2:30 Queen Anne Stakes
The betting suggests that this is a match between Toronado and Verrazano. If you are a form backer, you will find it hard to go against Toronado but if you are a trends punter, then Verrazano will make plenty of appeal against last season’s Sussex Stakes winner. This is not a pure-trends based race, however but followers of patterns will be loving the fact that he is a four-year-old (like 18 of the last 22 winners) who ran in the Lockinge Stakes (like a very notable 19 of the last 33 winners) and represents Aidan O’Brien who has won the Queen Anne on three occasions, two of which with horses who finished unplaced in the Lockinge. Verrazano was third at Newbury despite a drift in the betting that suggested his connections primarily wanted to feel the water with him on his debut for the yard having been a two-time Grade 1 winner in America. Of the last 19 Queen Anne winners to run in the Lockinge, as many as 13 were beaten at Newbury strongly suggesting that their connections were prepping in that event for Royal Ascot. O’Brien has had mixed fortunes in the Queen Anne however, as horses with more brilliance than his three winners such as Hawk Wing, George Washington and Rip Van Winkle all failed to even place. Given the huge frame of Verrazano and encountering a straight mile for the first time at Newbury having been used to running two bends in America, I felt that he might he might really struggle, but he was the eye-catcher of the race behind Olympic Glory leaving the strong impression that there would be plenty more to come on his next start.
If you got the early 4/1 about then you are in a fantastic position and I would lay it off for a free bet now that he is a shade of odds-on after Richard Hughes was ultra confident about him in his Racing Post column stating how much he has improved physically from three to four. Although he can be expected to improve on whatever he does here on his seasonal debut, there should be no excuses on the fitness front as this has been his first big target since the winter and he impressed first time out in the Craven last year. Verrazano is a big horse and, although I might be wrong, that suggests to me that he is a galloper first and foremost using his giant stride so I fancy that this can be set up for Toronado who likes to pounce late with a turn of foot and that is how I see it materialising with Hughes producing him in the final furlong to edge in front and become the first seasonal debutant to win since 1997. Let’s not also forget that on world ratings that Toronado is officially an 8lb superior horse to Verrazano who was beaten 4l by Olympic Glory in the Lockinge and if Hughes had the choice between Toronado and Olympic Glory, he would select the former in a heartbeat. Toronado is also a four-year-old so he too has that big stat in his favour
The international challenge outside of Britain and Ireland comes from Soft falling Rain for South Africa and Anodin from France. Soft Falling Rain is officially the main danger to Toronado being rated 2lb higher than Verrazano but he has not gone on as I imagined he might after he won so impressively on Dubai World Cup night last year. His name suggests otherwise, but the closer the ground is to a road, the better his chance. His best performance on British soil was when easily beating Montiridge in the Group 2 Joel Stakes last autumn on good-to-firm ground so the watering on Friday and then rain on Saturday which turned the ground on the easy side come Sunday morning was a negative to his chances. Since that win he has run poorly twice but bounced back when second on Dubai World Cup night in the same race he won 12 months earlier. Some punters may view him as the each-way alternative to the big two I don’t think he is in the same form as a five-year-old as at the same stage last season when aged four. The horse I fancy as a better each-way alternative is Anodin (another for the strong four-year-old stat) as Freddie Head is not the kind of trainer to waste supplementary entries fees and his 1½l second to Cirrus Des Aigles in the Prix D’Ispahan was franked when the winner then added the Coronation Cup. That run on soft ground was a career-best effort and judged by the fact that he has never run on anything faster than Good, I imagine his connections were delighted to see the ground ease over the weekend. It could be that he is only now developing into a top class horse having been well beaten on his four other attempts in Group 1 races.
The four aforementioned horses should occupy the first five places in the market and, given that only one Queen Anne winner since 1995 did not start in the first four positions in the betting, I therefore mention the remainder more out of general interest than for potential betting purposes. Given that 13 of the last 19 Queen Anne winners to run in the Lockinge were beaten at Newbury, that should give supporters of the runner-up, Tullius, hope of a big run. He had Verrazano 1¾l adrift that day but, unlike the third, he was race-fit having won the Gordon Richards Stakes on soft ground on his previous start. He is adaptable with regards to ground but I would expect Verrazano to improve past him and he leaves the impression that an up-to-scratch Group 1 is beyond him even though he is improving at the age of six. The last Queen Anne winner aged over five however, was back in 1976. Glory Awaits has not reproduced the form of his 150/1 second to Dawn Approach in last season’s 2000 Guineas in four subsequent races, Ansgar is out of his depth, we know where the seven-year-old, Side Glance, stands (was third to Frankel in this race two years ago) and Producer is being thrown into the deep end for his seasonal return having won a Listed race, the Criterion Stakes and a Group 2 in Turkey last season. Mull Of Killough saves his best for the Rowley Mile (his last four wins have been on that course) as he proved again when he won the Earl Of Sefton beating the subsequent Diomed winner, French Navy, into second and Gospel Choir (added the Jockey Club Stakes and Yorkshire Cup) who needed the run back in fourth.
