Royal Ascot 2020: Day 2 Preview, Trends, Tips
The second of five days of this alternative Royal Ascot experience sees another septet of top class tussles up for grabs. The feature of the day is undoubtedly the Group 1 Prince of Wales's Stakes, where Japan takes on Headman, Barney Roy, Addeybb and more. We are also treated to the first juvenile race of the week, the 20-runner Windsor Castle Stakes; but matters commence with this year's customary huge field handicap, this time it is the...
1.15 Silver Royal Hunt Cup Handicap (1m, Class 2, 3yo+)
The Royal Hunt Cup is so impossible that they decided to duplicate it with this consolation version. Two dozen 90-odd rated handicappers hurtling up the full Ascot straight is a sight to behold, but it's a devilish wagering ask. Thank heavens for extra places with at least five up for grabs with most firms and six with a few.
The aim of the game is probably to find a hold up horse that loves a big field straight mile. That would bring in Sir Busker, Home Before Dusk, Red Bond, Ouzo, and Maydanny, all of whom have good straight mile-winning form, many of whom have done it in big fields.
Sir Busker, as top weight, was the last to miss the main cut. He's trained by William Knight, who is enjoying a great time of it since moving to Newmarket; and was a winner 15 days ago at Newcastle over a similarly straight mile, albeit on the synthetic surface. A winner of four, and placed in four more, of his 15 starts, he knows how to get the job done. With a middle to high draw and a hold up run style, Oisin Murphy will try to swoop late.
Keith Dalgleish saddles not one, not two, but three runners, with two of them being ridden by geegeez-sponsored jockeys. Of course, the best profile fit is the third string to Dalgleish's bow, Home Before Dusk, who has made a habit of finishing best at Gosforth Park, progressing from a mark of 58 this time last year to his current perch of 96.
Callum Rodriguez has been on board for the most recent three of six wins but jumps across to Red Bond this time for the Middleham Park Racing mob. He, too, is progressive, stepping forward from 75 to 92 in the space of four runs. He's likely to be close to the speed and that makes him susceptible to the massed ranks of later runners.
Rounding out the Dalgleish triumvirate is the David Probert-ridden Universal Gleam. Stall one should ensure he gets a run, assuming they come down the middle, and he'll be delivered late. He is another straight track mile winner and I'll be cheering him without necessarily wagering him, a truism whenever one of the geegeez riders is steering.
Back to the shortlist, and the remaining pair on that sheet are the top two in the market, Ouzo and Maydanny. Ouzo has good form on the Newmarket straight and ran a taking trial for this ten days back, getting collared late on. Ryan Moore retains what is an eye-catching partnership.
Well supported in recent days is Maydanny, about whom the the fancy prices are now gone. It is not hard to see why: this 1.35 million guinea yearling is a son of Dubawi out of the brilliant filly, Attraction, herself a winner of five Group 1's. With just three starts to his name, the four-year-old has clearly had his challenges but he laughed at a field of solid if unspectacular Class 4 handicappers a fortnight ago, coming away for a facile four length score. There's a really good chance he's a fair bit better than his current mark of 90.
Clearly a very trappy race and I'll be trying to get one into the first three, the bizarre requirement this week for placepot purposes even in 24-runner handicaps like this. Maydanny might just about still be backable at around 7/1 and I'll also take 12/1 Sir Busker to be in my corner.
1.50 Hampton Court Stakes (Group 3, 1m2f, 3yo)
A ten furlong heat for those staying on in the 2000 Guineas but probably not good enough for the Derby and those rising up through the ranks. Its roll of honour is good but not great with every likelihood of that being the prevailing perception post-race.
Favourite is Her Majesty's First Receiver. For the first time, as I understand it, in 67 years, The Queen will not be at Royal Ascot though she will doubtless be cheering this easy last day victor up the straight as though she was in her customary vantage high in the stands. That Kempton romp is hard to contextualise but First Receiver's trainer, Sir Michael Stoute, has won this race three times since 2009 so that's a clue. Mind you, Stoutey (if I might be so bold) has run 22 horses in this down the years which somewhat dilutes the still considerable merit of his achievement.
