Tag Archive for: Royal Ascot Day 1 Preview

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

Royal Ascot 2021: Day 1 Preview, Tips

Royal Ascot 2021: Day 1 Preview, Tips

More normal than the 2020 edition, but still not quite normal: that's the best way to view Royal Ascot 2021, a mid- to post-pandemic shot in the arm for British racing and its legion fans. Although no more than 12,000 of those supporters will be able to attend each day, the rest of us will be well served on the box courtesy of ITV and AtTheRaces.

The new normal for Royal Ascot is a quintet of seven race cards, thus 30 becomes 35 through the week. Mostly these additions are handicaps, some of which we saw last year and very few of which ought to meaningfully dilute the quality on show.

As an over-arching principle with Royal Ascot, we are trying to project forwards: most of the runners will have not yet reached the ceiling of their ability and gauging who might progress the most - as well as quantifying what has already been achieved on the basis of scant formbook evidence - is the order of the week. In other words, it's tricky old stuff.

Brevity has not historically been my strong point when previewing big meetings but I shall attempt to keep these daily (Tuesday to Friday, help yourself on Saturday) outlines to 4000 words if possible. Best get to it then...

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

A return to the traditional start time and a reinstatement of the traditional curtain-raiser, the Queen Anne Stakes, a straight track mile Group 1 that has produced a couple of surprise results recently but is normally a procession of sorts for a well-fancied thoroughbred.

Accidental Agent in 2018 and, to a lesser extent, Lord Glitters in 2019 were hard to come by - for me at least; either side, though, were 14 victors sent off 15/2 or shorter stretching back to 2005's Royal Ascot at York.

It looks chalky again this time around, as the magnificent miler Palace Pier heads the lists. The four-year-old son of Kingman has won seven of his eight career starts, the last five of which at this trip, and on a range of going from all weather to soft to good/firm. Most of his top class efforts have been with some ease in the ground, a point which is one of only a couple of slight niggles in a very strong overall profile.

The other is Ascot's straight mile. True, Palace Pier won on a stiff straight mile at Newcastle, but that was in a 0-100 handicap. And he beat a high class field in the Prix Jacques Le Marois on Deauville's slightly easier straight piste where he benefited from a very well judged ride from Frankie. Sectionals provided by McLloyd reveal he slowed markedly in the final furlong there, but less so than his rivals. And he was beaten up the Ascot straight mile in the QEII on Champions Day on very soft ground.

On ratings, he's five pounds clear of his nearest rival, Order Of Australia. That one recorded his career top in the Breeders' Cup Mile, around Keeneland's tight inner oval and when sent off at 40/1. It was rattling fast there, which it might be here, but this is a straight mile and OOA doesn't have another piece of form within half a stone of that BC Mile effort.

Lope Y Fernandez is eight pounds inferior to the Pier on his best: on my book he's probably a seven furlong Group 2 horse. This testing mile, which I believe rides more like nine furlongs, should be beyond his stamina range.

Because of the tightness of the favourite and vincibility of his closest market rivals, it does look an each way, and especially a 'without the favourite' sort of race. In the latter context, I offer Lord Glitters. Winner in 2019 having been second in 2018, the passage of time is against him a touch but he was a Group 1 winner in Dubai as recently as March. Never nearer than his final position of fourth on domestic seasonal debut in the G1 Lockinge, he'll have been primed for this (as will most of the rest, in truth) and 8/1 without Palace Pier looks a bet.

Queen Anne Stakes tips

For all that I've tried to make a case against PALACE PIER, he looks very hard to beat. And I expect he'll win. This is a great 'without the favourite' race because I'm not sold on the virtue of either of the O'Brien entries and it's 20/1 bar the aforementioned trio in the main market. In that context, Lord Glitters looks a very credible each way without the fav bet at 8/1.

**

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

This is a race that perfectly epitomises the guesswork required around a sizable field of nascent racers. It, like most Royal Ascot contests, doesn't especially play to my profiling strengths, though there are always 'ins' one way or another.

The market is headed by Wesley Ward's US raider, Kaufymaker. I can't find a tape of her race but it must be significant that WW pitches her in against the colts rather than going Albany or Queen Mary. There are some youtube videos of her working at Keeneland, and she is a typically big Ward juvenile: she won't be fazed by the colts. Whether she's good enough, who knows? Trainer pointers suggest she's good and Ward is quoted as saying she has a very long stride - which can be seen in the video. Ascot's straight six will test her stamina also, a test that all of her handler's juveniles have so far failed at Ascot. The table below shows two-year-old Wesley wunners (sorry) by wace (really sorry) distance. Wascal wabbit.

It's not a massive sample by any manner of means but it is pretty one-sided as far as it goes. It's enough for me to look elsewhere. But where exactly?

The ratings guys and gals are all over Ebro River, the quirky but talented slow-starter and fast-finisher. He rocketed by his field in the five furlong National Stakes at Sandown last time, that Listed contest run on soft ground. But he's a stressy horse so, while I think he can get the extra eighth I worry his temperament might prove his undoing. Loads of ability.

Gisburn is another to consider having waltzed more than six lengths clear of his Newbury novice field last time. That form may be only okay in behind but he could have hardly been more impressive.

