1:35 Princess Elizabeth Stakes
A Group 3 race over an extended mile for fillies and mares and take note regards the Duke Of Cambridge Stakes at Royal Ascot because three recent winners of that Group 2 race at the Royal Meeting were beaten here. This is a much deeper renewal than last year so the 2013 winner, Thistle Bird, will have to be on her A-game and she has to overcome finishing last of six in the Middleton Stakes on her seasonal debut. However, she has improved since 12 months ago. She can go well fresh so it was a disappointing return but she did run a bit free and her trainer commented that she was over her racing weight so plenty of improvement is likely especially as her second-time out record really catches the eye as she is 3-3 on her second race of the season. If she can reproduce the form of her neck-second in the Nassau Stakes or her neck-third in the Prix de l’Opera last season, both Group 1 races, then she will take the beating rated 114 but she can throw in the odd below-par run. Last season’s Irish 1000 Guineas winner (and 1000 Guineas second) Just The Judge is her main rival on paper (rated 110) but she ended last season with two damp squibs and didn’t do enough when fifth of nine in the Earl Of Sefton on her return to suggest that she is likely to replicate those two Classic runs anytime soon so we may have already seen the best of her. Two horses who finished in front of her at Newmarket have won three Group races between them since (Gospel Choir and French Navy) and she was a bit keen but I want to see some evidence she is back to near her best before she interests me again.
Three other fillies are rated 106+ (so five in total) whereas there was only one such filly in last year’s race underlining what a good running this is and they are Zurigha (107), Mango Diva (106) and Odelix (106). None of the other five fillies are rated higher than 98 and all five 106+ horses are not going to flop so I am struggling to make a case out for Masarah, Melody Of Love, Butterfly McQueen, Amulet and Audacia as I also wouldn’t place them in the unexposed bracket. The Richard Hannon-trained Zurigha has to bounce back from finishing last of seven in the Dahlia Stakes (Group 3) in which Odeliz was fourth. However, she failed to settle on that occasion and lost a shoe during the race so I can easily see her reverse placings (and expect her to) and she is better judged on her two Listed race wins at Kempton and her fourth in last season’s French 1000 Guineas. Her task was eased on her last win when her main rival was withdrawn but her trainer was very complimentary afterwards about her stating that there was plenty more progress as she still had her winter coat. Mango Diva finished two places ahead of Thistle Bird when fourth of six behind Ambivalent at York and, being Stoute-trained, she can be expected to improve fitness-wise like virtually all of his runners this season. Being held up also counted against her at York but she has to give 3lb to all her rivals here for winning a weak Group 3 at Gowran Park last September so she has to come on plenty to take this prize.
CONCLUSION - in the belief that Thistle Bird needed the run on her seasonal debut and she is 3-3 second time back and won this race last year before running two cracking races in Group 1s, she is the one to beat and probably more reliable than Just the Judge who looks to be losing her way. Zurigha could provide each-way value if punters read too much into her last run.
2:10 Investec Wealth & Investment Handicap
Twelve runners have been declared for this Class 2 extended 1m2f handicap for older horses including Resurge who won it in 2011 off 97 after a couple of runs earlier in the season including when second in the City & Surburban, and in 2013 off 94 on his seasonal debut. This time he races off 90 and arrives here after finishing tenth in the City & Surburban on his only run this campaign. He finished seventh in the 2012 renewal in between. Of course you can bet your bottom dollar that Stuart Kittow has specifically trained him for a third win in this race and this will be the lowest mark that he has run off since winning at this course in October 2010. He may be aged nine but his overall Epsom record reads four wins and three seconds from 11 starts so ignore his each-way claims at your peril.
