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Royal Ascot 2018: Day 1 Preview, Tips

It's Royal Ascot 2018, the finest week in the flat racing calendar. The finest but, from a wagering perspective, very far from the easiest. It's a meeting which, as a consequence of one too many bloody reversals, I personally take fairly lightly, and the following ruminations should be consumed in that context.

As well as this post, you may also be interested in Andy's Royal Ascot Day 1 Trends.

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

The Royal meeting begins with a bang. Actually, given its G1-G2-G1-G1 opening quartet of races, it begins with a two hour firework display of equine superstars. The grand overture is the Queen Anne Stakes, a test of speed, class and stamina up the straight mile course.

As was shown in this article on Ascot pace and draw biases, it is very difficult to lead all the way on the straight mile here. While those waited with have fared the best of the four general run styles over course and distance, it should be noted that a number of recent winners of this race were more prominently placed in the opening quarter.

Deauville looks set for a relatively uncontested lead and if the race is run at less than championship pace, it may again suit those near the fore. Deauville's stable mate, Rhododendron, will not be far away; after needing every yard of Newbury's round mile to collar Lightning Spear (re-opposes) in the Lockinge, she appears well suited to this stiffer task. The only reservation is that this will be the first time she's raced on a straight track, and her first visit to Ascot. Regardless, she will give those mythical favourite backers a run for their money.

More appealing, though undoubtedly more of a punt also, is BENBATL. Godolphin's four-year-old son of Dubawi, unraced as a juvenile, was asked to do a number of things he couldn't last year - run over a mile and a half, and race on heavy most notably. In between twelve furlong spins, he was dropped to ten furlongs at Royal Ascot and duly won the Hampton Court Stakes.

This season he had four runs in Dubai, all over nine furlongs, winning three of them including, most recently, the Group 1 Dubai Turf. The stopwatch boys have raved about his times in the Emirates so, if he's been well enough rested since returning to Blighty, Saeed bin Suroor may 'have it right back at ya, Charlie' in this prestigious heat. He's worth a go at 5/1.

It's a deep race, though, and the likes of overseas raiders Recoletos and Yoshida may be slightly longer prices than they ought to be. At huge odds, Century Dream has a strikingly progressive profile. This is a big ask of course, and there's a slight reservation about the ground, but he may well run better than his odds imply, albeit that that may not be good enough to nick a place or more.

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

Total guesswork here... Here's what I know:

- No Nay Never has started very well as a sire and represents the Scat Daddy lineage - numerous strong performers at this meeting in recent years.

- Peter May's figures have Cosmic Law and Sergei Prokofiev at the top, closely followed by the once-raced Indigo Balance.

- 13 of the last 16 winners had either one or two previous career starts.

- Once-raced debut winners have fared well, scoring in the Coventry in 2007, 2009, 2010, 2013, 2014, and 2017.

- Those off the track for more than a month have done very well, in terms of wins and places to runners.

That leaves me with a shortlist of two - though neither with especially high speed ratings: Advertise and Getchagetchagetcha.

The former is trained by Martyn Meade, winning comfortably in maiden company at Newbury, a race which has worked out quite well so far. The latter comes from the Clive Cox speed camp, and won his debut at this track. That was over five furlongs on softish ground in a four-runner field, however, meaning he has a bit more to prove against conditions than the Meade runner.

I'll take a chance on another once-raced debut winner in the form of Jessica Harrington's Indigo Balance. He won a six furong Curragh maiden beating Decrypt, himself a subsequent winner.

In an open race where those at the head of the market - Sergei Prokofiev (Scat Daddy), Calyx (debut winner), Cosmic Law (No Nay Never), and The Irish Rover (No Nay Never) - all tick one box or another above. But in a race where guesswork is the order of the day, why not side with a couple of 'could be anything' blank canvasses at a price?

Advertise and Indigo Balance for small stakes.

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

Back to Group 1 action, and a five furlong dash. There are some very fast starters in this field, perhaps none more so than the electric Kachy, whose performance when smashing his rivals by nine lengths at Chester had to be seen to be believed.

That was Chester, around the bend, and this is Ascot up the straight; that was a Class 3 and this is a Group 1: rapid he is, but I doubt he has the class of a number of these.

Lady Aurelia is also lightning from the stalls, and she comes here bidding to defend an unbeaten course record: she beat a field of 17 by seven lengths in the Queen Mary of 2016, and she beat the same size field in this race last year, prevailing again by daylight, three lengths on that occasion. The daughter of Scat Daddy will be very tough to beat if turning up in that sort of form. But she was beaten on her seasonal bow, albeit when very likely half-cooked and with this in mind. She's going to be a short enough price as the second most popular Lady on Day 1 of the Royal meeting, but I couldn't put you off her.

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Battaash is perceived to be Lady A's main rival, this fellow having been a new man since suffering the misfortune of decoupling after fluffing his lines in the 2016 Windsor Castle at the Royal meeting. He's not returned to this piste in the interim so there is something of a leap of faith required to back him at around 9/4, for all that when he's good he's very good. He was generally very good last season, in fairness, and his narrow last day triumph can probably be marked up a jot. Still, of the pair, I'd rather be in Wesley's corner and that of his marauding mare.

The quest for a value loser is not always in vain in this race - as Choisir, Equiano and Goldream have all reminded us since 2003. In that spirit, and although I don't especially fancy him, Washington DC advertised his outside chance when chasing Battaash home at Haydock last time. The five-year-old son of Zoffany has only won once over the minimum since his juvenile season; but then, way way back in 2015, he did win the Windsor Castle from 26 rivals. He's quirky and a late runner, and it is hardly in his favour that Ryan Moore has plumped for a thrice-beaten-this-season stable mate upon which he doesn't wear the Coolmore silks; but 16/1 might just make the frame for the ever more accomplished-looking Donnacha O'Brien.

But, actually, the more I look at it, the more I think LADY AURELIA will win.

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

My heart is screaming for the underdog, Roger Teal's Tip Two Win. Not only trained by one of the sport's lesser-known names, he is ridden by one of the more under-rated jockeys in the weighing room, David Probert (who just happens to sport the liveries of this 'ere website on his breeches). It would be spectacular for Roger and David, not to mention owner Anne Crowley, if he could prevail.

Having finished closest to Saxon Warrior in the 2000 Guineas, he has a legitimate chance, too. That followed up solid two-year-old form and helped sandwich a brace of lucrative victories in Doha around the turn of the year. Sure, he hasn't the progression of some of these but he has the most in the book of all of them. Come on David!!!

OK, partisanship aside, the most exciting horse for neutrals is probably Without Parole. Trainer John Gosden has brought this fellow along slowly, shunning the bright lights for wins at first Newcastle (actually, that was under the bright lights, last December!) and then Yarmouth, before raising his sights a touch in the Listed Heron Stakes.

That trio of wins are only mildly interesting in or of themselves, but the manner of victory, particularly on Without Parole's second start, has flagged him as a colt of rare potential. The problem for would be backers of a horse stepping up to Group company, not to mention Group 1 company, for the first time is that his price suggests he's already an established top tier performer. As such, fully cognisant that it may end in tears, I want to try to take him on.

Romanised, another from an unfashionable stable - this time that of Ken Condon, bounded forward from his 2018 bow to put the Irish 2000 Guineas field to the sword in convincing manner last time. As a two-year-old, he ran second to Masar, form which obviously looks oodles better in light of the latter's resounding Derby success. He, like Tip Two Win, is more exposed but has achieved more.

French raider Wootton is also a very interesting contender. Unbeaten in three going into the French 2000 Guineas, he was two lengths fourth there. He didn't get the run of the race off what looked steady fractions, and he ought to be suited by a quicker tempo this time. However, whether he wants fast ground remains to be seen. Trainer Henri-Alex Pantall is 0-14 in Britain and Ireland since 2013, including unplaced runners at 5/2, 5/1, 7/1 twice and 8/1.

And what of Gustav Klimt? Like his namesake's paintings, this fellow has always been more impressionist than lifelike when it comes to top class winning form, though it should be remembered he was Saxon Warrior's better-fancied stablemate in the lead up to the 2000 Guineas, and he did run third in the Irish equivalent. Progressive as a juvenile it is starting to look as though he hasn't improved from two to three as much as others in the line up, though he retains the scope to bounce back yet.

This is a truly fascinating clash of established form versus unexposed early-season three-year-olds, and it is hard to choose between them. What is for certain is that my heart says Tip Two Win; but one rarely needs to invest capital where one is already emotionally in the game. Thus it becomes a choice between the unexposed sorts Without Parole and Wootton. The former may be the pick for all that I don't want to back him at the price. Indeed, I'm not betting in the race: it's too difficult with not enough meat on any wagering bone to justify a punt.

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

Twenty older horses, many of them used to facing obstacles rather than morning suits, and the first of the week's near impossible handicap puzzles. A trend may be our friend in the circumstances, so here are three:

13 of the last 16 were won by a predominantly National Hunt stable, including the last eight

10 winners since 1997 (92 runners) won last time out, for a LSP of 19.50 points

The best win and place strike rates were achieved by horses returning from an absence of 14-60 days

That leaves five, though there is a strong possibility that bubba was lobbed with bathwater in the above. Did I already mention I find this meeting tough?

No matter, for our shortlist looks promising, as follows: Whiskey Sour, Look My Way, [White Desert, Sam Missile], Garo De Juilley

Outsider Garo De Juilley has not been seen on the level since notching a four-timer in France in the autumn of 2015. The last of that quartet was in a big field mile and a half Saint-Cloud handicap, where as far as I can tell he carried top weight off an official rating of 43.5, which I think equates to 95. I might be wrong here, but that gives him a bit of a chance off the same mark. He's changed stables twice since then, first to Paul Nicholls and now to Sophie Leech, for whom this will be the six-year-old's first run. He's fit from hurdling and might run better than 66/1, especially if you can nab a bonus place or two.

More likely perhaps is Whiskey Sour from the Willie Mullins yard. Mullins has won this twice in the last three years and three times in the last six. He has other bullets to fire but none with the matching profile to my guessing game trends above. This five-year-old had a successful hurdling season, including winning a Grade 1 at Christmas and running second in the Punchestown Champion Novice Hurdle (also Grade 1) when last seen. He won his final two flat starts last term, both fifty grand big field Galway Festival handicaps - in the space of five days, so comes here progressive in that sphere and battle proven. Christophe Soumillon is an eye-catching jockey booking for the 10/1 chance, though Whiskey Sour will need plenty of luck in the run if adopting his usual hold up tactics.