The problem with Ebro River and Gisburn, and also with Irish raiders Masseto and The Acropolis, is that their form to date has been achieved on a soft surface. That, naturally, does not mean they cannot perform as well on a fast track, nor even that they won't improve for it; but it does mean we're in the dark about that element of the conundrum. Angel Bleu is another who fits this category.

Two who are unbeaten in one, both representing the Gosdens, are Dhabab and Tolstoy. The former, a £200,000 breeze up purchase in late April, repaid a sliver of his purchase price on the first day of this month when surging two lengths clear in a Leicester novice, finishing off well. He's sure to improve again - as are most of his rivals - and a straight six clearly holds no terrors.

Tolstoy, by Kingman out of a Frankel mare, and a home bred colt for Sir Robert Ogden, was less eye-catching in getting up late at Yarmouth. But that was a very steadily run contest where he overcame greenness and earned a huge sectional upgrade from us. Gosden runners typically improve a chunk from first to second start and debut winners are normally worth following throughout their careers; as such, this pair are interesting.

Coventry Stakes tips

Very hard. Kaufymaker has to defy Wesley's historical tendency towards five-furlong winners, and beat the colts in the process. Most of the rest of the top of the market are unproven on very fast turf, which makes it speculator territory for me. 17/2 Dhabab has achieved a little more than 12/1 stable mate Tolstoy, but he will have been well tuned by Mocklershill ahead of his mid-April breeze and so may have slightly less progression than his colleague. They are both playable.

**

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

Always a brilliant race to watch, the King's Stand is a fast five contested by the best speedsters in Britain, and some of the best from further afield. There is, happily, a little more form with which to work this time.

Battaash stands above his rivals on ratings, and is the reigning champ, unbeaten in three in 2020. But he comes here off a fracture injury which required an operation and a pin in a joint. Again, we're into the unknown in terms of how that will affect him especially on very fast ground. If he's the same model as last year he'll very likely win, and after timers may be crowing about getting close to 2/1 about such an obviously brilliant sprinter.

But it's quite a big if for me, especially with a progressive three-year-old in the line up who could have more to offer: something she will need if the jolly's A game is on display. Cue Winter Power, the apple of Tim Easterby's eye and a winner of five of her eight turf starts though not yet above Group 3 level. She was a huge improver as a juvenile, stepping from a mark of 76 on handicap debut (where she won by five lengths on good to firm) to her current 114 official peg. That leaves her nine pounds to find with the favourite but joint third top against the rest of the field. As I say, if Battaash is himself he probably wins; if not, it's up for grabs.

The other two obvious alternatives are Oxted and Extravagant Kid. Oxted enjoyed an annus mirabilis last year and gave trainer Roger Teal a dream time of things. But the five-year-old has not quite been at the same level thus far in 2021. He has run well on his two UK starts this term when placed in minor Group races at Newmarket and York but it might be Newmarket, his favourite stamping ground, in July when we see the best of him.

Brendan Walsh, an Irishman training in America, brings his globetrotting star, Extravagant Kid, a winner of the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint on Dubai World Cup night in March. As an eight-year-old veteran of fifty - count 'em! - races, he's recently been a regular bridesmaid having run second in five of his seven starts since September last year. The exceptions were when fourth in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint behind Glass Slippers, and that Meydan G1. Acklam Express, himself a fast horse but not considered a Group 1 sprinter hitherto, was just three-quarters of a length back in third on World Cup night and that, for me, anchors the form a touch. Their prices are 10/1 and 33/1 and I leave it to you to discern where, if anywhere, the value lies.

Liberty Beach is a bit of a heart-breaker, usually running well but in defeat. That was the case when she was third to Battaash in this last year, and when fourth in the Albany Stakes the year before. We're then into the realms of horses with a stone and more to find with an on-song favourite. That's a bridge too far.

There looks to be a ton of speed in the field, which is not hugely surprising but could set things up for a later runner.

King's Stand Stakes Tips

If the Battaash of last year shows up, he will win. But there are reasons to believe he may not, the key one being that injury and subsequent convalescence. But it's also worth remembering that his prior Ascot record, when crowds were in situ, was unconvincing. Running up to Blue Point twice was hardly poor form but it was good form in defeat. 7/4 doesn't quite accommodate those reservations in my view.

This might be the time for Winter Power to bloom into a Group 1 sprinter for all that she has a bit to find in order to do that. This will be only her second start as a three-year-old. Or perhaps Oxted will show he can win Group races away from HQ. He was only a length behind Glen Shiel on soft ground in the G1 British Champions' Sprint in October and, if returning to his best, he will be bang there. Extravagant Kid is normally on the premises and there are no clear reasons why that will not again be the case.

A no bet race for me because of the if's and but's about the jolly and very few plausible rivals at the top of the market; and most of the rest miles out of their ground in known ability terms.

**

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

To the round course for this mile Group 1 and a traditional crossing of swords between the major Guineas protagonists. And it's a wide open contest featuring the English Guineas winner Poetic Flare against a raft of unexposed rivals many of which avoided the early Classics. Indeed, Poetic Flare incredibly ran in all three of the English, French and Irish 2000 Guineas, running 162 respectively!

