of all - is a negative. From that group of unexposed sorts, Anthem Alexander was a good winner last time having been hampered a couple of times on her debut. That debut was over six and I'm not sure she'd have been winning anyway, but there was a lot to admire in her seven length demolition job at five last time.

It's possible she beat trees there, but you can only beat them hollow (geddit? Beat Hollow? Hollow Tree? Never mind...) as she did. I'd be a little worried that she returns to the track within thirteen days of an effort that might have left its mark, though, and 9/2 is short enough.

Spanish Pipedream won her sole start to date, by four and a quarter lengths. That was at Keeneland, and she's trained by Wesley Ward, winner of the Queen Mary in 2009. She's very fast and looks extremely likely to lead from the stalls - as are all of Wesley's wunners - and, if the ground stays on the quick side, she could take a big leap forward. 4/1 on good or quicker looks the pick of the top of the market, if she takes to the turf on her first public attempt.

Like Spanish Pipedream, Dangerous Moonlite and Harry's Dancer are both unbeaten after a single race. Dangerous Moonlite represents the Hannon stable, and Ryan Moore rides this course and distance winner. She won easily that day and will, like the rest of 'em, bound forward from then to now. 12/1 might be worth a speculative.

John Quinn has some nice juvies this year, evidenced by the bamboozling win of The Wow Signal in Tuesday's Coventry Stakesm and Harry's Dancer could be almost as good as that one. She was five lengths better than the best of the rest when scurrying away with a Thirsk maiden in a decent time.

Blue Aegean has a nice middle draw, and came on from first to second start, winning a Nottingham maiden on soft ground from a pair of Hannon runners. That should give the latter trainer a line on the form with his own entries and, though it's possible she can improve for terra firmer, she might have something to find with those housed at East Everleigh.

It's harder to make a case for the others, which is not to say that one of them won't win, of course!

Queen Mary Stakes Tips

Tentative selection: Spanish Pipedream 4/1 general
Each way alternative: Dangerous Moonlite 12/1 BetVictor

Enter your Queen Mary Stakes tips here

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3.45 Prince Of Wales's Stakes (Group 1) 1m2f

A very high class renewal of a high class race, as Arc superstar Treve takes on the best of British (and Irish) in the shapes of Magician, Mukhadram, Dank and The Fugue. It really is a cracking race, and quite possibly the best of the week.

Prince Of Wales's Stakes Trends

The French have won this three times in the last seven years, from nine runners.

16 of the last 17 winners were aged four or five, albeit from a majority of runners.

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Six favourites have won since 1997, and 15/17 winners in that time came from the top three in the market.

Prince Of Wales's Stakes Form Preview

Such a good race. Such. A. Good. Race.

Treve is favourite, odds on, at 4/6. She is the best horse in the race. She is a fantastic filly trained by a fantastic woman, Criquette Head-Maarek. I first spotted her - Treve, not Criquette, who I spotted some years ago - when she won the Prix de Diane (French Oaks) in unequivocal style, and I backed her then and there for the Arc. Before the biggest race in Europe, Treve lined up for the Prix Vermeille, the only one of the French Arc trials with Group 1 status. She won well despite being less than fully wound up.

Next stop was the Arc, and my clever work in getting the price straight after the French Oaks was undone by a terrible car park draw. Or so I thought. As it transpired, Treve waltzed around the outside, despite pulling hard in the early stages, and galloped clear with disdainful ease from a truly world class field. She won by five lengths.

That was one of the most incredible performances I've ever seen (though Moonlight Cloud almost matched it on the same card an hour later!) and, to repeat myself, she is the best horse in this race. But she's not necessarily the bet.

First of all, she's 4/6, which requires supreme confidence in a field that includes three other horses rated 120+. Second, she was beaten last time, albeit that there were excuses (first time out against a match fit Cirrus Des Aigles; trip possibly on the short side; ground probably on the soft side). Third, she hasn't raced over this short a distance since her first three year old start, when she won a small conditions heat over a mile.

I think she'll probably win. I really, really hope she wins. But I won't be betting her.

Magician is a very good colt, who has had legitimate excuses for most of his non-wins. Last year, there was the famous seagull in the swimming pool incident, which led to a terrible run in the St James's Palace Stakes. That flop was sandwiched between top grade wins, before when taking the Group 1 Irish 2000 Guineas, and after when nutting The Fugue close home in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Turf.

This season, he opened up with a close second to Noble Mission in the Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup, a race run on soft ground. He hates soft ground. Here, on quicker, and with the team in great form, over a trip that could be his best, Magician rates a live danger to conjure up a winning run (groan).

There follows in the betting a trio of proper Group 1 horses in Mukhadram (beaten a neck in this last year), The Fugue (triple G1 winner) and Dank (dual G1 winner). It's hard to pick between them - slight preference is for Mukhadram - but I don't need to because I don't believe that any of them have the scope, or the established level of form, of Magician or Treve.

Magician looks, to my eye at least, the clear second best horse in terms of ability, and probably the best suited horse to this particular test. In short, I think he's a decent win bet with a forecast saver Treve on top of Magician. And that's how I'll be playing it.

Prince Of Wales's Stakes Tips

Value against Treve (heretic bet): Magician 5/1 SkyBet
Forecast saver: Treve to beat Magician

Enter your Prince Of Wales's Stakes tips here

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4.25 Duke Of Cambridge Stakes (Group 2) 1 Mile

Formerly the Windsor Forest, this race has been my placepot demise on too many occasions. And it looks eminently capable of dashing my dividend again this time around. Gulp.