I was more taken with the effort of Juan Elcano last time when that one was a four length fifth in the 2000 Guineas. This represents a notable step back in grade which, allied to the extra quarter mile in trip, ought to see him go close if the exertions of a Classic run just 11 days ago have not left their mark.
Aidan O'Brien runs two, the better fancied of the pair being Derrinstown Derby Trial second Russian Emperor, a rare runner from the yard in non-Coolmore colours. In fact, as with all of the Ballydoyle horses it is a partnership, this time with Laurie Macri. Getting back to the horse, he was given plenty to do in a tactical race at Leopardstown that last day, finishing best but failing by a half length to reel in stablemate, Cormorant. You might say that the bird had flown. (sigh)
Eight days later and here he is in what may become another tactical affair, though Ryan Moore will have a match fit partner where Seamie perhaps was minded to tighten the bolts a little. That's all doublespeak for he'll be on his A game here and there will be no excuses.
Berlin Tango scored in Listed company under David Probert at Kempton last time, a beneficiary of trainer Andrew Balding's white hot form at the resumption. He's a progressive colt and showed a ready turn of foot about a quarter mile out which won him the race. He still has to show that his turf form is up to that level, however, and Oisin Murphy takes over from David.
Some way behind Juan Elcano at Newmarket was Kenzai Warrior, who completely fluffed the start. Whilst he is likely better than the bare form, I'm not sure the step up in trip is what he needs, or indeed whether he's good enough anyway. [We all know what happens now...]
Ralph Beckett's Zoffany colt, Mascat, looked to be crying out for the extra range after only just inhaling the leaders in a mile maiden at HQ last time. This is a leap and bound forward in class terms but he has reasonable credentials on both pedigree and form - he was second to the much-vaunted Palace Pier on his only other career start.
This is one of those races where I haven't really got a clue and, in that absence of idea, I tend to swing wildly for penny change. 20/1 Mascat is the horse to fit my requirements though he clearly has to improve some to get to the established level of some of these, and then a bit more to out-improve those other improvers, if you see what I mean. 7/2 Russian Emperor and 11/4 Juan Elcano are much more obvious, though commensurately shorter-priced, alternatives. But, it bears repeating, I have less of a clue than normal here.
2.25 King George V Stakes (Class 2 Handicap, 1m 4f, 3yo)
The curious case of the mile and a half draw bias against low-drawn horses. It really does defy convention, except that perhaps those drawn low are either too far forward if they're quick at the gate, or stuck in a pocket if they're tardily away. Either way, the data bear out this counter-intuitive snippet which is a key to hoping to unravel a conundrum such as the King George V Stakes.
Here's a picture which shows the three-stall rolling average of percentage of rivals beaten (or PRB3 for short). 50% is the mid-point - where runners from a stall have beaten as many others as have beaten them - so north of 55% is a good figure and south of 45% is the converse.
The blue line is the filtered data - in this case good/firm to good going, 16+ runners, actual draw (accounting for non-runners) - which shows the poor record of inside boxes. As can be seen from the pink line, that disadvantage is regardless of going. We're dealing with small samples here so the usual caveat emptor applies, and one should note that horses from stalls three and six have won a race each; but those two scores are from 119 to exit logical (i.e. removing non-runners) traps seven or lower.
After all that, I'm sorry to report that the shortest-priced low drawn horse is 10/1 Kings Caper in stall five.
What else do we have to conjure with? Trainer Mark Johnston has saddled five winners but from 58 runners (-£8.50 at SP), Aidan O'Brien saddled his first winner last term from 14 starters to date, and Sir Michael Stoute is the king of the King George V with four winners and another seven placed from 28 starters.
Sir Michael, of course, is empty-handed this term, as is Aidan; but 'Always Trying' runs a quartet, three of which are drawn 1, 2 and 5. History says that may make life difficult; his fourth strand is Subjectivist from stall 15 and with Ryan Moore booked to ride. He drops from minor pattern company into a handicap for the first time, his open race form mixing it with the likes of Juan Elcano, Mohican Heights and Pyledriver, all of whom take on loftier pots this week. 25/1 may understate his prospects.
