Tag Archive for: Royal Ascot 2022

Clock Watcher: Royal Ascot 2022

There have been many 'horses to follow' lists manifesting from Royal Ascot 2022, aggregated via a typically eclectic array of approaches to the handicapping puzzle. Given the level of quality on display last week, it is more than reasonable to expect a glut of subsequent scorers emerging from those 28 races. Winners, alas, do not necessarily equate to profit, so our job - and the task attempted hereafter herein - is to try to find a few that might reward at a price in their upcoming starts.

With that in mind, those in DARK BLUE BOLD CAPITALS  constitute potential value plays in the not too distant - perhaps their next two or three starts. Naturally, that will depend on the race conditions and opposition so discretion aforethought.

I'm using a combination of sectional timing data (mainly) and negative draw bias (occasionally) to curate my 'to follow' list...

Tuesday

Maljoom / Berkshire Shadow / Bayside Boy

The St James's Palace Stakes was a race that played out late, all of the first eight runners home finishing fast. While Coroebus clung to the verdict, few judges would consider him a certainty to replicate that next time against supporting members of this cast. The most notable was Maljoom who, once granted running room, was tearing up the unassailable deficit; in another two strides, the German 2000 Guineas winner would have added Ascot gold. He's clearly of interest next time though his odds are expected to be suffocated by the memory of this luckless effort.

 

St James's Palace Stakes 2022 Sectional Timing chart

 

A couple who might sail under the radar in spite of being only a length and a bit behind the podium finishers are BERKSHIRE SHADOW and Bayside Boy. The former gained a sectional upgrade close to Maljoom's in spite of Maljoom's electric last eighth of a mile: our mile upgrades are based on the final two furlongs. The latter got no run in the straight until the birds had flown and, once a seam appeared, he rattled through it covering the final furlong in 11.82 seconds (vs Maljoom's 11.47).

Okita Soushi / Raymond Tusk

Eighteen runners over 14 furlongs was the tale of the Copper Horse Stakes, a handicap, tape. The race itself was marked by various troubled trip stories including, to a small degree, the winner, Get Shirty, whose passage was blocked before he saw daylight. Likewise Cleveland, in second, did not enjoy a hassle-free transit; but the one who was most interfered with was surely third-placed OKITA SOUSHI, who was eleven lengths behind the leader with half a mile to go. He made up a remarkable seven lengths in the next quarter mile and was still closing in the final quarter but wound up two lengths shy of Shirty. The Irish 'capper has him up two to 106 but that may not stop this progressive chap - he still only has four runs in the book.

His 14 point upgrade was the joint biggest in the race, shared with the very likeable Raymond Tusk. Martin Harley had this one chilly out back - a length behind even Okita Soushi - and, while Okita was making up seven in the penultimate quarter, Raymond closed eight lengths of his margin before flattening out a touch in the last two furlongs. It was a big effort from a horse who handles these massive field charges better than most: he could pop up at a handsome dividend before long.

Wednesday

Dubai Love

Not much to report in terms of this post's sponsored angles for Wednesday, but Dubai Love probably ran better than the record shows when 7th of 20 in the Kensington Palace Stakes handicap. That round track monster field mile race invited some horses to make a much broader arc through the bend than others, and Saeed bin Suroor's mare began from the proverbial car park in 23 (20 once the non-runners were removed), the widest stall of all. All things considered, she fared well: covering a lot more ground early and fading a touch late. She's probably handicapped to win, helped by a drop of 2lb for this good effort.

Thursday

Deauville Legend / Savvy Knight / Flying Dolphin / Balhambar

The King George V Stakes, a 3yo mile and a half handicap, was one of those with the historic - and quirky - high draw bias. As it turned out, the first two home, and six of the first seven, all exited single figure stalls. Obviously, horses can win from any gate, but such a low stall peppering of the target has been rare in big Ascot fields over twelve furlongs, as the following image (data since 2009) succinctly articulates.

 

The winner, Secret State, had a prominent sit throughout and got the all-important split when he needed it. Even so, he was on fumes at the last to repel Deauville Legend, whose failure to secure an opportune opening confined him to gallant defeat. The Legend's misfortune will have been lost on few - the official rater included, he's up 6lb - meaning his next day price will comfortably, perhaps overly, accommodate that fact.

In fourth was Savvy Knight, who found four lengths in the final three furlongs but needed to find five and a half. He had a charmed inside run but just couldn't reel in the leaders. A 2lb rise is probably fair but doesn't especially help his next day prospects. FLYING DOLPHIN also got two more but he still looks in front of his perch. Here, he was caught in early scrimmaging, the upshot of which was a position a dozen lengths off the leader at the halfway point. His 36.1 seconds final three furlongs was the second fastest in the race, after BALHAMBAR, a 40/1 chance for the Derby dream team of Sir Stoute and the Kingscote. He had a luckless transit and was never in contention, but his upgrade figure is the biggest in the field; down one to 84 helps for this four-time racer presumably not named after a drinking establishment near Clapham.

Kyprios / Mojo Star / Stradivarius

I wanted to mention the Gold Cup, not because I feel there are any dark horses in its midst but because the sectional 'by furlong' chart is quite interesting. Kyprios, the winner, benefited most from track position - being nearest to the lollipop when the sprint began. The race sectionals above the chart show how fast the leaders ran in the final three-quarters of a mile and, especially, in the final three furlongs. What they don't show are the preposterously fast final furlong fractions which, despite this being the second longest race of the week, included two of the quickest ten at the meeting (see this excellent debrief by Simon Rowlands for the full rundown).

Ascot Gold Cup 2022 Sectional Timing

 

At the three furlong marker, Kyprios (white sleeves, red cap) was 3½ lengths behind the leader and with a wide but clear path to the finish. Meanwhile, Mojo Star (purple and white quartered cap) was a length further back and with similar clear but outside sailing lane. Poor old Frankie, aboard Stradivarius (black jacket, yellow cap), was behind the eight ball - or the ten horse, Princess Zoe, more correctly - and, by the time he'd indicated (mirror, signal, manoeuvre) and turned left into the nine - yes, nine - path, the game was up.

 

 

Dettori must still be trying to scrub off the tyre treads from having been relentlessly and mercilessly hurled under the bus by his 'pal', John Gosden, whose usual grace was missing, presumed dead, by the time of the third airing of the "it's all Frankie's fault" soliloquy.

The reality is that, yes, Ryan Moore, aboard the winner, did him up like the proverbial smoked and salted fish when the Italian needed a run: nothing untoward, just top notch race riding, the kind of thing the King of Ascot will have meted out a hundred times down the years. It wasn't a vintage ride astride the Strad, for sure, but how often do you see a nine horse race over two and a half miles fan out nine wide with 300 yards to go? This wasn't bad luck, it was filthy rotten 'orrible luck.

Helicoptering up from the specifics in closing, Kyprios will probably improve again, as will Mojo Star, both stepping up from 1m6f to this marathon. They are the future of the Cup squad.

Saga

It never rains but it pours and Saga, ridden by Frankie, passed all bar the winner, Thesis, in the next race, the Britannia Stakes handicap. The running lines in the bottom left of each position row - bold figure for race position, superscript for distance behind the leader (or in front, if race leader) - for the first three home are instructive:

 

 

The fact that Jimi Hendrix led the 30-runner field into the final furlong, and was able to battle on for third, reveals plenty about the even-ish tempo of the race, at least to around the furlong pole. While Jimi was an Ezy Rider for Rob Hornby, Messrs. Moore and Dettori were again taking the scenic route to protagonism: with half of the mile race elapsed, Moore and Thesis were 4½ lengths adrift of Jimi H, while Frankie's journey was more odyssey than Saga as he meandered his way to the half-time oranges in last - of 30! - place. He was still tail end Carlo with two furlongs to go, albeit 'only' 2¾ lengths off trailblazing Hendrix.

Saga's official margin of defeat was a head. The times in the right hand colour lozenges show that Saga covered the final quarter mile in 23.51 seconds, almost three-tenths quicker than Thesis, and just about a full second faster than Jimi Hendrix. Thank God it wasn't Jamie Spencer is all I can say. The first two home are evidently talented, especially the runner-up; there was no argument on that score from the handicapper who has elevated Thesis to 99 (+9) and Saga to 105 (+8).

Cresta

I have to admit to not being much of a fan of the Hampton Court Stakes. Its interim distance is less of a problem than its typically middling alumni: these are horses who'd probably not win the three-year-old handicaps and would definitely not shake up the pecking order in the proper Group races. This year the ground was similarly fast all week. Against that relatively fixed slide rule, Claymore won the Group 3 Hampton Court in 2:07:45. Two days later, Missed The Cut lugged a pound more to a clear-cut Golden Gates handicap verdict in 2:06:00.

Of course, the races were run in different fashions: the G3 was steady with a rapid final stanza while the handicap was 3.5 seconds quicker in the opening three furlongs and 2.4 seconds slower in the closing three furlongs. That conservation of energy until the grandstands engaged full voice enabled Claymore to repel, oh no, Frankie once more, this time aboard HM The Queen's Reach For The Moon, the red hot 2/5 favourite.

Further back, and with no chance given the race tempo, was Cresta whose final two furlongs were blitzed in 23.43 seconds: not so much too little too late as a lot waaaaay too late. But I'm not sure I like the form here at all.

Friday

One of the performances of the week was that produced by Candleford, absent 219 days theretofore, in utterly walloping 17 rivals in the mile and a half Duke Of Edinburgh Stakes. This time the quirky draw bias was in full effect, the facile winner exiting trap 18 and taking the tourists' route in the straight. He even had time to sign a couple of autographs on the run to the line... no, sorry, it wasn't quite that easy. But nearly...

The first six home were drawn 18-10-16-4-15-17 and the horse drawn 4 that finished in position four, was Brilliant Light. Another bin Suroor inmate - the Godolphin Reserves handler had a crackerjack week with plenty of shots on target and one twenty yard screamer (20/1 winner) - Brilliant Light endured the in-running comment "bit short of room" twice in the Racing Post man's (or woman's) post-race observations. Riding for luck often doesn't find luck, and here was a case in point. Unchanged by the official scorer on 96, he might be back on top before long.

If Thursday was Purgatory for Lanfranco, Friday brought a heavenly slice of redemption in the Coronation Stakes aboard the clearly tip-top talent, Inspiral. Unbeaten in four as a two-year-old including when authoritatively claiming the Group 1 Fillies' Mile, she was even more imperious here in a rout of what had looked pre-race to be a very credible collective of sophomores. Trainer John Gosden had decided to skip both the 1000 Guineas and the Irish equivalent in order to give Inspiral the time she needed to come to hand; on this evidence she could have taken in both, at 75% and 85% readiness, and copped the lot.

Although she has yet to face Homeless Songs, herself a daylight winner of the Irish 1000 Guineas, Inspiral appears to have the world at her feet. While the three-year-old miler colts are still arguing about who's best boy, there is only that one pretender to Inspiral's filly crown. A match with the Irish Guineas winner, or perhaps even with Baaeed in receipt of age and sex allowances, as well as any number of Coroebus's posse, would be very tasty indeed!