He got no luck in the run in France behind St Mark's Basilica, who himself sidestepped this in favour of the Prix du Jockey Club (which he won), and was only beaten a chin in the Irish version - to his stable mate, Mac Swiney. That's very solid form indeed whichever way you cut it. The negatives? Four runs in the space of six and a bit weeks, and a fifth run since 11th April; and the phalanx of upwardly mobile rivals from major yards. It is nearly four weeks since his most recent race so perhaps he's ready to go again; he's certainly able enough.

What of the remainder? Many chances.

First on the list is the Gosdens' Mostahdaf, unraced at two and unbeaten at three. That trio comprised a Newcastle novice, a Kempton conditions race and most recently the Listed Heron Stakes at Sandown. Clearly that form is a beat and three-quarters behind PF, but it is interesting to note that Gosden senior pivoted from Heron to St James's Palace with the 2018 winner Without Parole and the 2019 second, King Of Comedy. A front runner drawn stall 1, but with three Ballydoyle entries in 2, 3 and 4, he may be tactically compromised but will get first run if good enough.

Mostahdaf has so far run only on slow surfaces - standard to slow both AW starts and soft at Sandown - so the terra firmer has to be taken on trust. The trainer's modus operandi is fully taken on trust.

Battleground is in here too. The product of a union between War Front and Found was sent off favourite in the Guineas but trailed home a too-bad-to-be-true last-but-one (ah, hyphens). He'll strip fitter and can be expected to get a lot closer than the last day to Poetic Flare. It's worth noting he won the Chesham last season at the Royal meeting.

Godolphin are represented by Highland Avenue and La Barrosa, perhaps principally the former. That first named has form tied in closely with Mostahdaf, not least when running to within a half length of the Gosden colt at Sandown. He's previously won the Listed Feilden Stakes over a furlong further and on ground a step quicker than the Heron, so has fewer questions to answer for all that his form is a crotchet below his last day conqueror. He'll stay well if it's strongly run.

La Barrosa looked a colt to follow when edged out by a stablemate in the Craven but fluffed his lines having travelled strongly in the Irish 2000. It's possible he didn't handle the very soft ground there - all previous efforts were on good or faster, including a 7f Ascot debut score - and, if so, he might come into the reckoning. But he has to improve a fair chunk on form as well. Not out of the question.

Lucky Vega was a talented - Group 1 winning and placing - juvenile last term, and has run 34 in the English and Irish 2000 Guineas so far this campaign. His wide draw feels like it should be a negative but historically has not been as can be seen below.

A truly run race where he can tack across and finish well might be just what jockey Shane Foley and trainer Jessica Harrington are after.

The one horse to finish behind Battleground at Newmarket was Thunder Moon, previously third to St Mark's Basilica in the Dewhurst on his final two-year-old run. That form puts him in with a squeak at a playable price.

Wembley was the meat in the St Mark-Thunder Moon Dewhurst sandwich but he's clunked twice since and is running out of excuses.

And still there are more, such as 2000 Guineas fifth, Chindit, and facile handicap scorer Naamoos amongst others.

St James's Palace Stakes tips

It's another fascinating contest. Clear form pick is 4/1 Poetic Flare, but they will be queuing up to take him down. In what might be a fast run affair, the likes of 15/2 Lucky Vega and 10/1 Thunder Moon are interesting for different reasons. But I'm keeping my powder largely dry, small bits on the above aside.

**

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

The first handicap of the week is the two and a half mile Ascot Stakes for older horses. Willie Mullins and Ryan Moore are normally the team, the duo combining six times for three wins and two further places. M C Muldoon is the one this time, not sighted on the flat since October 2018, but in decent form over hurdles this spring.

The fact that Moore will likely have had the pick of the Mullins trio and has opted for this guy is a big clue. The rest is, as with others up the page, taken on trust.

The Irish are responsible for the next two in the betting, both trained by Mullins': Cape Gentleman for Emmet and Rayapour for Willie. The latter is a French import whose form was all on a softer surface. On his first start for Closutton he was sent off 4/6 for a maiden hurdle and, after a two year break, faded into third late on.

Cape Gentleman is more obvious: A Grade 2 hurdle winner at Kempton two back, he'd previously bolted up in the Irish Cesarewitch on soft ground. Quicker is again a reservation.

Royal Illusion is the third Willie Mullins entry: he looks a touch more exposed.

At each way prices, Rochester House ran better than his finishing position in the Chester Cup last time (horror draw) and was fifth in this last year as well as second in the Goodwood Handicap over 2m5f. And Just Hubert won that latter race, is only four pounds higher now, and handles fast ground. Last year's winner, Coeur De Lion, was fifth and sixth in the two previous renewals so clearly handles conditions though he's crept up in the weights a little.

Lots more with chances, natch.

Ascot Stakes tips

Very open and I'll probably be annoyed that Willie Mullins wins it with a horse with impenetrable or no relevant form. Annoyed mainly because I'll have backed something else. My something elses will primarily be 10/1 Cape Gentleman and I'll roll each way with 18/1 Rochester House with a few extra places (seven with Sky, 20/1 five places elsewhere).

