2:30 Chesham Stakes
Berkshire’s 16/1 victory last season aside, overall this has been a cracking race for punters as 22 of the last 25 winners could be found in the first four in the betting, positions currently held by Dick Whittington, Crown The Kitten, Toscanini and Cordero. Ten of those winners started favourite (including joint-favourites) so we will start with Dick Whittington who should start clear market leader for Aidan O’Brien who is the most experienced two-year-old in the line up having finished second in two maidens before winning at odds-on by 4½l at Navan last week where he quickened clear in a manner suggesting that he will love this fast surface. He was beaten at odds of 2/7 when tried in a hood on heavy ground on his second start after he ran the Coventry Stakes second, Capella Sanservero, to a head on debut whereas the winner had the benefit of a win already to his name so that is his best piece of form but that headgear was dispensed with for his victory as it is here. Toscanini is the other Irish raider hailing from the Michael Halford stable and he was 1¾l behind Dick Whittington when they both made their debut before splitting the Coventry Stakes also-rans, Kool Kompany and War Envoy, in a Listed race so that form is probably not as good as it looked at the time. Seven furlongs in mid-June is a test of stamina for two-year-olds so no surprise whatsoever that stamina-laden sires take over particularly when we consider that this race is restricted to progeny of stallions that had won over a minimum of 9½f. Of the last 19 winners eight were by offspring of stallions whose Sire Index was over10f including and seven of the other nine winners Sire Index’s were comfortably over 9f which is the concern for Toscanini as his sire, Shamardal, has a SI of 8.1f.
What is quite significant about recent Chesham Stakes winners is that they have been lightly-raced in comparison to other two-year-old winners at Royal Ascot. Ten of the last 16 winners had won their sole start whereas Berkshire was beaten on his only previous start last year and the 1996 winner, Shamikh, was having his racecourse debut. The Wesley Ward-trained Crown The Kitten therefore has a similar profile to last year’s winner as he was second on his only run to date behind his stablemate, Sunset Glow, who ran in the Albany Stakes on Friday and his other runner, Cordero, will be trying to emulate Shamikh by making a winning debut. Espinoza rides Crown The Kitten with Moore on Cordero so the colt with racing experience looks the more favoured by their trainer. Both wear a tongue-tie and blinkers. Franklin D (Michael Bell) and Nafaqa (Barry Hills) are also debutants.
In addition to supplying three placed horses in the last two years and the second-place finisher in 2010, three fillies have won in the last 13 years (Seba, Whazzat and Maybe) so we have to take the Mick Channon-trained pair of Loretta Martin and Juventas seriously especially considering given that fillies are considerably outnumbered and also have the option of the Albany Stakes over a stiff 6f yet their connections still elect to run here. Both won last time out but Juventas looks the pick on jockey bookings after winning at Newmarket last month having finished fourth on debut. Loretta Martin made a successful debut at Brighton 52 days ago by a neck under Charles Bishop who can’t claim his 3lb allowance today.
John Gosden has supplied two winners and a runner-up and he runs Richard Pankhurst who was fourth on his sole start in what looked a good maiden at Newmarket for which he was sent off favourite and they have declared him with a hood this time so clearly felt he was doing a bit too much on his initial racing experience and this aid can help pacify him. Justice Well won the second division of that Newmarket maiden in a slower time by as much as two seconds but I liked the way he chased down a Hannon horse who shot clear 2f out and looked home and hosed, as he stayed on very well over 6f when hitting the rising ground in the final furlong giving every indication that this extra furlong would suit him even more. Jaganory is the other last-time-out winner having won a median auction race at Salisbury making most after finishing second at Chepstow on debut. The field is completed by Caprior Bere who was sent off favourite on his debut at Redcar and finished second of 15, Groor, who could only finish seventh on both starts, Marmalad, who improved on his debut fourth to finish second at Ripon albeit beaten 5l and Via Via who made a winning debut at Ripon but was beaten 10l into fifth by the Queen Mary runner-up, Tiggy Wiggy, in the National Stakes.