Look My Way repelled the fast-finishing Coeur De Lion in the consolation Chester Cup last time and ought again to get first run on that rival. But the stiffer test of Ascot could play to the presumed stronger stamina of the latter who may finally bag the big one he's promised for so long - albeit that it will be too late for connections who flogged him at the sale last month (looks like some of the outgoing syndicate bought him back in for £110,000, half of which they could claw back here).

Charlie Appleby is looking to supplement his Derby win with a Royal Ascot score to truly mark his 2018 season. He'll have a number of fine chances in better class races than this, but White Desert should not be under-estimated. It may not have been much of a race he won last time, in the context of this gig at least, but he won it by six lengths. The application of first time cheekpieces may have been a factor, and those are retained. He has solid turf form as well as the services of William Buick, who rides the course well.

A winner at the track last month, Sam Missile bids to double up in this notably better race off a seven pounds higher mark. That will make life trickier but Jamie Osborne's five-year-old remains unexposed at staying trips.

The last two above are, of course, not from NH yards, so as per the arbitrary pruning of the field at the start of this race preview, I'll choose from the other trio. Whiskey Sour's run style concerns me in a race of this nature: he might have a lot to do in the last quarter mile and there will be plenty of horses going backwards and getting in his way in the short home stretch.

Garo De Juilley is worth a very small each way fun punt, as his flat form of old was both progressive - he's on a five-timer - and high class. The ground is a bit of a question mark, how much flat ability he retains is a bigger one, but 66/1 justifies the tickle.

Look My Way is usually thereabouts, stays quite well and is likely to be in the right place turning for home; with his trainer in fine form just now, 16/1 is fair enough even if there is a chance that Coeur De Lion - among many others! - will go by him in the final furlong.

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

A change to both the race order and conditions, with the Windsor Castle moved to later in the week and its replacement as the Tuesday nightcap, the Wolferton Stakes no longer a handicap. It might have been marginally easier if it was a handicap in truth as 5/1 the field attests.

I genuinely have no clue how this will play out, so the following is little more than to fill the gap between race five and the end of the piece. With that said, if you're still reading, John Gosden won three of the last seven handicap renewals and has also had two placed runners, from ten sent to post.

Johnny G saddles two here, the better fancied of which appears to be Monarchs Glen. This Frankel gelding seemed to be getting it together at the end of last season with a brace of wins in Listed and Group 3 company. That was prior to a thumping in a Dubai Group 1 first time up this season. If one can overlook that setback - class and the travel are acceptable excuses - and if he can pick up that previously ascendant thread, then 10/1 is fair in a race which is no great shakes. Frankie Dettori rides, his mount wearing a hood for the first time.

Gosden's other runner, Muntahaa, has been disappointing since winning a mile and a half Group 3 last midsummer. But the fact he won a G3 puts him a step ahead of many of these, with race conditions (fast ground, decent pace, big field) reasons to be hopeful.

Elsewhere, Henry Candy has an excellent record when teaming up with Harry Bentley (11/31, +18.49) in the last two years, and they try with the filly, Chain Of Daisies. She looks like she might get a softish lead, and may find this more straightforward than the Group 2 Musidora she contested last time. The shorter straight here than at York is in her favour making 16/1 attractive about a filly with a verdict over Ulysses in her back catalogue (same ground and distance, Group 3).

Good luck!

Matt

Royal Ascot 2018: Course Overview and Draw Bias

Royal Ascot 2018 will be the best domestic flat race meeting of the year. It will also be among the hardest from which to derive a betting profit. Personally, it doesn't play to my strengths - too many unexposed 'could be anything' types - but I don't suppose that will stop me getting involved..!

What does play to my strengths is to have a game plan: this is a five day meeting comprised of thirty races, so let's know what we can know about the course and any nuances or biases it may have.

Ascot Course Characteristics

Ascot's course layout: straight up to a mile, with longer races on the round course. Also a round mile

Ascot's course layout: straight up to a mile, with longer races on the round course. Also a round mile

Uphill

The above graphic illustrates the stiff test that Ascot's track presents, with the red triangle just past the winning post signifying the highest point on the course. Thus there is an uphill drag almost the whole way up the straight. On the round course, the lowest point is at the round mile (Old Mile) start, meaning that distance is also almost entirely uphill.

For longer races on the round course, which is actually closer to being triangular than round, there is some early respite in the loop prior to the long climb for glory.

Tight bend

It is also worth noting that the bend into the home straight for round course races is tight and, being situated just two and a half furlongs from the finish, can cause trouble in running with horses either locked in a pocket or having to fan very wide into the straight to find daylight.

For round course races, then, it is often advantageous to be on or close to the pace: here, a horse and rider will have no traffic problems and, if the fuel has been burned proportionately, can slingshot into the straight and prove very hard to peg back.

 

Ascot Draw / Pace Bias

There may then be a pace bias on the round course, but what of the straight track? Races here are run at five, six, seven and eight furlongs, many of them big field handicaps or Group race sprints.

Ascot 5f Draw

The below chart shows place percentages for big field five furlong races since 2009, based on actual draw (i.e. after non-runners have been accounted for).

If there is any bias, it may be slightly to high numbers; but the reality is that it is more likely where the pace lies.

 

Ascot 5f Pace

Horses racing from the front in big fields down Ascot's five furlong straight have fared best, as can be seen below:

The coloured blobs tell us that horses which led (or were very close to the pace, e.g. "pressed leader") in big field fast ground five furlong races at Ascot won eight races from 76 to adopt such a run style. That's a little over 10%, and was worth a profit at starting price of £35.50 to a £1 level stake. All other run styles were loss-making with win strike rates of around half that of early leaders.

That is not to say it is always easy to identify the early speed, nor that a one-in-ten hit rate will be plain sailing; but it is worth knowing that pace bias looks a little stronger than draw bias at the minimum on fast ground and in big fields.

 

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Ascot 6f Draw

It's a similar story over six furlongs. If there is a stalls position bias, it might be slightly against low drawn horses, with middle to high hitting the frame slightly more often as can be seen from this chart:

There is not a great deal in it, and this may be no more than the fact that a number of the big field races see the field congregate in the middle of the track thus conveying a 'distance travelled' advantage on those which have not had to steer themselves to that location.

Ascot 6f Pace

Front runners have the best of it again over six furlongs, as demonstrated in the below, but they are not the only favourable running style.

Early leaders are more than two-and-a-half times more likely to prevail than average, with the next best group being those held up, presumably when the early gallop is a scorcher. Those racing close to the pace have managed just two victories from 142 runners.

As at the minimum trip, it looks as though there could be more of an advantage to possess early speed than to be berthed in position x or y in the stalls.

 

Ascot 7f Draw / Pace

Low numbers have again won least often in big field fast ground races over this trip, but their place numbers are comparable to the other two thirds of the draw. But, from a pace perspective, a different story emerges.

It is a long way home in a big field cavalry charge up a stiff straight seven furlongs, and those waited with have fared clear best.

 

As can be seen, it's very difficult to lead all the way at this trip, and the midfield to back rank emerge late on to steal most of the spoils. Those help up win most often, but you'll need to know more than that to make it pay!

 

Ascot Straight Mile Pace / Draw

In fuller fields on the straight mile course, close to a wing has been better than up the middle:

The pastel chart lines show that, while generally higher is marginally preferred, in the context of the likely race conditions for, e.g. the Royal Hunt Cup, either flank may be favoured (blue FILTERED line).

From a pace perspective, there is no dominant running style, though it is fair to say that close to - but not on - the speed has been disadvantageous. The place percentages, especially, for held up horses suggest that may be where generally to focus.

 

Summary / Takeaways

As with all tracks, it is a very solid starting point to know about the constitution of the course and any general principles which may assist. Our course pages, including this one for Ascot, may help in that regard.

Based on the above, we know that in spite of the stiff finish, pace pressers win twice as often as might be expected (IV) compared to those ridden further back in five and six furlong sprints. We also know that it becomes much harder to hold on to the lead at seven furlongs and a mile, and that it may be preferable to be drawn closer to one rail or other in big field straight mile races, particularly if you like a hold up type.

On the round course, being handy will keep a horse out of the trouble which often manifests due to the fairly tight turn into the home straight and the relatively short run in.

None of the above will help you find a winner by itself, but it may steer you generally in the right direction. Naturally, Geegeez Gold has many more tools to assist the elimination process. Good luck!

Matt

Monday Musings: Ferguson’s Royal Ascot Legacy

I saw John Ferguson in the stands at Ascot on Saturday, writes Tony Stafford. He said he wasn’t making any immediate plans, but that he’d keep me posted when he does. He should have been giving himself a big, silent, inner thumbs-up after the perceived revival of Godolphin’s fortunes – since his departure.

The irony is that the six wins for the Boys in Blue, equalling the six of Aidan O’Brien for Coolmore, were in large part of Ferguson’s making. Two home-breds, Benbatl in an outpouring of emotion for his trainer Saeed Bin Suroor after winning the Hampton Court Stakes; and Sound and Silence (Charlie Appleby) in the Windsor Castle, contributed to the score, but otherwise it was pretty much all Ferguson.

The other quartet included Ribchester, bought privately from David Armstrong and successful in the opening Queen Anne for Richard Fahey’s stable, and Barney Roy, acquired after initial promise for Richard Hannon, and now a Group 1 winner after turning 2,000 Guineas tables on Churchill.

In the handicaps, Rare Rhythm (Duke of Edinburgh), knocked down to Ferguson as a 2013 yearling for 650,000gns, was an example of Charlie Appleby’s skill, being brought back a year from his previous run in the corresponding race to win readily. Then later in the week, there was a convincing success for Atty Persse (King George V). He was a private buy from owner-breeder Bjorn Nielsen after a debut win for Roger Charlton last autumn, who prepared him for last week’s victory. It must have been great for Nielsen when another home-bred, Stradivarius, won the Queen’s Vase for him and John Gosden.

Ferguson could also point to the excellent Group 1 second places of his two recruits from Clive Cox: Profitable, second to Lady Aurelia in a brave bid to repeat last year’s King’s Stand success; and Harry Angel, who needed a flying Caravaggio to deny him and fellow Godolphin sprinter Blue Point (Appleby) in the Commonwealth Cup.

The sprawling Godolphin “empire” also of course informally extends to the satellite operations of Sheikh Mohammed’s friends such as Saeed Manana, and family members like his son Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed. Sheikh Hamdan’s Permian came back from Derby disappointment to show his Dante- winning quality for Mark Johnston in the King Edward VII over the Classic trip.