**

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

Still two to go in the new expanded format and Tuesday's penultimate is the Wolferton. The top three in the betting are a combined 7 from 60 over the past 20 years which encourages the quest for a longer price. John Gosden has the best record with four winners from a dozen runners since 2009.

With his son he saddles Forest Of Dean, winner of a valuable York handicap and the valuable Winter Derby at Lingfield in his past six runs. Fast ground and ten furlongs is optimal for this chap; the appointment of Frankie Dettori for the first time since the York score is hardly a negative. Conditions look ideal for a big effort from stall 1 with my only niggle being getting locked up in traffic just behind the leaders.

Forest Of Dean has gone toe to toe with Felix in three of his last four starts, and will do so again here. There may be little between them once more, though I fancy the quick turf might play to Team Gosden over Team Botti.

At the top of the lists is Patrick Sarsfield, second in a similar race at the Curragh not quite a fortnight ago. The Joseph O'Brien runner will be bidding to break his trainer's 27 runner winless streak at the Royal meeting; it's clearly a matter of when not if but with no seconds and only a brace of bronzes from his yard so far, I'll sit the shorties out as a general principle. He was a Group 3 winner last season and is entitled to progress from that seasonal debut so won't shock anyone by passing the jam stick in front.

The Sir Michael Stoute-trained Solid Stone looks another late maturing sort off that particular conveyor belt, his most recent effort in winning the Royal Windsor Stakes (Listed) a clear peak. That puts him level with Patrick S on ratings but two back from the evergreen Euchen Glen. Now eight, Euchen won around four hundred thousand quid for connections and is a stalwart of the Jim Goldie team; he looked as good as ever when claiming the Group 3 Brigadier Gerard Stakes at Sandown last month, but might have been a smidge flattered by the mental tempo of, unbelievably, a four-runner race! He's a strong stayer - has won over two miles - so the harder they go the better for him.

Blue Cup put it all together for the first time in a while when dancing to victory in an Epsom handicap last time. A buzzy type who has often fretted his race away before the start, the first time hood might just be the key to him stepping forward now. His later running style and inside draw suggest a potentially difficult trip, however.

Wolferton Stakes tips

Very open and Joseph's jolly just might do it. But history says taking a flyer at a bit more of a price is often the way to go, so I'll chance 15/2 Forest Of Dean each way. The trainer's record is peerless in this event, the horse has optimal conditions and young man Frankie steering. That's plenty of yesses in a race full of maybes.

**

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

Ten past six, ladies and gentlemen. Ouch. The Copper Horse is back, and older stayers will rejoice; or at least their owners and trainers will.

It's a staying handicap so Willie Mullins is in the mix. This time he relies solely on Saldier and naturally called Ryan to ride. They say you should add around 40 pounds to a flat mark to work out the approximate hurdle rating. Well, working back from a timber-topping figure of 155 or so gives 115, which makes 103 look on the feasible side..! He was a Grade 1 winner in his prime and bolted up in an egg and spoon job on his first flat run since contesting Pattern contests in France in 2017.

The wheel has revolved once or twice since then but there were at least some embers still smouldering in his belly at Listowel nine days ago, which would have been a tonic to all concerned following a distinctly lacklustre top table campaign over hurdles last winter. He probably just wins, doesn't he?

**

Good luck with your opening day wagers. If you like another, or some others, feel free to leave a comment below. And thanks, as always, for reading.

Matt

Royal Ascot 2020: Day 1 Preview, Tips

Royal Ascot 2020: Day 1 Preview, Trends, Tips

Barely a fortnight after the start of the flat turf season, and Royal Ascot 2020 is upon us. Like everything else on the planet currently, this year's Royal meeting is trying to mend and make do in the face of enormous challenges. No crowds and no Royals are the most obvious absences; in their place are six additional races, one each Tuesday to Friday and two on Saturday's eight-race extravaganza.

The running order has also been rejigged, mainly to allow a little extra time for the juveniles between a debut and their big Berkshire date. We begin with an old friend, the Buckingham Palace Handicap, which was stood down in 2015 to make way for the (excellent) Commonwealth Cup; and also with a 75-minute earlier start time. Tune in at 2.30 and you'll be five minutes too late for the quadpot, let alone the placepot!

The going is good to soft. The forecast is warm with the possibility of thunder storms all week. In other words, it could dry out and it could get wetter - great!

1.15 Buckingham Palace Handicap (7f, Class 2, 3yo+)

A three-year-old-plus handicap with none of the Classic generation in attendance. Good news for form players as there are likely to be a few more lines in the book and a little less projection required.

In big fields over seven furlongs at Ascot, it pays to be waited with, but perhaps not in too exaggerated a fashion. Mid-div may be ideal. Middle to high may be best off from a draw perspective, but it's marginal and not worth lobbing an otherwise credible candidate for.