Duke Of Cambridge Stakes Trends

A new race in 2004, there are now ten years worth of data to consider.

Only three winners won last time out, thought eight were placed 1-2-3 the last day, and all ten were in the first five.

Four year olds have won eight of the ten runnings, though they've accounted for 71% of the runners, so only marginally over-perform.

9/10 ran within the last 60 days

8/10 had won at the mile trip

That would offer a trends shortlist of Annecdote, Esoterique, Integral, Kenhope, Masarah, Princess Loulou, and Purr Along.

Duke Of Cambridge Stakes Form Preview

It's 3/1 the field in a pack of fourteen fillies and mares, half of which are priced up at 20/1 or bigger. On the face of it, then, it's a seven horse race. Indeed, with all ten previous winners having been returned at 14/1 or shorter, it could arguably be a five horse race.

That, of course, is simplistic, but it underlines the sense in starting at the top of the lists, and specifically with Sky Lantern. Winner of the Coronation Stakes at this meeting last year, in emphatic style, Sky Lantern has since scored only once in four starts. That win, though, was also in Group 1 company in the Sun Chariot Stakes, and she is an out and out miler. She does seem to need fast ground and, given the rain staying away, she ought to go close under ideal conditions.

Sir Michael Stoute has won this race three times, and he has a live chance of making it four with Integral, joint favourite at time of writing. Integral has a bit to find with both Sky Lantern and Esoterique, both of whose hind quarters she experienced up close in her last two runs at three. First, she was within a length of Sky Lantern in the aforementioned Sun Chariot; and then she was beaten a head by Esoterique in a nine furlong Group 3.

She's not won in Group 1 company yet, but Sir Michael Stoute is a wizard at improving horses with age. On the book, he'll need his magic wand to be in fine fettle to abracadabra a double reversal of form, but if anyone can, Sir Michael can.

Esoterique is clearly closely pegged to Integral, then, and Andre Fabre brings them over only when they can win. She was second in the French 1000 Guineas last year, but then seemed a step short of top grade thereafter. This being a Group 2, it is a step short of top grade, so she may be well placed,  and the way she was still cruising after a mile last time suggests she'll appreciate the drop back in distance. She offers a soupçon of value against the joint-jollies.

It's 12/1 bar three, and that presents an opportunity for each way punters, though it's not easy to choose between Certify, Fiesolana, Purr Along, and L'Amour De Ma Vie.

Certify clearly didn't live up to her previous level of form when fourth of six behind L'Amour De Ma Vie, but her earlier form - unbeaten in five, including in the Group 1 Fillies' Mile - makes her worth chancing at 12/1. A mile on decent ground is what she wants, and she doesn't have much to find with the principles to actually win.

Fiesolana should be cherry ripe after two runs this season, both on ground a good bit softer than she likes. She did most of her winning last year over seven furlongs, but had mile-winning form earlier in her career. Whether she truly stays that far in Group grade is the question, and that's why she's 16/1.

Duke Of Cambridge Stakes Tips

Win selection: Esoterique 4/1 general
Each way alternative: Certify 12/1 general

Enter your Duke Of Cambridge Stakes tips here


5.00 Royal Hunt Cup (Class 2 Handicap) 1 Mile

Yikes, a thirty runner straight mile handicap. This really is as tough as it gets, as Belgian Bill - a 33/1 shot - demonstrated last year. At least there are some trends to go at...

Royal Hunt Cup Trends

Winners have come from right across the draw, and being drawn close to the pace may be more important than being high, middle or low.

Ten of the last seventeen winners finished on the podium in their previous start

15 of the last 17 winners were aged four or five. No horse older than six has won in that time, despite 68 trying

Only one horse, from 84 to try, since 1997 has won from a rating higher than 102. Nine of this year's field are rated 103+

16 of the last 17 winners had run their previous race within two months of lining up for the Royal Hunt Cup

That leaves eleven on my shortlist, including favourite Abseil, as well as Pacific Heights, Sea Shanty, Niceofyoutotellme, and Red Avenger.

Royal Hunt Cup Form Preview

With the last four winners returning 12/1 or bigger, this is not a race for the faint hearted. Regardless, there will be plenty keen to back Abseil at around the 5/1 mark. And, twenty-nine rivals notwithstanding, it's easy to see why.

Notably unlucky when missing the break at Chester and staying on to be second, he confirmed the impression of that run by trapping far more professionally and always being well placed to fend off the latecomers at Epsom twelve days ago. He had just half a length to spare at the line, and is just five pounds higher here. It might be that the extra furlong there stretched his stamina somewhat and, if that was the case, then the drift back to a mile here could be in his favour.

Drawn right amongst the pace in stall 22, he has a heck of a lot going for him, if you like that sort of thing.

Personally, I don't like that sort of thing and, having missed the wedding at Epsom, I'd be loathe to attend the funeral - or at least an acrimonious divorce - at Ascot; especially when those generous bookie types are offering 14/1 bar. That doesn't make it too much easier, but it does grant us jam on our bread if we're smart/lucky enough to hit the mark.

Niceofyoutotellme has an interesting profile for this: the son of Hernando won a ten furlong maiden on his three-year-old debut, and was immediately pitched into the King George V Stakes at this meeting after that, over a mile and a half. He didn't get home there, but was able to hit the mark twice more before the season was out, at a mile and three, and then a mile and two.

