2.30 Ascot – Queen Anne Stakes (Group 1)
The first of thirty races at perhaps the most famous racing festival in the world is the Queen Anne Stakes and we have a truly global feel to the race with raiders from Ireland, France and Hong Kong all taking part.
The last named are represented by Able Friend, who comes here on the back of six consecutive wins including four at Group 1 level. All of those successes have come at his local Sha Tin and it is great to see him sent over here to take on the best of our milers in Europe. The form is difficult to translate to over here but on official figures, he looks one of the best horses in training anywhere at the moment. Having said that, the test he faces here will be quite different to what he has faced in the past and the travelling he has done is clearly a slight concern.
In terms of the market, the favourite looks likely to be Freddie Head’s SOLOW who was mightily impressive when winning at Meydan in March and soon followed that up with a second Group 1 success at Longchamp last time. Both over those victories came over at least nine furlongs which means that the drop back in trip is a slight concern but he travels strongly in his races, so I wouldn’t be overly concerned. His trainer is already on record as saying he is one of the better horses he has trained and based on his form of late, he looks the one they all have to beat.
However, if 6/4 is on the short side for you, one at a bigger price who could be worth siding with is Richard Hannon’s Toormore. Having been Champion 2yo in Europe, he rather lost his way in the early part of last year but looked right back to his best when third over course and distance in the QEII on Champions Day in October. He was beaten only a neck by his stablemate Night Of Thunder in the Lockinge on his return to action and is reported to have improved a lot physically for that run. He is currently available at around the 10/1 mark and could offer some each-way value in the race.
3.05 Ascot – Coventry Stakes (Group 2)
The Coventry Stakes has consistently thrown up top class performers over the years and with so many unexposed horses in this year’s line-up there is every chance that we will see a potential star unearthed once again.
Aidan O’Brien has won this race a record seven times and is represented this year by Air Force Blue who got off the mark at the first attempt at the Curragh in May. The $490,000 yearling was very professional on debut and having led early on, held on in the closing stages to deny a subsequent winner. It is significant that his trainer is just sending this colt over and whilst it is hard to compare the form of his rivals, his connections are respected and he looks likely to be in the shake-up.
The current market leader is Jim Bolger’s Round Two who made it two from two when winning the Listed Marble Hill Stakes at the Curragh last time. He was dropped back to five furlongs that day which didn’t seem to bother him although having won over six on debut, this should be fine. His trainer won this with the high-class Dawn Approach in 2012 and he has spoken glowingly about this colt already, in particular about his uncomplicated nature and excellent temperament. He deserves massive respect given his connections and on his form to date but I think 9/4 is short enough in a race of this nature.
At a bigger price, Richard Hannon’s Age Of Empire could be interesting having stepped forward significantly from his debut run when winning impressively at York a couple of weeks ago. He travelled smoothly throughout and stretched clear under hands and heels to win by two and three-quarter lengths at the line. The runner-up has since come out and won impressively at Salisbury so the form is starting to look good. The Hannon operation has long been associated with two-year-old winners and it has won this race with some smart performers in the past. The way in which he travels suggests he should be fine stepping up in company and 16/1 looks on the big side.
There are a host of other runners who deserve their place in the line-up including Woodcote Stakes winner Buratino, Simon Crisford’s First Selection who is two from two and the American raider Finnegan.
However, the one I am going to side with is William Haggas’ WAR DEPARTMENT who really caught my eye when overcoming greenness to win on debut at Leicester. He was slowly away from the stalls but was soon travelling strongly and he stretched clear in the final part of the race to win by four and a half lengths at the line. The colt was a 160,000 guineas purchase at the breeze-up sales and his trainer thinks plenty of him. It looks a wide-open race but his trainer isn’t usually one to tilt at windmills and he looks likely to be in the shake-up at the business end of the race.
3.40 Ascot – King´s Stand Stakes (Group 1)
History tells us that this race has proved popular with raiders from overseas in the past with six of the last ten winners having been trained outside of Britain and Ireland. This year there are a couple of horses travelling over from far afield with Robert Smerdon’s Shamal Wind perhaps the most interesting.
The five-year-old mare has really stepped up her form this season, winning on her return to action in January before landing a first Group 1 success in the Oakleigh Plate at Caulfield the following month. Her trainer was keen to get a local jockey to ride her in this engagement and he has been able to secure the services of Ryan Moore for the race. Obviously it is difficult to weigh her form against her European rivals but on the whole, the Australian sprinters of the past tend to be better than our sprinters. She is reported to have travelled over well and she looks to have strong each-way claims at around the 8/1 mark.
We couldn’t go through this race without mentioning the winner of the last two renewals Sole Power who has consistently proved one of our best sprinters over the last five or six years. There were concerns that he was maybe past his best earlier in the year but he soon dismissed that idea with success in the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint in Meydan. I don’t think there is much to take from his last run in Ireland although time has told us that five furlongs on fast ground are his optimum conditions and he didn’t get them there. This race tends to set up nicely for him as they are likely to go a strong early pace and it would take a brave man to rule him out of contention.
However, there seems to be something of a changing of the guard taking place in the Sprint division and one of the less exposed members of the field who could be take centre stage is Michael Dods’ MECCA’S ANGEL. She improved no end last year winning four of her five starts including in Group 3 company. She made her return to action at Longchamp in May and beat several of today’s rivals including Hot Streak and Pearl Secret in the process. The slight concern I would have is the ground as her trainer has stated previously that fast ground would not be in her favour. However, she is certainly a filly on the up and as long as the ground is safe she will be able to go close for connections. She tends to sit prominently in her races before quickening off the front and it looks as though it will take a good one to peg her back.