Big field seven furlong form, ideally here, is my route in and that offers the following shortlist:

Greenside, Kaeso, Cliffs Of Capri, Firmament

Greenside was second in a valuable course and distance handicap on his most recent start in early October last year. The drop back to a truly-run straight seven furlongs for the first time in a 17-race turf career looked to be a positive, and this strong-travelling type was more than three lengths too good for all bar the winner that day. Up five pounds doesn't make life easy, though he has a very good record fresh. Jockey Marco Ghiani, who rode him for the first time in that most recent run, keeps the mount; it will be only his second ride since the resumption (apprentices having not been eligible until 15th June).

Nigel Tinkler is a very shrewd trainer of handicappers and his Kaeso is as consistent as can be in this type of race. 3rd of 26 and 2nd of 23 in the Victoria Cup and International Handicap, both over course and distance, last season speak volumes for Kaeso's ability to handle the profile; and a cobweb-clearing canter down Newcastle's straight seven ten days ago should have brought him forward. Drawn in the middle, he'll be covered up in midfield most likely, and the booking of Oisin Murphy knocks the eye out.

Another profile type is Cliffs Of Capri, Jamie Osborne's globetrotter coming here off the back of a valuable handicap score in Dubai. Since then he ran second at Newmarket 12 days ago to prove his recovery from the travel. He's three pounds higher than when fifth of 20 in the Cunard Handicap in 2018 and would be far from a shock winner.

Firmament has been around a long while now. At least it seems that way; in fact, aged eight, he's a year younger than Greenside. A record of 0-from-14 at the track betrays some excellent efforts, including half a dozen top six efforts in 17+ runner handicaps. His consistency draws little favour from the handicapper, though, so while the booking of James Doyle again takes the eye, the balance of probabilities is that a place is a more playable proposition.

The market is headed by the lightly-raced and progressive Daarik, trained by John Gosden and ridden by Frankie Dettori. He is one of the most obvious handicap bets of the week and, as a direct consequence, will offer zero value (for all that he clearly has solid prospects). If you want a reason to oppose him, it is this: in five career starts, he's raced on turf only once - on debut when a 14 1/2 length last of ten. Of course there are counter-arguments - greenness, etc - but I don't typically want to bet a 4/1 chance in a 24-runner cavalry charge, thanks.

If I'm going to back a progressive blue blood, it'll be Roger Varian's gelded son of Dubawi, Mutamaasik. A winner of his last four starts, he's up just three pounds for a recent narrow verdict in a tactical affair. Drawn in the middle of the pack and probably in the middle of the pace will give Dane O'Neill options.

Clearly a wide open event to kick us off, keep in mind the advice about each way betting and extra places here. 8/1 Kaeso and 16/1 Greenside are the pair for me, each way, with all the extra places you can get.

*

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

The traditional curtain-raiser has its own warm up act this year, but still comes on stage 40 minutes earlier than usual. A sequence of 13 winners at odds of 15/2 or shorter came unceremoniously unstuck in 2018 when Accidental Agent recorded a 33/1 score. Last year was tricky, too, as 14/1 Lord Glitters got the better of a brace of 20/1 shots with a 25/1 poke in fourth.

The winners and runners-up, and indeed the next pair home last year, all raced in rear early: that's the tactic in big field mile races on the straight track as a rule, and so a quick squint at the pace map may be instructive.

As can be seen, there are not many out and out hold up types, exceptions being the 2018 winner (who planted in the stalls in last year's race); last year's 7f Jersey Stakes winner, Space Traveller; Bless Him, and Escobar.

In the midfield are likely to be such as the unlucky-on-the-round-course-last-year Fox Chairman, Skardu, Duke Of Hazzard and Mohaather.

The favourite is Circus Maximus, a good horse if a bit of a high-class grinder. This stiff test will probably be up his street but he is 0-from-3 on a straight track and he's another favourite I'll be opposing. I'm also against the progressive filly, Terebellum, a winner at Newmarket ten days ago but who is stepping back a quarter mile here. As well as the trip switch, she faces the boys and is up in class; all told, she's a poor price.

Fox Chairman was a big eye-catcher in the Hampton Court Stakes at Royal Ascot last season when getting no run before finishing best to be a respectful second, two big lengths behind Sangarius. He duly converted a penalty kick at Newbury next time out, in Listed company, but hasn't been sighted in the eleven months since. Trainer Andrew Balding has been in cracking form at the start of the turf campaign, and they've reportedly minded the Chairman after a slight setback last term. Still, this straight mile is a very different test and again represents a class elevation.

Mustashry had a rough passage last season in this race, eventually finishing seventh beaten less than four lengths. Jim Crowley jumps ship this time, instead opting for Mohaather, which can hardly be viewed as a positive for all that jockeys habitually choose wrong. Mustashry is a legit G1 horse, having beaten Laurens in the Lockinge last term, and with Dane O'Neill a more than able deputy, he looks a very fair price at around 12/1.

There is a good chance Mohaather has strengthened up since his three-year-old year in 2019, and a sole defeat on heavy ground - in the G1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes over course and distance no less - is eminently forgivable. Trainer Marcus Tregoning has started in very good form, albeit from just a handful of runners, so the team will be excited about this lad.