They were screaming St Leger for the next three home in that race, and here I’ll declare an interest and suggest that my friend Lew (John Lewis to you) Day can win it with Raheen House. The Brian Meehan-trained Sea The Stars colt turned for home last of 12 and had to be switched outside, but in the last furlong he was going on much the best. He was less than three lengths behind the winner in fourth, making up a conservative six lengths in the straight, and this long-striding colt will love Doncaster’s long finishing straight. He was a close fourth in the Racing Post Trophy over a mile there last autumn.

If he were mine, I’d be tempted to have a look first at the Ebor, three weeks before the St Leger where the 10lb or thereabouts of his weight-for-age concession from his elders might be enticing even from his present mark of 109. That should not change much after this, as the top four in the King Edward were rated 113, 111, 110 and 109 before the race and a tape measure could not have been any more accurate.

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Coolmore’s two major reverses were Churchill, out of fettle and never looking like getting into it when a sluggish fourth to Barney Roy, and Order of St George, just too late to get to grips with the ultra-determined Big Orange in his Gold Cup repeat attempt.

They more than redressed those disappointments with three performances of supreme quality. Winter headed home yet another Ballydoyle 1-2-3 in the Coronation Stakes to add to the English and Irish 1,000 Guineas while Caravaggio’s acceleration in the Commonwealth Cup was matched the following afternoon by pocket-rocket September in the Chesham. Until, if ever, her mini-stature inhibits her development, it’s hard to see what can stop her in the major races in 2018, given her stamina-laden pedigree as a daughter of Japan’s supreme stallion Deep Impact and multiple Group 1 winning mare Pepping Fawn.

At this point, I’d like to throw a compliment to one of the O’Brien supporting cast. Roly Poly was having her 12th career start and hasn’t missed a dance since making an early start to her career as a juvenile in April last year. She ran the following month, twice in June and again in July, August and September, by which time she had three wins on the board and second places in the Lowther (Group 2) and narrowly behind stable-companion Brave Anna in the Group 1 Cheveley Park.

Instead of running again in October, she headed over the Atlantic for the Breeders’ Cup, where she was the unplaced favourite on Nov 4. Back again in April, she was over to Newmarket for the Nell Gwyn, but was unplaced, as she was next time in the French 1,000 Guineas, sixth behind Precieuse. But she was back in the frame when runner-up to Winter in Ireland and on Friday harried Precieuse for the first part of the Coronation, seeing that filly off before rallying again to deny Rhododendron the runner-up spot.

There are few more desirable qualities than honesty, in people as much as horses, and you certainly get that from all the inmates, human and equine at Kingsley House, Middleham. Ascot’s a great place to bump into people – you don’t say, Ed! – and I saw Charlie Johnston after one of the stable’s fillies won at Newmarket. In response to my “well done”, he replied, “that’s three there today, but we could do with one here”.

They duly got one in the last race and it took a supreme effort and no shortage of courage from Oriental Fox to wrest back the initiative from Thomas Hobson after Tuesday’s Ascot Stakes hero looked sure to give Willie Mullins and the Ricci’s the meeting’s traditional marathon double. To repeat his 2015 win in the race, he also needed to see off the classy pair of US Army Ranger (rated 112) and Qewy (110). The last-named won races in Australia last winter, having been re-cycled from the Bloomfields jumping team operated under John Ferguson’s hands-on supervision.

Few mid 70-year-olds can have a more hands-on role than Wilf Storey, my friend of more than 30 years. A Co Durham (just inside the Northumberland border) sheep farmer, he had careers as stallion keeper for Arthur Stephenson and cattle brander before succumbing to the love of riding of his daughters Fiona and Stella, to take out a training permit.

I’ve known him for, as, I say, more than 30 years since he bought Fiefdom and Santopadre from me, turning both into prolific winners. That caused me to get a visit from Jockey Club Security who believed that far from being trained by the unknown Wilf, they’d heard they were actually still with Rod Simpson 300 miles further south.

Having put their man right on that score – we met funnily enough at Ascot racecourse – I’ve watched as Wilf struggled with the odd decent horse and a lot of lesser ones for all those seasons, often going a whole year without a winner.

Now the yard has fewer horses, but with Stella riding out every lot, feeding, driving them to the races and leading them around when they get there, with excellent help from some local lasses, the formula seems to work. On Saturday Ardakhan made it seven wins from fifty 2017 runs and Wilf needs just one more to equal his best full seasonal tally of eight, set in 1996 and 1997 when he had three times as many horses.  I’m betting on at least 10 this year, and if he gets there, nobody will deserve success more than him (and Stella). [Hear hear! Ed.]

Stat of the Day, 21st June 2017

Tuesday's Result :

4.05 Stratford : Our Three Sons @ 4/1 BOG 2nd at 5/2 Made most and set good pace, headed approaching last, kept on same pace run-in, no chance with winner.

Wednesday's pick goes in the...

4.20 Royal Ascot...

Before I post the daily selection, just a quick reminder of how I operate the service. Generally, I'll identify and share the selection in the evening before the following day's race and I then add a detailed write-up later on that night/next morning.

Those happy to take the early price on trust can do so, whilst some might prefer to wait for my reasoning. As I fit the early service in around my family life, I can't give an exact timing on the posts, so I suggest you follow us on Twitter and/or Facebook for instant notifications of a published pick.

Who?

Highland Reel @ 11/4 BOG

Why?

It might look an obvious pick to go with the favourite in the race with least runners at the meeting, but I assure there was a little more than that behind my thoughts, as I rarely "take" SotD to the big Festivals, although my record when I do is decent enough : it's just not my bread and butter!

So, let's look at the horse himself, shall we? A 5 yr old with 5 wins from 11 so far and this 45.5% strike rate includes the following that are at play today...

  • 5 from 6 when shorter than 6/1, 4 from 6 in fields of 8-11 runners
  • 4 from 6 after a break of just 2 to 5 weeks, 5 from 5 as favourite
  • 3 from 5 on good to firm ground, 2 from 3 under Ryan Moore and a win plus a runner-up spot from two runs at Ascot.

The Ryan Moore for AP O'Brien in Class 1 racing combination is a successful one with 57 wins from 204 (27.9% SR) since the start of 2011 and despite it being very well publicised, it's still very profitable at +49pts, a return of some 24%. What might not be as well known, is that of those 204 runners...

  • Irish horses are 45/149 (30.2%) for 54.8pts (+36.8%)
  • In the months of May/June : 39/113 (34.5%) for 60pts (+53.1%)
  • LTO winners are 33/92 (35.9%) for 60pts (+65.3%)
  • Those last seen 11 to 25 days ago are 25/89 (28.1%) for 68.1pts (+76.5%)
  • At Group 1 : 21/79 (26.6%) for 24.7pts (+31.3%)
  • And here at Royal Ascot : 12/51 (23.5%) for 10.7pts (+21%)

On top of the above, Male Gr 1 runners who ran at Class 1 LTO, 4 to 30 days ago and have at least one previous Class 1 win are 18/63 (28.6% SR) for 28.3pts (+44.9% ROI) since 2008, of which...

  • those trained by AP O'Brien are 6/11 (54.6%) for 9.23pts (+83.9%)
  • at Ascot : 3/8 (37.5%) for 32.8pts (+410%)
  • and at Royal Ascot : 2/3 (66.6%) for 35.4pts (+1179.2%)

...whilst Gr 1 runners with a career strike rate of 45% and higher including at least two Class 1 wins and who have the top OR in their race are 83/155 (53.6% SR) for 36.7pts (+23.7% ROI) since 2010 and these include...

  • at Ascot : 15/25 (60%) for 8.7pts (+34.8%)
  • trained by AP O'Brien : 12/19 (63.2%) for 3.43pts (+18.1%)
  • at Royal Ascot : 8/10 (80%) for 8.98pts (+89.8%)
  • 5 yr olds are 4/7 (57.1%) for 2.63pts (+37.6%)
  • and Ryan Moore is 5/7 (71.4%) for 2.43pts (+34.7%), all on hiorses trained by AP O'Brien!

...giving us...a 1pt win bet on Highland Reel11/4 BOG which was widely available at 7.10pm on Tuesday. To see what your preferred bookie is offering, simply...

...click here for the betting on the 4.20 Royal Ascot

Don't forget, we offer a full interactive racecard service every day!

REMINDER: THERE IS NO STAT OF THE DAY ON SUNDAYS

Here is today's racecard

P.S. all P/L returns quoted in the stats above are to Betfair SP, as I NEVER bet to ISP and neither should you. I always use BOG bookies for SotD, wherever possible, but I use BFSP for the stats as it is the nearest approximation I can give, so I actually expect to beat the returns I use to support my picks. If that's unclear, please ask!

Monday Musings: Defending the Royal Castle

It is unusual in my experience for Michael Bell, the long-serving and usually affable Royal trainer, to stick his head above any particular parapet, writes Tony Stafford. Last week, though, he saw fit to take Ascot to task for allowing Wesley Ward to work his Royal meeting candidates on the course.

Bell, who has ten horses in the Queen’s ownership – only Sir Michael Stoute and William Haggas (11 each) have more – reckoned it gave the American an unfair advantage. This theme was followed up by Sheiklh Fahad Al Thani, the boss of Qatar Racing and David Redvers, the Sheikh’s senior advisor who runs Tweenhills Stud.

Nick Smith, the Royal meeting’s main overseas talent-sourcer for many years, replied that Ascot have always allowed overseas challengers to get to know the track. He says this mirrors the situation for British and other overseas challengers on US tracks who have the opportunity to work their horses on turf, whereas the home team cannot.

Maybe the Qatar Racing gripe stems from the fact that a recent acquisition, the Ivor Furtado-trained Marchingontogether will line up in tomorrow’s Windsor Castle Stakes against not just one, but two of Ward’s flying juveniles.

I stopped off at Leicester one night last month, before continuing on to Chester, and while taking advantage of the new owner food facility – well done Nick Lees! – had a minute bet on said Furtado horse, who duly won on debut at 14-1. The fact that Silvestre De Sousa was her jockey assisted my pin on its way down the card.

Until that day, Marchingontogether had been a financial flop for her breeder Whatcote Farm Stud. From the first crop of Havana Gold, one of Qatar Racing’s stallions at Tweenhills, she would have cost her breeders a fee of £8,500 to be covered, but went through the ring as a foal around 18 months later for just 1,000gns.