CONCLUSION - Anodin looks the best each-way alternative to the big two if around Evens does not float your boat about Toronado whose late turn of foot can give him the edge over Verrazano.
3:05 Coventry Stakes
It is not totally surprising that the ante-post favourite since he won his debut on April 24th, The Great War, misses the race in favour of the Norfolk Stakes over 5f as both his wins came at that trip rather than the 6f of what is usually the classier Coventry Stakes, and especially as Aidan O’Brien has a ready-made replacement in War Envoy. Well done to anyone who worked out in advance this could be a possibility as War Envoy was 14/1 on Friday but could now start favourite. With regards to O’Brien, he has won the Coventry Stakes on seven occasions and he is not shy in running what could turn out to be his best horses in time as four went on to win a Classic, two of which were beaten here. Three of his six winners were second or third stable strings according to the market and he usually runs more than one so how significant is it that he solely relies on War Envoy this year? He was beaten last time out however when third beaten a length by Kool Kompany after being heavily supported to win the Alfred Nobel Rochestown. The winner battled on gamely with the benefit of the rail after looking like he might be swallowed up and is a toughie but I would be surprised if he is classy enough. War Envoy arrived on the scene looking likely to win well but he looked green and a big baby to me in not going through with it but doubtless that experience has toughened him up. I would usually be against horses beaten last time out in Royal Ascot two-year-olds and especially the Coventry as just one of the last 30 winners did not win on its most recent start but that was another O’Brien-trained winner in Harbour Master. The three other contenders beaten last time out are Kasb who came from a mile back to win on his debut at Newbury in a race working out well but he was then beaten at 4/9 at Pontefract on soft ground which may have been against him, c~*k Of The North, who was a ready winner of the Brocklesby but was no match for the Queen Mary fancy, Tiggy Wiggy, when second to that filly in the National Stakes, and Kodi Bear who was a ¾l second to Adaay when they both made their debut and the winner may even start favourite here after winning again since so he is entitled to take his chance.
The Hannon stable has the best record of British-based yards with recent wins for Canford Cliffs and Strong Suit who both won the same 6f maiden at Newbury won this year by the William Haggas-trained Adaay. Kool Kompany is the pick on jockey bookings with Hughes selecting him over the Nottingham winner, Dr No, but Hughes echoed my thoughts in his Racing Post column that Kool Kompany may not have the class. His experience helped him beat War Envoy at Naas 15 days ago and I would expect the third to reverse placings. With regards to Adaay, that win at Newbury which has been a good guide to the Coventry recently was followed up with a defeat of Mind Of Madness at Yarmouth. Prior to that win, Mind Of Madness was my idea of the most impressive 2yo seen in Britain up until that point and, rather than facing a rematch, his connections have opted for the less classy Windsor Castle Stakes instead. Significantly, and despite how impressive Mind Of Madness was when he won at the Craven Meeting, Adaay was very well supported being sent off at 5/6 and Haggas has won Royal Ascot 2yo races before so knows the time of day in this respect. It looks like it will be between War Envoy and Adaay who will start favourite and five of the last winners were sent off as market leader.