Saturday

And so to Saturday and a one of the strangest results I've ever seen. The Chesham Stakes, a seven furlong juvenile race, featured a strong-looking line up headed by the Ballydoyle blueblood, Alfred Munnings. As they passed the post, heads were scratched, chins were stroked, teeth were gnashed and placepot tickets were binned: HOLLOWAY BOY, 40/1 and making his career bow, won convincingly from 80/1 Pearling Path with 33/1 Lakota Sioux - swishing her tail like a windmill throughout - back in third. There was not much obvious fluke about it either.

 

 

Karl Burke is having a fantastic season and must be one of the best trainers of two-year-olds in the land; it wasn't a complete shock to him that Holloway Boy, who had shown a reasonable amount at home, won. It was a complete shock to most of the rest of us.

But, again, look at that top right orange rectangle: HB, under Danny Tudhope - most people's man of the match (perhaps bar Ryan Moore) last week, was much the fastest at the finish and was going away after the line. I'd expect the phone will have been warm enough in the few days since because this lad - by Ulysses out of a Pivotal mare - has a pretty sexy pedigree to go with his eye-opening debut. He already stays a mile on this evidence and is bred for at least ten and to be a three-year-old. Holloway Boy got a six point sectional upgrade for this effort and it will be fascinating to see where next for Burke's exciting rookie. In spite of this impressive score, there is a chance he's over-priced next time due to his Chesham starting price; that might make it worth buying a ticket to see if he can back up the Ascot stunner.

The Jersey Stakes was next and, over the same course and distance of the Chesham, the three-year-olds took to the stage. Or at least to stage left. The first six home, of 15, were drawn 14-12-2-13-11-15 and all raced near side - the left as you look from the starting stalls to the finish. But five of those six, from their double digit draws, had only to roll forwards while trap 2, DUBAI POET, made a mid-race move from the right flank (centre of the track) towards the left. The first half dozen were better than two lengths clear of the best of the other nine.

Dubai Poet was beaten a length and a neck but must have forfeited three to four lengths in traversing the field: up five to 109 is unhelpful but fully deserved.

A little later on the final day, Clock Watcher pin up boy, Rohaan, was back to defend his Wokingham Stakes crown. He'd been somewhat out of form this season, having scored at huge prices on multiple occasions last term after this column had advertised his ability 17 months ago. Naturally, being the exquisite judge I am, I'd removed David Evans' pride and joy on the very morning of the Wokingham, determining that I'd had my fun with him. That was as maybe, but Rohaan sure had not finished having fun with me!

With Ryan Moore in the cockpit, Rohaan was slowly away, as is his wont, before zigzagging through from the back in a 23.61 seconds last quarter mile. This cute little chart shows that Rohaan (grey line) still had three lengths to find entering the final eighth. Find it he did, at the main expense of Popmaster (turquoise line), who led at the furlong but was three-parts behind where it mattered.

 

That was orange blob and four point upgrade territory for the winner, on top of a very good speed figure: Rohaan is back!

Later on, in the Golden Gates handicap, Andrew Balding's GROUNDBREAKER had a terrible run from a terrible draw and still managed to finish fourth. The first seven home were berthed in 13-19-15-3-16-12-14. It's a stretch to suggest he'd have beaten Missed The Cut with a better rub of the green, but he'd probably have finished second; the lad in that spot got three more from the handicapper while Groundbreaker stays on his mark of 90.

And still there was time for one more takeaway in the concluding Queen Alexandra Stakes, over two miles and six furlongs. Stratum, a win or bust player if ever there was, has form in the past two seasons of 15174131601 taking in flat races, hurdles and chases during the sequence. What a guy! Like his owner, Brighton & Hove Albion and Starlizard head honcho Tony Bloom, he has his own rulebook and oftentimes his rivals are unwittingly competing on his terms. This was such an occasion.

Bimbling along towards the back of the pack until the three-furlong peg, Stratum was then invited to engage his longest stride. He responded with relish, gusto and zeal, not to mention fervour, moving from a six-length tenth of 12 to a one length first and earning a tenuous upgrade of seven in the process. I say 'tenuous' because the sample size of 2m6f flat races at Ascot is three, and that is not enough on which to build even the most flimsy of time-based cases.

What is clear is that that upgrade was earned off the back of a predictably steady-early-quicker-late pace setup, which meant most of Stratum's rivals also attained a bolt-on bonus from our sectional algo. The only horse to match Stratum with a seven, and probably the most interesting one to take from this cohort, was Timour. This four-year-old's international superstar connections - French maestro, Andre Fabre, and Kiwi red baron, James McDonald - were thwarted by an unusual misjudgement from the latter: he was simply too far out of his ground.

The ultra-marathon here was a huge increase in trip for the French raider, a son of Gleneagles, and it could not be said he failed to stay. He may now be tried in France's Cup races, the Prix du Cadran and Prix Royal-Oak, though whether he's quite up to that level remains to be seen.

 

My Seven to Follow:

- Berkshire Shadow

- Okita Soushi

- Flying Dolphin

- Balhambar

- Holloway Boy

- Dubai Poet

- Groundbreaker

 

Good luck

Matt

Monday Musings: A Right Royal Week

We’ve just been through five days of the most wonderful racing – and, until Saturday, flawless weather – at Royal Ascot, but for many the experience was incomplete, writes Tony Stafford. For my part, I don’t think I managed to make a single phone call on my mobile on any of the four days I attended.

Others fared better but the internet, and especially punters attempting to put on bets via their devices, proved a generally difficult and frustrating process.

One friend not in attendance said: “It’s just the same at West Ham. As soon as you get to half-time 60,000 people take out their phones and it’s just impossible.”

But going to a Premier League football match is nothing like spending six hours watching the racing and fashion and arranging to meet up with friends. You might be able to suggest a point to gather, but when as on Saturday there is a crowd of more than 69,000 that’s not so easy. Surely it’s not beyond the wit, or the finances, of Ascot to improve communications.

I described my feelings as the week progressed – not improved on Saturday when my glasses disappeared while eating lunch – as being in solitary confinement.  Not that I ever have been!

The racing started with a bang with world best Baaeed in the Queen Anne, quickly followed by a performance full of promise from Bradsell and Hollie Doyle for Archie Watson in the Coventry, and it went on from there.

Quite by chance I had the ear of Chris Waller for a little while before racing started on Tuesday and, as well as appreciating his confidence in the chance of Nature Strip in the Group One King’s Stand Stakes, which he won as a champion should, I also got some interesting stuff on the post-racing life of his great mare Winx.

Owners of many outstanding racemares have found that life in the breeding shed has not been as straight-forward as they might have hoped. Winx has had her setbacks, losing one foal, following which she had a tough time according to Waller.

If I understood him correctly, he believes extreme activity on the racecourse often inhibits the development of the reproductive systems making such mares immature in that regard. Winx deserves to get a foal or two to pass on her magical ability.

Then there was the narrow success of Coroebus in the St James’s Palace Stakes, William Buick bringing him with one of many well-timed challenges during the week.

Buick competed toe to toe throughout with Ryan Moore just as Godolphin did with Coolmore and while it was honours even in terms of good rides and victories for the two major powers, Ryan had the edge numerically. His riding this season is as good as it ever was.

Over recent seasons we had become accustomed to Ryan vainly trying to make up ground in the latter stages of Royal Ascot races after Frankie Dettori had made the first move. This year he seemed much more intent on riding closer to the front.

Once the field gets round the home turn at Ascot there is not much more than two furlongs for a rider to develop a winning run and, with crowding often to be expected, jockeying for position is more important there than on many tracks.

I did think Ryan’s riding of Kyprios in the Gold Cup was a masterpiece. It’s one thing making sure you keep your main rival boxed in when you can. At least twice as Dettori searched for a gap to start his move on Stradivarius, Moore, level and on his outside, kept the door shut.

But when Frankie’s race as far as winning was run, Moore still had saved enough on Kyprios for the Coolmore/O’Brien horse to deal with the dangerous challenge of Mojo Star around the outside. Last year’s Derby and St Leger runner-up, resuming for the Richard Hannon team after a long break, loomed up in the Amo Racing colours, looking sure to prevail.

Sadly for Amo boss Kia Joorabchian – in the paddock on Saturday with a football-oriented entourage that included Rio Ferdinand – none of his 16 runners at the meeting could win. This fastest-growing team in racing will win some big ones, that’s inevitable. How long, though, the emotional Kia can balance expectation with the inevitable disappointments that racing at this sort of level brings, is the interesting question.

Amo Racing’s support was a major factor in George Boughey’s rapid advance in the first couple of years of his career so it came as quite a shock for me to discover that of the 82 horses to have run from his Hamilton Road stable in Newmarket this year, only three have been in Amo Racing ownership.

Already successful at Classic level with Cachet in the 1,000 Guineas this year, Boughey now has two Royal Ascot wins to his name. Inver Park won Thursday’s concluding handicap, but a much more impressive winner showed the trainer’s sure touch on Saturday.

The Golden Gates Handicap, a three-year-old contest over ten furlongs, is a recent addition as Ascot went to a full five days of seven-race cards. Boughey’s Missed The Cut could not have been a more convincing winner.

I have mentioned before how significant it was for the UK racing and breeding industry that so many potentially high-class horses from the Shadwell stable were made available because of the economies needed after the death of Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoun.

Missed The Cut, a son of the top US sire Quality Road, never raced as a juvenile and went to the February sale at Newmarket where he was snapped up by former jockey, Ed Babington. A successful businessman in garden furniture, he is also developing his racing interests, having involvement in the Roger Varian stable as well as with Boughey.

Missed The Cut cost 40k, which might not have looked a bargain when he first set foot on the track running fourth at the Craven meeting. But easy wins by eleven and then five lengths in two novice contests brought an opening mark of 95. He was heavily backed, as many of Boughey’s horses are – down to 5-2 on Saturday - and defeat never looked a possibility.

He stormed to the front two furlongs out and stretched the margin to almost five lengths, He’s already at least Listed class as we’ll see tomorrow when the new ratings appear. I reckon he’s a Group horse and maybe a top-level one.

Dettori did get some joy from the returning win of one-time 1,000 Guineas favourite Inspiral in the Coronation Stakes, but most people found his public “calling out” over the Stradivarius ride by joint-trainer John Gosden left a sour taste. You would think the number of winners the prince of racing has ridden for the stable, many at the top level, would have deserved a little more understanding in the face of one less than perfect ride on a horse for whom he has so much affection.

Nobody will ever worry in the fulness of time that Stradivarius, already a three-time Gold Cup winner, did not make it four. It was a shame for owner Bjorn Neilsen and no doubt Gosden senior would have liked another Gold Cup to his name, but that’s racing and for once Ryan rode the socks off Frankie.

Gosden was much more positive about the winning ride on Nashwa – like Inspiral a daughter of Frankel – in yesterday’s Prix De Diane at Chantilly. The Oaks third took the quick turn-around well when winning nicely under Hollie Doyle, who thus became the first female jockey to win a major European Classic.

I must say I have been dismayed all year once it became known of the departure of Tony Nerses from his role as the long-time manager of Nashwa’s owner. Initially for Saleh Al Homaizi, then for the partnership between Saleh and Imad Al Sagar, to Imad’s outright ownership when Al Homaizi bowed out a few years ago

I always believed Tony had a big input in the suggestion that Hollie might become the retained jockey for the team. Now we learn it was Mr Gosden’s idea all along. Just as it was when William Buick first went to the US, no doubt!