This season, he's opened up with a win at a mile and one, and here he'll race over the straight mile! One thing is for sure, he'll get the trip all right. Whether he has the pace to sit handy with some very speedy types remains to be seen, but if he does, he looks progressive. A seven pound rise wouldn't make him the best handicapped horse in the field but nor is it draconian for a horse entitled to improve for his first run of 2014. He's drawn right in the thick of it but will need to weave a charmed way through - at least Jim Crowley is a fine man for that task.

So who is the best handicapped horse in the race? Well, as always, it depends on how you measure such things. If you like the disparity between today's rating and the last winning rating as your barometer, then you'll be keen on the chance of Trumpet Major, as I am.

Trumpet Major is a dual Group 2 (and dual Group 3) winner over a mile, and he's dropped eight pounds from his zenith of 114. 106 is still a tough perch from which to win a cavalry charge, but it's a game of relativity, and there aren't many Group 1 or 2 horses in the field, which is the level of competition that TM has been tested against in four of his last six races.

In his most recent two runs, he may not have acted on Kempton's all weather surface on seasonal debut, and he ran a cracker with this surely in mind when fourth to Niceofyoutotellme in a big field nine furlong handicap at Newmarket. He weakened late on there, in the manner of a horse that would prefer a furlong shorter and, lo and behold, that's what he has this time.

He's a 16/1 shot and I can tell you I've already backed him at 20/1 each way when Ladbrokes were offering six places the other day, so obviously I'm keen to make a case for him!

And finally, to save me trying go through all of them, there may be worse each way pokes than 33/1 Tales Of Grimm. He was running on well when fourth in a Listed handicap at York last time, and this straight Ascot mile will place more of an emphasis on stamina. He was fifth over a mile and a quarter in the Group 3 Tercentenary Stakes at the 2012 Royal meeting, and beat French Navy - subsequent winner in Listed and Group 3 fields - last backend. Olivier Peslier is a fascinating booking for Richard Fahey and, though it's a fiendish puzzle, double carpet is surely too big about his chance.

There are hundreds more, almost literally, that I haven't mentioned. That's because it's possible to make a case for almost all of them! So I'll stick with the above.

Royal Hunt Cup Tips

Two against Abseil: Trumpet Major 16/1 bet365 FIVE places / Niceofyoutotellme 16/1 bet365 FIVE places
Bigger priced each way pig in a poke: Tales Of Grimm 33/1 PP

Enter your Royal Hunt Cup tips here

Paddy paying SIX places Royal Hunt Cup


5.35 Sandringham Handicap (Listed) 1 Mile

Another mile handicap, this time for 3yo fillies only, run over the same piste as the Royal Hunt Cup. Although it looks a horrendous wagering challenge, there has actually only been one winner priced at longer than 12/1 since at least 1997.

Sandringham Handicap Trends

Nine of the 56 last time out winners also won this race, netting a profit of 8 units

16 of the last 17 winners came from the top six in the betting

For a race that is 10/1 the field, those are a strong pair of trends, given that there are just six last time out winners in the field, and only three of those are in the first six in the betting.

Sandringham Handicap Form Preview

This is usually won by an upwardly mobile filly en route to Group race success. So it becomes something of a guessing game as regards which horses can make the biggest leaps forward. Muteela and Psychometry are the bookies' favourites to do that, for differing reasons.

Muteela has run three times, and won all three, making all each time. The first two wins were over seven furlongs, and last time out she stepped up to today's distance, leading every yard of the way to a half length victory. It will be hard to dominate a field of 25, with the likes of Qawaasem, Secret Pursuit and Crowley's Law likely to be handily ridden; but Muteela has shown battling qualities when pressed for the lead before and she may prove tough to pass.

Be that as it may, I do think she will be passed, and it might be that Psychometry is one that does that. Sir Michael's latest project for the Niarchos family, Psychometry won her maiden over a mile at Kempton on the last of three juvenile runs.

This season she's been racing over further, and not getting home, in Listed company the last twice. Dropping back a quarter mile looks the right call, and she sneaks in at the bottom of the weights, albeit a pound out of the handicap. That's unlikely to be the difference between success and failure with Ryan Moore doing the heavy lifting; and those Niarchos guys are bidding for a second win in the race in the last three years.

Crowley's Law, as mentioned, may try to force the pace again, as she did to good effect last time. She has been ridden with more restraint previously though, like when bolting up the time before having tracked the speed early on, and that tactical versatility looks sure to be an asset here.

She's progressive, having improved from an initial rating of 77 to a current mark of 99, and she already looks a Group class filly. With a degree of ground agnosticism - won on soft and good - and a trainer that knows how to win at Royal Ascot in Tom Dascombe, she's tempting at 10/1.

Odisseia is bred for a mile, and has won at the range, but was last seen going on at the finish over a mile and a quarter, which would signal a slight concern about reverting to the shorter distance. Nevertheless, trainer Eddie Lynam is respected (won with Sole Power - again - on the opening day) with everything for which he buys a ferry ticket.

Richard Hughes rides Feedyah, a filly with almost as many air miles as her jockey. She's raced in France, Britain and Dubai so far, and running close to Ihtimal the last twice in Meydan looks strong form in the context of this contest. She has a course and distance win (on the round course), so we know she'll act on a track that not all do, and the ground should be fine. At around 16/1 she might be the best each way value.