This hasn’t been the greatest race in which to look for an upset as since the brilliant Chief Singer won at 20/1 on his racecourse debut in 1983, only five winners have failed to start in the first five in the betting and three of those were trained by Aidan O’Brien. My guess at this stage is that the three horses who will start behind War Envoy and Adaay in the betting are The Wow Signal, Kool Kompany and Capella Sansevero. Twelve of the 16 declarations are last-time-out winners so to help narrow the parameters further, it has definitely paid to concentrate on unbeaten horses. Stats also say that we should take particular note of contenders with a profile of winning on their only start as ten of the last 21 winners had such a profile which is an excellent strike rate considering the vast majority of runners will have run more than once. Four contenders line up with such a profile this year headed by The Wow Signal for John Quinn in the colours of Shaqab Racing so Dettori rides. It was Philip Makin on board when he destroyed four other debutants by nine lengths at Musselburgh a month ago making all against the stands’ rail and since then the form has been franked by the runner-up who won by 6l at Ayr and the third who then struck at Goodwood. He didn’t just gallop them into submission either, he showed a good turn of foot to scoot clear. Capella Sansevero is Ireland’s second big hope having won all three starts for Ger Lyons, the latest of which at odds-on beating four rivals by 3¼l event in a Listed race at The Curragh on testing ground weakened by the withdrawal of The Great War who would have been a red-hot favourite. His trainer commented that he hated the ground and his gut feeling was to run in the Norfolk so perhaps they have had a change of mind as maybe they got wind of the fact The Great War would also head there? I’m only guessing but, either way, his toughness will be a positive but I suspect he may lack the class.
The other three contenders with a profile of having won their only start like 10 of the last 21 winners are Bossy Guest, Angelic Lord and Prophesize. Ahead of his debut win in what is usually the first 6f maiden of the season in Britain at the Dante Meeting, I gave Bossy Guest a very positive mention in the knowledge that Mick Channon had run very smart 2yos in that race before and he was well backed from early prices of 9/1 into 5/1. The winning margin may have only been a head but that doesn’t tell the whole story though as he was hampered at the start and then Willy Twiston-Davies had to wait a good 1½f for a gap to appear when travelling well so mark up that victory. The fact Channon even aimed him at that York race suggests that he may even be his best 2yo and we know how good his record is in 2yo races at Royal Ascot. Not so much recently as he messed about with his training regime as wanted more quality 3yos but he is reverting back to his old ways. I prefer him to Angelic Lord who got home by a nose on his only start at Ripon a fortnight ago after a slightly slow start and Prophesize who, after his victory at Redcar his trainer, Noel Quinlan, was moved to comment: “He’s as good a 2yo as I’ve had.”
The most experienced contender is the David Elsworth-trained Justice Good who, after finishing sixth behind Kasb on debut, has rattled off three wins; a dead heat at Newmarket sandwiched in between two successes at Windsor. I prefer my Coventry Stakes selection to have been more sparingly campaigned up using the argument that would he have run four times already if they thought he was that good? I would have been very interested in the Godolphin contender, Portamento, if he was qualified for the Chesham over 7f as I fancy he will would even more effective over that longer trip judged on his professional win at Goodwood having clearly learned no end after finishing fifth on debut at the Craven Meeting. Godolphin have won the Chesham before but have struggled in the other 2yo races at the meeting in the main. The field is made up by a third Irish contender in Case Statement who took a big step forward winning over 7f at Limerick after only finishing ninth on debut over 6f so I am not sure dropping back in distance is ideal for him and Jungle Cat who won at Goodwood after being slammed by The Wow Signal when they both made their debut.
CONCLUSION - I feel I have to try and take War Envoy on as the likely favourite given just one winner in the last 30 years was beaten last time out and Adaay, The Wow Signal and Bossy Guest (each-way given he is as big as 33/1) would be my three against the field.
3:45 King’s Stand Stakes
This won’t go down with Ascot Racecourse and those who embrace international competition but, as a punter, I for one am happy there are no Australian or Far East challengers this year as it is an added headache attempting to realistically judge their form compared to European form. There is an American challenger however in Ancil for whom James Doyle has been booked to ride but all I can tell you about him is that he should not be good enough if his rating of 103 is accurate as that places him 14lb adrift of the top-rated Hot Streak. It was no surprise to see an international-trained horse in Shea Shea heading the market last year and he seemingly had the race won until Sole Power nabbed him close home on the opposite side of the course. The pair cross swords again and alongside Hot Streak, they will battle it for favouritism and I am struggling to make a strong case to put one up against that trio. When successful in last season’s renewal, Sole Power became the first Irish-trained winner since the Vincent O’Brien-trained Bluebird 26 years earlier and he was brilliantly ridden by Johnny Murtagh to get up in the final strides not leaving Shea Shea any time to fight back with the re-opposing Pearl Secret just 1¼l back in third on his seasonal debut. Although both are unlikely to improve at the age of seven, the question therefore is which is the most likely to maintain that level of form? When the pair met at Meydan in the spring, it was Shea Shea that twice finished ahead of Sole Power but I do think that the South African-trained horse is sharper at that time of the year and whilst he has remained in his box since, Sole Power has since won the Palace House Stakes (where he had Hot Streak back in third) like he did last year en route to King’s Stand Stakes success. Therefore I am finding it very hard to separate the pair but what slightly makes me favour Shea Shea is that although Sole Power should be an ideal Richard Hughes ride given he needs to come late, this will be the first time that he has ridden Sole Power who also loves the ground to ride very fast so the weekend softening of the ground was not ideal for him.