- TS

Royal Ascot 2022: Day 4 (Friday) Preview, Tips

The fourth of five days at Royal Ascot, Friday, has a 'get set for the weekend' vibe about it, and the weather is forecast to be joining in, too. Bring your sun lotion and some shades, then, to enjoy seven more top tier tussles headlined by a brace of Group 1's for three-year-olds only, the Commonwealth Cup and Coronation Stakes. It's the young guns that get us underway, in the...

2.30 Albany Stakes (6f, Group 3, 2yo fillies)

The Albany Stakes, for two-year-old fillies, has run since 2002 when it was a Listed contest. It was promoted to Group 3 status in 2005 and, though it is considered an early opportunity for potential 1000 Guineas types, no filly has yet achieved that double.

Usual challenge with two-year-old races is trying to guess which horses' debut wins were the more meritorious and, on top of that, which might have the most improvement to display this time. In other words, pass the hammer while I attempt to secure this blancmange to the wall.

The market is a guide. Five of the 20 Albany winners were clear favourite and just about broke even. Meditate bids to make it 6 from 21. She's an Aidan O'Brien / Ballydoyle / Ryan Moore unbeaten-in-two filly with a regal pedigree comprised of speed on the sire side (No Nay Never) and stamina on the dam side (Dalakhani mare). And she was a comfortable winner of a 6f G3 last time. She sets the standard.

Saeed bin Suroor, who is having a great week, saddles Mawj, the first of numerous unbeaten-in-one to line up. She's only won a novice, but that was over this distance at Newmarket in a field of ten, and by nearly five lengths. The second has won her sole start since and the third was another three lengths - eight in total - behind the winner. Mawj must be smart.

The Amo Racing-owned Queen Olly has a pure Coolmore pedigree - No Nay Never out of a Galileo mare - and cost €300k as a yearling. Her York debut suggested that expenditure was not completely blown as she strolled clear of a promising group of novices by nearly four lengths. That form hasn't yet worked out but it is still hard to crab the winner.

Fully Wet is the Gosden runner and she won her Goodwood debut; what is noteworthy is that John Gosden has not typically had a terrific debut strike rate, and those that do win on their introduction tend to be pretty smart. Obviously, she's up against any number of other 'pretty smart' types, and the bare form is nothing to get fanatical about.

An early 2yo winner was Powerdress, whose Newmarket five furlong score came in mid-April. She's not been seen since but the form has had a chance to get interrogated, and has fared at least all right. The second and third have won since as have the fifth and eighth. None has taken a good step forward ratings-wise, but she is entitled to improve plenty if she's not a pure five furlong filly: her pedigree is total speed.

Lots of others who are exciting for the future.

The market probably has this right, and Mawj is a much more playable price than Meditate for all that her form is not yet as good as the favourite's. Her debut was a powerhouse performance and if she can move forward even a bit she'll take some beating. She's 4/1 or so.

3.05 Commonwealth Cup (6f, Group 1, 3yo)

One of the newest and, in my opinion, best races at the Royal meeting, the Commonwealth Cup is a six furlong sprint for three-year-olds. It is unique in that it is the only race in the history of the European Pattern to have been inaugurated with Group 1 status. And it has been a cracking addition to the Royal Ascot menu, this year's renewal in no way deviating from that general observation.

A phalanx of fast horses will go to post, headed - in market terms at least - by Perfect Power. Trained by Richard Fahey to win two Group 1's over this trip as a juvenile, he also won when stretched out to seven in the Greenham. That emboldened connections to have a crack at the 2000 Guineas in which he was a patent non-stayer. Nevertheless, he still beat more than half the field and has shown he's trained on, a reservation with some of his rivals.

His ability to get seven furlongs will be an asset over a stiff and fast-run six, and firm ground holds no fears either. He has an excellent chance of another G1 victory. Stall 1 puts him on the rail.

El Caballo has won all six starts since a debut second. They include the 3yo All Weather Championships race and the Group 2 Sandy Lane. He's untested at Group 1 level but is certainly ready for the challenge. Ehraz, meanwhile, is a similar price with some good form at the distance, almost all of it in defeat. He might appreciate a faster run race than he's largely encountered hitherto, but I'm struggling to see his case as clearly as a number of his rivals. He has the widest stall, 20, which may not be ideal.

One of the pace angles is Flaming Rib, co-owned by Michael Owen and trained by Hugo Palmer. He was just behind El Caballo last time having won six of his eleven prior starts. He's very consistent and has been a brilliant horse for connections; it's not impossible that he could find more again.

Michael O'Callaghan has marked himself out as a bit of a sprint king on both sides of the Irish Sea, and he saddles Twilight Jet. Prior to his final 2yo start, this lad had won just one of his eight starts but, since then he's come home in front in both races either side of his winter holiday. His performance in the G3 Lacken Stakes first up this season was particularly impressive; he's another front-runner in a field that is not overloaded with early dash.

Flotus is the out and out pace setter having led in each of his last four runs, winning a Listed and finishing second in the Group 1 Cheveley Park Stakes last term. She's not quite been at the same level in two starts this season so has a little to prove for new owners who paid a million for her in December. If nothing else, she'll be an exciting broodmare prospect in due course.

Christophe Clement, the US-based brother to French trainers' association chairman, Nicolas, sends Slipstream across the pond and has enlisted Joel Rosario, one of the very best Stateside, to do the steering. Unusually for an American sprinter at Royal Ascot, he's typically a hold up type, though he has won from the front also - just not recently. He's won three either side of a non-staying effort in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (mile) and got the better of a smart Wesley horse, Twilight Gleaming, last time. He'll jump from box 18, close to El Caballo but wide enough on the flank.

Go Bears Go booked his ticket with a 'win and you're in' verdict in the Pavilion Stakes, a trial for this, in late April. He's since run only fairly behind El Caballo at Haydock but we know he handles conditions.

One more to mention is Sacred Bridge. Ante post favourite for the 1000 Guineas at one point, she fluffed her lines spectacularly at Newmarket in the Cheveley Park and was again outstayed in the Ballylinch behind Homeless Songs. Dropped back to sprint trips she won a Listed race at Cork last time. If she's not regressed she has back class to give her a shot at a big price. She has stall three.

An exciting race in prospect with draw likely to play a part. The speed horses, Flotus and Twilight Jet, are drawn right in the middle while plenty of fancied runners are berthed on the wings. Not ideal, probably. The one with the best post of the top of the market is probably Flaming Rib and he could be an each way play as a result. I think Perfect Power is probably the best horse in the race, but I worry about the draw, likewise El Caballo and Slipstream could be drawn inconveniently. Sacred Bridge is another for whom a wide post is suboptimal but, at 25/1, I can't resist a little tickle. [Full disclosure: I backed her ante post for the 1000 Guineas so am almost certainly seeking some affirmation - aka throwing good money after bad]

3.40 Duke Of Edinburgh Stakes (1m4f, Class 2 handicap, 3yo+)

A mile and a half handicap for three-year-olds and up, but due to the King George V Handicap being run over the same course and distance for 3yo's only, it's rare to see one in this contest these days; older horses it is, then. We do have the same quirky anti-low draw bias in play: since the track was relaid and Ascot returned from its one year roadshow to York in 2006, all bar one of the 15 winners emerged from a double digit stall. Backing them all would have produced nearly 30 points profit at SP!

The well fancied favourite, Just Fine, is in stall 7; second choice, Trawlerman, is in stall 3; and the well fancied Mashhoor is in stall 1. If the double digit draw theory holds for one more year we'll be on the side of one at a price at least.

Contact is the first on the list. Trained by the Barrons, David and Nicola, they're an unfashionable enough team in the Royal Ascot context but are eminently capable as has been shown with this chap. A good handicapper last term, he has improved 12lb in three runs this season; from a 2022 debut second to Tuesday's Copper Horse Stakes winner, Get Shirty, to a brace of Class 2 handicap wins at this trip, he looks like he has more to give.

William Haggas has Candleford in stall 18. Last seen 219 days ago when beating Coltrane - Tuesday's Ascot Stakes winner - three lengths in a Class 2 all-weather handicap, a literal interpretation of that would put him squarely in the mix. He has turf form, too, having been third in the Old Rowley Cup at Newmarket last October, and was second over this course and distance before that (subsequently disqualified because the jockey weighed in light). Haggas has a 24% hit rate with horses off a 60+ day layoff so I'd not be unduly concerned by that.

Ever Present is a six-year-old, which is normally older than ideal (though a seven-year-old won in 2020), but in his case he has had only four starts in flat races having formerly been a bumper horse. Switched to a Leopardstown maiden last June he won by six lengths over 1m7f, and followed up in a conditions race over the same track and trip. He beat all bar one in a small field on his handicap debut before making no mistake in a huge field in the Premier 'Petingo' Handicap on Irish Champions' Weekend last September. He's not been seen since, 279 days, though again the trainer's ability mitigates any ring rusty reservations.

And, because his trainer(s), Mark (and Charlie) Johnston, has won this four times, State Of Bliss is another to look at more closely. He's a course and distance winner, in the Shergar Cup last summer, and will love the hurly burly of a race like this. He looks exposed but has shown that these conditions are his optimum.

The top trainer, though, is Hughie Morrison, who has won the Duke Of Edinburgh Stakes four times - including last year - from just eight runners, and had another one placed. He saddles the poorly drawn Stay Well, who it should be assumed will do just that. It is noteworthy that Morrison elected to run this one from the options he had available. Stay Well has two mile and a half wins to his name from four such races but has been campaigned at shorter in a brace of outings since the second of his twelve furlong victories. He looks a good old Hughie plot perhaps undone by trap two.

Lots more with chances granted a smooth passage, which many will not be. I'm taking three darts here: 11/1 Candleford, whose form is strong if he's fit and ready; 14/1 Ever Present, who is unexposed for one his age; and 25/1 in a place Stay Well, because Hughie.

4.20 Coronation Stakes (1m, Group 1, 3yo fillies)

The Coronation Stakes was incepted in 1840 to commemorate the ascension to the throne of Queen Victoria in 1838. It brings the form lines of 1000 Guineas fillies from across Europe together for the first time and establishes the natural order among that cohort in the same way the St James's Palace Stakes does for the colts.

This year's renewal is a fascinating international smash up between UK, Ireland, France, and the USA, and features the 1000 Guineas winner (and French 1000 runner up), Cachet; the French 1000 Guineas winner, Mangoustine; the Fillies' Mile winner and runner up, Inspiral and Prosperous Voyage; Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner, Pizza Bianca; and an unbeaten dark horse from America in Spendarella. Throw in two further juvenile Group 1 or 2 winners with scope for further progression in Discoveries and Sandrine, and, "phew, what a scorcher!" as the soaraway currant bun might have it.

Despite the depth in the field, Inspiral, absent since early October last year, is a clear favourite. She was untouchable as a two-year-old, with daylight verdicts in a Newmarket maiden, Sandown Listed and Doncaster Group 2 en route to running away with the Fillies' Mile back at Newmarket. Prosperous Voyage was second in that race with Cachet third, and those two reversed placings in the 1000 Guineas to give the Newmarket juvenile form a rock solid look, more so with sixth placed Concert Hall taking bronze in the Irish 1000 Guineas.

