Royal Ascot Day One

This is the start of the finest, and best, flat meeting from around the world. This is no different this year with a host of runners travelling distances to be here throughout the week.

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We start on Day One with three Group 1 races, a Group 2, a Listed race and a Handicap. Not a bad way to start the week off.

14:30 Queen Anne Stakes

The first race of the week is this Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes. What a race it looks too!

We have two of the world’s highest-rated horses going head-to-head on our shores. However it isn’t a two-horse race, as most would suggest. International raiders Able Friend and Solow come here from Hong Kong and France respectively but there is one British runner being underestimated.

Able Friend is one of the world’s highest-rated thoroughbreds and he has travelled all the way from Hong Kong to be here. If he has been able to cope with the travelling and new surroundings then he won’t be far from the frame. You don’t win 12 races from 18, including four Group 1 events without having the talent. Away from the travel, another concern would be that this is being run on the straight course. He usually runs at Sha Tin, which is a turning course, so there are question marks about him dealing with this stiffer test. Connections have reported everything is going to plan and on his final prep run at Sha Tin he wasn’t required to come off the bridle.

The French angle come from Solow, who is unbeaten in his last six races and you can see why he is favourite. He won the Group 1 Prix D’Ispahan last time out at Longchamp but only beat three other rivals, included Cirrus Des Aigles who had broken a shoe plus prefers softer ground. He does set the standard on form, as his win over The Grey Gatsby in the Dubai Turf at Meydan was one stylish performance. The drop back in trip to a mile could potentially see him even better and considering connections won this with Goldikova in 2010, he looks a strong favourite on the day.

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With the dead eight going to post and the two mentioned above taking a fair percentage out of the market then it may be better to look elsewhere. The bookies will be playing three places, so it may be better to look closer to home and side with the Lockinge winner Night Of Thunder. He won last year’s 2000 Guineas, which is where he beat Kingman and Australia. That is strong form, as we all know they went from strength to strength afterwards. This season started with a win in the Lockinge at Newbury with stablemate Toormore in second. Considering that was his first run and he usually improves from that then he could potentially trouble the top two in the market. One thing that is the case is he usually holds Toormore too.

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Overall the market looks correct in this race, so it may be better to try and steal the value on one that tends not to get the full respect he deserves.

Advice: Night Of Thunder (5/1 each-way)

            Solow to beat Able French – match bet

15:05 Coventry Stakes

A two-year-old race where you are pretty much going off relatively little form with most of them. However there is likely to be a few good ones in this field considering Henrythenavigator, Canford Cliffs and Dawn Approach have all won this race within the last eight years.

Round Two currently heads the market for Jim Bolger. He won at Naas on debut over this trip with the second and third winning since. He was dropped back in trip to 5f in the Marble Hill Listed race where he beat Washington DC, who runs in the Windsor Castle Stakes at the end of the day. With him winning that Listed race he deserves respect and back up in trip is something that should suit. However he looks a little skinny in price.

Air Force Blue is one towards the top of the market that is worth looking at. He won his maiden at the Curragh by a neck but was one who kept on well to the line. With it being over this trip he has that experience and should only benefit from it. The form from that maiden looks strong with the second and third winning next time out while the horse in sixth improved to finish second on his next start. On debut he kicked for home 1f out, which may have been too soon but he won the race and is one that can go well again from a nice middle draw in stall 11. Aidan O’Brien won this race in 2013 with colt War Command and the two are from the same sire in War Front.

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The Wesley Ward runner Finnegan is more of an unknown quantity in this field. He was second in a six -runner special weight maiden on the dirt at Keeneland and followed that up with a win in a similar race on turf at Pimlico. The surface shouldn’t be a problem but the trip may be. Those two runs have been at 5f it isn’t clear that he’ll see out the full trip this afternoon. His pedigree suggests over time he’ll be upped in trip but the question mark remains if this will be too much of a test for him. War Department comes from a yard hitting some form in the William Haggas team. This one could be anything really after bolting up in a Leicester maiden three weeks ago. Looking at the three runners that have raced since that race at Leicester then nothing is yet to frank that form, so the opposition may just be weak. However he did win it stylishly and with some ease. He is likely to come on for that run, so is one of the lesser-exposed types that wouldn’t surprise me if he win.

Considering Brain Meehan doesn’t have many two-year-old first time winners then Maccus should be something good from the yard. He won by 3l in a Windsor Maiden, however the form is yet to be consolidated by those who have ran since. Can’t put him as a selection with that plus he isn’t ideally drawn in stall two. Qeyaadah won a Newbury Maiden beating Nelspruit, who runs in the finale. In that race those two came clear of the rest. He comes from another yard that don’t tend to have many first time up winners, so there is some likely improvement to come. He goes down in the ‘could be anything’ bracket too. Age Of Empire made all on his second start to win at York. That effort in itself showed improvement from his debut and the form from it has been franked. Trainer Richard Hannon tends to do well with juveniles, so he has to be respected.