However, I make Hot Streak the one to beat in a race where last-time-out winners have a good record given how outnumbered they usually are (have won 8 of the last 14 renewals) after he beat Pearl Secret by half a length (but always (holding him) in the same ownership in the Temple Stakes on soft ground that would have favoured the runner-up more with Jack Dexter, who should also have loved the soft ground, a well-beaten fifth. And don’t forget that Pearl Secret was only beaten just over a length by Sole Power and Shea Shea in last year’s King’s Stand. I wouldn’t expect Pearl Secret to ever beat Hot Streak over 5f on that evidence on quicker ground than they will face at Haydock. Yes, Hot Streak was beaten by Sole Power on his previous start by ¾l but he was giving up race fitness on that occasion and the winner got the blistering pace on fast ground he needs to give his best. The Temple Stakes has been the best British guide as five winners of that Group 2 affair since 1990 followed up here (Dayjur, Elbio, Lochsong, Bolshoi & Cassandra Go) and Equiano was second in that Haydock Group 2 affair four years ago before going on to win this prize whereas the Temple winner of two years ago, Bated Breath, only found Little Bridge too good here. Sole Power also contested the Temple Stakes last season where he finished fourth before winning the King’s Stand so, Hot Streak, who trainer Kevin Ryan stated after his victory that he was the best he has ever trained, has plenty going for him.
In addition to Hot Streak, three other three-year-olds take their chance of which the Aidan O’Brien-trained Guerre is the most intriguing on just his fourth career start especially with Ryan Moore riding rather than Joseph O’Brien, who has ridden him on all three starts which comprised a Curragh maiden and third in Listed company last season (both over 6f) and a defeat of the Abbaye winner, Maarek, on his only run this campaign in a Listed race when receiving 14lb and tackling 5f for the first time. Maarek then won the Group 2 Duke Of York under a penalty so Guerre certainly has the potential to be a contender being so lightly raced but Maarek wasn’t at his best that day by a long chalk. Justice Day and Green Door make up the three-year-old contingent but it is hard seeing them have the class.
Meydan form from the spring can be misleading when it comes to summer in Britain but Ahtoug and Medicean Man are not out of running big races if you like the chances of Shea Shea as they finished either side of him in the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint on Dubai World Cup night. Ahtoug was reversing handicap placings with Medicean Man from two starts earlier when notching up his third second-place finish on the spin and was just behind Shea Shea on his previous start so he has been most consistent in the desert and looks an improved performer for Godolphin. Medicean Man was awkwardly away on the latter occasion and I prefer him of the pair back at Ascot as he has run this Ascot sprint course well many a time, notably when fourth as a 33/1 shot in the 2012 King’s Stand when an each-way fancy for many that day. At the age of eight he looks as good as ever so I wouldn’t rule him out of another big run and I certainly see him finishing strongly to finish between third-fifth so he is worthy of place-only consideration. Of the remainder, this trip is likely be on the sharp side for Es Que Love who I would also expect to see run over 6f in the Diamond Jubilee on Saturday, Rex Imperator got stuffed when he tried a Group 1 for the only time (his only try in a Group race), Stepper Point has been unplaced in the last two renewals and is 0-14 in Group races, Steps would have won the Epsom Dash last week off top weight with a quicker start but this represents a big step up in grade and Take Cover and Caledonia Lady aren’t good enough.
CONCLUSION - on a line through last year’s third, Pearl Secret, I take Hot Streak to beat last year’s 1-2 of Sole Power and Shea Shea, as fancy there is plenty more to come from this very fast three-year-old with Medicean Man the most interesting place-only alternative.