Sandringham Handicap Tips

Wide open, and tough to pick one above the rest. That said, I like the straightforward progressive winning profile of Crowley's Law, and her tactical flexibility will be an asset here. Feedyah could be interesting at a bigger price.

Top of the market selection: Crowley's Law 10/1 general
Each way play: Feedyah 16/1 general

Enter your Sandringham Handicap tips here

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That's all for day two, but don't forget the tipping competition.

It's open to all registered members of geegeez. Registration is free and can be done here.

As well as a cash prize of £100, I'm also throwing in a runner up prize which consists of the Day 1 programme (featuring Toronado and Kingman), the Royal Ascot magazine, and the Royal Ascot media guide.

Runner Up Prize added to Ascot Tipping Competition

Runner Up Prize added to Ascot Tipping Competition

To enter, just add your tips via the racecards (click the tip icon next to the horse you fancy), select your stake; win or each way; and click 'Tip'. Easy as pie.

You must enter at least ten tips across the five days of Royal Ascot. That could be two a day, five each on Tuesday and Saturday, ten on Saturday, or... well, you get the idea. But at least ten tips.

Higher scorer wins £100 cash. Nice!

Entering tips is as easy as pie..!

Entering tips is as easy as pie..!


Royal Ascot 2014: Day One Preview, Trends, Tips

Royal Ascot Day 1 Preview, Trends, Tips

Royal Ascot Day 1 Preview, Trends, Tips

Royal Ascot 2014: Day One Preview, Trends, Tips

It's the biggest flat meeting of them all, Royal Ascot 2014, and it starts on Tuesday with three Group 1's and a Group 2!

And here at geegeez, we've also got a £100 cash prize tipping competition. 🙂

It's open to all registered members of geegeez. Registration is free and can be done here.

To enter, just add your tips via the racecards (click the tip icon next to the horse you fancy).

You must enter at least ten tips across the five days of Royal Ascot. That could be two a day, five each on Tuesday and Saturday, ten on Saturday, or... well, you get the idea. But at least ten tips.

Higher scorer wins £100 cash. Nice!

Entering tips is as easy as pie..!

Entering tips is as easy as pie..!


To the preview. And we'll start at 2.30 with the...

2.30 Queen Anne Stakes (Group 1) 1 Mile

One of the races of the week to get us underway, and it has an odds on favourite in the form of Toronado.

Queen Anne Stakes trends

Surprisingly, perhaps, only six of the last seventeen winners since 1997 also won last time out. (All stats courtesy of

Four-year-olds have the best record, and five year-olds the next best. Three-year-olds tend to go for the St James's Palace Stakes later on the card.

Of the twelve winners to be officially rated, all were at least 112

13 of the last 17 winners had run in Group 1 company last time, with both French winners in that period winning the Group 1 Prix d'Ispahan. Anodin finished a close second to Cirrus Des Aigles in that race this year.

Queen Anne Stakes form preview

Toronado is the highest rated of these. He has the highest Racing Post Rating too. And he has top class track form, having been touched off in the St James's Palace Stakes last year. What he doesn't have is a recent run. Indeed he's been off for exactly 300 days, since finishing distressed in the Juddmonte at York last August.

That was on good to firm, conditions responsible for his two heaviest defeats. He was unlucky to be short-headed in the St James's Palace last year, having been interfered with there and, aside from that would have been unbeaten on good or softer.

The suggestion is that ground conditions will be just on the easy side of good, and that will be bang on for Toronado. He won't want for fitness either, the Hannon team having no masters when it comes to readying one first time; and the talk is that he's improved since last year.

Talk is famously cheap, but the thing is Toronado probably doesn't have to improve on last year's form, as there don't look to be any others in here capable of running to his mark of 125 (adjusted down from 126 after that last day doing).

Toronado has five pounds in hand of the South African, Soft Falling Rain, and he has eight pounds and more on the rest. In other words, a combination of Toronado under-performing by half a stone and/or one of his rivals improving by the same amount, is required for him to be beaten. On paper, at least.

With plenty of prominent racers in the field - Glory Awaits, Mull Of Killough, and stablemate Producer (quite possibly as a pacemaker), this ought to be a true test, and I like Toronado to justify his short price.

Who will chase him home? Tullius has improved this season, despite now being six, and his hold up style could see him pass beaten pacier sorts late on. However, the French raider is the one for my forecast ticket. Anodin's trainer, Freddy Head, brought Goldikova ova (!) twice, to record a win and a second, and he clearly knows what is required to challenge for honours.

Anodin ran a very smart trial when running up to super Cirrus in THE French prep for this, the Prix d'Ispahan, and the 16/1 with BetVictor is surely too big.

Mike de Kock, trainer of Soft Falling Rain, is not too confident on his chance, though he has strong form in the book; and Verrazano, who could be very good, has to prove that he can win in this company on turf, having been a 'main track warrior' on dirt before shipping from the States to Ballydoyle.

Queen Anne Stakes Tips

Most likely winner: Toronado Evs PP
Best each way: Anodin 16/1 BetVictor

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3.05 Coventry Stakes (Group 2) 6 Furlongs

Sixteen juveniles, most of them last time out winners, makes for a far tough puzzle than the opener, in theory.