CONCLUSION - Dick Whittington looks like he will be ideally suited to this ground and has the form and experience in the book so is the one to beat but I like the each-way chances at a double figure price of Justice Well who did well to chase down the leader on his sole start at Newmarket in a manner that suggested he would relish this longer trip.
3:05 Duke Of Edinburgh Handicap
Up until 2006 the Duke Of Edinburgh Stakes had been a punter’s handicap with 14 consecutive winners going the way of a contender from the front six in the betting but it has got tricky lately as four of the last eight winners have started at 12/1+. However, the first five in the betting filled the first five places last year and especially note those hunting up the market leader, notably the second, third and fourth favourites that have won 12 of the last 20 runnings.
Last-time-out winners hold the call having been responsible for nine of the last 19 winners which is an excellent return given they supply, on average, around 25% of the total runners but they are represented by just Arab Spring, Groundbreaking and Wadi Al Hattawi this year. Arab Spring has top weight following three wins in as many starts this season culminating with a victory at the Dante Meeting on his first attempt at today’s trip of 1m4f. Unraced at two and just once raced at three, he looks an obvious contender to keep on improving in typical Sir Michael Stoute fashion having been given all the time he needs. Stoute has saddled a very impressive five winners and three seconds from his last 15 runners in this handicap. Groundbreaking also only has four starts to his name and is the second top-weight for Charlie Appleby after bolting up by 7l at Newmarket over 1m2f. The Handicapper raised him 14lb for that win so he will need to improve again for this first step up to 1m4f. Wadi Al Hattawi represents the other wing of the Godolphin operation and Saeed Bin Suroor had a winner on Thursday. He has gone up 11lb for winning at York last time out over today’s trip and looks open to less improvement at Groundbreaking so I prefer the Appleby-trained contender of the Godolphin pair.
Just two horses older than five have been successful in the last quarter of a century so One Pursuit and Cashpoint look up against it and it is the four-year-olds that hold the edge over five-year-olds in terms of winners (and they supplied six of the first seven home last year) but they have a very similar strike rate as they outnumber their rivals so there is no real edge picking between the pair.
Fox Hunt gave Mark Johnston his third Duke Of Edinburgh winner three years ago following on from previous triumphs in 2001 and 2009 (saddled the 1-2) and he runs Salutation who has been in and out this season running two good races and two poor races. Elidor won the 3yo handicap over this trip at last year’s meeting for Mick Channon so we know that a big field handicap over this course and distance suits him well and he returned this season with a win at Thirsk before finishing a good third in a Listed race here. Dashing Star and Hamelin are others to consider having both shaped with promise on their only start this season, Dashing Star at Newmarket when beaten just over a length for David Elsworth and Hamelin when second here last month when attempting to complete a hat-trick for Lady Cecil after two back-end wins last season. Border Legend has run two decent thirds this season and appeals most of those towards the bottom end of the weights for Roger Charlton.
CONCLUSION - I hope that class can out here as despite carrying top and second-top weight, the pair I like most of Arab Spring to give Stoute a sixth win in this race in the last 16 years and Groundbreaking.
3:45 Hardwicke Stakes
On official figures just 5lb separates all ten runners so this is a wide-open renewal which it hasn’t always been with odds-on winners. Thomas Chippendale ended the run of successful favourites between 2010-2012 when winning a below-par renewal last season beating Dandino before sadly collapsing after the finishing line but the runner-up returns to attempt to go one place better at the age of seven. At the age of six in 1985, Jupiter Island is the only winner over the age of five since 1905 so that age statistic is certainly against this fast-ground loving globetrotter as it for another globetrotter in Joshua Tree (7) who is on the downgrade and last of seven in the Coronation Cup two weeks ago (a race that has featured seven of the last 16 winners) and the two-time Royal Ascot winner, Forgotten Voice (9), who has also been on his travels running twice in Australia last autumn and returned with a second to Mount Athos at Newbury. Dandino is the pick of the ‘oldies’ even if this is his first run for 228 days.