Her temporary new owner re-presented her almost a year later at Doncaster’s Goffs sale and her price dropped again to £800. Early indications are that Havana Gold has a future and Marchingontogether is one of six individual winners from the stallion, headed by Havana Grey, winner of Sandown’s Listed National Stakes last month for the Karl Burke stable.

When Michael Bell (and his brother Rupert on TalkSport, and possibly Rupert’s son Olly, on the telly), speak of unfairness, they might think of Whatcote Farm Stud and the interim temporary custodian of the filly and what they think is fair as they watch their former property line up in the Sheikh’s maroon. At the same time, the lucky recipients of Marchingontogether once Furtado had added her to his string – she is one of just two juveniles listed for him in Horses in Training 2017 – namely Bgc Racing & Partner, will be laughing all the way to the bank.

The two Wesley Ward adversaries to Marchingontogether, both owned by Hat Creek Racing, have single wins on their record and coincidentally both beat the filly CJS Suzie Byu. Nootka Sound, a daughter of Australian-born stallion Lonhro, was first in to bat, winning by more than five lengths over four and a half furlongs at Keeneland in late April.

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Four weeks later, the Goffs Ireland recruit Elizabeth Darcy, by Camacho, started out at Indiana Grand. She was the even-money favourite and had almost eight lengths to spare over CJS Suzie Byu, despite that filly’s connections’ hopes for better as the 7-5 starting price suggested.

As ever the Windsor Castle will take plenty of winning with representatives of Charlie Appleby’s almost invincible juvenile team and one-time Coolmore Coventry Stakes contender Declarationofpeace (by War Front) aiming to add to last year’s win by Washington DC in the same race.

Rather than Hat Creek Racing, there is a better known ownership group on what is probably Wesley Ward’s best juvenile contender of the day, Arawak, a son of Uncle Mo, and winner by seven lengths on his Belmont debut last month.

Arawak is due to wear blinkers and carry the colours of Derrick Smith, while Aidan O’Brien’s pair, first-choice Murillo and US Navy Flag will be similarly attired. It will be interesting to see which of the three is entrusted with the first-choice cap.

Wesley’s biggest fish of the entire week, though, will almost certainly be Lady Aurelia, the dominating Queen Mary Stakes winner from last year and later on more workmanlike at Deauville before her third place behind Brave Anna in the Cheveley Park Stakes. She returned with an emphatic victory at Keeneland last month and is the favourite for tomorrow’s King’s Stand Stakes ahead of Marsha and French-trained Signs of Blessing.

Lady Aurelia gets a 6lb allowance from her older filly rivals, including Marsha and Temple Stakes heroine Priceless, whom Alan Spence will be half shouting for, seeing he will get another big chunk from Godolphin if their acquisition Profitable follows last year’s success when in his red, white and blue livery.

The re-match between Churchill and Barney Roy from the 2,000 Guineas, and for that matter Churchill and Thunder Snow from the Irish 2,000, will go a long way towards whether Aidan O’Brien and “the Lads” dominate another Royal meeting.

Churchill starts off in the St James’s Palace in a week when Order of St George (Thursday’s Gold Cup) and the Friday pair of Caravaggio (Commonwealth Cup) and Winter (Coronation Stakes) are all overwhelming favourites. No doubt there will be considerable liabilities for ante-post bookmakers linking the quartet and the layers will be hoping for an Annie Power-type reprieve from at least one of them.

Today’ Racing Post was embellished by news of a gamble on the Jeremy Noseda-trained Abe Lincoln, out of action on the track since a possibly unlucky second place in the Britannia Stakes 12 months ago. Most of the principals in that race find a home immediately afterwards, often for massive money in Hong Kong, but Paul Roy has stayed faithful to the now four-year-old and will be hoping for another win in the race he and Noseda took with Forgotten Voice in 2009.

The Post also tried to link the Abe Lincoln challenge with the background to the Wokingham Stakes success of Jeremy with Laddies Poker Two the following year, in her case after two years off the track. Noseda said the two situations were different. He is correct on one score, Abe Lincoln will certainly not be responsible for producing a dual Classic winner, unlike Laddies Poker Two, dam of Winter.

As to my idea of the handicap bet of the week, it’s another from the Noseda/Roy team, Sixties Groove, who can win Friday’s finale, the Duke of Edinburgh Stakes, after a nice run round on his comeback at Epsom the other day.

- Tony Stafford

A Brighton Double – Pat’ll Do Nicely

Few jockeys are riding as well as Pat Cosgrave just now. A double at Brighton yesterday, could so easily have been four or five, and he now has an impressive 23% strike-rate.

With nine victories from his last 39 rides, Cosgrave is in scintillating form. And he’s not simply guiding home well-fancied contenders. The double yesterday came on a 16/1 shot and one priced at 10s. Of his seven mounts, he was no worse than third, finishing runner-up four times.

An apprentice with Aidan O’Brien back in the day, he arrived in the UK in 2004. Based in Newmarket, he set about developing contacts, and quickly established a good relationship with Mark Wallace and Jim Boyle in Epsom. It was Boyle that supplied the ammunition for a successful Brighton trip yesterday. Things didn’t go particularly well initially, and Cosgrave headed north in search of success.

He managed 120 winners in just two campaigns, and forged a relationship with Yorkshire trainer Robin Bastiman. In 2008 he landed the ride on Borderlescott, when the horse was aimed at the Group 1 Nunthorpe Stakes at York. The meeting was abandoned and the race switched to the July Course at Newmarket. He tracked the leaders on the 12/1 shot, and managed to overhaul the South African mare, National Colour, inside the final furlong to win by less than a length, with Kingsgate Native back in third. He continued to ride for Bastiman throughout the season before a return to Newmarket.

Cosgrave became something of a sprint specialist, when in 2010 he rode Markab to a Group 1 victory in the Betfred Sprint Cup at Haydock, having gone close in the King’s Stand at Royal Ascot a few months earlier. He’d also ridden Society Rock to a runners-up spot at Ascot in the Golden Jubilee. The following year he went one better in partnership with Fanshawe’s sprinter when landing the Group 1 six-furlong sprint. A month later the pair chased home Moonlight Cloud in the Maurice De Gheest at Deauville.

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Now aged 34, Cosgrave will be hoping for further high-profile victories during this successful campaign. The man from County Down in Northern Ireland has developed a strong relationship with William Haggas in recent seasons, and the combo is often worth a second look. The pair teamed-up a couple of days back, when talented three-year-old filly Tirania, romped to success at Windsor in a maiden over a mile.

The duo hope to strike again on Saturday at Haydock, when Mubtasim heads for the Group 2 Sandy Lane. Could he be yet another big sprint success for Cosgrave?

It’s fair to say that things haven’t always been rosy for the talented jock. He landed a six-month ban by the Emirates Racing Authority stewards back in 2014, following a lengthy inquiry into a race at Meydan, when it appeared that he had allowed a stablemate to gain an advantage during a Group 1 event.

He was aboard the Mike de Kock trained Anaerobio, when appearing to move off the rail, allowing Christophe Soumillion the opportunity to sweep to the front aboard Vercingetorix. Found guilty, he was slapped with a ban, though the British Horseracing Authority later quashed the ban on appeal.

During the winter, Cosgrave resumed riding in Dubai, having paid an outstanding fine to the Emirates Racing Authority. The jockey had originally refused to pay £35,000, but winters in Dubai can be lucrative, and a jockey of his ability is always in demand. Cosgrave partnered up with the likes of de Kock and Saeed Bin Suroor. He also had the opportunity to ride for William Haggas.

Back in the UK, Cosgrave is clearly reinvigorated after a winter in Meydan. Rides this week at Kempton and Goodwood, will be followed by a couple of days in the north aboard some nice sorts at Haydock. He’s likely to get the leg-up on Learn By Heart on Friday. Owned by the Queen, this son of Frankel out of the speedy mare Memory, looks an exciting addition to the William Haggas yard. It’s shaping into an exciting campaign for the Irishman, and there’s little sign of that impressive strike-rate slipping just yet.

Sprint Queens set for Sizzling Summer

The Palace House Stakes has gone to plenty of high class sprinters over the years, and Marsha has the potential to be as good as any.

Trained by Sir Mark Prescott, the four-year-old defied a Group 1 penalty to defeat a strong looking field in Newmarket’s Group 3 on Saturday. Ballydoyle’s Washington DC is a classy sort, and ran consistently throughout last summer in the most prestigious sprints. He had a fitness advantage following runs at Meydan and Navan, yet was unable to handle the raw speed of this talented filly.

This was her first outing since winning the Prix de l’Abbaye at Chantilly in October, and it showed, as she drifted markedly under pressure in the final furlong. Despite that, she was well on top at the finish. Luke Morris did the steering, and he was impressed: “Fair play to the team at home. They got her spot on for today. She has really filled out and when I pushed the button on her, I got there too soon to be honest, she got a bit tired up the hill. All her best form is over five, so races like the King's Stand and the Abbaye will be right up her street.”

It was no surprise to see Goldream run so well on fast ground that he loves, though he never looked likely to land a blow, finishing a well held third. He’d won this race in 2015, and went on to win the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot. Robert Cowell’s classy sprinter finished that campaign with victory in the Abbaye.

Profitable was last year’s Palace House winner. That was the start of a trio of victories, taking in the Temple Stakes at Haydock, and then like Goldream a year earlier, winning the King’s Stand at Ascot.
Sole Power won back to back Palace House Stakes in 2013 and 2014. Ed Lynam’s fabulous sprinter also followed those victories with success in the King’s Stand, and added the Nunthorpe Stakes in 2014.

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In 2011, Tangerine Trees failed to follow his Palace House victory with success at Ascot. Though, he bounced back to form at Longchamp when capturing the Abbaye. Equaino was an exceptional sprinter, and took the Newmarket event at the start of his 2010 campaign. He became yet another to follow-up in the King’s Stand at Royal Ascot a month later.

There’s been plenty of others that followed wins in the Palace House with further major success. Avonbridge did the Palace/Abbaye double in 2005. Kyllachy was an unlucky third in the King’s Stand, yet won a fabulous trio of Palace/Temple/Nunthorpe Stakes in 2002.

Lochsong was one of the all-time greats, and was the last filly to win the Palace House under penalty in 1994, a year when she captured virtually every major sprint in the calendar. The King’s Stand, Temple Stakes and Prix de l’Abbaye all went her way, during a stunning campaign.