Cachet has since just failed to repel another big field in the Poule d'Essai des Pouliches, the French 1000 Guineas, where Mangoustine ran her down in the closing metres (they don't do imperial across la Manche). It is quite hard to know why Mangoustine, a progressive filly and winner of all bar her comeback prep this season of five starts is twice the price of Cachet.

Ralph Beckett's Prosperous Voyage has only won one of her seven races and yet she has legit claims to be in the top five three-year-old filly milers: as well as that close up and closing second in the 1000 Guineas, she filled the same position in the Fillies' Mile and the May Hill Stakes, both times behind Inspiral. She has been prominent or on the lead each time, and I wonder how things might play out here with Cachet also looking highly likely to push the pace.

Spendarella is a third front-running option, the American raider having shared the lead at least in her last two of three career starts. It's very difficult to gauge the level of her performances, though we know she, like Inspiral, has been a daylight (i.e. by more than a length) winner of each race she's contested, up to Grade 2 level. Trained by British ex-pat Graham Motion, who brought Sharing, in the same Eclipse Thoroughbreds silks, over to finish second in the 2020 renewal of this, connections have a handle on what's needed to go close and as such she is respected.

While Spendarella doesn't have the same level of form in the book as Sharing did, fellow long-hauler, Pizza Bianca, does. She showed an excellent turn of foot to win the race Sharing won, the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, and she did it on fast ground and on a track, Del Mar's inner turf, that makes Ascot's turning course look like the vast expanses of the Serengeti. Moreover, who was in fourth that day? None other than Cachet, who must be an absolute dream to train and, especially, own. Cachet led there, as she tends to do, and Pizza Bianca needed a charmed run to get to the front. Here's what that looked like:

That's pretty cool, huh? I think it was down to Nathan Horrocks and his team to put that content together, and it really adds another dimension post-race.

In any case, we can see that Pizza Bianca had a ground-saving trip on the rail for the most part and that when the splits came she was fast enough to go through them. That alone makes her a runner in the Coronation for her celebrity chef owner, Bobby Flay, and French ex-pat trainer, Christophe Clement. Her form this year has been at a lower level in two starts, second to the sometimes very useful Consumer Spending (trained by Chad Brown) and then an easy winner of a conditions race; this has been the plan.

And still the good ones come. Discoveries was a highly touted juvenile, winning the G1 Moyglare Stud Stakes on Irish Champions' Weekend before a flat effort in midfield in the 1000 Guineas. She was notably weak that day, having been strong in ante post lists through the winter, so perhaps she just needed the run there. Freshened up since, if she's trained on - and she has yet to prove that, though market confidence suggests she has - she is yet another contender. She's still to win over a mile but her pedigree implies it ought not to be beyond her reach.

David Probert, sponsored by geegeez, rides Sandrine, a Group 2-winning filly at two, as well as a Royal Ascot winner (G3 Albany) and a staying on fifth in the 1000 Guineas. It is possible she was merely passing more serious non-stayers that day at Newmarket, but she showed she's trained on and retains her class; this turning track might help her get home, too, and it would be a fairy story for her rider if he could register the first domestic Group 1 of his career on the Royal stage. He has a squeak.

But wait, where's the Ballydoyle runner? We have to go down to the ninth in the current betting lists to locate Tenebrism. A winner twice at two over sprint distances - notably in the Group 1 Cheveley Park Stakes over six furlongs - she was behind Cachet, Prosperous Voyage, Sandrine et al when only eighth in the 1000 Guineas. Her pedigree - by Caravaggio out of a Pivotal mare whose family have all run no further than a mile - suggests this is a stretch.

Mrs Tabor and Mrs Magnier take on their 'other halves' here, too, with Grande Dame, trained by John and Thady. She's only raced twice, winning on Ascot trials day in April and running a close second in a York fillies' race in May. She's going to be a better filly than she's shown to date but this is a deep race and she needs to step forward more than a stone on ratings even if the rest don't improve; that seems unlikely.

It's a proper Bobby Dazzler of a Coronation Stakes, undoubtedly one of the races of the week for me. Tactics and luck in running add to the puzzle, with the likely pace horses (Spendarella, Cachet, Prosperous Voyage) drawn 8, 9, and 12 - and with Mangoustine in 1 capable of pushing on, too. That quartet are expected to be prominent if not leading and may be joined by Discoveries (also wide in stall 10) and, if they're not outpaced/outclassed, Honey Girl (11) and Rolling The Dice (3). Meanwhile, searching for a run at the business end will be Inspiral (5), Sandrine (6), and Pizza Bianca (7). The cleanest trip may win the races.

On reflection, I think Cachet and Spendarella are likely to take them along, with Inspiral sure to make a bold bid if fit enough and if getting a run. Those two if's make 2/1 skinny enough and the horse I think is over-priced is Pizza Bianca. Non Wesley Ward-trained US turf horses tend to be under-rated when they come to Ascot but they've a good record: as well as Sharing, Tepin won the Queen Anne in 2016, and Artos was 4th in the Queen Mary last year from just a handful of runners. This filly has the race smarts to negotiate a passage on a tight turf track, and the finishing speed to take advantage of it. It will be her first time going right-handed but at 16/1 she's worth a go in a brilliant, and open, renewal.

The French 1000 Guineas winner, Mangoustine, is also worth a second look. She'll probably be behind the speed and in front of the late finishers so she may at least get first run on those closers, something she did when scoring at Longchamp last time. 10/1 looks too big.

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

This was historically a race for the top of the market, fillies returned at single figure odds winning seven of the eight renewals between 2009 and 2016; but since then there have been two 33/1 winners and a 20/1. Hmm. Probably just ignore the market and go with what you fancy then... This is a straight track mile rather than the preceding fillies' mile run on the round course, so luck in running is less of a factor while stamina for the trip is a fundamental prerequisite.

Although most of the last 14 winners were unexposed in handicaps - half were making their 'cap bow, another two were second start in a handicap - it is those with more experience that have the best strike rate, and they tend to be a better price as slightly less sexy plays. Focusing on a minority subset of winners means what follows probably won't identify the first past the post, but if it does we'll be rewarded for our nonconformist perspective.

It will come as little surprise that, of the five more exposed winners since 2008, they all finished first (four) or second (one) last time. Looking solely at last time winners to have raced in two or more handicaps, four of the 18 rocking up in the Sandringham won it. And perhaps it could be called the sand-ringham, because three of those four were all-weather winners, an observation made elsewhere by cleverer people than me who contend that the straight track has a sandy composition not dissimilar to those golden surfaced racecourses. Such matters are way beyond my compass, but in the land of the blind and all that...

Long and short, there are four horses that fit this (tenuous) bill: Golden Spice, Gatecrasher Girl, Washraa, and Tamarama.

Golden Spice has won four of her last six, leading each time, and has two verdicts apiece on turf and all-weather with the turf wins on straight tracks. However, all wins were over seven furlongs and in single figure field sizes.

William Knight trains Gatecrasher Girl, a filly who has won all three of her starts this year, all at a mile. The fact she tends to get up close home has perhaps made it hard for the handicapper to assess her ability and she is still on an upward curve. She won over a straight mile at Doncaster last time so there are no reservations on that score.

Owen Burrows, for whom life has been more challenging since the reorganisation following Sheikh Hamdan's passing, has a chance to once more advertise his abilities, courtesy of Washraa. She's had five races, four on the all-weather, and two wins, on both her handicap spins, one turf and one all-weather. On both occasions, she was doing the good work very late on and is another who could be a step ahead of the 'capper. She'll naturally need to be.

And Tamarama rounds out my quartet of 'hopeful no-hopers'. David Probert gets the leg up on Charlie Hills' bid for a second (at least, writing before Thursday's card) handicap winner of the week after Dark Shift bagged the Royal Hunt Cup on Wednesday. Tamarama has won two of seven - the most recent two - and was previously placed in an all-weather maiden on her only attempt off the lawns. She tends to race forwardly and has done her winning in small fields so she has a bit to prove in these conditions; but she'll stay, and connections are very much respected.

Of course, there are battalions of others with chances, most of them at shorter prices. But in what is a very tough heat to deconstruct, I'm speculating wildly for sticky bun stakes; and I'm siding each way with 22/1 Gatecrasher Girl and 22/1 Washraa. Get six or more places. I'll probably have tiny bets on the other two, Golden Spice and Tamarama, as well.

5.35 King Edward VII Stakes (1m4f, Group 2, 3yo colts & geldings)

A disappointing turnout for the 'Ascot Derby', both in quality and quantity terms. Of the six to line up, only one - the exposed looking Changingoftheguard - has a rating higher than 102. Trying to polish a, well, you get the gist, Changingoftheguard is a worthy 110 and was a creditable fifth in the Derby having previously won the Chester Vase.

In opposition, there are at least some improvers, the pick of which might be Ottoman Fleet, the only one in the line up yet to receive an official mark. He followed up a debut second at Newbury that has worked out well (third placed Lionel won the Listed Cocked Hat Stakes next time) with a 'just about' verdict in the Listed Fairway Stakes at Newmarket. That was ten furlongs and he seemed to need further - he's by Sea The Stars out of a Motivator mare - and gets a quarter mile more runway to work with this time.

Lysander doesn't look quite the same level: a debut 3rd on heavy was followed by an eight length stroll in a Newcastle novice over 1m2f. None of the six runs from horses out of that race have registered even a placed effort so the form is dubious. More materially, Lysander was beaten by Lionel in the previously referenced Cocked Hat Stakes, notwithstanding that it was a narrow defeat. He might relish the extra furlong here though that's not been totally obvious either on run style or pedigree: he's by New Approach out of a Shamardal mare. To be totally fair, there is stamina in the dam's family including dam Darting herself who was moderate but won over 1m4f.

Grand Alliance looked a promising horse when bidding for a hat-trick in the Blue Riband Trial at Epsom. Only half a length behind Nahanni, that was a creditable performance, and the Derby obviously didn't go to plan: he was beaten a long way. But if we lob that G1 effort his profile retains an ascendant hue though he has plenty to find on the ratings.

Dark Moon Rising, a Night Of Thunder colt, steps up to a mile and a half for the first time having been comprehensively thumped by Desert Crown in the Dante at York. That in turn was a first attempt at beyond a mile so he's got to find some stamina from somewhere.

Completing the line up is Savvy Victory, trained by Sean Woods. He's already been separately duffed up by Changingoftheguard and Ottoman Fleet and appears to be outclassed.

In terms of how the race will be run, Changingoftheguard is the obvious pace horse: he tends to go forward and is proven at the trip. Dark Moon Rising also goes forward often but, with stamina not assured, he might be more patiently ridden (and he might not, obvs). Lysander is expected to track the pace with the other three biding their time and hoping not to be caught out of their ground. I can see Ryan Moore looking to dominate from the get go, gradually winding up the tempo and hoping to draw the sting from his rivals; he would look susceptible in that scenario, however, and perhaps the virtually-guaranteed-to-improve Ottoman Fleet at 9/4 is the answer to a fairly uninspiring affair.