Four-year-olds have won the last six runnings and are represented by Eye Of The Storm, Pether’s Moon and the Sir Michael Stoute-trained pair of Telescope and Hillstar. Eye Of The Storm bids to give Aidan O’Brien a third winner in seven years and reverts back to 1m4f for the first time in four starts. He probably needed the run when fourth to the brave Gold Cup third, Missunited, on his seasonal debut over 1m6f when tried in a hood for the first time having been running over 2m for his previous two runs but they have ditched the headgear today. Whether he has the basic pace on fast ground is the chief concern. Pether’s Moon has found one too good on both starts this season and is a progressive individual who Richard Hughes keeps talking up and he is no bad judge. His half-length second to Gatewood in a Listed race last time out over course and distance when he gave 3lb needs to be improved upon if he is to win but that run came only a week after he was second to Gospel Choir (then won the Yorkshire Cup) in a Group 2 so he may not have been at his best. I fancy he will hit the frame at worst. Sir Michael Stoute has won this race on seven occasions and the booking of Ryan Moore for Telescope suggests that Hillstar has indeed been as disappointing as he has looked this season for him to get off last season’s King Edward VII Stakes winner and King George third to ride a horse who has flattered to deceive more often than not. However, the way that Telescope won the Great Voltigeur on fast ground was taking whereas both his defeats this season have been on soft ground and he would have needed his comeback and then ran into a subsequent Group 1 winner in Noble Mission in the Ormonde Stakes who has been in outstanding form on his last three starts so excuses can be argued.
Group 2 or Group 3 winners yet to win at the highest level have been responsible for 17 of the last 19 winners which is against Ektihaam whose biggest win has been in a Listed race which was at Ascot by 6l when he beat last year’s winner, Thomas Chippendale. Off the back of that victory he started favourite for this race last year but slipped up at half-way and has run just twice since when well beaten in the King George and Ormonde Sakes. He is tried in a hood for the first time today.
Camborne and Sharestan are six-year-olds so would joining Jupiter Island as the only winner of that age for over a century if successful. Eight of the last 12 winners had won a Group race earlier in the season and the only qualifier this season is Sharestan who won a poor renewal of the Brigadier Gerard Stakes by a nose from the unlucky Sheikhzayedroad which cut up to just three runners on soft ground. I was hoping that Jim Bolger’s Trading Leather might be the Godolphin representative here but this six-year-old will attempt to give Saeed Bin Suroor a third Hardwicke winner but, given that four of Sharestan’s last five wins were achieved with cut in the ground, I have my doubts that conditions will suit. He has also got to prove he stays 1m4f (only tried it once when 9th of 11 in a Group 1) and only two winners in the last 18 years were recording their first success over at least 1m4f. All his rivals today are previous 1m4f winners. Camborne completes the field but he has been a little disappointing in two starts this season though he was given too much to do in the Yorkshire Cup and 2m on soft ground wasn’t for him in the Henry II. He has won at this meeting before however and is the quirky type who could pop up somewhere at a nice price.
CONCLUSION - taking the view that Pether’s Moon had not fully recovered from a good second in a Group 2 just seven days before he was beaten attempting to give weight away in a Listed race, I think he will be much more on his game here after a break and he appeals in the each-way market but I fancy Telescope is the one to beat now he has a fast surface for the first time since his Great Voltigeur win and I certainly wouldn’t rule out Camborne leaving his efforts this season behind.