The favourite is Kipps, trained by Hughie Morrison and ridden by David Probert. This lightly-raced War Command colt is well thought of and was narrowly denied close home on his seasonal debut ten days ago. Ideally berthed in stall twelve he has an obvious chance for a trainer with a quietly impressive Royal Ascot record (7/76, 14 further places, +£17 at SP, which improves to 6/49, 15 further places, +£23 in handicaps only). Morrison has had two from five placed in this race and I obviously hope Kipps wins. But I can't back him at 4/1.
The Yarmouth race in which Bodyline was a strong-finishing second looks certain to work out well and Sir Mark Prescott's Australia colt ought to improve for the extra distance. Stall 17 is almost too wide, however, and tempers enthusiasm a touch.
John Gosden has had just one winner, from 18 runners (three more placed), in the King George V Stakes, but To Nathaniel has fair prospects of doubling his victory tally. No prizes for guessing his dad's name with stamina also imbued from the dam line, Sea The Stars being his maternal grandfather. To Nathaniel is unbeaten in two seven-runner lower-grade handicaps since stepping up to this sort of trip and since being fitted with cheek pieces. He can progress again.
Arthurian Fable is somehow still a maiden after just failing to get up on his fourth and most recent start. That was at ten furlongs, this is twelve, and the Brian Meehan yard are enjoying a good little spell. Jockey Martin Dwyer will, like all the car park lads (and the lass Hollie Doyle), need to negotiate a ground-saving passage; if he can, his mount could break his duck on the big stage.
There are lots more with chances, a universal truth in Royal Ascot handicaps.
Jeez, it's trappy. Better to be lucky than good, as they say, so I'm rolling the dice with 25/1 Subjectivist and 14/1 Arthurian Fable, for sticky bun stakes.
3.00 Prince Of Wales's Stakes (Group 1, 1m2f, 4yo+)
The highlight of the day is the Group 1 mile and a quarter Prince of Wales's Stakes for older horses. Locking horns in a field where quality usurps quantity are the recent winners of Group or Grade 1's in Britain, France, Dubai and Australia.
Market leader at coin toss odds is Japan, third in the Derby, fourth in the Arc and a three-time winner in between, including the Prix du Jockey Club (1m4f) and the Juddmonte International at York over this trip. His form is the best in the race and he's likely to have strengthened up from three to four; but connections might just have an autumn campaign on their minds. I also wouldn't be completely sold on a waiting ride in what may be a tactical race, not at even money or so at any rate.
Second favourite is the Roger Charlton-trainer Headman, who won the always top-class London Gold Cup handicap before a brace of Group 2's in France, and finished off with a solid fifth in the Irish Champion Stakes. I'm just not at all sold on the French pattern form from last year with pretty much all of their black type races having been won by overseas raiders.
Barney Roy seems to have been around forever - indeed he won the St James's Palace Stakes in 2017 at this meeting, having run up to Churchill in the 2000 Guineas previously. More recently his best form has been in Dubai but, as a nine-furlong horse stretching out, he might have the tactical toe to outspeed rivals if it is a steadily run contest.
Officially rated the same as Japan - both on 122 - is Addeybb. He enjoyed a purple patch down under in the spring winning a pair of G1's; in beating the same horse twice, however, there may be reservations about the form. It is probably a lot fairer to say I am incapable of quantifying the Australian form. Historically, their best middle-distance horses have not been as good as ours. All that said, Addeybb was second to Magical in the Group 1 Champion Stakes on soft ground before leaving for Oz so he has rock solid course and distance form and any rain will support his cause.
John Gosden runs both the filly Mehdaayih and the progressive Cambridgeshire winner, Lord North. The former was sent off favourite for the Oaks last year: things didn't work out on that tricky track and she showed better form in a Group 2 in France subsequently. Despite getting closest to Japanese raider, Deirdre, in the G1 Nassau Stakes at Goodwood last summer, and even with her gender allowance, she doesn't especially appeal on here second spin against the men here.