Coventry Stakes trends

16 of the last 17 Coventry winners also won last time out, from just two-thirds of the runners.

Eight of the 19 favourites (including joint- or co-jollies) have won since 1997, for a 12.46 unit profit (though last year's winner was a 20/1 shot!)

Nine of the 17 winners in the review period had been off for a month and more, from just 26% of the runners

Perhaps interestingly, three of the six horses to have won over further than six furlongs last time out since 1997, won this. Including 20/1 Landseer and 20/1 Henrythenavigator. Case Statement, a 50/1 shot, is the only runner in this year's field to have won over seven last time.

Coventry Stakes form preview

This is almost always the best two year old race of the year to this point, and it often sees horses stepping up from five furlongs for the first time. The record of seven furlong winners dropping back in trip is remarkable, and attests to the relatively strong test of stamina this is for such young horses.

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The favourite is War Envoy, who was beaten into third by re-opposing Kool Kompany, the pair split by a length or so. There is likely to again be little between them, and the form of that Naas Listed race is probably the best on show. But this will be a race won by an improving horse.

Clearly, after two and three runs respectively, War Envoy and Kool Kompany have claims. But with their respective abilities revealed - at least to some degree - they represent little value in an open looking contest (5/1 the field).

Against them, and of more interest to this punter, is The Wow Signal, trained by John Quinn. Bought by one of the Qatari's (Al Shaqab Racing), he was a nine length winner on his sole start. That was an Ayr maiden, and probably a nothing race, but a nine length win on debut is a nine length win on debut. The time of the race was nothing special, but he'll have plenty more to come with just one start to his name.

Adaay has won both his starts, both over six furlongs and with less than a length to spare on each occasion. It's hard to know what the form is worth and, with that race coming just two weeks ago, he may not have had a chance to improve too much in the interim.

Capella Sansevero is, like Kool Kompany, a thrice raced unbeaten colt. The middle victory was over six furlongs, where he looked extremely lucky to beat Dick Whittington, a horse I backed for this race. I'll be surprised and disappointed if he wins this, given that Dick's cat sent the pigeons scattering last Saturday rather than here. Capella looks to have more speed than stamina too, and may prove to be a precocious early type less effective beyond the minimum.

Justice Good is relatively exposed after four runs, and wouldn't have the improvement of some of these; and Portamento showed a real liking for soft last time, so unless it pelted down I'd be against his chance.

Dr No is the Hannon stable second string, and Hughesie doesn't tend to get it wrong often at this meeting. Still, this chap won well at Nottingham four weeks ago and could have improved since then. Meanwhile, Jungle Cat - thumped twenty lengths by The Wow Signal on debut - won by a couple at Goodwood on his second start. The runner up there, Sixty, has won since.

At the very bottom of the market, Prophesize won well for Noel Quinlan on his only start, and Quinlan told me he's come on a bundle since then. As a trainer who, with his brother, had both a Cheltenham Festival winner (Silk Affair) and a Royal Ascot winner (Langs Lash), that insight could be worth heeding.

And Case Statement is the only runner in the field that won over seven furlongs last time. That stat about winners at seven-eighths dropping back here is very interesting, and he too merits a shekel each way in a very open affair.

Coventry Stakes tips

Win selection: The Wow Signal 13/2 bet365
Two massive pokes each way: Case Statement 50/1 PP, Prophesize 50/1 BetVictor

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3.45 King's Stand Stakes (Group 1) 5 Furlongs

The second Group 1 of the day is a sprint at the minimum trip, and it will be a ferocious pace throughout.

King's Stand Stakes Trends

The older horses usually hold sway, with twelve of the last seventeen winners aged five or above. 3yo/4yo's have a 3.33% strike rate (5/150) while older horses win at 7.2% (12/167 ). 5yo to 7yo's have won all dozen of those, so the really old horses can generally be ignored too. Hot Streak, the 9/2 favourite, is a 3yo.

Eight winners since 2000 have been trained outside of UK and Ireland, and that is highly noteworthy. Mike de Kock's Shea Shea looks a far more likely than the Joan Scott US turfer.

King's Stand Stakes form preview

An absolute burn up and one in which the late running Shea Shea was mown down by the even later running Sole Power twelve months ago. The de Kock runner was unlucky there, as he broke well clear of 'his side' of the field, only to be mugged on the wire by the isolated near side Sole Power.

This time, they're both drawn lowish, with Shea Shea in two and Sole Power in eight, of seventeen. There's early toe at both ends of the draw, and I'd expect they'll gravitate towards the middle.

It is perfectly possible that Hot Streak will cut out his own running but, as a three year old, I'd imagine something with more speed in the finish will run him down. The most likely contenders are last year's 1-2, with genuine good ground optimal for both of them. I think last year's runner up will go very close this year.

Two at bigger prices of mild interest are Guerre and Steps. The former is a lightly raced Ballydoyle colt, with two wins from his three career starts, most recently in Listed company over five on good ground. This is a big step up and he too is a three year old taking on elders, but his profile fits that of former three year old winners, Dominica and Mitcham, both of which were taking a leap of faith as well as class.

Steps ran a blinder having missed the break at Epsom last time and, over this more testing strip, could make the frame. He'll not be doing much early, but if he can avoid missing the kick like he did at Epsom, he'll have a shot at these.