4:25 Diamond Jubilee Stakes
Not the strongest renewal with no international contenders from outside of Europe so if you followed me in on Slade Power when he was 8/1 you are also in a fine position given that he now heads the market at a top price of 7/2 favourite, especially with his relatively small stable in blinding form having already won the King’s Stand and Queen Mary this week. Starspangledbanner put an end to the 13-year losing run of the market leader when winning as 13/2 joint-favourite in 2010 and Black Caviar only just scraped home at odds of 1/6 two years ago so this has been a race to chance some fancy-priced horses lately as eight of the last 14 winners started at a double-figure price making this by far the hardest of the Group 1 race at the Royal Meeting. Quite why this should be the case is surprising because Group and Listed race winners with a victory earlier in the season have won 12 of the last 19 renewals. Slade Power made a successful return when beating the Abbaye and Duke Of York winner, Maarek, in the Group 3 Greenlands Stakes and now looks ready to develop into the sprinter that Edward Lynam always thought he would. The impression given by connections was that, in time, they felt Slade Power would be even better than Sole Power so hopefully this is the day he wins the first of many Group 1s.
Previous Royal Ascot form has been an excellent pointer as ten of the last 18 winners had been placed at worst at this meeting before. That is good news for supporters of Aljamaaheer who has placed in the Jersey and Queen Anne for the last two years and is now dropped to sprinting. He was an eye-catching second in the Abernant over 6f on his sole run this season where he should have won but had too much to do. I felt that was Hanagan overdoing it but they may have felt that he just needs sharpening up mentally reverting to sprinting as he is fitted with first-time blinkers today. Even if he was to have narrowly beaten Hamza on that occasion, that is not Group 1 winning form so he needs to improve a good chunk on that run. The best Ascot form outside of the Royal Meeting is that put up by Slade Power when he beat Jack Dexter in the British Champions Day Sprint so we know he also likes the course. As I mentioned in Tuesday’s copy, Medicean Man likes Ascot and I argued an each-way case for him in the King’s Stand for the second time in three years, so it was galling for the second time in three years to see him finish fourth at odds of 33/1 each time. Now that the two Group 1 sprints at the meeting take place on the first and final day, more sprinters take in both races and four of the last 11 Diamond Jubilee Stakes winners ran in the King’s Stand Stakes on Tuesday. Kingsgate Native was only tenth on Tuesday before popping up here at 33/1 five years ago, Les Arcs also ran down the field in the 2006 King’s Stand Stakes before also winning here at 33/1, Cape Of Good Hope finished fourth in the 5f race before going three places better over this extra furlong in 2005 and Choisir completed in the double in 2003. In addition, two of the last five runners-up (Cannonball and Monsieur Chevalier) also ran in the King’s Stand Stakes earlier in the week so I can argue an each-way case again for Jeremy Gask’s evergreen eight-year-old in a weaker renewal than normal. Es Que Love (9th on Tuesday) is also back again and this 6f trip should be more in his favour.
Outside of previous Royal Ascot form, the Duke Of York Clipper Logistics Stakes won by Maarek under a Group 1 penalty from Astaire and Es Que Love (the first four finished 7l clear of the remainder) has been the best guide. Since 1992, nine Diamond Jubilee Stakes winners ran in that Group 2 event on the Knavesmire over the same trip with six finishing first or second before striking here. In fact, last season’s 1-2 Diamond Jubilee 1-2 also filled the first two places in the Duke Of York, though this time Lethal Force exacted his revenge on Society Rock. Maarek does not run but he has since been beaten by Slade Power in the Weatherbys Ireland Greenlands Stakes though whether he was at his best is debatable as it came soon enough after York but Slade Power travelled all over him. Astaire can go well.
It is interesting that Sir Henry Cecil believed that 6fat Ascot races more like 6.5fso maybe there is something in the fact that only Kingsgate Native had not previously won over 6fprior to his Diamond Jubilee victory since 1990. There can a huge difference between five and six furlongs at top level for many horses, as both trips have their specialists and the majority of horses more at home over the minimum trip tend to get caught out over an extra 220 yardsat Group 1 standard. The only non-6f winners in the line up are Montiridge and Tawhid but they are dropping down in distance rather than moving up. Montiridge has been plain disappointing on his last two starts but Tawhid went down as a horse to follow after his seventh place on his seasonal debut where he looked like he might win a Group 3 until he patently blew up through lack of fitness in my eyes. Whether he is up to a 6f Group1 I don’t know as I highlighted him more for a 7f Group 3 but I wouldn’t be at all shocked if he outran his odds.