6.10 Palace Of Holyroodhouse Stakes (5f, Class 2 handicap, 3yo)

The Friday nightcap is a great time to go to the bar. Thirty-odd three-year-old sprinters, many of them making their handicap debut. This is perhaps the ultimate guessers' race at the meeting, and your guess is as good as - very likely better than - mine.

My three guesses then: Shamlaan is quick and wins quite often, usually in smaller fields. Importantly, he's 20/1. And I've always loved the very fast two-year-old, now three of course, Navello. He's dropped a few pounds in the handicap and can go a bit. He, too, is 20/1. And then there's the Wesley Ward wunner, Wuthin - sorry, Ruthin. She was seventh in the Windsor Castle last year, either side of Keeneland scores and, what makes this part of the guessy play, is that Wes has a handicap winner at the meeting from just three attempts (Con Te Partiro in the 2017 Sandringham - I backed her, so probably another bias in play here). She's 10/1 in a place.

*

Good luck if you're betting this race, or indeed any of the races on Friday. And I hope you've enjoyed my gallops through the form for the four week days of Royal Ascot. As ever, 'Heath' day, as it once was, is time for me to reacquaint with the family - they seem like nice people, so why not? - so the best of British (or Irish or French or Australian or American) to you with your weekend wagering. Win or lose, it's been a fantastic week's sport. Thanks for following some of it here on geegeez.

Matt

Royal Ascot 2022: Day 3 (Thursday) Preview, Tips

Thursday, day three at Royal Ascot, Ladies' Day, features the signature race of the entire week, the Gold Cup, first run in 1807. The Ribblesdale Stakes, Group 2, further bolsters an exciting seven race card with three impossibly difficult handicap puzzles, a two-year-old Group 2 sprint and a Group 3 for the Classic generation completing the menu. As ever, we get underway at 2.30, with the...

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

The Norfolk Stakes, first run in 1843, was originally called the New Stakes and run over less than half a mile! It was renamed in reference to the Duke Of Norfolk in 1973.

Favourite this time is The Antarctic, for the Coolmore collective. He's two from two at this minimum trip, the second of which was when beating the smart yardstick, Mehmar, and subsequent scorer and Windsor Castle entry, Wodao. He's the pick of the Irish and may be the pick of the lot, but some have run faster than him to this point.

Walbank is one such. Football agent Kia Joorabchian has invested heavily in the sport in the last couple of years under the AMO Racing banner; and he forked out over half a million for this lad, the first foal of No Lippy - a three-time winner over five furlongs as a juvenile - by Kodiac, at the breeze up sales. A highly promising debut over course and distance when giving best only to Coventry fancy, Noble Style, was improved upon when bolting up by seven lengths in a four-runner York novice. He's obviously quick.

Andrew Balding saddles the once-raced unbeaten Bakeel, and we know already of the Kingsclere handler's deft touch in Royal Ascot juvenile events. Bakeel's win was over course and distance on good to firm, so no reservations about conditions. He will of course progress from first to second start as almost all of Balding's horses do.

Crispy Cat is another about whose level of form we will know more by race time. He's been close to both Maria Branwell and Blackbeard in defeat, those two fancied for earlier juvenile contests in the week. When I say 'close', he's a short head and a neck away from being three-from-three, with fresh air back to the third in the Listed National Stakes last time. I expect he'll be near the lead early.

If Pillow Talk runs here - she's still in Friday's Albany as well - she could be a contender. She beat her 14 rivals in the Listed Marygate Stakes at York last time and, while the margin was only a neck, she was going away at the death: that bodes well for the rise to the line here.

A typically competitive two-year-old race at the Royal meeting, with the winner almost certain to reveal more than the level currently in the book. As such, it's a question of value guessing! Pillow Talk, in receipt of three pounds from the colts, could give the boys plenty to think about and is offered as an each way play more in hope than expectation in a cracking little contest.

3.05 King George V Stakes (1m4f, Class 2 handicap, 3yo)

One of the quirkier draw biases in Britain is Ascot's mile and a half when big fields line up. For whatever reason, low numbers seem to have a devil of a job as the images below break down.

The first chart, above, is a simple percentage of rivals beaten (PRB) by draw third. Below is a rolling three-stall average percentage of rivals beaten (PRB3).

With PRB, every runner in every race receives a score for the percentage of rivals they've beaten. For example, in a five runner race, the winner has beaten 100% of rivals and the last home has beaten 0% of rivals. The second horse across the line lost to the winner but beat three others - he beat three of his four rivals and, therefore, had 75% of rivals beaten. Still with me? Good.

From there, we can calculate a PRB score for each stall, or for a trainer's runners, or for... well, lots of things. It's a really useful metric and is always my 'go to' when looking for a draw bias.

We publish PRB on a scale of 0 to 1, representing 0% to 100%; thus a PRB of 0.5 means 50% of rivals beaten, which is slap bang in the middle - no edge, positive or negative. A good PRB score is generally considered to be anything from 55% (0.55) upwards, while a poor PRB score is anything from 45% (0.45) downwards. Remember that, now!

Getting back to our second chart above, we see that stalls 1 to 6 are all at or around 0.45 or lower; this is not good. Stalls 7 to 9 or so hover on 0.5 - no edge - while stalls 10 to around 16 surge into the advantageous zone before the widest stalls of all lapse back towards 0.45 for box 19, the maximum width of starting gate used at this distance.

Because every runner receives a score, that means we have a sample size of 461 in spite of there only having been 26 races under these conditions since 2009, from when our data commences.

The management summary - and I appreciate some of you would have been screaming for this several paras earlier - is that a double-digit draw though probably not higher than 16 or 17, might be optimal, all other things being equal. Phew. [I wanted to share the above because I believe it has much more general utility for the more curious Gold subscribers, and I hope it might help you to gain a more nuanced understanding of draw biases].

Focusing exclusively on the presumed warm zone, let's start with Henry and Jamie - de Bromhead and Spencer - who might be something of an odd couple in one regard but who both know the time of day in another. They combine with Vina Sena, who has been held up in defeat the last four times, largely over ten furlongs. He's gagging for the extra quarter mile and looks to handle quick turf well. Naturally, a charmed passage will be needed but he's a very fair price about which to take that chance.

This is an interesting slot for the William Haggas handicap debutant, Post Impressionist, who was second to Eldar Eldarov (runs in the Queen's Vase on Wednesday). The trip should be no problem as a son of Teofilo whose mum won over hurdles (and was Group placed on the level). Depending on how the Vase goes, his opening mark of 89 could look lenient by the time they enter the stalls.

Israr is a Shadwell colt who has been running as if this mile and a half will suit better than the ten furlongs over which he won last time. That's hardly surprising given that his dam is none other than 2014 Oaks and King George heroine, Taghrooda. He's clearly bred to be good and we have not seen the best of him yet. He's another late runner from a presumed good draw.

And how could I not mention Clock Watcher horse, Franz Strauss? He was noted as an upwardly mobile type in this post in January since when he's run a middling sort of race in a ten furlong Nottingham novice having also run only fairly in a Group 3 the time before. Sights are lowered to handicap company, and Frankie climbs aboard for the first time.

A typical Royal Ascot handicap with oodles of unexposed regally-bred possibles. I'm going to split two units between three horses each way, such is my lily-livered uncertainty (whilst still wanting to be involved, natch). The trio is comprised of Vina Sena - could be a classic Jamie closer; Post Impressionist (bet him before the Queen's Vase, because he'll shorten if Eldar runs well); and Franz Strauss, who might have been pegged for this for a little while - he'd have needed that novice spin to qualify.

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

The 'Ascot Oaks', as just about nobody calls it, thankfully, was named after the fourth Baron Ribblesdale, Master of the Buckhounds between 1892 and 1895 and, these days, is contested by three-year-old fillies over a mile and a half having formerly been a mile race.

Three trainers since 1977 have notched five Ribblesdales: the late John Dunlop, Saeed bin Suroor and John Gosden. Saeed is without a runner this time and Gosden 2.0, the John and Thady variant, have decided against sending Oaks runner up Emily Upjohn just 13 days after her narrow defeat at Epsom. As it turns out, only six are declared to run.

With Emily absent, Sea Silk Road is quite a strong favourite having run like she was crying out for further when winning the Listed Height Of Fashion Stakes at Goodwood (1m2f, soft) last time. That was only her third career start so she is likely to progress from that perspective, too, and she'll be tough to beat if dealing with the much quicker turf.

Another for whom the longer distance looks a positive is Magical Lagoon, by Galileo out of a strong staying German mare whose progeny have already won over as far as two miles. Connections made plenty of use of her last time when, having raced prominently throughout, she was just out-sped in the closing stages of the Listed Salsabil Stakes (1m2f, Navan, good). It looks as though the Jessica Harrington-trained filly will be able to get a lead from Mystic Wells, but may again have to try to bring her stamina to the fore.

Mystic Wells herself has progressed from a Brighton handicap to winning the Listed Lingfield Oaks Trial last time. She will again try to lead her field from start to finish but will find this a good bit tougher opposition.

The Ballydoyle filly, History, cost a cool 2.8million guineas as a yearling and had looked faintly like justifying some of the massive price tag when going back to back in a Gowran maiden and a Leopardstown Group 3; but she was rumbled over the mile of the Irish 1000 Guineas and is now jumping half a mile up in trip. Out of a Showcasing mare, she is not necessarily bred for middle distances, though there is no track evidence yet that it will be beyond her. She has a bit to find on the book as well as the pedometer.

Godolphin have a ticket to the Ribblesdale party, too, and send their twice-raced Life Of Dreams. She was a facile winner of a Newbury maiden over ten furlongs on debut in April and then got closest to Emily Upjohn in the Musidora at York last month. That was still more than five lengths adrift of the Oaks second but she, like a number of her rivals, can be expected to progress further, and also has stamina in her pedigree.

Rounding out the sextet is Mukaddamah, trained by Roger Varian. She won a Wolverhampton novice on debut before taking silver in an Ascot conditions race over a mile, and then most recently a bronze behind Nashwa in the Listed Newbury Fillies' Trial (1m2f, good). She is yet another with pedigree and natural progression ahead of this tilt, though she has a little to find on numbers.

It was a striking performance by Sea Silk Road at Goodwood last time, albeit on very different turf, and she'll take plenty of beating if adapting to this faster lawn. A sporting alternative might be Magical Lagoon who will very much appreciate the extended distance and who might be able to get first run; the balance of her form to date is about as good as any of her rivals.

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

The highlight of Ladies Day is the Gold Cup, 215 years old, and for horses that have class and stamina in equal measure. The nature of the race, and of breeding fashion, means that we've been blessed with a clutch of serial winners, the latest of which was Stradivarius, who rattled off a hat-trick between 2018 and 2020. There was a feeling that he ought to have secured the four-timer but for a rare lapse from big race perfection by his peerless jockey, Frankie Dettori; whilst it's certainly true he didn't get a clear run, I'm unconvinced he'd have won on the day in any case.