William Haggas runs Skardu, another four-year-old in the line up. He wasn't beaten far in a trio of Group 1 events last season, all at a mile on similar ground. His straight track mile form includes third in the 2000 Guineas and fourth in the Irish equivalent, when perhaps a little fatigued from the previous engagement. Jockey James 'the Doyler' Doyle will have him wrapped up until the quarter pole most likely and I can see this one running a big race.

It's a wide open race once more this year and not one in which to be going 'all in'. For small money, each of 12/1 Mustashry, 14/1 Mohaather and 14/1 Skardu have claims. I'll be dutching the three of them. Hills are going FIVE places in the race and are the place to bet if your fancy is top price there and you want to play each way.

*

2.25 Ribblesdale Stakes (Group 2, 1m 4f, 3yo fillies)

The Ascot Oaks, as this race is generally not affectionately known, comes before the actual Oaks in this topsy-turvy season. Indeed, such is the timing of events that it is very likely the pre-eminent trial for the Epsom fillies' Classic, with the possible exception of the 1000 Guineas.

Plenty have had a run already in these formative days of the turf season, including the favourite, Frankly Darling. The daughter of, you guessed it, Frankel, bolted up on the opening day back: that was on the tapeta at Newcastle, and over a mile and a quarter, but trainer John Gosden has been happy to send some of his best to break their maiden there, including Enable and Stradivarius.

This filly has a long way to go to reach that level, but she might very well dismiss her rivals here in the manner of an Oaks winner-in-waiting. If you fancy her here, the play might be to back her ante post for the Oaks at 12/1. That appeals to me more than taking 7/4 in this at any rate: if she does score nicely here, she'll be second favourite for Epsom.

Second choice is Trefoil, trained by dual Oaks-winning Ralph Beckett. She caught the eye when running on at Newmarket over a quarter mile shorter, but while the trip may suit better the opposition is undoubtedly warmer.

Miss Yoda is a drifter, in spite of winning the Lingfield Oaks Trial. It wasn't her fault the race was a slowly-run muddling affair and, given her track position through the race, the even money favourite that day can probably be marked up just a smidge. That's not to say I want to bet her here, but she is a credible second string to Gosden's bow.

Gosden has a third string, too, in the form of Anastarsia, who was all at sea behind Miss Yoda (and Golden Lips and West End Girl and So I Told You, all of which re-oppose) on the Lingfield slopes. She probably won't reverse places with all of them but she certainly had the most excuses that day and might go better than a 40/1 chance.

The one I like, however, is Passion. Trained by Aidan O'Brien, she was given a 'welcome to 2020, onwards and upwards' introduction by Seamie Heffernan in the Listed Salsabil Stakes at Navan. She'll have needed that to be an easy pipe opener as it came just six days prior to this and, of course, she has to travel over. But she is bred for this job - by Galileo out of an Anabaa mare, a sister to St Leger / Irish Derby winner, Capri, amongst other stayers - and she will have Ryan Moore to assist.

This is a race that looks certain to shake up the Oaks betting. It could easily go to the favourite, Frankly Darling, and she is worthy of small pre-race support for Epsom; but the each way play is Passion, whose price is shortening but is still 7/1 with Victor and Paddy. She's 33/1 for the Oaks.

*

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

After the 'Ascot Oaks' comes the 'Ascot Derby', an ostensibly shallower contest this year, though undoubtedly one with Epsom on its mind: the odds-on favourite here, Mogul, is a single-figure price already for the Derby.

Beautifully bred, by Galileo out of a Danehill mare, he's a brother to Japan amongst other Group race winners and cost 3,400,000 guineas (count 'em!) as a yearling. He himself is already a Group 2 winner having achieved that level of performance in the Champions Juvenile Stakes on Irish Champions Weekend last autumn. Arguably a little flat on his final start of 2019, when only fourth in the Group 1 Vertem Futurity, relocated to Newcastle, that was his fourth race in the space of three and a half months.

Ballydoyle sends a second runner to post, Arthur's Kingdom, perhaps as a pacemaker, perhaps to test his own Derby credentials. A mere snip at €240,000 compared with his stable mate, the son of Camelot - do you see what they did there? - has yet to win in pattern company but was quietly impressive on heavy ground when breaking his maiden at the third time of asking.

It is always so hard to guess at the O'Brien pecking order: with myriad royally-bred lightly-raced colts at their disposal, the yard's insistence that even they don't know the hierarchy until early summer of the Classic campaign is totally plausible.

Sandwiched between the Ballydoylers in the King Edward VII Stakes betting is the David Simcock-trained Mohican Heights. Unbeaten in two last term, including a Listed race over a mile, the son of Australia - who changed hands for £520,000 at the boutique pre-Ascot Goffs London sale last year - makes his seasonal reappearance. Stamina shouldn't be an issue though he will be having his first run for nigh on 300 days and only the third of his life.

The pace may be put to the race by Silvestre de Sousa atop Kingpower's Papa Power. Unraced at two, he was winner of the final two of three novice events on the all-weather earlier this year, putting them to bed long before the finish each time. It will be interesting to see how that works out here: an uncontested lead, kicking at the top of the shortish home straight would make him tough to reel in. That name as well: I don't know for sure, but it just might be a nod to the much-loved Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, so tragically killed in that helicopter crash last year. If that's right, they must think a lot of this fellow.