Lord North has moved forward a stone, from a mark of 98 to 112. That gives him ten pounds to find with the best of these and he was perhaps a little fortunate to beat Elarqam last time. It would be a surprise and, from a form perspective a disappointment, if Bangkok was good enough.
The Prince Of Wales's Stakes is a difficult race to weigh up this year. On the face of it, Japan should win: ten furlongs looks optimal for an improving multiple Group 1-winning colt. But perhaps not a steadily run ten furlongs; and perhaps not on his seasonal bow. At the prices - always at the prices - I'm going to take him on with Addeybb. He too is a risky proposition: is he over his travel exertions? Is that form actually good enough? But he does like a bit of cut and his run behind Magical in the Champion Stakes last autumn is high class and over track/trip. At 10/1 in a place, that'll do for me.
3.35 Royal Hunt Cup (Class 2 Handicap, 1m, 3yo+)
An impossible cavalry charge down the straight mile. As always in such races, I'm looking for a hold up or midfield horse with big field form, ideally here. My shortlist is Kynren, Raising Sand, Indeed, What's The Story, and last year's winner, Afaak.
Kynren is a season ticket holder in these kind of events, finally snaffling an overdue win in a heritage handicap at the track over seven furlongs last autumn. Therein may lie the key, though: he is probably slightly better at seven than a mile for all that a form string of 052516 in huge field Ascot handicaps marks him down as an extra place each way wager.
Raising Sand has a similar profile to Kynren. He, too, has been uber-consistent in the context: 143078164310 is his string, which at a mile goes to 1763 and a mile on soft side of good 163. The '3' was in this race last year but another five pounds hardly makes his task easier. I respect this chap but will let him beat me.
Dominic Ffrench-Davis doesn't have many superstars but he is clearly eminently capable of handling a good one when it comes along. Enter Indeed, second in a soft ground nine-furlong straight track Group 3 last season, ideal credentials for finishing off this furlong shorter mission. He's gone very well fresh in the past and, while his handicap mark is no 'gimme', he's feasibly weighted from a mid-track position.
What's The Story will be ridden by Callum Rodriguez, so naturally I'll be hollering for him out of loyalty. But his form profile stacks up, too. Although there are mixed messages about softish ground, he has handled a variety of underfoot conditions and stays as far as ten furlongs as well as being nippy enough for seven. In other words, he's versatile. Whether he is quite enough of a specialist for this gig, I'm not sure.
Afaak, or something very similar, is what I was screaming twelve months ago as Jim Crowley repelled Jamie Spencer's late Clon Coulis charge. That was on soft ground and, remarkably, Afaak had been second in this same race a year prior to that. 2nd of 30 (rated 103) and 1st of 28 (rated 103) screams contender, especially off a mere three pound higher mark mitigated entirely by Cieren Fallon's three pound claim. There can be little doubt this has been the target.
There are any number of less exposed, more fashionable profiles at the top of the market but this is a race that tends to go the way of a battle-hardened handicapper with a touch of class. With that in mind, Indeed and Afaak are my each way two against the field, both at around 16/1. Try for fifteen places!
4.10 Windsor Castle Stakes (Listed, 5f, 2yo)
The first two-year-old race of the week, and as many as twenty of them go to post.
US trainer Wesley Ward is two from twelve in this race, most recently with Hootenanny in 2014. He's had a couple of shorties down the field since, and the soft ground is probably not optimal for Sunshine City. Although only midfield from the gate on her four-and-a-half furlong turning dirt track debut, she can be expected to bounce alertly here; but it won't be lost on many what a different proposition this will be. Of course, Wes has done it before and he might do it again. The price means I'll look elsewhere. Ward also runs Sheriff Bianco, beaten three lengths on debut and not on my wishlist.
Aidan O'Brien is the other obvious trainer in the race having saddled last year's victor, Southern Hills, and 2015 champ, Washington DC. He's also had a second, a third and four fourths from 16 entries. Chief Little Hawk, an impressive winner just a week ago, travelled well that day and quickened up readily. The ground will be a little softer here but he's feared.