Sennockian Star races off a 6lb higher mark than when winning this season’s City & Surburban but he was very disappointing last time out. Many a Mark Johnston-trained horse bounces straight back from a bad run however, but I would prefer to see the stable in better form. They are not going badly, but they are often bang in form in the run up to Royal Ascot. In between those two runs Sennockian Star was second to Tres Coronas at Chester and that winner then finished second to the progressive Clever Cookie at the Dante Meeting in a much better handicap. Tres Coronas has gone up 4lb for that defeat though so is 10lb higher than at Chester. Farrajj is used to running in Group races but ran pretty well when dropped into a handicap last time and he can run well but Soviet Rock looks like he might have more to offer. He was third in the City & Surburban and is only 1lb better off with Sennockian Star for 2½l but that was his seasonal debut so he can progress past the winner and he has since won at Lingfield. Charles Camoin finished seventh in the City & Surburban and is not out of this having won on his only other start at Epsom and with Jamie Spencer booked for the first time plus running off a 2lb lower mark than when last successful.
Air Pilot is a very lightly-raced five-year-old as this is just his fourth career start so he is the one open to most improvement. Ralph Beckett sent him to Doncaster to get off the mark in a maiden 20 days ago having previously finished second to a subsequent York winner, so he is the unknown quantity of this handicap which makes him dangerous. Ed Dunlop’s stable looks on the verge of about to hit form after a slow start so it would be no surprise if Gworn left this season’s form behind but he might prefer softer ground.
CONCLUSION - not a race to go overboard about but I couldn’t put anyone looking at Resurge each-way as he will have been trained to the minute for a third win in this race but I would just give Soviet Rock the nod with Air Pilot as the dangerous unknown quantity so he also has to be respected.
2:45 Investec Diomed Stakes
Seven runners line up for this Group 3 over an extended mile. A couple of stats to bear in mind are that only three of the last 15 winners had not won a Group or Listed race earlier in their career and that eight winners had previously won over this idiosyncratic course since 1997 but none of the last four so a positive track experience is a positive. The Diomed Stakes has also very much been a race for horses that like to race close to the pace as 13 of the last 19 winners raced close to the pace with three making all.
Officially only 8lb covers all seven runners so this could be tight. Last year’s winner, Gregorian, is top rated but this is his seasonal debut and a run at Haydock was needed slightly last season to put him spot on to win here and he then ran a cracker in the Queen Anne beaten 1¼ lengths and won the Hungerford Stakes. The other course-and-distance winner is Highland Knight for Andrew Balding who has trained the winner twice in the last decade. A seven-year-old now, his last four runs were on all-weather surfaces, most latterly when second to Captain Cat at 25/1 in the All-Weather Championships conditions race. He has declined as he has dropped 10lb in the last year so I am not sure that is the kind of profile I want and, like Penitent, he has to give 3lb to the other five rivals. Penitent arrives here after causing a 33/1 shock in the John O’Gaunt Stakes last Saturday where he had his favoured cut in the ground but whether this is too fast (Good, G/S in places) is my main concern. The ex-Brazilian-trained Edu Querido now with Marco Botti finished sixth in a weak Group 1 at Meydan in March and is hard to weigh up. His last of six in the Huxley Stakes behind Noble Mission, admittedly on soft ground that he might have hated, didn’t offer much encouragement though.
I fancy the winner will come from French Navy, Graphic or Windhoek. The William Haggas-trained Graphic has finished fifth, first and second on his last three starts, all in Listed company, so arguably he has a little to find stepping up to Group 3 standard even if he is second-best in on official figures. He goes well with ease in the ground but also handles Good ground well and his prominent racing style should also be well suited to this race. He is in form having won a Listed race in March before finishing a close second to the Lincoln winner at Ascot where he had French Navy ¾l behind and now meets him on 3lb better terms. Since then French Navy has beaten his fellow Godolphin hope, Windhoek, by half a length when they fought out the finish to a Listed race at Goodwood 13 days ago on soft ground and they meet on the same terms with the same jockeys. French Navy, who was beaten by both Highland Knight and Penitent last backend and is a consistent performer, was previously proven on soft ground whereas Windhoek wasn’t so it would be no great surprise if the placings are reversed on this better surface and Fallon might also have a bit too much know-how for Kirby around Epsom.
