It’s time to don your finery as Royal Ascot gets underway on Tuesday for five magnificent days of flat racing.
Despite heavy showers at the weekend I’d imagine the ground will start off pretty perfect with a few days to dry conditions back out.
Aidan O’Brien is bidding to be leading trainer at the meeting yet again and starts of strongly with a couple of very good chances on the opening day.
Here are my thoughts on the early races…
The first race of the meeting is the Group One Queen Anne Stakes, run over the straight mile. Toronado returns to action for the first time since finishing last in the Juddmonte International at York in August on his first try at a mile and a quarter. That certainly didn’t tell the tale of his season, though, as he had a couple of ‘ding dong’ battles with Dawn Approach, just failing in the St. James’s Palace but getting his revenge in the Sussex Stakes.
He was set to have a little breathing op after that final run at York and he has a great chance of getting the meeting off on the best footing for his inform trainer Richard Hannon. It’s good to see his regular pilot Richard Hughes keeping the ride (Frankie Dettori could well have taken over on the four-year-old as he is owned by Joaan Al Thani’s Al Shaqab Racing who retains the Italian).
Verrazano is an interesting runner for Aidan O’Brien. He was a highly regarded dual Grade 1 winning dirt performer in the States and made his debut for the Ballydoyle outfit in the Lockinge at Newbury. He was third behind Olympic Glory there and much better can be expected of him as the season progresses. Whilst that was only his first experience of racing on turf, he showed promise and will no doubt enhance his stallion value in Europe this year. He did get quite warm before the Newbury race, which may just be him, and it will be worth keeping an eye on his demeanour beforehand.
It was great to see Paul Hanagan riding an Oaks winner on our blog selection Taghrooda and he has the ride on Mike de Kock’s Soft Falling Rain for boss Sheikh Hamdan. The horse didn’t quite sparkle in Dubai over the winter, but this is his first run since finishing second in the Godolphin Mile and he is the second highest rated in this, albeit 5lbs below Toronado. He has apparently had an interrupted preparation for this which is a worry.
If you fancied a bit of an each way punt you could do worse than back Side Glance as the globetrotter has some fair form at this course. On the face of it he has a bit to find, but he performs with credit on the big occasion and could give you a run for your money. I would love to be able to make a solid case for something to beat the favourite, but whilst Verrazano should run well for O’Brien, I think Toronado is the one to beat.
On to the Group Two Coventry Stakes which has been an Aidan O’Brien benefit over recent years. There has been plenty of support for his War Envoy for this contest despite the fact he was behind another of Tuesday’s rivals Kool Kompany at Naas last time out when sent off odds on favourite. O’Brien felt he may have left him a little short of work ahead of that race and he will be finely tuned for this. Richard Hannon’s Kool Kompany is a tenacious performer who gives his all and at the odds I think I’d prefer to be on the Hannon colt.
Hannon maybe in good form, but William Haggas is operating at an even better strike rate at the moment. He saddles the unbeaten Adaay who was a 240,000 guineas purchase at the Breeze Up sales in the spring. Despite the experience of ‘breezing’ he still looked in need of the experience in his two starts to date and that should have helped give him the education he needs for a race of this nature. Jockey Paul Hanagan said after his Yarmouth win last time out that he felt like a Royal Ascot horse and I hope he can step up again in this.
The Wow Signal is well regarded by Yorkshire trainer John Quinn. This colt made his debut at Ayr in a six furlong maiden on good to soft ground and won impressively so could be a threat to my selection Adaay.
Kevin Ryan has a good chance of a Royal winner in the big sprint on day one, the Group One King’s Stand Stakes. He saddles favourite Hot Streak who is the pick of Jamie Spencer, who also had the option of riding Pearl Secret. The pair finished first and second in the Temple Stakes last month and the former looked impressive.".
He is a three year-old and that can be a tricky year for sprinters, but he is holding his own against the more established stars. His gets a 6lbs weight pull from the older horses. He seems an exceptional horse and I think he’ll take the beating.
Sole Power is bidding for back-to-back wins in the five furlong contest and will be ridden by Richard Hughes for the first time. The ground will need to dry out from its current description to see him at his very best, but he beat Shea Shea on good ground in this last year.
Mike de Kock trains Shea Shea who was third in the Al Quoz Sprint on his last outing at Meydan in March. He is closely matched with Sole Power and like his rival would like the ground to dry out. He has taken the same route as last year and is respected under Christophe Soumillon. Things have apparently gone smoothly with him in the run up to this race and he has obvious claims.