King's Stand Tips

I respect the favourite, Hot Streak, but as a three year old front-runner against seasoned pro's in the older horse ranks, he's got his work cut out to justify fairly short odds. Against him, Shea Shea has the T-shirt and remains in top form.

Win selection: Shea Shea 5/1 BetVictor
Each way a pleasure: Steps 16/1 Stan James

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4.25 St James's Palace Stakes (Group 1) 1 Mile

St James's Palace Stakes Trends

The favourite or joint-favourite has won this race in ten of the last seventeen years (56%) for a profit of 7.75 units

There's really very little else of value, in terms of whittling down the field. Most ran in a Group 1 last time - as did most of this field; most were top four last time out, as were most of this field; most with a rating were rated 115 or higher, as are most of this field...

St James's Palace Stakes Form Preview

Onto the round course for the second mile Group 1 of the afternoon, this time restricted to 3yo's. Night Of Thunder won the 2000 Guineas, and Kingman won the Irish 2000 Guineas. Both appear here, as do Toormore, highly touted prior to a flop in the Guineas; and War Command, super impressive winner of the Coventry here last year.

Night Of Thunder had been four and a half lengths behind a match fit Kingman in the Greenham, but he reversed the form to beat that one in the 2000 Guineas, and there were no hard luck stories for the runner up that day. Kingman then went to Ireland where he ran away with the Irish 2000 Guineas, putting five lengths between himself and the rest of the field. That was on soft to heavy ground, and it may have left its mark on Kingman.

Kingman has had three runs already this season to Night Of Thunder's two, and the latter has had a good rest since his Guineas win. The prices don't look quite right to me, with Kingman - no excuses in defeat at Newmarket - the 11/10 favourite, and Night Of Thunder as big as 11/4 in a place.

Of the rest, Toormore has a lot to prove after a moderate effort in the Guineas, and though Ryan Moore rides, he's deputizing for Richard Hughes whose allegiance has switched to Night Of Thunder. I doubt even Moore can get this one home.

War Command was three-quarters of a length behind Toormore at Newmarket, and both have been off since. Aidan O'Brien's colt was dazzling here in the Coventry last year, winning by six lengths. Alas, the form of that race is lamentable: just three horses have won four races between them since, and two of those were won by War Command. That is from a total of 67 subsequent runners!

Outstrip is one that could go well at a big price. He was off his game at Newmarket in the Guineas, sure enough, but 33/1 just has to be an over-reaction to that one sub-par effort, and the Appleby camp are making more confident noises now. He is after all the reigning Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf champ, and also beat The Grey Gatsby (subsequent winner of both the Dante Stakes and the French Derby) in a Doncaster Group 2 last autumn.

St James's Palace Stakes Tips

In what might turn out to be a match, I think Night Of Thunder is legitimate value against Kingman. And Outstrip could, well, outstrip his odds. It's just a pity there are only seven runners and, therefore, two places.

Value win bet: Night Of Thunder 5/2 PP
Each way sneak: Outstrip 33/1 general

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5.00 Ascot Stakes (Class 2 Handicap) 2m4f

A twenty runner handicap, and one that normally goes to a relatively fancied runner.

Ascot Stakes trends

In fields that have been as big as 29, low to middle draws have been favoured, due to less traffic issues and less likelihood of having to go wide. That said, draw has been less important since the field size was pegged at twenty.

9/17 Ascot Stakes winners since 1997 won last time out, and 14 were in the top four last time.

Four- and five-year-olds have won thirteen of the seventeen renewals (76%) since 1997, from just 56% of the runners. Horses as old as eight have won.

Since the field size restriction, the race has become quite a compressed handicap (i.e. very little weight difference between the top and bottom weights). Consequently, those near the top of the weights have tended to do well.

Those with a trends profile to win this include Villa Royale, Sizzler, Perfect Heart, Gabrial's King, Agreement, and Brockwell.

Ascot Stakes form preview

Betting of 8/1 the field tells you what you need to know about this contest, and it's a brave or drunk punter that goes 'all in' here. More of the latter will be taking that tack, I suspect.

A horse with a midfield position and luck in running is good bet in this race, and I'd be more interested in the young bucks than the old boys. Two that fit the bill are Another Cocktail and Ray Ward.

Both are four-year-olds, both have track form, and both hail from yards in solid if unspectacular form. Another Cocktail represents Royal Ascot specialist, Hughie Morrison, and he ran a fine race on ground too quick to finish fifth of eighteen in the King George V Stakes at last year's meeting. Hewie knows how to get the job done - as per this post - and, though Another Cocktail is stepping up a whopping mile in trip (!), Hewie knows how to get the job done. And did I mention that Hewie knows how to get the job done?

Ray Ward also ran a fine race in defeat here, when staying on over two miles in the Queen's Vase. This extra half mile must be in his favour, as is the descent from Group 3 there to Class 2 here. Nicely campaigned over a mile and a half this season to look after the handicap mark (dropped eight pounds, thank you very much), Ray Ward must have a good chance.

Oisin Murphy legs up on Andrew Balding's Ballinderry Boy, and this fellow looks a legitimate favourite. Winner on soft over two miles here last October, he may not be 'thrown in' off 94, but should be good enough to get involved, especially if there's rain. A wide draw is not ideal, but nor is it a huge hindrance as touched on in the trends section above.

Despite blinking and looking away, Brockwell keeps catching my eye. He's a regular in these staying handicaps, and has a number of placed efforts to show for it. That probably means he's not handicapped to win one, but he ought again to run his race.