CONCLUSION - connections of the best horse, Gregorian, might have one eye on the Queen Anne for this, his seasonal debut, so I would prefer to look at Graphic and Windhoek, the latter I feel can reverse Goodwood form with French Navy on better ground.
3:20 Investec Mile Handicap
A Class 2 handicap over an extended mile for older horses featuring 16 declarations, luck in running is likely to play a key role. The 2011 winner, Dance And Dance, is back again and running off a 6lb lower mark and he also arrives here in good nick having only been denied by a short-head at Newmarket three weeks ago after he finished in midfield after being sent off favourite for the Lincoln consolation race. However, he is on a 19-race losing streak. Last year’s winner, Vainglory, is also back. Twelve months ago he swooped down the outside from a double-digit draw so stall 10 shouldn’t be too much of a problem and he runs off the same mark of 85. He is aged ten now however. Abseil is going to be the sexy one for Sir Michael Stoute on his fourth start having been well backed for the Royal Hunt Cup earlier in the week and he will probably need to win this race to be assured of a run being rated 91 as the bottom weight in last year’s Hunt Cup was 96. After winning his maiden on his second start, he was no match for Here Comes When in finishing runner-up at Chester but that winner is considered Group class and Abseil was badly drawn and in last place at half-way. The worry for punting purposes is whether he will be over-bet.
The Luca Cumani-trained Velox is likely to strip fitter for his return when fourth at Newmarket, that is the way he shaped anyway, and is back to a mile after four runs at 1m2f so he is more interesting than most. Tigers Tale has been in good form this season but could be vulnerable to an improver and similar comments apply to Farlow. The Brian Ellison-trained Llanarmon Lad could be one such horse as this is just his seventh start, he has only finished out of the first three once, he won a well-run handicap at Thirsk last time and Kieran Fallon now takes over from Paul Pickard. Connections are hoping he could be a Cambridgeshire horse and he is in the right hands for placing horses so I like his chance. Fury only beat home when sent off favourite for a Listed handicap on his only run this season but he is the type who could surprise when least expected and Epsom might just suit him and he has now been dropped another 3lb to 92 having once been 107. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ran really well or really badly. Mark Johnston won this race in 2009 and 2010 and he is double-handed with Busatto (Fanning) and Henry The Aviator (De Sousa). I would like to see the yard in better form though as they are usually hitting top form at around this time. Angelic Upstart is respected for Andrew Balding and Oisin Murphy off a low weight. Just behind Dance And Dance when a close-up third last time out, he was only beaten ¾l on his only start at Epsom last season.
CONCLUSION - Abseil has a big chance but that is likely to be reflected in his price in which case Llanarmon Lad or Velox are worthy of consideration.
4:00 Investec Oaks (In memory of Sir Henry Cecil)
A nice touch to officially name this season’s Oaks in memory of the great man who trained eight winners of this Classic. My personal favourite was Diminuendo having followed her closely throughout her career after being present to see her make a winning debut at Leicester who had earlier finished third in the 1000 Guineas before winning the Musidora. Ihtimal is the only representative from the 1000 Guineas this season having also finished third beaten less than a length by Miss France having won the UAE 1000 Guineas and Oaks but they are only Listed and Group 3 races. My feeling is that she is the type to always come up short when taking on the best fillies around though Fallon taking over from De Sousa is a positive when it comes to Epsom given his know-how around this idiosyncratic track in Classics. Six Musidora winners have followed up in the Oaks since 1963, the latest being Sariska five years ago, and Madame Chiang puts her unbeaten record on the line after following up her maiden win with a fairly convincing success at York. I am not really one for form-based arguments in the first four Classics of the year as horses are still developing and not revved up to give their best in trials but a victory over Lily Rules and Regardez who re-oppose, doesn’t exactly excite me and I don’t think it was the best Musidora. I also wouldn’t be mad keen to back a filly in the Oaks having just her third career start.