Now there are two more to one is going to be the selection. Buratino is one of the more exposed types having had five runs and never being outside the top three. That couldn’t put you off an each-way bet. His last run was mightily impressive when he hosed up in the Woodcote Stakes at Epsom winning by 6l. Since then Godolphin has purchased shares in him, so he’ll run in the blue silks. With plenty in his favour, with solid runs and connections saying he has come out of that Epsom race run well then there is much to like. However there are many improvers in this field, which would be the concern. Eltezam would the each-way pick at a bigger price. Al Shaqab racing won this race last year with The Wow Signal. He made his debut in a Conditions Stakes race at Newbury and wasn’t disappointing. He was third; Godolphin has bought the first placed horse in Birchwood, the second has won since and the fourth is a good two-year-old from the stable he comes from. He showed further improvement to win a Maiden at Haydock and despite being a short priced favourite, he justified those odds. From that Maiden the sixth has won since, while the seventh and eighth have both showed signs of improvement. With Frankie Dettori riding really well and things in his favour, he looks a tad overpriced.

Advice: Air Force Blue (9/1 each-way)

            Eltezam (18/1 each-way)

15:40 King’s Stand Stakes

This in all honesty is a minefield. Do you stick with the favourite, who has won this in the last two years or search for the value hoping for a shock? Of course any selection will need luck in-running.

Sole Power aims for an unprecedented third consecutive success in this race and conditions will be in his favour. He won the Al Quoz Sprint over in Meydan in March staying on strongly to win. Then for some strange reason he was stepped up in trip for his latest run, which saw him finish six of nine over 6f at the Curragh. For me you can forget that last piece of form, in all honesty it will have kept him race fit. If he were to win this race he would also become the oldest horse to do so since 1930. However this year I’m looking to take him on.

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Another leading contender is Muthmir, who has conditions to suit. This William Haggas five-year-old won the Prix Du Gros-Chene at Chantilly on good to soft last time out, something not fully proven on. That would indicate he is of this class and has been improving for his runs at 6f. His previous run was in the Duke of York Stakes at York, where he finished fifth but only 1l off the lead. This trip suits and drawn more middle shouldn’t be too much of a concern with his turn of foot. Compared to others in this field he is lightly raced, with only ten starts to his name, therefore should go well today. Connections say he requires a fast pace to suit him. You can guarantee that today with Take Cover likely to blaze a trail in front early on.

A few of these may find the ground too quick from what they have previously experienced. That would be a concern for the likes of Jack Dexter, who has gone close in the Group 2 Duke of York and Temple Stakes, Hot Streak, French raider Rangali and Mecca’s Angel. The latter represent northern trainer Michael Dods and is a smart sprinter. Having won the Scarbrough Stakes and the Group 3 World Trophy with an impressive turn of foot she is likely to find conditions all to fast for her this afternoon. The grey filly has ran on good to firm ground once finishing fourth of 23, which is highly respectable and connections are likely to take their chance.

A chance is taken on last year’s second in Stepper Point. He hasn’t shown much since winning the Flying Five Stakes at the Curragh in September. He won this race off a mark of 113 and runs off a 2lb lower mark (111) and for me is likely to go well, close to replicating last year’s run. He didn’t really act on the good to soft ground at Chantilly last time out and returning to quick ground is one at a price that should go well, plus has a fairly good draw in stall 11. The strong pace suited him last year with a bursting run down the centre of the track; everything is set up to do similarly today.

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One that is slightly shorter is Pearl Secret. This is the first choice for Qatar Racing and is somewhat wrongly labelled a soft ground horse. He was tenth in this last year and has since won twice, in a Listed race and in the Group 2 Temple Stakes. He is one that may creep under the radar and has had the potential to go close in a race of this nature but is yet to show it. The Temple Stakes he won last time out was a weak renewal but he showed some grit to hold off the late challenge of Jack Dexter late on. He probably isn’t one that would win if he hit the front too soon, as he is likely to idle. If Andrea Atzeni can settle him he can take a route down the far side and charter a similar path to what Sole Power did last year to win.

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Australian challenger Shamal Wind has travelled well according to connections. She worked well last Wednesday and on Saturday at the track. She’ll be settled in the pack and looking for a late run to challenge in the frame. She won the Group 1 Oakleigh Plate at Caulfield, which showed a career best. If she can replicate a run close to that then she could be a big danger to the home contenders.

Advice: Stepper Point (33/1 each-way)

            Pearl Secret (22/1 each-way)

16:05 St James’s Palace Stakes

There are just six runners going to post in another Group 1 contest on the card. 2000 Guineas winner Gleneagles is the favourite and it is hard to look past him. A win here would make Aidan O’Brien the most successful trainer in this race having won it six times. Of the last eight Guineas winners to compete in this race five have won with another finishing second (Night of Thunder last year.) His most recent run was in winning the Irish 2000 Guineas in ground that wasn’t ideal, so the return to quicker ground should see him somewhere back to his best You don’t get horses as consistent as this, at this level, and he could become a top miler. The only concern would be whether that victory at the Curragh has left its mark and off the same mark as that success he is very hard to look past as the winner.