Ryan Moore has been on Sole Power for his last three starts, but he rides the Aidan O’Brien trained Guerre, the horse has 8.12 which is below Joseph O’Brien’s minimum. Guerre is another of the three-year-olds in this and comes into the race having just had the three starts, two as a juvenile and one this season. He beat Maarek in the five furlong Woodlands Stakes at Naas at the end of April and won nicely, but this is a big step up.
Hot Streak is my selection in this, but for those of you who baulk at his price, I also fancy Medicean Man each way for trainer Jeremy Gask. He had an aborted journey to Singapore for their big sprint at Kranji in May, he never took part after losing a shoe. He had a successful winter in Dubai, though, and has a good record at this track having won three and been placed twice from 11 starts at this course.
The St. James’s Palace Stakes could be the opportunity for Irish 2000 Guineas winner Kingman to stamp his authority on the classic generation over this mile trip. He’s currently odds against, fill your boots! He beat Richard Hannon’s Night of Thunder in the Greenham, Night of Thunder then won the English Guineas at Newmarket where he beat Kingman despite hanging badly across the track.
The race probably didn’t go as smoothly for John Gosden’s colt on the Rowley Mile though with the horses splitting into two groups and the ground had slightly gone against him. He has since won the Irish Classic and in some style and he has the chance to put his rival in his place in this Group 1.
The look on James Doyle’s face when he pulled up at the Curragh looked to say “that’s more like it” and you would have to agree he looked awesome there. I can see they would be keen to take on the Newmarket winner again. Hannon also saddles Toormore, whose workmanlike win in the Craven (carrying a penalty) looks good in light of the second, The Grey Gatsby, subsequently winning the Dante and French Derby. He then ran flat in the Guineas and this will be his first run since his Newmarket flop.
It was said earlier in the week that this horse could run in France in the Prix Jean Prat instead, but his trainer has taken the decision to run here against his stablemate instead, Ryan Moore rides. The two colts are of course in different ownership.
Aidan O’Brien’s runner War Command blitzed his rivals in the Coventry last year before going on to win the Dewhurst. He was well beaten in this year’s Guineas, but can’t be written off in a race that looks really strong this year with the form being franked right, left and centre. It’s Kingman for me, though. I think he’s a great bet.
Moving on to the second day then and the Prince of Wales’s Stakes is the feature and Treve looks like one of the equine highlights of the week. She was narrowly beaten by Cirrus des Aigles on her reappearance in the Prix Ganay and initially it looked a disappointing start to the new campaign for the Arc winner. The winner’s exploits since then have put the defeat into perspective and with that run under her belt she seems perfectly poised to get back to winning ways.
This is her first run on British soil and it will be likely the fastest ground she has encountered too. That aside, she is the one to beat and no surprise to see her restrictive odds. Trainer Criquette Head-Maarek has been very pleased with her filly since that defeat and also said that the ground was firm when she won the Prix Diane last year, the official going description reported that the ground was good at Chantilly. That aside, she’s a superstar and should win.
Aidan O’Brien has taken up the option of running here with Magician. He was beaten by an upwardly mobile Noble Mission in the Tattersalls Gold Cup last time out which looks disappointing, but he seems at his very best on faster ground than he got there and it should be decent if the forecast is correct for Wednesday’s card. Mukhadram was second to Al Kazeem in this last year with The Fugue in third.
The former is a consistent, hardy and classy performer who was second in the Dubai World Cup on his last run back in March. We’ve already mentioned that his trainer William Haggas is in great form and this horse has apparently been working well.
It’s good to see The Fugue back in action. John Gosden’s mare had a great season last term, the highlight being her win in the Irish Champion Stakes. She then went on to finish second to Magician in the Breeders’ Cup Turf before another great run when second in the Hong Kong Vase. She then ran an uncharacteristic bad race in the Dubai Duty Free, but came back with a cut to her heel. I think this could be a race for the girls and whilst I’m with Treve to win, The Fugue could offer some each way value.
The Duke of Cambridge Stakes is a Group 2 for older fillies and mares over the straight mile. Just a reminder this is the race you may know better as the Windsor Forest. Sky Lantern’s win in last autumn’s Sun Chariot means she carries a 5lbs penalty here on her first run since her last placed run in the Hong Kong Mile in December. She can be forgiven that end of season effort and is a classy filly who won three group 1 races last season including the Guineas, Coronation Stakes and that win at Newmarket in September in the Sun Chariot. She beat the Sir Michael Stoute trained Integral in the latter race and that filly gets a 5lb weight pull on Wednesday, she was only beaten a length there.