Since then, the now eight-year-old has found Trueshan too good twice, both times on a softer surface, but has also won thrice, each time on sounder turf. Therein lies the crux of the matter: both Trueshan and Stradivarius appear somewhat picky about underfoot requirements. The former wants it soft or at least softish, the latter wants it quick or at least quickish. On this occasion, the weather gods appear to have smiled upon the three-time champ and, granted normal luck in running, he's going to make a bold bid once more.

But neither is favoured. That honour goes to Kyprios, a relative newcomer to the staying ranks who is now unbeaten in two since stepping up beyond a mile and a half. However, hitherto, he's only stepped up marginally beyond that range, and here will be invited to see out an additional three-quarters of a mile against teak tough veteran warriors. A 14 length last day win was all but expected - his SP was 1/10 - and I'm not (yet) buying the hype on this fella. He's the upstart, all right, but he still has several unanswered questions on his exam paper.

There are other pretenders in the field. Princess Zoe has been at the top table for a while now, winning the G1 Prix du Cadran (2m4f, heavy) in 2020. She was also closest to Subjectivist in last year's Gold Cup (good to firm), so we know she stays very well, has class and handles pretty much any turf. But she was five lengths second and it's hard to believe she'd have finished in front of Stradivarius if he'd had a clear passage. Princess Zoe warmed up for her Gold Cup tilt with a Group 3 score in the Sagaro Stakes on this track though at the shorter two mile range: she shapes up well against conditions, I just wonder if she has the class needed.

For dreamers and fantasists - that's me, in case you'd not already fathomed as much - there's an interesting one in the long grass. Brian Ellison trains Tashkhan, a four-year-old who has improved with age and racing from 0-70 handicaps to Group races. He was second here in the Group 1 Long Distance Cup on British Champions Day (two miles) - Stradivarius third - and was only three lengths behind Strad in the Yorkshire Cup (1m6f) last month. This longer distance looks tailor made, he handles all ground conditions, has only five lengths to find on official figures, and he's a bit of each way value at... wait, what? 40/1? First or last, that's way too big.

Mojo Star was last seen 278 days ago in the St Leger where he ran a mighty race to finish second. He occupied the same position when running an even more impressive race in the Derby so, if he is fit enough after that layoff and if he stays, he could be in the mix. Those are a couple of big if's but his class is demonstrable.

France comes to the Gold Cup via Mikel Delzangles' Bubble Smart. She was third behind Trueshan in the Cadran last October, and had previously rattled off a hat-trick at trips around two miles; but she's been beaten both times this season with no obvious excuses for a below par effort last time. She handles good ground but is unlikely to have raced on turf this rapid, which is another question mark.

This is a race that ostensibly revolves around Kyprios and Stradivarius in the presumed absence of Trueshan. If the last named does run, there are clear reservations about fast ground. Kyprios has to prove he stays this far and that he's a Group 1 horse - he probably does and he probably is, but his price seems to have factored more 'definitely' than 'probably' into it. I can see Stradivarius taking strong support with the Frankie factor in play, and I think he has a great chance to add a fourth Gold Cup to his sumptuous CV. If you want a hail mary play, consider Tashkhan, who looks like he'll appreciate the longer distance and has form in and around Strad and Trueshan - he's 40/1 or so.

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

This is too difficult for me, frankly. A means of shortlisting three-year-old handicaps at the Royal meeting is this:

- Not making their handicap debut
- Ran 1st or 2nd last time out
- Won, or beaten two lengths or less last time out

That removes half the field. Alas, it also leaves half the field! A few of the remaining 15 I like the look of are:

Whoputfiftyinyou - unbeaten in four, he won a strong-looking handicap at Haydock last time beating St James's Palace Stakes-bound Mighty Ulysses. As with other entries in the second part of the week, we'll have a better idea on the merit of the form after other runners have franked, or clunked, the form. Held up to get the trip on his first try at a mile at Haydock, he saw it out very well and now comes to a race where closers are the de rigeur run style.

Tranquil Night - winner of his last three, the form of which has worked out very well. He was nearly four lengths too good for Outgate at Newmarket last time, that horse having won twice since. The 3rd, 4th, 8th and 9th have also won since, none of which were in the same postcode as the winner at the jam stick.

Atrium - another from the January Clock Watcher post, he was a three length winner over course and distance in early May since when he's been saved for this. Held up there, he stormed through to score decisively, and the second and third have both won since. The remainder were more than five lengths adrift of the winner.

Koy Koy - race was lost at the start last time when he was badly interfered with and almost fell; despite that he passed all bar the winner around Chester's Roodee, a track where it is almost as hard to overtake as the Monaco Grand Prix. Entitled to improve both for a straight mile and a second run of the season.

Obviously, millions of others with chances. Good luck but don't ask me to choose a winner!

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

Contested since 2002, the Hampton Court has had other names: it was initially the New Stakes because, well, it was new; then, in the midst of its Hampton Court days, it was renamed the Tercentenary Stakes in recognition of 300 years of racing at Ascot. It has now reverted to, and presumably will remain - until 400 years of racing at Ascot at least, the Hampton Court.

I'm bound to say that that short gallop through the naming history of the race may be more exciting than either its victorious alumni or this year's entries, both of which could be argued are a trifle underwhelming for the Royal meeting.

However, there is a story hereabouts, and that is the odds on favourite, Reach For The Moon, is owned by The Queen. How wonderful most people would consider it were Her Majesty to enjoy a winner here in the year of her Platinum Jubilee. I would be amongst that group, though I respect others' right to be less excited at the prospect.

To the form, and we again will know more after an earlier race; in this instance, the St James's Palace Stakes will reveal more about the level of My Prospero's ability, RFTM having finished second to that Group 1 aspirant last time. He is already a Group 3 winner, last summer in the Solario Stakes, and was just a neck second in the G2 Champagne Stakes at Doncaster thereafter. Reach For The Moon is entitled to step forward for his seasonal pipe opener, is bred to relish the extra quarter mile and has the help of Signor Dettori up top.

Prospective party-pooper-in-chief is Claymore, second in the Craven Stakes on his only 2022 appearance. That form has worked out well with the winner, Native Trail, finishing second in the 2000 Guineas before winning the Irish equivalent. And third placed Hoo Ya Mal hardly let the side down when getting closest to Desert Crown in the Derby.

In contrast, the form of Cresta's second to Star Of India in the Dee Stakes at Chester took a whack when that one ran a stinker in the biggie at Epsom. I'm not sold on this four-time loser since a novice score so, naturally, expect him to win!

Hughie Morrison looked as though he had another good one on his hands when Maksud won in spite of greenness on debut, though some of that initial optimism dissipated with a close up fourth in the Listed Cocked Hat at Goodwood. Fully entitled to step forward again on this third career start, he'll need to find close to a stone on official figures.

The other pair, Howth and Kingmax, are not obvious contenders though could surprise if the race got extremely tactical.

Frankie will probably try to keep this simple by bouncing out and gradually winding up the pace in the hope of burning off his five rivals. I hope that he, and Reach For The Moon, achieve that. Next best looks like Claymore but aside from the Royal angle I'm not too fussed for this one...

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

Or this one, either... it is too hard for me. A little bird tells me Vafortino, winner of the course and distance Victoria Cup, might still be sufficiently ahead of his mark to go in again. I didn't want to risk wasting my time, and potentially your money, by offering any of my own thoughts on this most inscrutable of handicaps. The bar beckons...

*

Until tomorrow.

Matt

Royal Ascot 2022: Tuesday (Day 1) Preview, Tips

Barely has the dust settled on Desert Crown's Derby and racing's roadshow is hotfooting it thirty miles west northwest to Berkshire's jewel in the crown for day one of Royal Ascot 2022. Just ten days separate the fourth British Classic of the season and the Royal meeting this year, so it's a tight turnaround for those with intent to race at both fixtures. That means we won't see too many, outside of handicap and perhaps juvenile company, backing up.

To Tuesday, day one of the Royal Ascot meeting, and a sumptuous opening stanza which takes in a trio of Group 1's as well as the first two-year-old Group 2 of the season. And we get underway with an emerging superstar in the...

2.30 Queen Anne Stakes (1m, Group 1, 4yo+)

A straight track mile that takes a lot of getting. This year, the race is set to be blessed (and also kind of cursed) by the presence of Baaeed, unbeaten in seven, the last three of which have come in Group 1 races. He's a bona fide star turn and has been mentioned already in the same breath as the mighty Frankel. That champion, who is now marking the breed with his progeny, claimed Queen Anne glory ten years ago so how fitting it would be if another champion is crowned a decade later.

Baaeed's credentials are impeccable: unraced as a two-year-old, the William Haggas-trained son of Sea The Stars made his debut just a year and a week ago. Since then, he's stopped at most floors in the lift, from Leicester maiden winner via Newmarket novice and then Listed to a withering dismantling of a Group 3 field at Glorious Goodwood. Thereafter, it's been G1 scores all the way, first in the Prix du Moulin at Longchamp, then the QEII Stakes on Champions Day here at Ascot, and finally, on his seasonal bow this term, in the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury.

Baaeed has progressed with every British start and is entitled to again step forward from his first spin of the year. For all that "it's a horse race and anything can happen", it seems incredibly likely that Baaeed will underline his global dominance in the mile division. There are many worse 2/7 shots than him.

The reference to Baaeed being a curse on the race is only insofar as he's scared off a lot of potential rivals; though, in truth, he doesn't really have any as far as I can see. If you don't fancy betting a near certainty (sooo much is implied in that little word, 'near') then how else to approach the puzzle?

It's worth knowing that tote World Pool is in play at Royal Ascot this week. That means there will be Hong Kong, US, and Australian dollars in the same pools as Blighty sterling (and Irish and French euros); what that means is massive liquidity and potentially tasty dividends. On a race like the Queen Anne, the swinger (predict two of the first three home) will have a huge pool with, unsurprisingly, a large majority going through Baaeed and a n other. Exactas are another play, though the quinella (equivalent of the old dual forecast - first and second in either order) will see a more liquid pool. Trifectas will be there for the emboldened, as will multi-race pools like the jackpot and placepot, where Baaeed looks 'single'/banker material.

An alternative to each way, which isn't too smart a play here if you - like me - think the jolly has every chance of winning, is betting without the favourite. That offers a win (and each way) market on the rest of the field. In that context, the most interesting horse may again be Real World. He progressed out of Ascot handicaps into Group races and was a course and distance winner in last year's Royal Hunt Cup; he also got closest to Baaeed last time. It's worth bearing in mind that Real World has actually had fewer turf races than Baaeed - just six to date - and his form on the lawn is 111112. He looks with the 'without' play for all that a shade better than evens is still unstimulating.

Order Of Australia and Chindit are not impossible for second: the former was a winner at the 2020 Breeders' Cup (mile, firm, turning track) and was second to Baaeed at Longchamp last September; the latter was behind Baaeed and Real World at Newbury but has winning straight track Pattern form. This looks a curious spot for the mare, Lights On, who had other - presumed (by me, at least) better - options during the week. Third place is Group 1 black type, I guess, and that's a compelling proposition for a well-bred Cheveley Park broodmare of the future. Old friends Accidental Agent and Sir Busker will have their supporters, too, but there would need to be some fairly serious under-performances for either to get closest to the favourite.