Marsha is now second favourite for the King’s Stand at the Royal Meeting, and her trainer suggested that she would bypass the Temple Stakes and head straight to Ascot. If she’s in similar form in June, she must have an outstanding chance in the showpiece sprint.

She’s likely to face Wes Ward’s flying filly, Lady Aurelia. She provided one of the highlights of last year’s meeting, when romping to success as a juvenile in the Queen Mary. She proved her wellbeing at Keeneland last month, and is currently favourite for the King’s Stand.

Aidan O’Brien’s Washington DC will find it tough to land the spoils at the highest level, but the Ballydoyle master has a new inmate that could challenge for top honours. Easton Angel was an expensive purchase for Coolmore in February, and she is being trained for an early season campaign by Aidan O’Brien. The length of her season is likely to depend on how she performs on the track, before attention turns to breeding. She was runner-up in the Queen Mary as a juvenile in 2015, and closely matched with Marsha as a three-year-old last year. Currently 20/1 for the King’s Stand, she could prove a leading challenger in June.

I’m a huge fan of the season’s sprints, and I’ll be keeping a close watch on Marsha during the Summer. The trend of successful campaigns for Palace House winners looks likely to continue.

Monday Musings: A Royal Villa Thriller

Monday meander

By Tony Stafford

After five consecutive days’ driving around the M25, I spent all yesterday morning wondering why I wasn’t doing the same again until realising Royal Ascot was over for another year. The presence of some Druid-like people around Woodford on my way home from a family barbecue where my children and all bar one of the grandchildren attended, reminded me that, from today, the nights are getting longer again.
Almost half a century of Royal meetings must have offered up plenty of spectacular performances, but Lady Aurelia in the Queen Mary Stakes on Wednesday almost defied belief. She streaked clear in the last furlong, having already set a fast pace, and stopped the clock at a time two seconds and change better than Profitable – told you – on the opening afternoon.

We always learned in the time/lengths equation that at five furlongs, a length is worth 3lb and five lengths represent a second. So Lady Aurelia, winning by seven lengths and up from her rivals, was a full 21lb superior to French-trained runner-up Al Johrah, and two stone and more better than the remainder.

Lady Aurelia was the latest Wesley Ward speedster to grace Ascot and, like Acapulco, last year’s sensation, and No Nay Never, is by the late Scat Daddy who would have been covering his mares at Coolmore’s Ashford Stud in Kentucky this year at $100,000 but for his much-regretted death late last year soon after the fee announcement.

I was lucky enough to bump into Wesley Ward a couple of times after Lady Aurelia’s victory and he contented himself with a measured reaction to the win. “Yes, she’s special” was as far as he wanted to go, but having gone a full second – 15lb - faster than Friday’s Norfolk field he could have been excused for a little more extravagance.

Wednesday was the chosen day for Mrs S to accompany me to Berkshire and naturally we had to endure the showers as we traditionally waited on the front row outside the far side of the paddock for the other (and first) procession of the day.

This was a very hot contest. In the first of four carriages there was the Queen and Prince Philip, in the second Charles and his Duchess. Edward and Sophie were in the third, and after a clearly staged gap, the eagerly-awaited Prince William and Kate saved the best for last.

Magically, as with everything that’s happened in the year of the Queen’s 90th, the weather cleared minutes before the coaches turned under the stands and bright sunlight accompanied their arrival. For the first time, the boss didn’t have her proper camera, contenting herself with a phone, like the rest of Ascot, on which she recorded the event on video.

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The result was a nice moment, captured on the above still of William reacting to some good-natured calls from a couple of Brummies just behind us. “Up the Villa!” can just be heard on the You Tube clip before a louder repetition from his mate caught Wills’s ear, whereupon he grinned, turned round and pointed to the pair.


[Photo and video credit: Ekaterina Stafford Photography]

I thought it was encouraging that a future monarch can be relaxed enough to confirm his affection for his football club – even if Aston Villa were relegated. On Saturday I took the chance to congratulate Claudio Ranieri for his achievements with champions Leicester adding that “we’re Arsenal fans and so is Ryan <Moore>”. To which he replied: “He told me!”

Wednesday involved a quick departure to get home in time for the viewing of boss Ray Tooth’s Acclamation filly Climax’s debut at Ripon and she ran a blinder, three-parts of a length second to more-experienced Rosebride. Mark Johnston expects her to go one better very soon.
Friday also involved an abbreviated stay, this time a mid-afternoon, three-hour limp up to Newmarket for Dutch Law in a seven-furlong 0-95 handicap. He looked sure to win what was the best race he’s contended yet until nabbed on the line by a filly that since her winning debut had never previously raced in anything other than Listed or Group 3 class.

Last time, over a mile and a half in a Haydock Group 3,she was fifth of seven, highly-creditable considering all her opponents, including the pair she beat comfortably, were (and still are!) rated in the 100’s. The handicapper’s reaction was to drop her 1lb, allowing her in this race. If it had been anywhere but on his local track, trainer James Tate might not have entered her at the absurdly-shorter trip of seven furlongs, but he did and Namhroodah did the business battling to a last-stride win.

Jockey Luke Morris was at his strongest and it was not until the last stride that William Twiston-Davies was denied. Willie, delighted with his Ascot win, was a late and very effective replacement for Jamie Spencer, who failed to get to HQ after his helicopter, also due to transport Messrs Moore and Dettori, was unable to take off. They should have used the M25/A1 like the rest of us!

I wonder how long the Goffs London sale will continue. It’s lovely to partake of champers and canapes in the grounds of Kensington Palace the night before Royal Ascot opens, but quite how long can the punters be found to pay what is always a hefty premium for runners at the meeting?
Jet Setting, the 12k Julie Wood cull from Richard Hannon’s stable last October, was the obvious star of the show. Trainer Adrian Keatley transformed her over the winter and spring into a three-year-old capable of beating Minding, later impressive in the Oaks, in the Irish 1,000 Guineas.

Adrian was bullish going into the week with Jet Setting apparently guaranteed the type of easy ground she encountered at The Curragh, so it was no surprise when the China Horse Club coughed up £1.3 million for her. The Coronation Stakes did not bring an immediate return for the new owners, though, as while the celebrating syndicate were popping the corks on Friday, Jet Setting could do no better than a share of sixth place.

There were a few horses around the place for the first of so far three auctions in Kensington, but this time just one in-foal mare gave evidence this was something to do with horses. I probably would still have gone along if the weather hadn’t been so awful on Monday, but I bet most of those who bought horses with Ascot entries that night will be wishing they hadn’t bothered.

This week will be steady until Friday when the boss potentially has three to run, possibly Climax at Doncaster, newcomer Stanhope, a home-bred two-year-old Equiano colt trained by Mick Quinn at Yarmouth and Harry Champion at Newmarket on Friday night.

Later today I’ll find out if Cousin Khee is likely to get in the second half of the Northumberland Plate on Saturday. The old boy has not been on all-weather since running a close sixth in last year’s Lingfield Marathon or on the level since his staying-on eighth of 22 in the November Handicap. Hughie’s trained him for it, but we need 12 of the 51 above him to come out. As more than 20 of them ran principally at Ascot last week, there’s a chance they might not be in shape for another stamina test so soon after slogging through the Berkshire mud.

Royal Ascot 2016: Wokingham Preview

Royal Ascot 2016: Wokingham Preview, Trends, Tips

The final day of Royal Ascot brings the challenge of the Wokingham, a six furlong sprint handicap contested by upwards of 25 runners. Finding the winner will not be easy, but it should be rewarding with the average payoff being 13.6/1 in the last decade.

In this post, I'll review some facts and figures from recent history - let's call them trends - before considering the draw and pace scenarios, and then finally squint at the form book in the hopes of solving this fiendish sudoku of a puzzle.

Wokingham Handicap Trends

As always, thanks are due to horseracebase.com for their historical trends data, which goes as far back as 1997. That offers 20 winners and 76 placed horses from 19 years of data. The extra winner is as a result of a dead heat in 2003.

Age: There hasn't been a three-year-old winner since Bel Byou in 1987. But before you write off Mr Lupton, this year's sole entry from that age group, consider that the previous 3yo winner was in 1986 and, perhaps more pertinently, that only 14 3yo's have even run in the race since 1997. Four of them have made the frame, which is a better strike rate than any other age group, roughly twice what might have been expected. Mr Lupton is a non-runner.

Four- and six-year-olds have won roughly in line with their numerical presence, but five-year-olds have outperformed representation. They've won 45% of the races in the sample period from just 25% of the runners. They've also made the frame just over 30% of the time from the same 25% of runners.

In fairness, I can't think of a logical reason why five year olds would be so much better suited to the race, and I suspect it's just a quirk of a smallish dataset.

However, older horses have hit the board just 6.5% of the time, from 20% of the runners. That looks to be a strong negative trend.

Avoid horses older than six in the Wokingham.

Days since a run: How long should a horse have rested if it has designs on Wokingham glory? The answer is probably not as some 'trends analysts' would have you believe.

Those coming into the race off a short layoff of a fortnight or less have won five of the 20 races in the sample. But that 25% of the winners came from 30% of the runners. Moreover, they only achieved 22% of the placed horses.

Those showing up after two weeks to a month off won 35% of the races from 37% of the runners, and hit the board 43% of the time.

And those returning after an absence of one to two months won 30% of the races from 27% of the runners, making the frame 25% of the time.

The small group who were off for longer than two months won 10% of the races from 6% of the runners, and placed 9% of the time.

So, statistically, the longer layoff horses have outperformed their numerical representation by more than 50%, while most other groups have run largely in line with numerical expectation.

Still with me? Essentially, there is little positive or negative about days since a run with the possible exception of those off more than two months. That might be a slight mark up for Stepper Point and Spring Loaded.

Distance form: What sort of a six furlong specialist is required for this mission?

Four of the twenty winners had never won over six panels before. What is interesting about that is that those 20% of winners came from almost exactly 20% of runners, and they actually placed 24% of the time. In other words, it doesn't matter if you haven't won over six furlongs before.

But here's a really interesting snippet that I wouldn't have expected... the performance of five furlong winners in the Wokingham is very poor. I actually didn't expect that 55% of Wokingham runners would never have won over shorter; but that just over half of the sample won 80% - 16 - of the races, and 66% - 50 - of the 76 place positions.

Of the four Wokingham winners in the sample to have won over shorter, two had only won once at less than six furlongs. Hmm.