Waterclock was second in the Cesarewitch over two and a quarter miles on good to soft two starts back, and is only two pounds higher here. He ran poorly on his seasonal bow, and got dropped a pound for it. He does have to prove he acts here, but conditions look otherwise favourable, and he's tempting at 33/1 generally.

There are, as always in the handicaps, lots of other that I probably haven't mentioned, but I'll be selecting from the above.

Ascot Stakes Tips

Tentative selection: Ray Ward 12/1 PP
Each way if he stays: Another Cocktail 25/1 Ladbrokes
Big'uns to consider: Brockwell 18/1 BetVictor / Waterclock 33/1 bet365

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5.35 Windsor Castle Stakes (Listed) 5 Furlongs

Windsor Castle Stakes Trends

13/17 winners ran in the last month

15/17 winners had one or no wins at the distance

Windsor Castle Stakes form preview

This is a race where horses have stepped forward significantly on form in the book, and the same is likely to be true again this year. I'm really struggling to get a toehold in the race, and any comments which follow are offered in that context.

Wesley Ward loves to bring speedsters over from America, and he runs Hootenanny for 'The Lads' here. A winner on his first start, he ran only third last time out. Both those runs were on the dirt, and the defeat was on a muddy track which he may have not acted on (plenty don't). Given the trainer's record - won this with 33/1 Strike The Tiger in 2009 - Hootenanny is respected. One thing is for sure: there's unlikely to be a quicker horse from the starting stalls.

David Elsworth's Merdon Castle's form ties in closely with Kool Kompany, who may frank that form in the Coventry. Either way, Merdon Castle has been kept fresh for this and may well have improved since his last public airing 29 days ago.

He shares favouritism with Mind Of Madness, another looking for a form boost via the Coventry, this time on a line through Adaay. He looked smart at Newmarket when thumping Brocklesby winner, Abscent Friends, et al, and the drop back to five furlongs could see him make a bold bid.

Of the piggies, Commander Patten is remotely interesting. A maiden after two starts - four Windsor Castle winners since 1997 were maidens coming into the race, but none since 2008 - he steps back from six to five, having run out of puff both times in the last half furlong in Newmarket maidens. He could run better than a 50/1 shot.

Windsor Castle Stakes Tips

I'm loathe to 'tip' anthing in this race, and a most tentative pick is Hootenanny, who can be forgiven a flop in the slop last time.

Tentative suggestion: Hootenanny 7/1 Betfair sportsbook
Big priced pig in a poke: Commander Patten 40/1 BetVictor

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What are your Day One fancies? Leave a comment and tip us a winner! (And don't forget to enter it into the tipping competition as well!)

Royal Ascot 2014: Stat Pack

Royal Ascot 2014 notes

Royal Ascot 2014 notes

Royal Ascot 2014: Stat Pack

This week it's the biggest flat meeting of them all, Royal Ascot. And, despite coming just eleven days after Epsom's Derby, we can look forward to the usual heady aggregation of equine bling parading across the Berkshire heath. Those regally-bred nags, of course, will be whooped and hollered by an even greater aggregation of human bling (some of them also regally-bred) from the Royal Enclosure, as well as less-monied race fans on other parts of the track, in betting shops, and on sofas across the nation.

In this post, I want to bring to your attention three pointers for the week which will hopefully steer you on a course toward wagering fruitfulness. Or, at least, aid safe passage from the live danger of punting ruin on this most treacherous of stretches in the racing calendar.

Not all Royal Ascot cards are made equal

The first port of call is to address the fact that Royal Ascot is a 'marathon not a sprint': it comprises thirty races spread over five days, Tuesday to Saturday, six apiece. Despite the number of betting puzzles being set steady at six a day, the respective difficulty level varies significantly.

In a study I undertook last year, it was revealed that - generally speaking - Tuesday is the 'easiest' day, inasmuch as it has historically produced the lowest winning starting price average.

Of course, last year yielded winners at 20/1, 16/1, 9/1, 8/1 and 15/2, and just one winning favourite, Dawn Approach at 5/4. Despite that, I'd expect the average to return to somewhere close to the historical 7.15/1, which has been the 'easiest' day to find a winner from any of the three major festivals (Cheltenham and Aintree completing the trio).

If Tuesday is less than kind, proceed with caution on Wednesday, especially if your modus operandi is generally to back horses close to the top of the market. The Wednesday has historically been the toughest of the Royal Ascot week for punters, with 33/1 Belgian Bill again pushing up the average SP last year, to a dash beyond 10/1.

Dodging the handicaps is almost certainly a prudent play all week, if you've the willpower so to do. Only playing them by proxy - in a placepot, for instance - is a viable alternative for those, like me, who struggle to resist the challenge/temptation.

If Tuesday is the easiest, and Wednesday the toughest, where do the other three days fit in? Well, Friday is another punter-friendly card, relatively at least. Again, last year, big odds winners in the handicaps (12/1 and 25/1) skewed the numbers up. Only larking about with the handicaps looks an increasingly savvy tactic.

Saturday is home to the Wokingham Handicap, and was the hardest card of a punter-perishing pentagram last year, aggregating at 65/6 (i.e. combined odds of 65 across 6 race winners). That's a smidge shy of 11/1 on average, and that in turn is a good three points above the historical average.