3.05 Coventry Stakes (6f, Group 2, 2yo)

The first juvenile race of the week is the six furlong Coventry Stakes, a Group 2. The Coventry has been an excellent race for the top of the market, with 21 favourites or joint-favourites taking the main honours in the 45-year history of the race; and that roughly 50% strike rate has been reflected in the recent past, too, with four jollies (2/1, 15/8, 13/8 and 5/1jf) interspersed with scorers at 11/1 twice, 6/1 and... 150/1! That Nando Parrado shocker aside, bombs are rare: the only other two to prevail at 20/1+ since the mighty Chief Singer stunned the establishment on debut in 1983 were both trained by Aidan O'Brien.

The market was shaken a touch when ante post favourite Noble Style was scratched at final declaration stage after "unsatisfactory blood results". That's a pity for the race, but a boon to those who have backed something else! Especially so if they have looked to Ballydoyle, who run Blackbeard,  the horse to inherit favouritism and now as short as 5/2 in a big field. His form in winning all three starts - a Dundalk maiden followed by Listed and then Group 3 scores at the Curragh - has been as progressive as it sounds and he is a very obvious contender with stamina assured. Indeed, the extra furlong of the 6f G3 Marble Hill last time saw Blackbeard run away from his field with more than three lengths to the second.

Aidan also saddles Age Of Kings, whose two runs to date - second on debut, four length winner 13 days ago - have less lustre to them at this stage; but he was mightily impressive when leading all the way before stretching clear by four lengths last time, and early trading implies he's going well at home since. Frankie picks up the ride.

The main market rival to Blackbeard is Persian Force, who was the first juvenile winner in Britain in 2022, winning the Brocklesby Stakes on the opening day of the season. That was impressive, and the form has more substance than is often the case; he went on to win a hot little three-runner event at Newbury over six and looks sure to step forward again. The second at Newbury, Holguin, re-opposes and may be better suited by rating behind horses than his from-the-front style there. Whether he's sufficiently better suited to reverse the form with Persian Force, still more beat the rest of this field, is another cauldron of kedgeree entirely.

Archie Watson introduced a smart colt by the name of Bradsell at York a little over three weeks ago. Sent off the 9/4 favourite, he won that eleven-runner Class 3 novice by nine lengths! The turf was easier than it will be in the Coventry and he's a little less experienced than most, but it was a visually stunning debut. Talking of stunning visuals, I thought Royal Scotsman's procession in a Goodwood novice was top class. It's difficult at this stage to know what he beat - though the 40/1 fourth has come out and won comfortably on his sole start since, from two in the race to go again - but he could not have done it better. That beaten 40/1 fourth was Show Respect, who was impressive enough in his own right on second start to earn a rematch. Royal Scotsman could be an each way play.

We're all guessing in races like these, though some of those lads and lasses with stopwatches are better guessers than many without. Blackbeard has shown comfortably the most to date, but he has also had more chances to express himself than his rivals. I backed him a while back at 5/1 (I know, yay, go me) and can't get excited about his current price when faced with so many primed to bound beyond their form in the book. Two worth a look each way - extra places if/where you can get them - are 8/1 Bradsell and 10/1 Royal Scotsman. Both were wide margin winners prior to turning up here, neither has run more than twice. A very interesting, if somewhat inscrutable, race in prospect.

3.40 King's Stand Stakes (5f, Group 1, 3yo+)

The second Group 1 of the day/week, this time featuring the fastest horses in Europe and a smattering of speedsters from across the globe. Fun fact: apparently, the original Queen's Stand Plate was run over two miles but, when rain rendered the round course unraceable in 1860, the event was run as a four-furlong dash up the straight. It was thereafter run as the five furlong contest we know now, and renamed the King's Stand Stakes upon King Edward VII's accession in 1901. Oddly, it did not revert to the Queen's Stand Stakes in 1952 when Her Majesty took on the big chair.

Since the turn of the century, the prize has gone abroad a whopping eleven times, only two of which were to Ireland - both to the little heralded stable of Edward Lynam (Sole Power). Other nations laying claim to King's Stand gongs are Australia (four times between 2003 and 2009), France (twice, 2000 and 2005), Spain (Equiano, 2008), Hong Kong (2012) and USA, courtesy, of course, of Wesley Ward (2017, Lady Aurelia).

Only two of the raiders - the second half of the Aussie quartet, when such runners were in high fashion - were sent off favourite. Indeed, the most recent Aus winner, Scenic Blast in 2009, was the second most recent obliging jolly, joined in 2020 by Battaash. Moreover, the rapid Bat and the two antipodean dashers aside, we must hark all the way back to lightning Lochsong in 1994 (ridden by a chap called Lanfranco Dettori, whatever happened to him?) to find the fourth most recent winning market leader. Quirky, or indicative of the depth of competition? A bit of both, probs.

And yet... only 20/1 Goldream in 2015 and the Hong Kong raider Little Bridge (12/1) returned a double figure price since 2003. Confused? Don't be, here's the summary: shocks are rare but be prepared to long beyond the bleedin' obvious; and don't overlook the less familiar names in the line up.

Overlaying that market-based stroll through history onto this term's entries points in the direction of Wesley's Golden Pal and aging Aussie rocker, Nature Strip. Golden Pal may be trained by Wes but he's owned by the Coolmore collective and he's licketty-quick. Chinned on the line in the 2020 Norfolk over this same five, he won three on the bounce around a bend Stateside (including the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint) before returning for a more comprehensive straight track defeat in the Group 1 Nunthorpe of 2021. There have been a further three unbeaten starts back in the US of A, including the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, two of them over an extra half furlong, but all around a bend.

Golden Pal almost always leads and his speed from the gate in turning sprints is a massive asset. It is still an asset in straight track sprints but the absence of a bend requires a horse to maintain top gear throughout: hitherto, GP has not been able to win in such context and Ascot's stiff finishing drag will again test his mettle to the full.

So, too, will Nature Strip. He's a winner of 20 of his 37 races - according to Racing Post - and has accrued nigh on ten million of your British pounds during that time. Actually, it was probably more like twenty million of their Australian dollars, but you know what I mean. This is a first overseas jaunt, at the age of seven, which is a question mark for all that it failed to stop those earlier mentioned compatriots back yon.

In all, Nature Strip has won eight Group 1's as well as the ungraded Everest, worth a cool near-four million sterling to the winner. There is a lot to like about him, but there are also a couple of question marks, namely run style and trip. Let's take them in that order.

On run style, Chris Waller's charge likes to go forward, an approach that would potentially see him lock horns with Golden Pal. However, he's multi-dimensional - and has had to be, having missed the kick twice in his last three starts. His speed has got him out of jail in one of those slovenly beginnings but that was over six furlongs on heavy...

...which leads me onto trip. The form book suggests that as Nature Strip has aged he has appreciated that extra furlong increasingly. Since moving to Waller in 2019, he's run nine times at a flat five furlongs with the form string 4141212123. At five and a half furlongs, he's gone 1012; and at six panels he's 44114721111. Notice how in recent times there have been fewer 1's in the five furlong string and more in the six furlong array.

It's also worth noting that Nature Strip, who has a massive reputation, has been beaten three times at 6/5 or shorter in his last six races. My feeling is that Nature Strip won't be quite fast enough and that Golden Pal might be susceptible in the finish to a proper five furlong horse with a late rattle. At least, that's how I want to play it wager wise, fully appreciative that egg may finish on face. Let's consider who might fit the bill from the domestic ranks.

In that context, it might be worth taking a chance on Winter Power. Yes, she was whacked by King's Lynn et al in the G2 Temple Stakes last time; but that was unquestionably a prep race for this - connections related as much at the time. And yes, she was whacked in this a year ago when far too free-going in the early fractions. Still, she fits the prominent-but-not-in-the-white-heat-of-battle-confirmed-five-furlonger profile to a nicety - in fifteen starts, she's raced exclusively at the minimum - and, as a Group 1 winner last season (Nunthorpe, York, good to firm) she's a square price about which to take a small chance.

King's Lynn, winner of that Temple Stakes last time, was midfield in this a year ago and seems to have improved a fraction since though perhaps not quite enough to pass all-comers. The Temple has been a waypoint en route to King's Stand glory for seven winners since 1997, a possible further boon to King's Lynn and Winter Power, and also to Twilight Calls, and more speculatively Arecibo, Mondammej and Existent. King's Lynn, owned by The Queen, would be a Royal Group 1 winner in Platinum Jubilee year - ridden by a geegeez-sponsored jockey. Now wouldn't that be marvellous?

It is tricky, for me at least, to make much of a case for the last named trio but Twilight Calls would have beaten King's Lynn in another stride or two at Haydock and looks quietly progressive. A late runner, he'll be doing his best work in the final fifth of the race where the subtle elevation to the line will also suit. He does have a bit to find on ratings.

Khaadem may be worth more than a cursory squint, too. Trained by Charlie 'Battaash' Hills, this six-year-old is a veteran of 22 races. His age group have a terrific record in the race (more generally, five-year-olds and up have won 17 of the last 25 renewals at a 7.2% hit rate, compared with 3/4yo's who have won eight at a 4% strike rate), and in spite of his overall level of exposure he's a latecomer to the minimum trip. His five furlong debut was last September when he won the Listed Scarborough Stakes at Doncaster. That was followed by a very poor showing in a Newbury Group 3 on his eighth start of the year - over the top, maybe? - and another flat effort at Meydan (jockey said horse was fractious in the gate and never travelling). He put those disappointments behind him when running an unconventional pseudo-solo in the Palace House Stakes (G3) at Newmarket making it two from four at the trip.

Lots in with chances, so no more than a wild stab in the dark is Winter Power at 20/1 to come back to her Nunthorpe level of form. I can't resist a chip each way Khaadem at 20/1+ either.

4.20 St James's Palace Stakes (1m, Group 1, 3yo)

The third and final Group 1 on the opening day is a mile race on the round course for three-year-olds. It offers a chance to assess the collateral form of the various European Guineas as combatants from Newmarket, the Curragh, and often further afield, lock horns.

This year, Coroebus, the 2000 Guineas winner (Newmarket), is odds on to double up, as Poetic Flare did last year, and Frankel did a decade before him, along with 13 other horses going back to Tudor Minstrel in 1947. Is he as unopposable as Baaeed earlier in the day? Well, no, though he may very well still win. Where Baaeed has few unanswered questions, Coroebus leaves home turf for the first time, his quartet of runs hitherto all taking place on the Newmarket tracks alongside his stables. That means they've all been on straight tracks, too, and wide open ones at that; in his most recent pair of races, Coroebus has been waited with, a tactic that has frequently backfired down the short straight on Ascot's round course.

Naturally, none of this will be lost on his jockey, William Buick, who reunites after James Doyle piloted that 2000 Guineas triumph; but the fact that the St James's Palace Stakes can be a tactical race needs factoring into wagering considerations.

Against him are a couple of unexposed William Haggas-trained colts, between them unbeaten in five three-year-old spins. Shorter in the market is My Prospero, a big field Newbury maiden winner prior to notable progression when taking out the Listed Heron Stakes at Sandown four weeks ago. This is a big jump up in class again but market confidence suggests he is ready for it.