The upstart in this juvenile sprint division is Archie Watson. He got the lot two years ago with Soldier's Call and has another live one in Mighty Gurkha. The cheaply bought Sepoy colt bossed things from the stalls on his sole jaunt thus far, a six-furlong Lingfield all weather spin. Soldier's Call also began on the Lingfield AW but he didn't scoot up by eight long lengths! Who knows what was behind Mighty Gurkha that day - the second has been disappointing since - but Watson's entry has both speed and relative stamina.
The Queen's Tactical, trained by Andrew Balding and ridden by James Doyle, has been backed recently in the manner of a horse that has come out of his debut well. That effort, 13 days ago, was a two-length third in a Newmarket maiden (Get It a length and a quarter ahead in second) where Tactical encountered a small amount of trouble in the run. Balding's horses invariably improve from first to second start - he wins second time out at 20%, first time out at 11%. He might be able to reverse the form with Get It, whose trainer Clive Cox scores at roughly 10% with horses on both their first and second starts.
At bigger prices, James Tate's Victory Heights and George Boughey's Astimegoesby are not without a chance, a comment which doubtless applies to several others unmentioned in these despatches.
Wagering the Windsor Castle is not for the faint-hearted, like most of what has preceded it, and Chief Little Hawk is an unimaginative though pretty solid suggestion. Mighty Gurkha could also go well at a bigger price.
4.40 Copper Horse Handicap (Class 2 Handicap, 1m6f, 4yo+)
A one off this year is the mile and three quarters Copper Horse Handicap, for older horses. With very few handicaps run over this trip at Ascot, and none with sort of field size, it is difficult to know what will be the impact of draw and pace. The likelihood, however, is that it might follow the pattern of big-field mile and a half handicaps, with a middle to wide draw and a good trip being optimal. Below is the Instant Expert view of the world:
As can be seen in the above, which is displaying place data, Alright Sunshine, Shailene, Fujaira Prince and Here And Now all have green for those components against which they've previously raced.
Alright Sunshine drops down in class from a Group 3 last time, his first run of the year, and if that has blown away the cobwebs he'll bring progressive handicap form, including on softish ground, to the party. A four pound rise for that recent outing doesn't especially help, however; nor does an inside draw for a hold up type: he will need plenty of luck in the run.
Shailene has trap one but at least has Silvestre de Sousa to navigate her. They may go straight for the lead - the alternative is almost certainly a boxed-in transit and frustration; either way, it will be hard to get the run of the race with so many rivals ostensibly setting up better. On form, her third in a similar handicap at Goodwood last summer when held up and never quite getting there gives her a squeak.
The favourite is Fujaira Prince. Trained by Roger Varian, the son of Pivotal has stamina on the dam side being out of a Dalakhani mare. That offers hope on this first foray beyond a mile and a half, having stayed on in such contests the last twice, including most recently in the Duke Of Edinburgh Stakes at this meeting a year ago. His trainer has an excellent record with horses off a layoff - better than 21%, 50% hitting the frame - and Fujaira Prince has a wide draw to give jockey Andrea Atzeni options.
Here And Now is a massive price, largely because he hasn't run for two years. But I imagine he's well drawn in twelve and has a great profile fit on his old form. Those 2018 efforts include a five length score in a 16-runner two mile Class 2 York handicap. Harry Bentley is one of trainer Ralph Beckett's go-to 'handicap job jockeys' - according to one of my QT Angles anyway - so, while the layoff is clearly a huge question mark, he's worth a small chance at 33/1 or so. Beckett's record with handicappers off a 200+ day rest is 15%, though it is less impressive off an ultra-break like this.
Collide, Ranch Hand and Beckett's other entry and third reserve, Hereby, all have progressive profiles and winning form at this specific distance; as such all have clear chances.
A very trappy close to a fiendish day. Again, Fujaira Prince looks solid at the head of the betting; while I won't be able to resist a tiny tickle on Here And Now. But tiny is what it will be: there will be more feasibly winnable battles in the coming days.