4.20 Ascot – St James´s Palace Stakes (Group 1)
The renewals of the 2000 Guineas in England, Ireland and France all look the most likely to throw up the winner of this race, in which GLENEAGLES will no doubt be sent off a short-priced favourite.
Whilst his win in Ireland lacked the quality of the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket, he had to overcome some trouble in running and despite only getting up in the closing stages of the race, it was still a very good performance. He is clearly a top-class performer having been first past the post on all of his eight runs apart from his debut. His trainer Aidan O’Brien has won this race six times in the past and he looks likely to find himself back in the Winner’s Enclosure tomorrow afternoon. However, 8/13 doesn’t look very appealing and it may be best to sit out this particular contest.
In terms of what might chase him home, the French Guineas winner Make Believe is clearly improving having had only four starts to date and he could be the one to dictate the early fractions in this six runner contest. A false pace would definitely play into his hands although he has a bit to find with Gleneagles. Of the British challenge, Sir Michael Stoute’s Consort looks the one open to most improvement having overcome inexperience to win at Sandown last time. He takes another big step up in grade here and whilst he should improve, this assignment may have come a little too early in his development.
5.00 Ascot – Ascot Stakes (Handicap)
Ryan Moore and Willie Mullins teamed up to win this race in 2012 with Simenon and they join alliances once again with Clondaw Warrior this year. He has won three of his last five starts on the flat including the Irish November Handicap last October. Over the winter he has run well in several of the top handicap hurdles including placed efforts in the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham and in handicaps at both the Fairyhouse and Punchestown Festivals. He races here off just 3lb higher than when winning at Leopardstown in October and he looks likely to go close for his all-conquering connections.
Hughie Morrison is a man who tends to do well with stayers and he saddles the lighty-raced Fun Mac here who made a mockery of his handicap mark when winning the City Bowl at Salisbury by eleven lengths in May. The handicapper has taken no chances and put him up 15lb for that effort but he is still lightly-raced and that may not be enough to stop him.
However, I think this race could centre around the runners of Nicky Henderson who saddles no less than three runners with particular preference for two of them. Hurricane Higgins looks up against it on the face of it shouldering top weight but it is worth noting that two of the last three winners carried 9st 10lb to victory. He won on the all-weather in February following a lay-off of over two years and whilst he couldn’t follow up on finals day, he did get off the mark over hurdles at the first attempt last time. His stamina shouldn’t be an issue having won over 2m5f at Goodwood in the past and he looks a solid benchmark.
I slightly prefer the claims of his stablemate BROXBOURNE who was mightily progressive when trained by Mark Johnston in 2013, winning valuable handicaps at Ascot, Goodwood and York. She has since been sent hurdling for her new connections for which she has won twice and she was also hit the frame on two occasions in Listed company over obstacles. She races off 1lb higher than when winning at York in August 2013 and there is reason to believe she has improved since then. The yard won this with another mare Veiled in 2011 and the 16/1 on offer about Broxbourne looks a price worth taking advantage of.
5.35 – Windsor Castle Stakes (Listed Race)
American trainer Wesley Ward is always keen to bring runners to Royal Ascot and having won this race twice in the past with Strike The Tiger and Hootenanny, he saddles Ruby Notion in this year’s contest. The filly quickened clear impressively when winning over four and a half furlongs at Churchill Downs and this race will be quite different to what she has encountered previously. With twenty-seven runners, the draw could play a part and when the ground is quick high numbers (stands side) have tended to do well and whilst stall 10 is fairly central, history tells us that runners from this yard need respecting.
The draw may not have been kind to Clive Cox’s Soapy Aitken who has been allotted stall 4 but on the basis of his first two runs, he deserves a second look. Even when winning at Windsor on his second start last time he was very green but despite that quickened clear to win decisively in the end. His jockey Adam Kirby described him as special after that and his trainer was equally complimentary about his credentials. He looks a colt of huge potential and as long as the draw isn’t too much of an inconvenience he could be the one they all have to beat.
Saeed Bin Suroor’s STEADY PACE could be the answer to this puzzle however having impressively over course and distance at the beginning of May. The form of that race has since worked out well with the second and third having come out and won subsequently. He was sent off the 7/4F for the National Stakes at Sandown last time but was drawn wide and couldn’t get any cover early on and as a result ran keen. To his credit, he ran on well to finish third and with the winner now favourite for the Norfolk and the runner-up having won the Woodcote at Epsom that form looks pretty good. This race should be much more suitable for this lightly-raced colt and having been drawn in stall 14, he looks likely to be able to choose which side he goes. I feel he has strong each-way claims and looks overpriced at around the 10/1 mark.
Of those at even bigger prices, two who could outrun their odds are Areen, who ran behind Steady Pace at Sandown but was bumped leaving the stalls and ran no sort of race. Prior to that he had beaten rivals with experience on debut at York and 20/1 looks generous. At a massive price (66/1) Archimedes could be worth a second look as he has always been highly thought of by connections. He has taken a couple of runs for the penny to drop but he looked to be learning when winning at Bath last time. He is drawn well in stall 25 and under the astute Jim Crowley, he could outrun his sizeable odds.