The second string to the Haggas bow is Maljoom, unbeaten in three career starts, all this season, and most recently seen taking out the Group 2 Mehl-Mulhens-Rennen, or German 2000 Guineas to you and me. That was a taking effort though a literal translation of the form is even more beyond my capabilities than a literal translation of the race title. Both are lightly raced and thus entitled to show us more than they have to date, a comment which applies to the favourite as well, although he's run once more than the Haggas pair.

There doesn't appear to be a huge amount of depth to the 2022 St James's Palace Stakes, though New Energy, second in the Irish 2000 Guineas, is a credible representative for that form line. That was a career best behind Native Trail, himself previously just behind Coroebus in the Newmarket version, but not obviously a fluke.

In the unlikely event that the heavens opened, Angel Bleu might come into each way (or without the favourite) calculations: since outclassing a novice field all of his four subsequent wins, including in the Group 1 Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere and the Group 1 Criterium International last October, have been with plenty of juice in the turf. He's perfectly entitled to have needed his first run of the campaign, and this furlong longer range is also in his favour. As a dual G1 winner, he's not impossible for the frame, especially if it rains.

John & Thady train Mighty Ulysses, a son of - you know it - who is stepping out of handicap company into a Group 1. Not only that but he was beaten in the handicap. Connections are obviously respected but this seems a trifle ambitious, without knowing what MU may have been showing on the gallops. There has been a smidge of each way cash for the likes of Lusail (has he trained on?), Aikhal (is Aidan's sole dart remotely good enough?) and Mighty Ulysses (see above) but I'm struggling to see their cases aside from all being open to further progression.

Coroebus has been terribly weak in the betting for no obvious reason that I'm aware of. His uneasiness has seen cash for four or five of his rivals all bar one of whom need to find seven pounds and more, assuming the favourite doesn't improve again himself. The one exception is 40/1 Angel Bleu so, while he'd definitely be more playable on easier ground (my hope is Chris Stickels, clerk of the course, has put on plenty of water ahead of the first day), his price is attractive each way to some degree and especially in the without market, also each way, where he's a 16/1 chance.

5.00 Ascot Stakes (2m4f, Class 2, 4yo+ Handicap)

The race which brings jumps trainers out in their morning suits! In fairness, most winning trainers of recent years have been dual purpose rather than mainly National Hunt, with the dominant player over the past decade that man Mullins, WP. He's won four of the last ten, but none of the last three, during which time Ian Williams has won two! With Charles Byrnes and Jarlath Fahey also getting on the Ascot Stakes roll of honour in recent times, it's been a very good race for the Irish, prior to Williams' brace, which was itself interloped by a single for Alan King.

Last year's 66/1 bomb Reshoun is Williams' sole entry this year and the wily handler has managed this one's mark back to the same number it was twelve months prior. Nevertheless, he was a shock then - with a dream trip and a kind draw - and he's no bargain now, especially from trap 19.

Willie Mullins also relies on just the one, Bring On The Night. He did all his flat racing in France at up to a mile and a half but was classy enough to run fourth in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, albeit in a different post code to Constitution Hill. Ryan Moore is booked - he's been on three of Willie's four Ascot Stakes winners, the pair's full record in the race reading 1171422 - and these facts make him one of the favourites and a very obvious win contender.

The 'other Irish' angle looks in play courtesy of John Queally's Arcadian Sunrise. Eight now, this hard knocker was fourth in the Chester Cup last time despite not getting the clearest of runs, and he won a valuable York handicap last summer, as well as handicap hurdles at Punchestown (non-Festival) and Galway (Festival). He looks well up to this task and 9/1 is a fair enough price especially with extra places for each way players. Promising apprentice Harry Davies takes off a welcome five pounds.

Gordon Elliott saddles the big steamer in the market in the form of Pied Piper who evolved into a smart juvenile hurdler this past spring. He may yet have more to offer on the flat, too, though Elliott's trio of prior runners in the Ascot Stakes finished no better than 8th, two of them at 8/1. From a poetic perspective, it's a pity that Pied Piper is not a front runner; alas, he was often a hold up horse over hurdles, and Jamie Spencer has been booked to ride. So if you fancy this one, you know the type of transit you'll be watching - caveat emptor and all that.

Pied Piper's former trainer, John (and Thady) Gosden, brings his Marshall Plan to the table. No, not the European Recovery Program but, rather, as you'd expect, a horse of the same name and, to be steered by Frankie, he's popular in the early betting. But most of his best form has come on artificial surfaces, where he was last seen running up to Earlofthecotswolds in the valuable All Weather Championships Marathon event. Three turf spins last year produced heavy defeats in the Melrose Handicap and the Old Rowley Cup either side of a more promising second at Yarmouth. Given his better form is on the all-weather and his propensity for finishing second - the position he's occupied in five of twelve career starts, compared with a solitary victory - he's not a win proposition, not for me, at any rate.

Gary Moore had Goshen entered up but instead relies on Make My Day, in the same ownership. He's run second in a couple of two mile Class 3 handicaps this season and wouldn't have to improve too much for the step up in trip to be competitive. Having incurred two absences of longer than a year apiece, however, he's clearly had some challenges along the way.

Seven hundred more with a chance!

I backed Arcadian Sunrise after I first looked at the race and I'm not inclined to change tack now. He is a hardy bloke, has form in similar races and his rider's allowance makes him fairly well handicapped. I never expect to back the winner of Royal Ascot handicaps, though it has very occasionally happened!

5.35 Wolferton Stakes (1m2f, Listed, 4yo+)

Inaugurated in 2002, the Wolferton was a handicap until 2017 since when it has become a conditions race. Its most notable winner in recent times was 2019 scorer Addeybb who, now eight years old, was entered once more. In fact, I played ante post on him as the conditions of the race set up so well for him but, annoyingly, William Haggas has sidestepped this engagement. Sigh. Still, there are 16 horses who did stand their ground so perhaps we ought to crack on with a few of those.

One thing I noticed was that in the four renewals since the Wolferton became a conditions race (tiny sample size alert), all four winners were geldings; and they also accounted for eight of the twelve placed positions. Although the placed component is only in line with numerical representation (67% of the places from 64% of the runners), I feel (questionable perception alert) that if you have a potential stallion prospect you probably want to point it at a different race: the Wolferton is not palmarès-enhancing in that respect.

Granted, this is a fairly tenuous - OK, extremely tenuous - going in position, but when I share that eleven of the 16 are rated between 109 and 111 - the other five being 103, 104, 107, 108 and 112 - it soon becomes evident that tenuous is as good as it gets hereabouts.

Last year's surprise 14/1 winner, Juan Elcano, is back to defend his crown after a pleasing enough seasonal introduction at Sandown in April. There, he was last of three in the G3 Gordon Richards Stakes; but this gig will have been front of mind that day. He clearly handles this setup and has run with merit in better class in between times.

Irish raider Cadillac was a striking winner last time in Listed grade over nine furlongs. The extra eighth allied to the extra three pounds he gets as a penalty are not certain to favour Jessica Harrington's runner though he did win a G3 over ten furlongs at the Curragh this time last year, for which he is unpenalised due to the specific conditions of this contest. He's a colt and, my quack argument goes, might have pointed at something more ambitious. As good as he looked last time, he'd looked less upwardly mobile a number of times prior.

Having made a case for geldings, the one I'd side with if I had to have a bet (I don't, obviously, but probably will anyway - cup of tea stakes, natch) is the sole filly in the field, Aristia. She's only the second filly to line up since the conditions change in 2018, the other one, Magic Wand, finishing second in 2019.

There's a little more to her case than that: if you buy into the purity of pounds and lengths, she comes out top after her five pound sex allowance is accommodated. Moreover, she won a Listed race over this trip last July (good to firm) just a month before she'd have been penalised 3lb for so doing. Put another way, three of her similarly rated rivals lug eight pounds more as a result of gender and more recent Listed success.

This is Aristia's second run of the season having opened with a fine half length second in the Group 2 Middleton at York: if she'd finished half a length further forward, she wouldn't even have qualified for the Wolferton, which is not open to G1 or G2 winners since the previous September. She's 25/1 and, while I don't especially love her double-digit stall - she has got tactical speed to get a position as she showed when leading in a smaller field in the Middleton - I think she's probably worth a tiny tenuous tickle with ten (or as many as you can locate) places.

It's a very open race and there's a better than 68.2% chance I haven't mentioned the winner.

6.10 Copper Horse Stakes (1m6f, Class 2 Handicap, 4yo+)

A late start and seven races means a late finish, especially given the extended race distance of the Copper Horse Stakes. The scheduled off time is ten past six, though with minor delays through the afternoon, this race is more likely to finish after twenty past six. Never mind. The first two renewals of the Copper Horse Handicap have elicited a winning favourite and a 33/1 score.

I haven't really got any idea here, as evidenced by the fact that neither of my two small stakes ante post flyers will line up.

Cleveland is a very obvious and plausible favourite for Aidan, Ryan and the lads. Beautifully bred and lightly raced, he improved plenty for a nine furlong (!) step up in trip in the Chester Cup. Dropping back three-eighths ought not to be an inconvenience and there's every likelihood we've yet to see his pinnacle.

I had a quick look at Class 2 flat turf handicaps over a trip (1m5f+) since 2018 and, of those trainers with more than ten such qualifiers, two to catch the eye (and with Copper Horse runners) were Charlie Appleby - shock, horror - and Hughie Morrison. Charlie saddles the punted Bandinelli, winner of four of his last six; the son of Dubawi out of a Singspiel mare - nice - has risen 13lb for that, and ran no race at all when last seen. But he stays well, handles fast ground, is/was progressive and is trained by one of the best on the planet.

Trained by one of the shrewdest on the planet is Not So Sleepy, a horse with plenty of characteristics, not all of them good. Hughie Morrison has campaigned the now ten-year-old phenomenally to win nine of his 56 starts including three two-mile handicap hurdles at Ascot (two of them Graded), a dead heat in the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle last jumps season and, on the level, wins at the Chester May meeting (Dee Stakes, Listed), Epsom's Derby meeting and, erm, Ponte Carlo. I love this lad, plain and simple; the concern here - quite apart from whether he's good enough - is whether the ground is too firm: almost all Not So Sleepy's best efforts have come with give.

One more to mention, at a massive price, is Raymond Tusk. He, too, has been a bit of a legend for connections even if only winning four of 28 career starts. In that time, he's amassed £325,000 in prize money, and has been generally consistent across five seasons. He began his 2022 flat campaign with easy victory in a mile and a half conditions race at Doncaster before taking silver in the Group 3 John Porter. Upped to Group 2 on his subsequent and most recent outing, he clunked in a small field, a performance which - at the prices - I'm happy to overlook. I don't love his car park draw, for all that jockey Martin Harley will have plenty of time to get a position, but I think he's a bit of value without being anything remotely akin to the most likely winner. At 33/1, Raymond Tusk will do for me, each way, with a small win saver on 3/1 Cleveland.

*

And so endeth a bumper yomp through the form of day one of Royal Ascot 2022. I'm playing mainly small on a number of big priced horses and fully expect to be below the line after the first seven races; if you feel inclined to follow my lead through any part, be mindful of those words! It's an opening day long on quality and, in the main, quantity, too. Should be a cracker. Hallelujah!

Be lucky.

Matt