So what about a win over further than six? This is really interesting. Those never to have won beyond six furlongs won nine times from the 20 winner sample, 45%. But that came from 68% of the runners. In fairness, they made the frame 66% of the time - about right - so it might simply be another quirk, but...

those to have won over further claimed the other 55% of races from just 32% of the runners. Again, and obviously, the place percentages were largely in line with expectation.

Could it be though that, at the end of a protracted battle, those with proven stamina are at a significant advantage? I'd be prepared to believe they are.

Overlook those with winning five furlong form.

Official ratings: The handicapper's job is not an easy one. The team at BHA have to contend with wily trainers and demanding owners on a daily basis. In the circumstances, they do a very good job almost all of the time. And it is their lot that when a rick happens, they are publicly chastised for it. It's not the sort of job sensitive souls line up to do.

Anyway, the Wokingham can be considered something of a triumph for the official handicapping team, as there seems very little advantage to any part of the ratings set. Indeed, if anything, those with the highest ratings have had a slight benefit over their more lowly-rated - and weighted - rivals.

But this is a compressed handicap - a Listed conditions event almost, on ratings - so it's probably safest to assume there is nothing of consequence in the ratings.

The same comments apply to weight, which it may be reasonable to contend will have little to no bearing on the outcome this year (though, naturally, if the runner up is beaten a nose giving three pounds to the winner he will protest otherwise!)

Last time out position: In such a hotly contested race as the Wokingham, it should be no surprise that those who went close to winning last time have come closest to winning this.

The numbers are thus: 17.5% of runners were last time out winnners, and they won 20% of the races, and placed 25% of the time. Sadly, and predictably, they'd have collectively lost you 57.75 points at SP.

Top 3 finishers last time out (including the above winners) accounted for 41% of the runners, and 80% of the winners as well as 57% of the placed horses. Thanks to decent prices about some of those last day placed horses, this group as a whole was profitable to SP - which is rather surprising.

88% of the placed horses, and all of the winners since 1997, finished in the top seven last time out. That was from 72% of the runnners.

Insist your horse was top seven last time, and mark up podium finishers on their most recent start.

Trends summary

Where does all that leave us? Well, from a trends perspective, we might be especially interested in a horse aged six or younger, whose winning form is over six and seven furlongs, and who was in the first three last time. Three-year-old, Mr Lupton, and favourite, Brando, have both won over five furlongs, which leaves a shortlist of...

Buckstay, Interception, Huntsmans Close, Mutawathea, Shared Equity, Flash Fire and Spring Loaded.

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betbright_Ascot2

Wokingham Draw and Pace Analysis

Is there a draw bias in big fields on the straight six furlong track at Ascot? Or is it a pace bias only?

Here's what the Geegeez Gold draw tab says about six furlong handicaps of 16 runners or more run on ground ranging from good to soft, for races since 2009.

 

Ascot Wokingham draw bias

Ascot Wokingham draw bias

 

Although there's the lack of a pulse to the right hand end of that graph, I'd be wary of over-stating things there. Firstly, it comes from very few runners; and secondly it is in stark contrast to the spike in the low 20's.

What this chart says to me is that there is very little advantage to one side over the other, or to the middle.

But... looking specifically at the four 22+ runner 6f handicaps contested on going described as between good and soft reveals that the winners were berthed in 11, 13, 15 and 19. The placed horses were drawn in 3, 6, 6, 11, 13, 15, 15, 16, 16, 16, 19, 22, 23, 23 (duplicates when there is more than one placed horse from the stall).

So it is probably fair to say that, in really big fields like the Wokingham, low may be disadvantaged.

With the ground expected to be tacky after a wet week followed by warm dry spells, it should pay to be close enough to the leaders. The below chart shows the expected pace in the race, sorted by draw.

 

Pace map for the 2016 Wokingham Handicap

Pace map for the 2016 Wokingham Handicap

 

A score of 16 means a horse has led in each of its last four UK/Irish runs. A score of 14+ means a horse is a habitual pace-presser.

In that context, we can see that the guts of the pace in this race may be right down the middle, in stalls 15 to 21. That aligns conveniently well to my previous contention about the favoured part of the draw meaning that, even if there is actually no track bias, the pace bias should see the action unfolding down the middle.

 

Wokingham Form Preview

Thirty-odd runners, all rated within a few pounds of each other, hurtling up the punishing straight course at Ascot: it's as tough a test of horse and rider as it is of punter, but each will be well rewarded if getting it right.

The favourite - clear favourite - is Kevin Ryan's Brando. He's a lightly raced progressive four-year-old with winning soft ground big field six furlong form. So far so good. But as a horse that has been racing over five the last twice, with enough toe to win and run second, this far stiffer test could find him out, as it has with most similar profiles in the recent past. He's easy to pass up at 6/1, and fair play if he wins.

Compare Brando's obvious credentials but less obvious shortcomings with Outback Traveller's less obvious credentials and more obvious shortcomings... Here is a horse with form of 040-070 in a hyper-competitive sprint handicap, and yet he's 10/1 second choice. Why?

Because he's trained by sprint king Robert Cowell who has plenty of Group horses from which to get a measure of this chap's ability. Because he's making only his third start for Cowell off a dangerous looking mark. Because his seven furlong form entitles him to get competitive.

But he's not for me. He's drawn away from the action in 28, though he'll get some sort of a lead off Salateen in 25. He has no form on a soft surface. And, though he has two good runs at the track, he also has three absolute clunkers. I can see why there's been some money for him, but he must be working like a Group 1 horse to be the price he is. And the race does't look to set up for him.

Flash Fire, on the other hand, is drawn in the thick of it in trap 16. He's up five pounds for a narrow beating of Mutuwathea, over seven furlongs here last month. That was on good to firm but he's run fairly well on soft previously and has scope to better his current mark. He's a big player.

The second there, Mutawathea, has a two pound pull but is drawn in stall three, away from where I believe the main action will play out. He also ran poorly on his only try on softer than good.

Although best known as an all-weather horse, Spring Loaded has won on turf too. In fact, that was his last grass race, prior to which he was second in a big field over course and distance on good to soft. The longest layoff in the field is not a worry, as outlined above, and he could run a nice race if Shane Kelly can get the splits on this versatile son of Zebedee. I quite like him, and 16/1 is fair enough.

I quite like the three-year-old Mr Lupton, too. Yes, he's won over five furlongs. But he's also won over seven, more recently, in a valuable big field sales race where the second went on to finish fifth in the Derby! More recently he's won a big field six furlong handicap, on good to soft, and he gets a nice seven pound weight for age allowance. Stall 22 should be perfect to track the perceived middle order pace, so we might see the first Classic generation Wokingham winner for almost 30 years. Mr Lupton is a non-runner.

Buckstay dances all the big field dances, and he's a fantastic stick. But he's probably not ideally suited by six furlongs, a trip over which he's run just once. That, however, was when a strong-finishing fifth in the Ayr Gold Cup. Stall one here is unlikely to support his prospects.

Last year's winner, Interception, should appreciate this drop back into handicap company having been beaten only six lengths in the Group 1 Champions Sprint last autumn. She was third in a Listed contest on her 2016 bow and David Lanigan's filly is just five pounds higher than a year ago. She flanks the centre-track pace in stall twelve and handles easy ground.

Shared Equity is a very consistent beast, having placed in twelve of his eighteen starts. He's won four, and was last seen finishing second at Epsom over this trip. He'll be one of the pace pressers low - maybe the leader there - and it will be interesting to see if he gravitates across to the middle from stall seven. He is almost certain to give backers a run for their money and is a possible each way play with firms paying extra places.

And what about old Jack Dexter? According to history, he's too old. And that might be right. But he's a heavy ground-loving six furlong specialist who was rated 114 in his pomp. A tumble down the weights to 102 gives him a squeak: from connections' perspective it's a shame the race wasn't run on Tuesday when the ground was deeper.

If you're still not sure which way to turn, below is the Instant Expert grid - a form profiling tool showing how each horse has performed historically against the race conditions - for the Wokingham. It is displaying the place form, with going set on a range from good to soft to soft, and ordered by number of places in 16+ runner fields.

Wokingham Handicap Form Profile, via Geegeez Gold Instant Expert

Wokingham Handicap Form Profile, via Geegeez Gold Instant Expert

 

Wokingham Handicap Tips

All that thinking out aloud is fine, but who is actually going to win? Good question, that.

Obviously, it's ferociously competitive and, in such a tight handicap, the key credentials will be history and happenstance.

History, as in form history - which horses have shown they can stay this far and further, can act on drying soft ground, and in a big field hurly-burly?

Happenstance, as in draw location - which horses have the pick of the positions across the track?

My contention is that the action will take place down the centre of the course. If I'm right about that, very low and very high could be compromised - not good news for Outback Traveller in 28 or Buckstay and Mutawathea in 1 and 3 respectively.

My shortlist is Interception, Spring Loaded, and Flash Fire. And I'll be backing all three. Good luck whichever way you turn - for me, this is about redemption after an absolute howler of a week.

It's not the first time I've personally struggled so badly at Royal Ascot. It's a meeting that asks punters to project which horses can improve the most rather than assessing established and settled form in the book. Moreover, unlike the spring National Hunt Festivals which close the jumps season, June is still very early in the flat term meaning many horses have yet to even hint especially at what they're capable of.

That's before you factor in this year's track conditions which have been, at best, sticky soft and, at worst and to my mind, unfathomable.

If those sound like excuses, they are! As much as I love the pageantry and the occasion of Royal Ascot, it's been punting armageddon for me more than once.

Good luck!

Matt

p.s. geegeez' view of the Wokingham racecard can be found here.

p.p.s. Most firms are betting five places, but Paddy are betting 1/4 SIX places. That at least makes it a BIT easier to hit the frame!

Click here for six places on the Wokingham

 

Also, if you're not currently a Betbright account holder, this is a good way to get free bets all day...

betbright_Ascot2

Monday Musings: A Profitable System?

A simple but Profitable system for Ascot?

A simple but Profitable system for Ascot?

Monday Musings

By Tony Stafford

It’s Derby week and I’m sure you expect me to delve into the two mile and a half Classics taking advantage of my many years’ experience. With that in mind I had a nice day on Epsom Downs last week, at Breakfast with the Stars, where there were a number of stars, equine and human, and even more Breakfast of which your correspondent and for one that I can vouch for, Mick (Michael) Channon junior, partook with great alacrity.

It was later that morning when I started to project my thoughts a little further forward, having spent a pleasant half an hour in the company of Alan Spence, who has been having a good time of it with his horses this season.