Speaking of Integral, she has the benefit of a run under her belt this season when finishing second to Esoterique in the Dahlia Stakes at Newmarket early last month. Esoterique has been supplemented by her connections for this race. Andre Fabre’s filly was well backed for that nine furlong group 3, but had the benefit of a couple of runs before the contest which gave her a significant advantage over Integral that day. The Stoute filly could reverse those placings and as this will be only her seventh career start there could be more to come from her as a four year-old.
Will they all have to play second fiddle to Purr Along, though? She can’t be discounted for new trainer Johnny Murtagh. David Redvers paid 1,000,000 guineas for her at the December Sales out of William Muir’s stable on behalf of Qatar Racing and Newsells Park Stud and Newsells Park Stud,this is her second start for new connections. She won a Group 3 at the Curragh last month on her first run having been held up with a few little problems in the spring. Murtagh was apparently keen to get a run into her before this race. At the prices she could offer the value in this race.
And now to the race that can be the punters’ (and commentators’ nightmare!) the Royal Hunt Cup. It’s nervous times for supporters of Abseil who isn’t certain to make the cut. He is 33rd in the list and with a maximum field of 30 needs three to come out to get a run. He is way clear in the betting for this one mile cavalry charge having won the Investec Mile at Epsom last time out. He got hot and bothered that day and you can’t blame him, but he will have to deal with a similar atmosphere here which could set him alight again. He looks like the typical future group horse in a handicap, but in a race with so many imponderables I can’t be backing him here.
Take him out of the equation and its looks as wide open as ever. Chil The Kite is near the top of the weights for Hughie Morrison. He had three down the field runs in Dubai over the winter before being well beaten in the Winter Derby over 10 furlongs. He was raised 5lbs for an impressive win dropped in trip over seven furlongs at Newbury last time out and he also looks capable of progressing beyond Handicap Company this term. It’s worth bearing in mind he was running in Group 1 Company at the Royal meeting last year and he is a strong contender.
Farraaj is rated a couple of pounds below Chil The Kite and Roger Varian’s is dropping in trip having won a mile and a quarter handicap at the Derby meeting last time out and interesting he is taking the mile route with him.
It’s said he goes best fresh so it’s a worry this is only a couple of weeks after his last run. Queensbury Rules can run well for William Haggas and Ryan Moore despite this being his first run since September. He has been fairly frustrating to follow having won his first two races and not since.
Having said that he has only run in five races without winning and they have all come in Heritage Handicaps, including finishing third in the Britannia last year off a 5lb lower mark.
Richard Fahey looks to have claims with Gabrial’s Kaka, the horse has been running well this season and can be forgiven a well beaten fourth behind Noble Mission in the Huxley Stakes at Chester last time out as it was over 10 furlongs and his owner likes having runners at the meeting. Belgian Bill is back for more having won this last year off a mark of 97, he’s on 102 this time round. He ran well in the Victoria Cup last time which could have helped put him right for this.
Andrew Balding has a couple of interesting runners, Stirring Ballad and Here Comes When. Both have claims with Stirring Ballad (David Probert) having her first run since finishing well beaten when co-fav in this last year. She runs off the same mark this year. She’s a lightly raced five-year-old and can run well.
It looks like Here Comes When will be ridden by apprentice of the moment Oisin Murphy who is able to relieve him of 3lbs. He seems to be a better horse with some cut in the ground though so keep a close eye on the weather. He’s unexposed.
This is such a tough race and when the declarations are made we may have more knowledge about any draw bias, but at the moment I like Queensbury Rules and Stirring Ballad. Let’s hope the pair of them are drawn on opposite sides of the track!
I’ll be back on Wednesday with a look ahead to the action for the rest of the week.
Best of luck,
Toronado in the Queen Anne @ 5/6 with Sky Bet
Adaay in the Coventry @ 9/2 with Sky Bet
Hot Streak in the King’s Stand @ 7/2 with Sky Bet
Medicean Man each way in the King’s Stand @ 20/1 with Sky Bet
Kingman in the St. James’s Palace Stakes @ 11/10 with Sky Bet
Treve in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes @ 8/11 with Sky Bet
The Fugue each way in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes @ 8/1 with Sky Bet
Purr Along in the Duke of Cambridge Stakes @ 10/1 with Sky Bet
Queensbury Rules in the Royal Hunt Cup @ 16/1 with Sky Bet
Stirring Ballad in the Royal Hunt Cup @ 16/1 with Sky Bet