I think Taghrooda price was too short after her Pretty Polly Stakes win and then especially too short after she was shortened again after Cambridge flopped in the Musidora. That view wasn’t based on form, and those to run again in the Pretty Polly have done nothing for the form, more due to my belief that the Oaks is generally a lot more competitive than the market gives it credit most years as fillies can improve bundles for a step up to 1m4f in line with their breeding and an end-to-end gallop. Taghrooda has been friendless since Marvellous won the Irish 1000 Guineas and I will be mighty surprised if Aidan O’Brien’s Classic winner, who should stay 1m4f, does not start favourite. John Gosden has made no secret of the fact that he would have liked to have got one more run into Taghrooda as she is only twice-trace but he had to gallop her at the course instead, which is or bad thing. I am not against Taghrooda per se as I think she is very talented and visuals mean more to me than pure form in trials and she was very impressive at Newmarket and on her debut, it was just her price of 5/2 I didn’t like at the time. However, just two runs or not, if her price were to keep on drifting to something like 5/1, then I could become interested. In the same ownership is Tarfasha trained by Dermot Weld for Sheikh Hamdan al Maktoum who incredibly has not owned a British Group 1 winner for five years so even if the ground is not as soft as her trainer would want it, she could still take her chance so he has two live barrels to fire given she is priced up as third-favourite after her Blue Wind Stakes success. I would be worried that there is not enough juice in the ground for her unless the forecast is incorrect.
Marvellous has been all the rage since winning the Irish 1000 Guineas in fine style and O’Brien has twice won the Oaks with winners of that Classic (Shahtoush and Imagine). However, they were very experienced fillies having their tenth and ninth start respectively at Epsom whereas Marvellous has had just three runs. Being by Galileo and judged by the way she powered 3l clear of Lightning Thunder (ran well below her 1000 Guineas form in my view on testing ground) suggests that 1m4f should be no problem to her but she looks a tight price to me against 16 rivals, many of which are going to come into their own over this trip. Being the number one hope for the yard, Joseph O’Brien takes over from Ryan Moore which is no positive in my view having been on the wrong one in the Irish 1000 Guineas plus Homecoming Queen’s 1000 Guineas and last year’s Derby of course, all won by Moore on lesser-fancied Ballydoyle contenders. Aidan O’Brien also runs Palace who was ridden by Joseph when fifth in the Irish 1000 Guineas and now the rides are swapped as Moore is jocked up for the Oaks. She will have to improve a tremendous amount for the step up to 1m4f and the skills of Moore to come out on top. Aidan O’Brien is not averse to winning Classics with supposed third strings and his final runner is Dazzling who has 6l to find to Tarfasha on Blue Wind form.
The filly I like is Marsh Daisy. After her authoritative Goodwood win on soft ground which was won by two Oaks winners since the turn of the century (Love Divine and Snow Fairy), Hughie Morrison has supplemented her and he would have a good idea of what is required as his Shirocco Star was only beaten a neck into second in the Oaks two years ago. Connections have stated that she prefers a cut in the ground so I would be fancying her chances more if the ground was softer but there is a little give. What I really love is her attitude and, although she has a heck of a long way to go yet, she reminds me a little of Snow Fairy in her racing style. Volume made all to win the Newbury trial (comfortably holds Inchila who was fourth) that often gets overlooked but Eswarah completed the double and Dancing Rain was second in the same Listed race before she won the Oaks. I wouldn’t be put off that she has run in handicaps as Luca Cumani won the Derby with High-Rise who did the same before winning a recognised trial. Given her knee action though, I am not convinced Epsom is for her and Richard Hughes commented likewise after her success. Anipa (Cheshire Oaks) and Honour Bound (Lingfield Oaks Trial and holds Momentous in third Island Remede in fifth in what looked an average renewal) who is fitted with a first-time hood are the other winners of trials taking their chance but neither look to have the class to me to win a Classic. Amazing Maria missed the 1000 Guineas and I can never recall a winning seasonal debutante winning the Oaks. There might be a few going back in the annals of time but not since I first got into racing (though Shaamit and Lammtarra won the Derby on their seasonal debut in the 1990s) so I can’t get too interested in last season’s Prestige Stakes winner.