In addition to the favourite, Ireland are represented by the Aidan O’Brien-trained pair of Darwin and Due Diligence and Tom Hogan sends over the admirable Gordon Lord Byron who was drawn away from the pace when he was fourth in a better running of this race last season and has since won the Haydock Park Sprint where he beat Slade Power by 3l into second, finished second to the brilliant Moonlight Cloud on Arc Day and even beat the Aussie sprinters in a Group 1 in their own backyard. However, he finished only sixth and seventh in Australia and Sha Tin since that win in March and I just wonder if his round-the-world schedule is taking the edge off him. He has had a seven-week break since then so if he is back to his best, he is the big danger to the improving Slade Power. Joseph O’Brien rides Darwin leaving Ryan Moore to ride Due Diligence. Darwin beat Gordon Lord Byron over 7f last season after coming over from America with a big reputation but he was then beaten in a Group 3 at 4/7 over a mile and was a tailed-off last of six behind Slade Power on his return so has plenty to prove. Due Diligence is a progressive three-year-old so still somewhat of an unknown quantity but this is a big step up from winning a handicap and Listed race and O’Brien, who rode him on his last three starts, is on Darwin instead.
Music Master, Tropics and Hawkeyethenoo shouldn’t be good enough but the French raider, American Devil, is 2-2 for this season, both over 7f, and was only 1½l behind Gordon Lord Byron on Arc Day over 7f so he has each-way claims if he can translate that form to 6f.
CONCLUSION - the value has gone from Slade Power now but he looks correctly priced as favourite and the most likely winner. Lord Gordon Byron worries me most as I am not convinced Aljamaaheer is a winner. Tawhid and Medicean Man strike me as the most sporting each-way alternatives.
5:00 Wokingham Handicap
On the age front, stick to four and five-year-olds that have won 13 of the last 15 runnings. A three-year-old has not won since Bel Byou triumphed in 1987 though, in fairness, they only average a couple of runners per renewal, if that, and with Sayyeer a doubtful runner, they look set to be unrepresented. Looking at the older horses, although many sprinters improve as they get older, only Selhurstparkflyer in 1997 has struck for horses aged over six since the race’s inception in 1896 so the elder brigade of Hoof It, Jimmy Styles, Nocturnal Affair, Dandy Boy, Racy, Dungannon, Secret Asset and Zero Money are not for me.
With ten of the last 17 winners carrying 9st 2lb or over, humping a biggish weight should not be seen as a negative, indeed, Baltic King won with 9st 10lb on his back in 2006 and the top weight five years ago only found one too good beaten less than a length. Six of the last seven winners were officially rated between 95-100 and that is my preferred angle of the two. The bottom weight this year is rated 97 so the ten qualifiers on this score are the bottom ten in the weights which is reduced to Boomerang Bob, Absolutely So, Dungannon, Seeking Magic, Don’t Bother Me, Barracuda Boy and Fast Shot once the red pen treatment has been applied to those aged 7+.
In the last 26 years only six winners were drawn in the middle segment in stalls 10-19, however, Deacon Blues and Dandy Boy both overcame that factor to win two of the last three renewals. Horses drawn in the middle segment this year are Hoof It, York Glory (last year’s winner who looks to have been trained for a repeat off but is off a 9lb higher mark), Rivellino, Arnold Lane, Sirius Prospect, Dungannon, Ninjago, Professor, Zero Money and Boomerang Bob and Ninjago so am a little disappointed with his draw and will be hoping that Hughes can weave his magic and follow the right horses on this hold-up performer with a smart turn of foot who shaped with promise when third at the Guineas Meeting on his seasonal debut, a race that has featured three of the last 13 winners and he had also won impressively at Ascot last spring. He has been trained with this race in mind as I suspect has his stablemate, Annunciation, being a four-year-old with winning course-and-distance form to boot and has been knocking on the door of late with second-place finishes on his last two starts.