4:25 St James’s Palace Stakes
Just seven runners is not ideal for each-way purposes for anyone looking for an on-the-day alternative to the obvious pair of Kingman and Night Of Thunder, but if you were like me taking the 11/1 each-way about War Command, you are in a good position as you still get paid out if he finishes third and he is also now trading at just over half those odds.The O’Brien yard weren’t firing when he was unplaced in the 2000 Guineas and, boy, do I like the recent record of the previous year’s Coventry Stakes winner at Royal Ascot 12 months later as five of the last six have won at this meeting a year on and Aidan O’Brien has won this race on six occasions. I fancy War Command, who added the Dewhurst to his 2yo C.V last year (3 of the last 12 Dewhurst winners also went on to win the St James’ Palace) more than Toormore to put it up to the two Guineas winners as I have never really rated the Hannon second string for whom Ryan Moore has been booked to ride feeling that he has always been a tad over-rated.
Since Dr Fong won in 1998, only one winner had failed to finish in the first four in any version of a European 2000 Guineas beforehand and only Kingman and Night Of Thunder qualify of the septet using that stat. Of the big two I prefer Kingman to Night Of Thunder. It took the best miler the world has seen in Frankel to become the first 2000 Guineas winner to double up in the St James’s Palace Stakes without another run in between since 1975 (Rock Of Gibraltar and Henrythenavigator won here after adding the Irish 2000 Guineas and Dawn Approach pulled his jockey’s arms out in the Derby) and he only just scraped home in the end, so Night Of Thunder would be in exceptional company if he can become the second 2000 Guineas winner in the same time frame to do so. At Newmarket, Night Of Thunder beat Kingman by half a length despite veering across the course so there will be many punters backing him to confirm places arguing that he would have won by further had he kept a straight line.
Kingman’s supporters will argue that he possibly attacked too early, the ground was faster than he would have enjoyed or he just wasn’t firing on all cylinders. Both have a terrific turn of foot so the shorter home straight on the Round Course should not inconvenience either but maybe it could favour Kingman more having been talked up as a potential July Cup horse after his 2000 Guineas defeat and especially as the weekend rain would have been music to John Gosden’s ears. The 2000 Guineas is marginally the key guide ahead of the Irish 2000 Guineas won by Kingman by an emphatic five lengths from the Newmarket fourth, Shifting Power, but do not go using that reason alone to favour one race over the other on stats as there is little in it. What I do think is interesting however is that an eye-catching 11 of the last 19 St James’s Palace Stakes winners contested both Classics which is a positive for Kingman.
Of the remainder, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner, Outstrip, was last in the 2000 Guineas which clearly wasn’t his running but he had been beaten by both War Command and Toormore in Group 1 2yo races last season, Prince Of All is trying his luck after winning a Listed race at Dundalk on his third and final start and Yuften took three runs to get off the mark but did so in style by 7l at Newmarket last month.
CONCLUSION - I am with Kingman to reverse Newmarket form with Night Of Thunder in the likelihood of the ground not being as fast as in the 2000 Guineas (though not when as much as when he easily beat him in the Greenham) but I also expect to see the real War Command again.
5:00 Ascot Stakes (Handicap)
Last season’s runaway winner, Well Sharp, was trained by Jonjo O’Neill who, like many winning Ascot Stakes handlers of late, is far better recognised for his exploits with a jumps licence. In fact, the last six winners were trained by stables better known for jumps racing as the five previous runnings were won by Willie Mullins, Nicky Henderson, David Pipe, Suzy Smith and Paul Webber. Primarily-jumps trainers represented this season are Nicky Henderson with Lieutenant Miller (third in this race last year off 86 but is now racing off 93 and Ryan Moore has been booked) and Suraj (11th last year off 95 for Michael Belll and now dropped to 90 and Jamie Spencer booked), Charles Byrnes who sends over Domination from his County Limerick base and fellow Irish-based trainer, Paul Nolan, who runs Sardinia.
Of the two Henderson horses, the consistent Lieutenant Miller is marginally the better fancied according to the market and he has hit the frame in the staying handicap at Glorious Goodwood and the Cesarewitch on his two Flat runs since finishing third in this race last year. Is he a victim of his own consistency though as he keeps on being raised by the Handicapper for getting beaten? I fear he might be but he has to be strongly considered in the place-only market at 2/1+. Suraj started favourite for the same York handicap in May that Well Sharp won at the Dante Meeting last year prior to winning here and he finished sixth beaten 6l. He runs off the same mark today so needs to improve but as that was probably a prep race for this, I am sure that is likely as that was also his first run for Henderson having previously been trained by Michael Bell. Of the Henderson pair, if I had to back one more likely to finish in the first four it would be Lieutenant Miller but if I had to go for the all-or-nothing win option, I would go with Suraj. Especially as Lieutenant Miller is aged eight whereas Suraj is a five-year-old and this is usually this is very much a race in which to concentrate on four and five-year-olds with 16 of the last 19 winners emerging from that age bracket including four of the five home last season.