Thoughts turned into research; research into statistics and stats into a sure-fire profitable system. How appropriate that the next horse to test the seemingly unbreakable thrust of my argument, is Profitable, owned by A D Spence!

Amazing. The system is one I bet cannot be replicated anywhere else in the history of English racing, at least not with such spectacular returns. It involves a Group 3 race run in either late April or early May, and a Group 1, around six weeks later. My research also encompasses an interim race, this time Group 2, with all three races being over the minimum distance.

So step forward, Newmarket’s Palace House Stakes on 2,000 Guineas day, the Temple Stakes (optional) at Haydock three weeks later and the King’s Stand three and a half weeks after Haydock.

The Newmarket race has been going for more than half a century and I fondly remember the first winner, Galivanter, a Major Lionel Holliday home-bred trained by Major Dick Hern, who won in 1961. Plenty of army stuff there!

The Temple has an even longer history, but having been a feature of the old Sandown Whitsun meeting and run either on Bank Holiday Monday or the following evening, it switched to Haydock for the first time in 2008. Such are the differences in the two tracks, I have confined my studies to the Haydock period <lazy sod, Ed>.

Ascot in 2016 is also a fair bit different from its pre-2006 model, as the straight course has been re-aligned so that at the finish it is 42 metres further north (nearer the High Street) than previously. Inevitably the character of the track has been at least marginally altered.

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So that’s fine, you say, where is this profitable system?

Ok, there have been eight King’s Stand Stakes run on the modified course since 2008, the period of the study. I took note of all the Palace House Stakes winners in the period and noticed that only four of them took the quick return to Haydock, none winning. Six of them went on to run at Ascot and four of them won.

Of the four that ran in all three races in the same year, Equiano, now a stallion at Newsells Park Stud in Hertfordshire, performed easily the best. Trained in 2010 by Barry Hills, he was second, beaten by dual winner and still active Kingsgate Native at Haydock. Equiano had also won the 2008 King’s Stand when trained in Spain on his first appearance in England.

In 2009 the Henry Candy-trained Amour Propre, a gelding, won at Newmarket, missed the trip to Haydock before finishing unplaced behind Australian sprinter Scenic Blast at Ascot. In 2011 Tangerine Trees, like Kingsgate Native still active on the racecourse, was easily beaten both at Haydock and in the King’s Stand (last of 19 to Prohibit).

Mayson, the 2012 Palace House scorer, got off the mark with his first stakes winner, Global Applause, in the National Stakes at Sandown last Thursday. He missed both Haydock and Ascot, but then took the July Cup (6f) before finishing runner-up in the Prix de l’Abbaye on his final appearance.

Otherwise, all the Palace House winners followed up at Ascot. Equiano’s second success, much more anticipated than his unconsidered first came at 9-2. The remarkable Sole Power, another durable gelding, took a close fourth at Haydock before his first Ascot win at 8-1.

Sole Power made it a double double – missing the trip to Haydock this time – at 5-1; and, last year, Goldream, having won the Newmarket race for sprint specialist Robert Cowell, bombed at Haydock, but came bouncing back at Ascot at 20-1!

So in other words we have six contenders for a Royal Ascot bet, with only two losers. The other four collected 37.5 points profit, making it 35.5 points overall, or almost 600% to level stakes.

So, what do we do about this year, you could ask? Well for the first time, the two key races have provided the same winner, the eponymous Profitable – by name and by nature. The last Temple Stakes winner to succeed in the King’s Stand was Cassandra Go in 2002, when of course it was run at Sandown. Sole Power has won all three races, but has had a fair few goes at it, and never in the same year.

Profitable, now four, and by Mayson’s sire Invincible Spirit, has apparently caught the eyes of several would-be suitors following his latest win in the Group 2 Temple. There he had to contend with softer ground than ideal, and the attentions of the talented Mecca’s Angel, who had beaten the flying Acapulco on soft in the 2015 Nunthorpe on her previous start.

The insistent attempts by sections of the media to suggest the Haydock result should have been reversed after the pair came close through the last furlong would have been less unfair had their proponents first contemplated the potential downside for the winner’s connections.

Profitable is one of the few top sprinters in independent (non-Arab or Coolmore) hands, and as a colt also a highly-attractive and rare stallion prospect, being by a noted sire of sires. Whether his value would have been adversely affected by a demotion – I’m sure it would have; who cares if a goal is incorrectly ruled out, it’s not a goal?– the result on the ground was almost certainly unaffected by their coming close together.

So with all that in mind, how can Profitable, rated by Timeform as recording the best Time Figure of the season, better than any of the Guineas winners, still be available at 8-1? Clive Cox is in flying form, too. Fill your boots. Wonder what price ADS has on his voucher?

My appearance at Epsom was principally to run the eye over Harry Champion, who went along to keep company with Hugo Palmer’s Oaks contender, Architecture. He did a nice job and acted well enough on the track, although his rider reported the ground was too soft. If Architecture wins on Friday, stay around for Harry in the last off just 8st 3lb.

Handicapper’s Decision Sparks Rating’s Debate

 

The Stunning Dancing Brave

The Stunning Dancing Brave

The Saturday ‘big handicap’ is always one of the great puzzles for race fans. Many hate the prospect of trawling through the field in an attempt to find the well handicapped good thing. For others the task is one that they thrive on, and for the likes of Tom Segal of the Racing Post, it’s a challenge that has brought a fair degree of success and notoriety.

The handicapping system is designed to give each horse an even chance. The highest rated (or best) horse in the race is given the largest weight to carry; and the inferior horses will carry lower weights. For many owners and trainers the handicaps offer their best chance of success on a race day.

The BHA has a team of eleven Handicappers whose job it is to study the form and allocate the appropriate rating to the horse. They publish a list every week based on performances on the racecourse. Should a horse be rated 120 and another 110, then it is deemed that a difference of 10 pounds in the weights that they carry would see them hit the line virtually side by side.

Most handicaps are restricted to horses with similar ratings in a particular range, 0-60 for example. The rating of the horse determines the weight he or she will carry along with the race it can enter. A victory for the horse is likely to see a rise in the rating. A series of poor performances will result in a lowering of the handicap mark, hopefully giving the horse a chance of attaining that elusive success.

The very best horses rarely run in handicaps on the Flat but they often take their chance in competitive handicaps over the Jumps.

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The BHA handicappers work with international colleagues in selecting entrants for top races worldwide. Back in February Louis Romanet, the Chairman of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA) announced the appointment of Phil Smith, Head of Handicapping for the BHA, as co-chairman of the Longines World’s Best Racehorse Rankings Committee. Smith said at the time: “I am honoured to be appointed Co-Chairman and am looking forward to working closely with Nigel Gray who was my manager at BHA and its predecessor BHB for more than ten years. I have been helped hugely by my team of Handicappers at BHA as between us we now assess every Pattern Race run in the world every week. I hope to be able to help to develop further the service that the Longines World’s Best Racehorse Rankings provide to the racing industry worldwide.”

At the end of every season the International Flat Handicappers produce a rating for the top horses in the world rated at 115+ based on the season’s performances. Over the years these ratings have been the cause of great debate, as fans compare racing heroes from different eras. The great Australian sprinter Black Caviar was rated 132 in 2011 and then 130 for both 2012 and 2013. Sea The Stars was awarded a lofty rating after his stunning 2009 campaign. A mark of 136 was surely warranted after his series of Group 1 victories.

The wonderful French filly Treve was given a rating of 130 after her second Arc success in October. It will be interesting to see if she can improve on that as she looks for the historic treble.

A blog on the BHA website gives a terrific insight into the thoughts behind the handicaps awarded to horses. During Glorious Goodwood Dominic Gardiner-Hill wrote that whilst it was disappointing that the best three-year-old miler in Europe, Gleneagles, couldn’t take his place in the Qatar Sussex Stakes, the best older miler, Solow, continued his impressive winning streak with his eighth straight success and his 11th in his last 12 starts.

He added that Solow appears to be a horse that does no more than necessary and, as in the Queen Anne at Royal Ascot, he was more workmanlike than spectacular in the way he triumphed. With a pre-race rating of 124, based on his success in the Dubai Duty Free at Meydan, he went in to the Goodwood race with 3lb and more in hand of his rivals but probably only needed to run to 119+ to win.

It’s interesting to read how a handicapper assesses a race before giving a verdict on the handicap mark the winner has achieved.

Two mighty horses, Dancing Brave and Frankel, were rated within a pound of each other after their stunning careers. The former reached a mark of 141 after his sensational win in the Arc of 1986. The field he defeated at Longchamp that day was one of the contributory factors for the exceptional rating.

Of course it’s tough to compare generations when reaching a handicap mark, but the people entrusted with the role have to remain objective. Frankel may not have defeated horses of the calibre of those beaten by Dancing Brave, but the style of his victories, and the consistently high standard he achieved resulted in a rating of 140. Interestingly, the handicappers then decided to adjust Dancing Brave’s mark to 138.

The British Horseracing Authority's head of handicapping Phil Smith caused a stir recently when awarding Golden Horn a mark of 130. John Gosden's charge became the first horse to achieve the Dante, Derby and Eclipse treble. For many race fans the rating appeared generous based on the horses he has defeated. Many will look to his performances over the latter part of the season to see if such a mark is justified.

And so the debates rage on, as they always will. It’s a tough gig for the handicapper, but a crucial one. Their decisions will continue to ignite discussions and hours of deliberation.

Double Delight at Ayr as Graham Lee goes ‘Flat Out’

Lee wins at Royal Ascot

Lee wins at Royal Ascot

A full book of rides at Ayr yesterday yielded a tasty double for Graham Lee, and keeps the Irishman on the cusp of the title race.

To be fair, the man from Galway is unlikely to reach the summit, despite the injury to Moore and pending retirement of Hughes. Firepower favours De Sousa, Buick, Hanagan and Doyle, though Lee is certainly racking up the mounts in pursuit of winners.

On Friday four rides at Haydock were followed by four at Hamilton. On Saturday five at Ripon yielded a win and two seconds before a trip back to Haydock for a winner from his only mount. Sunday was no day of rest, though five rides at Redcar failed to produce a single winner.

It’s a demanding and hectic schedule, though Lee is no doubt pleased to be spending more time in the saddle and less on the turf. His decision to change codes in 2012 followed a crunching fall at Southwell which left him with a dislocated hip.

In truth he’d always been a flat jockey in waiting. Keeping weight on had been a problem for Lee and the sensible move to switch had become more an issue of pride than common sense. A fear of being seen as a ‘bottler’ probably kept him over the jumps two or three years longer than necessary.