In-form horses have very much held sway with 15 of the last 17 winners finishing in the first four last time (and one of those that didn’t was Laddies Poker Two who was coming off a 610-day absence) and it has also proven wise to look to lightly-raced types as far as the current season is concerned with nine of the last 13 winners running no more than twice.
CONCLUSION - I still like the each-way chances of Ninjago despite a middle draw but I also quite like his stablemate, Annunciation, from a low draw and Dont Bother Me from a high draw so all angles are covered.
5:35 Queen Alexandra Stakes
Class usually tells in the longest racing in the British Racing Calendar. Given its extreme distance for a Flat race of 2m5½f, very few runners truly stay the Queen Alexandra Stakes so it is generally uncompetitive and therefore offers the punter a real chance of finishing the meeting on a high so fancied horses usually come to the fore and 19 of the last 23 winners started at no bigger than 8/1 so I won’t be looking beyond the obvious. Two of the first three in the betting fought out last season’s race continuing the strong performance of the leading fancies as the favourite won the previous year, the first two in the market filled the first two positions in 2011 and, prior to 2010, the previous three runnings witnessed the first four home start in the first five in the betting, the favourite beat the third-favourite and the 1-2-3 in the betting occupying all three place positions so there is usually a lot of dead wood in this race.
Four of the last 12 winners had run in the Chester Cup so respect that valuable handicap as a guide in which Mubaraza started favourite and finished fourth. He was also fourth in the Ascot Stakes last year when Tiger Cliff was second when given too much to do and a quality piece of form on the course beforehand is a factor so do bear in mind that 12 of the last 21 winners had finished in the top half-dozen in any of the three big staying races at the meeting before (Gold Cup, Ascot Stakes and Queen Alexandra Stakes).
As this is a Class 2 affair, it is not the classiest event at the Royal Meeting but what has been noticeable of late is that winners had been regularly contesting higher-quality races, in fact, 12 of the last 19 winners had been contesting Group and Listed races at some point in their career. Top rated to the tune of 4lb is last year’s Ebor winner and 112-rated, Tiger Cliff, who was a good third in the Yorkshire Cup two starts back but didn’t appreciate the soft ground when fifth in the Group 3 Henry II Stakes at Sandown where the second top-rated today, Whiplash Willie, finished two places ahead of him for last season’s winning stable of this Royal Ascot finale. The Aidan O’Brien-trained El Salvador is third top-rated 7lb below Tiger Cliff and ran in last season’s Gold Cup where he was outclassed and he was a very disappointing last of nine in that Sandown Group 3. He does look one for extreme trips though and this marathon on fast ground could be what he needs. The other two 100+ rated performers are Brass Ring (103) who wears a hood for the first time having finished fifth in a Group 2 and Listed race this season showing some signs of temperament and Statutory (100) whose best run was second in a Listed event in September and he has not shown that much this season.
Willie Mullins’ Simenon bolted up in this race two years ago when better known as a hurdler under Ryan Moore and he runs the fast-ground loving Pique Sous and has booked Moore again and he too is better known for his hurdling exploits and was sixth in Champagne Fever’s red hot Supreme Novices’ Hurdle 15 months ago. He is respected as is Nicky Henderson’s Royal Irish Hussar who is also better known for hurdling having started second favourite for the Triumph Hurdle three months ago but only finished sixth. He disappointed at Punchestown next time but won on the Flat for Aidan O’Brien last season. The last five winners had all contested races during the previous jumps season, the last three having been novice hurdling.
CONCLUSION - I’ll take class to come through and fancy the Yorkshire Cup third this season, Tiger Cliff, to reverse Sandown form from last month with Whiplash Willie on this faster ground.