All other things being equal, this year should be easier for punters. But perhaps not much easier. Swerving the handicaps will unquestionably make life more straightforward - and reduce the number of brain teasers from thirty to a more manageable 21.


Bankers and Blowouts

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Last year's featured five were all correctly nominated as either a banker or a blowout, which means - obviously - attempting to repeat the feat is lunacy. So I'll cut to the chase for each, and cut five to three as there don't appear to be as many hotpots this time.

Queen Anne Stakes - Tuesday - Toronado

He's a bit of a beast is this fellow. Won a muddling Craven (four runners) on good to firm before running the worst two races of his career on the same firm footing subsequently. He looks a very smart horse with a bit of juice in the ground and, if at his best on his first start since last August, he's better than these, as the top official rating in the field implies. He was a most unlucky loser in the St James's Palace Stakes last year, and he looks banker material to kick the meeting off.

St James's Palace Stakes - Tuesday - Kingman

The vintage mile Group 1, in which Toronado was denied last year. Run on the round course to the Queen Anne's straight track race over the same distance, this features a re-match between Kingman and his 2000 Guineas vanquisher, Night Of Thunder. There was no fluke to the last named's Classic victory, and he may well progress again from there to here.

And Night Of Thunder will not be the only top notcher Kingman has to fear. This race also includes Toormore; 2013 Coventry Stakes blitzkrieg, War Command; and, the highly talented Outstrip, who was found to be wrong after disappointing in the 2000 Guineas.

He's a cracking horse is Kingman, and he could win this. But, with such strength in depth lining up against him, he's a blowout... just.

Prince Of Wales's Stakes - Wednesday - Treve

Treve was a devastating winner of the Arc last autumn. And she gave best only to a match fit Cirrus Des Aigles when losing her unbeaten record at the sixth time of asking. Here she might have to take on The Fugue at that one's optimal trip of ten furlongs, as well as Magician and Mukhadram and a couple of other genuine Group 1 horses. But... She's a machine. She'll win. Banker.


Trainers for your Tracker

The Tracker in geegeez Gold (I believe other service providers also offer a similar, if inferior, product 😉 ) is a great place to keep tabs on your favourite handlers, pilots and nags.

Turning our focus strictly to Royal Ascot, and although the likes of Aidan O'Brien and Willie Haggas are profitable to follow with their fancied runners, I'd like to bring to your consideration five others who fire less bullets, but are generally a dead aim when they do pull the Royal Ascot trigger.

In alphabetical order, then, and focusing only on the 20/1 or shorter entries:

Clive Brittain

Accused of tilting at windmills down the years, he's proved the doubters wrong time and again, most recently when pulling on his dancing shoes in the Ascot unsaddling enclosure last year after Rizeena's smash up job in a huge field Queen Mary. That filly may well be back this time, in the Coronation Stakes, and it would be unwise to discount her prospects, despite a slightly sub-par effort in the 1000 Guineas.

Brittain also has options in the Jersey Stakes and a couple of the handicaps.

Tom Dascombe

Dascombe is having a decent season, with 38 winners at a 19% clip. His flag bearer will again be Brown Panther - cue the tiresome 'Michael Owen is such an asset to racing' brigade - and that one will again have a fine chance. I say 'again', because he won a handicap here in 2011. Curiously, in the two June's since then, Dascombe has elected to run the Panther at Pontefract in a Listed race there.

Although he's generally best known as a trainer of two year old's (and Brown Panther), two of Dascombe's three Royal Ascot winners have come in handicaps. And six of his eleven runners at the Royal meeting have been in the first four, a remarkably consistent effort.

Nicky Henderson

Far better known as a trainer of National Hunt horses, Hendo has a few dual purpose nags, and he often targets the Ascot Stakes in particular, a race he won with Veiled in 2011. Last year, Forgotten Voice claimed the Wolferton Handicap; and Caracciola won the Queen Alexandra Stakes, aged twelve, in 2009. Eight of Henderson's thirteen runners since 2008 have finished in the top six, again testament to the noteworthy status of stable entries.

Henderson has both Suraj and Lieutenant Miller entered for the Ascot Stakes this time.

Hughie Morrison

Hughie has perhaps not quite hit the heights that his early training successes suggested he might, but he's still a wily operator capable of snatching a big Royal Ascot handicap. And, though he's not had a Royal Ascot winner since 2011 - when he had two - his runners have continued to knock on the door.

An overall performance since 2008 of four winners and two places from 17 runners is excellent. Three of Morrison's winners in that time came in handicaps.

Hewie has a fair number of entries, exclusively in handicaps, so keep an eye on him.

Kevin Ryan

And our quintet is concluded with northern raider, Kevin Ryan. A slinger of much mud, some of which sticks, Ryan might not be the most obvious entry in a list of shrewd target trainers, but he's been far more selective with his entries at the Berkshire track in Royal week. Just fifteen of them have left the gates priced 20/1 or less since 2008, and three of them won, with another making the frame.

Indeed, Ryan has enjoyed a winner at each of the last three Royal Ascot's, two of them with juveniles. His most notable entry this week is probably Hot Streak, favourite for the King's Stand Stakes on Tuesday. He has a large squad entered at this stage, but those priced 20/1 or shorter will be a far more workable subset.


So there you have it. A few titbits to mull in the remaining hours between now and the tapes rising at 2.30pm tomorrow for what should be an absolutely fantastic week of punting. Best of luck whatever you're wagering.