Pyledriver and Sound Of Cannons are both more exposed, though both retain some appeal for another day, the latter - who ran  a better than it looked race in the Lingfield Derby Trial - especially.

This could quite possibly be a tactical race. It also features an odds-on favourite. As such, it is less than compelling from a wagering stance. I'm fairly sure Mogul is the best horse in the race, but I'm not convinced the set up is optimal and, in the circumstances, it might be worth taking a chance on 9/1 Papa Power. Despite the hiatus, he's had more racing this term than his rivals and he could get to boss things from the front: no better man for that job than his pilot, SdS.

*

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

One of the day one features, the King's Stand is the province of the speedballs. This term it looked set to be a match between the brilliant sprinter Battaash and the exciting upstart Sceptical. Disappointingly - especially as I held a 20/1 voucher for him in this contest - Sceptical waits until Saturday and the Golden Jubilee Stakes. I felt the stiff finish here, for a strong-travelling horse with a withering gear change, was optimal. He'll probably go and win the Saturday showcase now, and in truth I hope he does. Sigh.

Back to the here and now, and it is Battaash's to lose. On ratings he is ten pounds clear of the next best, and that horse - Glass Slippers - has been duffing up second-tier dashers in France.

A procession for Battaash then? Probably, though not definitely. Of course not definitely: it's a horse race after all!

Charles Hills' champion has had his Achilles heel exposed at Ascot in the past and has a record here of 022. But that pair of silvers was against another champion, Blue Point, for whom Ascot's stiff finish was optimal. With the stable in form, and no Blue Point or Sceptical, there are no excuses this time. He'll very likely win and 8/11 is not the worst value odds-on bet I've seen.

A race like this sets up perfectly for the 'without the favourite' players. Hills are the only one to price it up as I write, and they are 11/10 Glass Slippers, 4/1 bar. I'm happy to field against Glass Slippers for reasons flagged above - if I'm wrong, I'm wrong - so it's an attractive route into a race where we can simultaneously cheer a champ and collect on the 'underneath'.

The three-year-old Liberty Beach ticks plenty of boxes in receipt of weight-for-age. She obviously gets that for her relative lack of physical maturity, but she's rapid as she showed when winning the Listed Dragon Stakes and the Group 3 Molecomb Stakes at this distance. She was also fourth (of 25) in the Queen Mary, and demonstrated her stamina credentials for this stiff finish when winning a Listed race over six furlongs on good to soft nine days ago. She'll not be too far off the speed.

The one at a price is Henry Candy's filly, Kurious. She has won her last two over five furlongs and has plenty of early speed. Not beaten far in the 2018 Queen Mary, she's been patiently handled since. 12/1 in the 'without' market makes some appeal.

Although he can get himself worked up beforehand, and although he's been susceptible in Ascot races to a spoiler in the past, I think BATTAASH will win. I hope he does because he's a bloody brilliant sprinter on his day. He's a sure fire 'on top' for exacta players and it might pay to select the two fillies Liberty Beach and Kurious underneath. They are sporting wagers in the 'without' market, too.

*

4.10 Duke Of Cambridge Stakes (1m, Group 2, 4yo+ Fillies & Mares)

Formerly the Windsor Forest Stakes, this is a mile on the straight course for older fillies and mares. A couple of the features of the race are the record of the French and the record of held up runners.

The French have run 17 femmes in the race since its 2004 inception, with a form string of 42301005982391531. So that's three winners (17.6%) and eight top three finishes (47%).

Moving along to run style, and hold up horses have won all of the last five renewals. Going further back, a combination of midfield and hold up horses have won every renewal since Strawberrydaiquiri made all in 2010.

There is one French filly in the field, Wasmya, trained by Francis-Henri Graffard and ridden by... Frankie Dettori. Generally played from midfield, she's 10/1 currently but will surely shorten. The daughter of Toronado, out of a Danehill Dancer mare, is bred for the trip though she's having her first try since debut at it; she is also tongue tied for the first time. That breathing aid would not need to eke out massive improvement for her to have a squeak.

You'll have to take my word for Wasmya's general run style as we sadly do not yet have the French form in our database. Nevertheless, you can view the projected pace map for the remainder of the field below.

The unbeaten Miss O Connor will need to be good to repel her field given the historical advantage to waited with types, but she ought to be largely uncontested on the lead at least. The winner looks most likely to emerge from the later-running cluster drawn two to seven, with both Frankie and Jim Crowley, aboard favoured Nazeef, well berthed to track that early speed.

Nazeef is herself unbeaten in her last four races, most recently when seeing off the high-class Billesdon Brook in a Listed race at Kempton 13 days ago. If that turning all-weather strip bears no resemblance to the straight lawn here, her previous six-length romp in a Class 3 mile handicap at Newmarket (good to firm) showed such a configuration will not preclude an extension of her victory sequence to a nap hand.