Domination is one of four Irish raiders but at the age of seven he is older than ideal and I don’t like the fact he has been a big fancy for two handicaps went sent over to Britain for the Greatwood Hurdle and Cesarewitch and flopped badly on both occasions. A lesser-fancied Irish-trained contender is Cullentry Royal from the unfashionable Jonny Levins yard so he is likely to be underestimated and who appears to have been kept back for this race since causing a 25/1 surprise when winning over 1m6f on soft ground at Leopardstown at the end of March. He was expected to need that run so his victory can be marked up and he has only been raised 4lb. Being aged six isn’t ideal given the age stats for this race though. Aidan O’Brien runs Plinth who looked slow against the best juvenile hurdlers over 2m not helped by some dodgy jumping so I can see why he thinks this 2m4f might be right up his street. That said, he got his act together on his last two hurdles starts finishing second in the Grade 1 4yo hurdle at the Punchestown Festival and then winning at Ballinrobe and he is not without a chance of giving J P McManus back-to-back Ascot Stakes winners. Paul Nolan sends over the lightly-raced Sardinia who has run just six times on the Flat and over hurdles and finished last of 12 last time out. However, the blinkers were left off this Aidan O’Brien-trained cast-off on that occasion suggesting that he may have been prepping for another race and they are back on again today.
There used to be an angle in the Ascot Stakes to oppose horses carrying less than 9st as they had been responsible for approximately 50% of the total runners between 1996-2008 but only won on three occasions but, in the last four years, the weights have been so much more compressed that very few horses have run off below 9st and none do this time. Therefore, it is best to concentrate now on official ratings stats as eight of the last 12 winners were rated between 83-93 heading into the race which could suggest that top nine in the weights have it to do such as Sir Graham Wade (struggling since he was third in last season’s Sagaro Stakes), Villa Royale (attempting to emulate last year’s winner who also won the 2m handicap at the Dante Meeting and is up 5lb for that win), Sizzler (a dual winner at Salisbury last autumn and a fair return at Ripon), Body Language (14th in the Chester Cup and unplaced again since) and Asbaab (lightly raced having his sixth start but did not show much on his return). The market has been a fair guide, though no more than that, with 17 of the last 24 winners starting in the first five in the betting and horses who started in that bracket last year filled the first four places. The ante-post favourite is the five-year-old, Perfect Heart, who is rated 92 and chasing a hat-trick for Roger Varian having followed up his back-end win at Doncaster with a comfortable win at Haydock on his return, both on soft ground. The weekend rain has helped his chance but has it rained enough for him and does around 5/1 represent decent value? Ballinderry Boy races off 94 (but effectively reduced to 91 after Oisin Murphy’s valuable 3lb cliam) and is currently second-favourite for the Andrew Balding yard. He didn’t show a lot on his return but that was over 1m4f on good-to-firm ground so it smacked of a prep race for this having finished last season with two wins and two seconds over 2m. He also handles soft ground well so more cut would have been ideal for him. Beaten half a length by Sohar on one of those occasions, he also has something to find with James Toller’s six-year-old mare who meets him on 7lb better terms.
The John Quinn-trained Agreement is the most intriguing of the bottom seven in the weights on just his fourth Flat start and his eighth career run having been highly tried in juvenile hurdles. Trained by Aidan O’Brien until he was sent hurdling, he won a five-runner maiden at the Galway Festival on soft ground on the last of his three Flat starts and he is the unknown quantity of the race. Brockwell has squeezed in off bottom weight but the Chester Cup eighth was a little disappointing on his next start and Gabrial’s King finished one place behind him on the Roodeye and has been beaten twice since whereas Waterclock was even further back in the Chester Cup finishing 15th on his only start of the season. Another Cocktail needs to find plenty for this big step up in trip (never run beyond 1m4f) and Ray Ward has not run a good race since he was fifth in the Queen’s Vase at this meeting last year.
CONCLUSION - I respect Perfect Heart and Agreement but I fancy both the Henderson horses to run well and Suraj is my idea of the most likely winner to give jumps-based stables a seventh successive win in this race in the belief that his York effort last month on his first run for the yard was a fact-finding mission for this race. He looks worthy of an each-way bet with his stablemate, Lieutenant Miller, of more interest in the place-only market.