CONCLUSION - The Oaks is often more open than the betting suggests and I like Marsh Daisy to run a big race at a working man’s each-way price of around 12/1 but if the price drift on Taghrooda continues, then she will very soon become a backable price having been too short in the ante-post market.
4:45 Investec Surrey Stakes
A Listed race for 3yos over 7f, That Is The Spirit is likely to be a warm order to complete his hat-trick and remain unbeaten before a crack at the Jersey Stakes. He made it into my Horses To Follow list in The Weekly Wrap after making a winning debut at Doncaster and he never looked seriously threatened at any stage when winning a 18-runner handicap at the Dante Meeting on his next start. Epsom should suit his prominent style of racing and although he is officially only fourth-best of this sextet, the rest have had the opportunities to put up higher marks having raced more often and in higher standards of race most notably Parbold who was placed in three Group 2 races as a two-year-old but he has gone backwards since. He was disappointing last weekend given he started at 5/4 to win a Listed race but was handsomely put in his place finishing third by Aeolus and connections have now turned to a hood and Ryan Moore for the first time. On his previous start Parbold was beaten half a length by Coulsty in the King Charles II Stakes and they meet again here though the latter is now 4lb worse off. However, Coulsty was winning on his first start since September and Sean Leavy did not need to resort to the whip so I fancy him to confirm placings with Hughes taking over even on 4lb worse terms. Miracle Of Medinah has a 6lb penalty and was fifth in that King Charles II Stakes beaten 2½ lengths so he will do well to win. Silver Treasure in a first-time hood who was awarded a maiden race in France on his seventh career start last time out and the consistent Penny Drops make up the field. Penny Drops has most to find but is improving and was second beaten a head in a Goodwood handicap last time.
CONCLUSION - That is The Spirit is a Group horse of the future making his way through the ranks and I will be disappointed if he doesn’t win with Coulsty the one for the forecast.
5:20 Investec Asset Management Handicap
A Class 2 handicap over 7f for three-year-olds, a low draw should be beneficial with a turn shortly after the start in a field comprising 15 runners. Having said that, I stress the ‘could’ element of that last statement as the last five winners were all drawn between 6-9 so maybe those drawn low proved at a disadvantage attempting to make use of their low draw too soon? Therefore, a middle draw could be the way to go. Drawn in 8, Legend Rising looks the best of those drawn centrally attempting to follow up his win at the Chester May Meeting on soft ground. He has gone up 6lb for that win which was cosier than the official margin of 1½l suggested and he is 3-3 with cut in the ground so he has a big chance if there is still any juice in the ground by the last race on the card. Shot In The Sun is drawn one stall outside him but he has been unlucky to have been risen 4lb for each of his second-place finishes this season so the Handicapper may have him now so Fahey has turned to George Chaloner to take off 3lb. Maybe the ground was too soft for him when disappointing last time out. I prefer Mime Dance who is drawn a stall further out in 10 who has plenty of course experience having finished first, second and third at Epsom in three starts here last season and he may have needed his seasonal debut when sixth of ten here six weeks ago behind Chatez who has won again since. Mime Dance has plenty of size about him so could be one to keep progressing as he fills into his frame and I like his each-way chance….if he is an each-way price.
Of those drawn low, Nakuti makes most appeal from stall 2 for the Sylvester Kirk yard that won this race three years ago. A 6l second to Night Of Thunder in a Goodwood maiden last October, he finally got off the mark in a Leicester handicap in April and has run two decent races since. His hold up style should mean Spencer won’t be overdoing it trying to take advantage of his low draw. Kafeel in stall 5 is interesting for Roger Varian on just his fourth start. He was a close-up fourth on his handicap and seasonal debut and can build on that effort. Bretherton beat Lincoln by half a length when they fought the finish at Haydock two weeks ago but it wasn’t a great race and both have outside draws.
CONCLUSION - Legend Rising looks the best percentage play but I also respect Mime Dance and Nakuti.