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He had tried the flat before when having 36 rides without success in 1996. Many of them were for Mary Reveley in North Yorkshire who he’d joined at the age of 18. The trouble was that he hated the flat in those days and was desperate to make it as a jump jockey.

He joined Howard Johnson on a permanent basis in 2002, after leaving Malcolm Jefferson’s yard. It was a period of his riding career that will live long in the memory, not only for him, but for all fans of National Hunt racing. In 2004 he achieved the dream of all jump jockeys when riding Ginger McCain’s Amberleigh House to victory in the Grand National. He then completed a famous double when steering Grey Abbey to victory in the Scottish equivalent.

A year later he had arguably his greatest week in the saddle when winning three Grade 1 races at the Cheltenham Festival. Arcalis, No Refuge and the wonderful Inglis Drever were the trio of Howard Johnson winners on the greatest jump racing stage.

Great times continued when stable jockey to Ferdy Murphy in the Yorkshire village of West Witton. Graded success came his way on-board the likes of Another Promise, Aces Four, Hot Weld and the classy Kalahari King.

But that was then, and this is now. At 39, Lee is riding as well as ever and has the passion and determination to be around for a good while longer. His intensity as a sportsman is well known. Lee spent a couple of months lodging with AP McCoy back in 2001, and soon realised the amount of work necessary to make a mark at the highest level.

After his Grand National winning season of 2004 he sought help from sports scientist Chris Barnes, then working with Middlesbrough Football Club. Barnes worked on Lee’s upper body strength and nutritional intake, transforming his overall fitness. The pair worked together again when the jockey changed codes. Lee’s exercise routine needed subtle changes to help him lose a little weight whilst maintaining strength and stamina. Vitamin supplements were retained to boost his immune system with healthy snacks through the day to retain energy levels.

Lee has now become a much sought after jockey for the big occasion. His vast experience in the saddle along with the acquired patience gained from years riding over the jumps were seen to great effect at Royal Ascot in June. His Group 1 success in the Gold Cup aboard Trip To Paris showed what a classy pilot he has become. As the pack moved off the rail at the two furlong pole, Lee made the crucial decision to switch his mount inside, leaving a glorious path to victory.

Not simply confined to the northern circuit, expect further big wins over the summer at the major meetings for Graham Lee. The jockey that once hated flat racing is certainly making a decent fist of it.

The July Stakes – Hannon at the Double

Hughes on Ivawood

Hughes on Ivawood

The July Stakes is the oldest event for two-year-olds in the British flat racing calendar. Established in 1786, it was originally open to both colts and fillies.

The race became restricted to colts and geldings in 1977, and was given Group 2 status in 2003. Run over six furlongs it is held on the opening day of the July Festival. The equivalent race for fillies is the Duchess of Cambridge Stakes.

The race has been dominated by Hannon’s senior and junior in recent years, with four wins from the last five renewals. Ivawood was the impressive victor last year when running away from Jungle Cat and one of this summer’s sensations Muhaarar.

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The Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot was once a key pointer to the outcome of the July Stakes, but over the past decade or so has failed to produce a winner. On trends at least, that has to be a slight concern for Hannon’s Eltezam, who ran third in the Coventry behind Buratino. Prior to that run he had defeated Hamdan Al Maktoum’s Elronaq who re-opposes today. Described as a “lovely big colt and a great mover” by his trainer, he looks sure to finish prominent in what appears a very competitive renewal.

Hannon’s second entrant is Orvar ridden by Richard Hughes. He looked a little unfortunate in the Windsor Castle at Ascot, when drawn away from the pace before finishing to great effect. Speaking to John O’Hara in this week’s Weekender, Hannon appears confident of a strong performance, saying: “He is a progressive horse who is going the right way and a good run is expected.” It would be no surprise if he was to be the better of the two from the champion trainer.

The Windsor Castle form looks particularly strong. Though run over a furlong less, Areen, Steady Pace and Orvar, were all prominent behind the winner Washington DC and certainly not stopping at the finish. Steady Pace had strong form going into that race having finished just a length behind Buratino at Sandown and having thrashed Beaverbrook at Ascot in May.

Of the unexposed colts in today’s renewal Experto Crede and the aforementioned Elronaq have the potential of improving past the rest. The former, trained by Ed Walker, was impressive on debut at Newmarket, though the quality of those he defeated is questionable. Ryan Moore has been booked to ride today. Elronaq also impressed last time at Newmarket, when running away with a maiden. Again the form is hard to evaluate, but he certainly looks to be on the upgrade.

With a top price of 14’s in a nine runner field, finding the winner is certainly no easy task. It looks a suitably tasty renewal for a valuable and prestigious Group 2. Hannon usually holds the strongest cards, but which of his pair will prove to be the ‘Ace’ in the pack?

The July Meeting at Newmarket

The July Festival at Newmarket

The July Festival at Newmarket

The July Meeting at Newmarket is one of the most eagerly anticipated of the summer. The three day festival at the spectacular and historic venue is now just a few days away.

Newmarket is widely viewed as the home of British racing. The National Horseracing Museum is in the town along with other key horse racing organisations. The area has the largest collection of high profile training yards in the country. The racecourse itself holds the first two classics of the flat season and numerous Group 1 races during the summer.

Racing at Newmarket dates back to the times of James the first, and as early as 1840 no less than seven annual meeting s took place, including the July Meeting which launched in 1765.

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Racing kicks-off on Thursday with Ladies Day featuring the £100,000 Group 2 Princess of Wales’s Stakes. The event is named in honour of Alexandra of Denmark, who became the Princess of Wales in 1863. First run in 1894 over a distance of a mile, the trip was extended by half a mile in 1902. Sir Michael Stoute is the most successful trainer in the race with nine victories. Indeed he has won five of the last ten renewals and has two horses entered for this year’s renewal including the 2014 runner-up Hillstar.

On Friday the £200,000 Group 1 Falmouth Stakes over a mile is the highlight on the card. The race usually attracts some of the best fillies and mares in Europe. Goldikova and Giofra have won the event for France in recent years. The exciting filly Avenir Certain may well travel over for Friday’s event. She was undefeated leading into last season’s Arc when clearly failing to stay the extended trip. Possibly at her best over ten furlongs, she should still be a leading contender here.

On Saturday the festival’s showpiece event takes place; the £500,000 Darley July Cup, one of the great sprints in the racing calendar. The race was established in 1876 and won by Springfield, a colt bred by Queen Victoria at Hampton Court Stud.

Slade Power proved too good in last year’s renewal when winning for Ireland. Saturday’s race has attracted a stellar cast which includes the Australian star Brazen Beau. Edged out in a thrilling finish at Royal Ascot in the Diamond Jubilee, his connections will be hoping for better luck this time. A clash with the impressive Commonwealth Cup winner Muhaarar seems likely, and could be the highlight of the meeting.

With prize money topping £1.5million over the three days, the festival is sure to attract the very best that flat racing has to offer. It’s an event for race fans to savour, both those in search of top-class equine action and those looking for a stylish and entertaining day out at the races.

Lanarkshire based trainer Keith Dalgleish continues successful run

Keith Dalgleish

Keith Dalgleish

The winners just keep coming for Lanarkshire trainer Keith Dalgleish, with the last three days yielding a single at Haydock followed by doubles at Carlisle and Ayr.

Based at Belstane Racing Stables in Carluke, he had been assistant trainer to Noel Wilson. But when he departed for Yorkshire in 2011, the yard’s owner Gordon McDowell, a Glasgow businessman, had no qualms in promoting the relatively inexperienced Dalgleish. In 2012 a deal was done and the stables became the home of Keith Dalgleish Racing.

Born in the borders at Coldstream, he grew up a short distance west in Hawick, in a cottage close to the stables of the late great Scottish trainer Ken Oliver. His father enjoyed point-to-pointing and introduced son Keith to pony racing at the age of 14. Soon riding out for Alec Stewart and Mark Johnston, he was riding winners on the track at 16. Rated highly by Johnston in particular, Dalgleish had ridden out his claim within two years.

At 19 he rode a winner at Royal Ascot and as stable jockey to Mark Johnston, he notched up almost 300 winners, including a Group 1 in Germany aboard Yavana’s Pace. Unfortunately Dalgleish continued to grow and at just 21 took the decision to retire from Flat racing. In his words, another season battling with his weight would have sent him “potty”.

Now in his fifth season at Carluke the yard has sent out over 230 winners. He now has around 70 horses in training and has already hit 38 winners for this current campaign. With prize money heading towards £350,000, this season looks set to be the best to date.

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The ‘big winners’ are always hard to come by. At the recent Royal Ascot meeting Dalgleish came so close when 33/1 outsider Tommy Docc finished just half a length second in the Queen’s Vase. “I’m delighted that the horse ran well,” said the trainer. “It has progressed this year and getting second place at Royal Ascot is a massive achievement. I take a great deal of satisfaction out of the result, but it would have been a lot nicer if the horse had actually won.”

In 2011 he had guided two-year-old Stonefield Flyer to the runners-up spot in the prestigious Windsor Castle Stakes at the royal meeting.

Dalgleish has set a new Scottish record for the last two flat seasons, breaking the number of winners from a Scottish-based trainer. At the start of this campaign he spoke of the achievement, saying: “It wouldn't worry me if we had a lower total this time but it would be nice to win a better standard of race and maybe end up winning a bit more prize money too. We've got 25 two-year-olds and spent a fair bit on a few of them.  We've got extra boxes and can now cater for 85 horses.”

Expansion and progression is certainly taking place at Carluke. Prominent finishes at meetings such as Royal Ascot emphasise the trainer’s desire to continue the ascent up the British horse racing tree. “We just want to keep improving the standard of races that our horses enter and make higher amounts of prize money,” he recently said.

Dalgleish has set up quite an association with jockey Phillip Makin, and it’s proving to be a great success. Aboard both winners today at Ayr, Makin rides for a number of northern trainers, but it’s Dalgleish that is providing the lion’s share of mounts.

The likes of Tommy Docc, the three-year-old Go Dan Go and juveniles Dark Defender and Glenrowan Rose, look set to bring further success to the yard during the months ahead. The filly Glenrowan Rose ran a cracker last time out at Royal Ascot when fifth behind Illuminate in the Albany Stakes. She looks to have great potential.

Exciting times lie ahead for the man from ‘the borders’. A successful riding career was brought to a premature end, but his career as a trainer looks set to be lengthy and increasingly successful.