5:35 Windsor Castle Stakes
Upgraded from a conditions event to a Listed Race ten seasons ago, the Windsor Castle Stakes remains the weakest two-year-old race of Royal Ascot from a quality perspective despite its elevation which contributes to why it is very weak on trends. Five of the last eight winners started at 100/1, 33/1, 20/1, 16/1 and 14/1 so it has also been the hardest two-year-old race of the meeting to solve and the tide has turned in a big way as far as the market being a guide is concerned as the previous 21 winners up until 2006 had started in the first six in the betting. Eighteen of the 25 contenders are previous winners and heading the market is Mind Of Madness for the David Brown stable whose Frederick Enghels justified favouritism in 2011. Boring but I do think he is the most likely winner as no early-season two-year-old impressed me more than when he won at the Craven Meeting and it could be that he just bumped into a very good one in the well-backed Adaay at Yarmouth on his next start, If Adaay wins or goes very close in the Coventry, then expect Mind Of Madness to be even more popular so if you like him, I suggest getting on before the Coventry Stakes has been run. Other horses priced up to 10/1 are Merdon Castle, Hootenanny, Mubtaghaa, Haxby and Among Angels.
Merdon Castle is one of a number of David Elsworth-trained juveniles to have caught the eye this season and Ryan Moore has been booked for this runner-up to the subsequent Listed race winner and Coventry Stakes fancy, Kool Kompany, at Windsor. Hootenanny represents Wesley Ward who sent over a 33/1 chance from America to win this race in 2009 and any 2yo he sends over to this meeting has to warrant respect. An easy winner on his debut, he was beaten at odds-on on his next start. He is drawn 25 of 25 and the stalls are central so it will be interesting to see if Victor Espinoza makes a bee-line for the rail. Mubtaghaa outclassed a moderate field at Nottingham after gaining track experience when narrowly beaten here on his debut and Haxby won at Doncaster in between finding two Coventry runners in Kool Kompany and Justice Good a length too good either side of that run. The Richard Hannon-trained Among Angels was fourth to Adaay on debut in a race his father won with two recent Coventry winners (though he was the stable second string) before easily winning at odds-on at Windsor. Very surprisingly, however, given their record with two-year-olds, this is a race that eluded Richard Hannon Snr during his long, distinguished career so his son will be hoping to improve on placed efforts for the yard in the last two years. Hannon also runs Flyball who was third in the Brocklesby and has not run since a disappointing sixth behind Mind Of Madness and the £320,000 purchase, Fuwairt, who won a poor maiden at Chepstow by a neck on his second start in the Al Shaqab colours on testing ground.
The Irish don’t attack this race with great force (no winner since 1980) but they have filled the runner-up berth twice in the last six years and their sole representative is the Paddy Prendergast-trained Bwana who was second to the classy Beach Belle on debut and then beat a subsequent Listed winner (Sors) at Cork before finding The Great War 3l too good and then finishing sixth behind Kool Kompany in a Listed race at Naas over. This drop back to 5f can help him and he could be a little overlooked. Fillies had a belting record in the mid-late 1990s winning all five runnings between 1996 and 2000 but they have been poorly represented of late and it’s been the colts all the way since the turn of the century. Three take their chance headed by the very speedy Sarista who took too keen a hold when sixth in what looked a good running of the Marygate Stakes after beating a subsequent Newmarket winner on her previous start despite wandering around in front. She is trained by David Barron who also runs Midterm Break who after finishing second to the subsequent National Stakes third, Roudee (wears a first time hood today), on his debut has then won at Southwell and Beverley. Maidens can win this race and Commander Patten appeals as the best of those. Second to Realtra (almost beat Sarista on previous start) on debut, he then ran a potentially smart horse in Peacock close at Newmarket. Four Seasons is the Godolphin representative and this son of a Cherry Hinton winner improved dramatically from his debut effort to win next time which is not unusual for 2yos trained by Charlie Appleby.
CONCLUSION - too competitive to have a strong opinion for this race which often throws up a shock winner but I do agree with the market and rate Mind Of Madness as the one to beat. Others I have time for are Hootenanny purely on Wesley Ward’s record with 2yos at Royal Ascot and, of those at bigger prices for potential each-way value, Bwana as the sole Irish hope and Sarista as best of the fillies if they can hold onto her a little longer rather than all-out blazing.