Sir Michael Stoute has a peerless record in the race, with four winners from 17 runners, and nine in the frame in total (a 53% place rate). He saddles Jubiloso, third in the round course three-year-old Group 1 Coronation Stakes at this meeting a year ago. While three of Sir Michael's winners had had a seasonal run, this year's truncated beginning has meant Jubiloso arrives off a 290 day absence. The inaugural Duke Of Cambridge winner, Favourable Terms, overcame a similarly long layoff for the same trainer and the yard has been in great form since the resumption.

Jubiloso was a little disappointing after Ascot last season, however: only third as the even money favourite in a Goodwood Group 3 and one from last of eight when odds-on in a similar event at Sandown. That would be enough to dissuade me at the current prices.

Lavender's Blue was the winner of the Sandown race, her form at a mile looking solid. Indeed, she followed up that G3 score with a very good three-length fourth in the Group 1 Sun Chariot Stakes. With just five career starts to her name, proven top level form over a straight mile, and a midfield run style, Amanda Perrett's four-year-old daughter of Sea The Stars - owned by Abba's Benny Andersson - could hit the right notes here. (Mamma mia!)

The other interesting filly is Queen Power, also trained by Sir Michael Stoute. She was staying on over ten furlongs last time and drops back in trip here, not an obvious play to my eye. A daughter of Shamardal, whose is an excellent Royal Ascot sire, she won't want James Doyle on Miss O Connor to amble along too steadily in front. In any event, the balance of her form is decent but typically in defeat.

If you're looking for a rag to outrun its price, Agincourt may offer a run for pennies. She won a Listed race on Newmarket's straight mile, and has a straight track record (seven furlongs and a mile) of 1221. Her trainer David O'Meara won this in 2015 for the same owner, Sir Robert Ogden. She's 40/1.

It's a competitive affair with lots of interesting runners. Nazeef looks a reasonable favourite, and I'd personally favour her over Jubiloso at the head of the betting - though the latter is clearly pleasing the pre-eminent race trainer at home. Price preference is for 6/1 Lavender's Blue and 10/1 Wasmya, the former whose form may be a little under-rated and who should be able to progress further this year, the latter who represents similar potential and a Gallic gear change. Agincourt at 40/1 is a Hail Mary of mild interest.

*

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

The lucky last on the opening day is the Ascot Stakes, a staying handicap. No winner has returned a bigger SP than 12/1 since 2008 and, in a race where we need all the whittling we can get, that's a reasonable starting point.

The draw has been an irrelevance since the maximum field size was reduced to 20, but what has been significant is the dominance of jumps or dual-purpose trainers - winners of the previous ten Ascot Stakes, all with horses aged five-plus and all bar one of which had already raced over hurdles.

Slightly more tenuously, all - bar two of Willie Mullins' four winners in the past decade, and Ian Williams' 2019 winner - had won over further over jumps.

Using the more robust of those criteria helps to form this tentative shortlist:

Verdana Blue, Blue Laureate, Coeur De Lion, Quloob, San Benedeto

Verdana Blue is the favourite, at around 7/2. She is a high class hurdler trained by Nicky Henderson, but Henderson's record in the race is 1 from 23, just four placed. Giving weight all round she's hardly a 'gimme'.

Blue Laureate represents last year's winning stable, super shrewd Ian Williams. This man is arguably the best 'target trainer' in Britain and everything he runs in a big race commands a second, and a third, glance. A five-year-old who has improved for longer trips, he was third in the 2m2f Cesarewitch Trial at Newmarket last backend, and a keeping on second in a two mile Class 2 handicap on seasonal bow eight days ago. If this doesn't come too soon, he might just improve again for an extra half mile. Crack apprentice Cieren Fallon gets the leg up.

There are few horses more consistent than the well-named Coeur De Lion. This lad gets carried out on his shield every time he runs, for all that the scars of recent battles have seemingly taken longer to heal. Sixth and fifth in this race in the last two years, he runs off the same mark as a year ago but may struggle to get much closer this time around.

Quloob runs for the Heart of the South syndicate, and is part-owned by a regular geegeez.co.uk syndicateer, Graham W, so I wish this chap the best of luck. His trainer, Gary Moore, is a top-class dual purpose exponent, and Quloob deserves his place after a string of consistent efforts. Moore, however, has yet to saddle a placed horse in the Ascot Stakes, from eight runners to date.

Paul Nicholls makes a rare foray to Royal Ascot with San Benedeto (and 33/1 Ashutor). San B is unraced on the level since his juvenile season in 2013! He is high class over fences, rated in the 150's, and will have no problem with the distance. If they go fast early, it should allow him to plod through beaten horses though whether he's capable of getting past all of them is a far bigger question. It's a leap of faith to back him after so many years away from this discipline.

Of those not fitting the profile, last year's second, Dubawi Fifty, gets in off the same mark; but there looks to be a lot more pace contention this time if connections elect to revert to the front-running strategy they deployed twelve months ago.

There are another fourteen with a squeak!

For small money, I'll chance my arm with Ian Williams' Blue Laureate. As well as the winner last year, his other runner was third, so it's fair to say he's worked out what is required. At a general 14/1, including six places (1/5 odds) with Paddy if you can get it, he'll do for me.

**

And that's Tuesday's card. There are four more days to follow, so keep some powder dry. Good luck!

Matt