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The Andre Fabre French runner Make Believe looks the biggest threat. Three wins from four starts and last time out won theFrench 2000 Guineas in really good style. He made all to win by 3l from New Bay, who won the Prix Du Jockey Club next time out. The franking of that form shows he is the biggest danger and in a race what may prove tactical he is likely to go out in front, which could be dangerous to Gleneagles but Ryan Moore is going to be aware of those tactics. Off a mark of 118 he should go close. Consort is the unexposed type in the race. Sir Michael Stoute had tried to prepare him for the Guineas but that didn’t happen, as he was slow to come to hand. He returned in the Listed Heron Stakes and won by a good enough margin for him to take his chances here. The second from that race Secret Brief has ran since finishing third at Epsom. There are no ground worries but this is a big step up in grade and he could find this a bit too much on just his third start.

Aktabantay won the Group 3 Solario Stakes at Sandown and then took his chances in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere where he wore first time blinkers and finished sixth. He’ll need to find a major improvement and steps up to a mile for the first time but pedigree suggests he’ll get the distance. This is his seasonal reappearance but in the build up to this meeting has been working with California Chrome (now a non-runner tomorrow.) Belardo disappointed on his first start of the season finishing eighth of nine in the Greenham at Newbury. The hood wasn’t on that day but that came back for his encouraging run in the Irish 2000 Guineas when finishing fourth and that was a step in the right direction. However the ground may be too quick for him here and to beat Gleneagles would need to call upon his two-year-old form.

Advice: Gleneagles (4/6 win)

 

17:00 Ascot Stakes

The only Handicap race on the card today and it is raced over a marathon trip of 2m4f. In all honesty it is difficult to find a place to start in this field.

Ray Ward heads the market and was sixth in this race last year. He built on that effort with a second at Goodwood over an extra furlong in the Goodwood Stakes. The 1m2f seasonal reappearance at Newmarket will have been a pipe opener to prepare him for this run so the seventh placed finish shouldn’t put you off, however his two race wins have been a Maiden and a Classified Stakes both back in 2013. Clondaw Warrior and Digeanta will be looking to give Willie Mullins a first race win since Simonen in 2012. The former was third at Cheltenham in the Greatwood Hurdle to Garde La Victoire and should get this trip however the quick ground would be a worry. Digeanta was fourth in a Handicap over 1m7f at Leopardstown last time out; he should handle the conditions and is off a workable mark (88.) He is lightly raced for an eight-year-old and should go well.

One each-way pick would be Boite. He raced on the flat for Peter Chapple-Hyam until January when he switched to Warren Greatrex to go hurdling. He showed promise over timber winning once and finishing second twice. He was third at Goodwood back on the flat last time out and could finally build on his promise. This trainer is known for having a good record in bumper races, so for this he is likely to have his charge fit and prepared to mount a challenge. He was a good third in the Queens Vase here at Royal Ascot back in 2013. That race was won by Leading Light, who went on to win the Ascot Gold Cup, if he shows his potential he could be overpriced.

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Fran Berry is seeking a hat-trick after winning this in the last two year’s and he reached the 1,000 winner mark the other day. He takes the ride on Hardstone, who is lightly raced and from the Jonny Murtagh yard. He raced over 1m7f at Leopardstown last time out and would need to show further improvement here. Hurricane Higgins runs off top weight and won over hurdles at Aintree last time out. He won the Goodwood Stakes back in 2012, so this trip wouldn’t be a concern. He was absent from the track for three years and is now with Nicky Henderson. In the past he has been known for throwing away races, so not one I can fully trust. His stablemate is Broxbourne. He has a course win to his name after winning here in 2013 over 2m. He has been over hurdles and didn’t run a bad race last time to be behind The Govaness. He looks off a really attractive mark in all honesty. He won at York off a mark of 89 and runs here off 90, so is weighted to go well.

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A chance is taken with Elishpour. His trainer Tony Martin won this race back in 2005 and sends his charge here on the back of many efforts over hurdles. He is one that has taken a while to come to hand and is an improving five-year-old. He was a good second at Naas over 2m3f over hurdles and has some very good flat pedigree. His half-sister won the Irish Oaks and French Leger in Ebadiyla while Enzeli, who won the Ascot Gold Cup is also a half-sister.

This is a wide-open race, so keep your stakes small.

Advice: Boite (22/1 each-way)

            Elishpour (33/1 each-way)

           

17:35 Windsor Castle Stakes

The final race on day one and it is a Listed contest. 27 runners down to go to post for this cavalry charge. The draw bias suggests a high draw is better, I’d prefer to watch the earlier racing to see where the better ground is. If you follow that draw bias indictor then it is difficult to find something considering most of my shortlist are drawn low to middle. However, here are two picks that won’t be far away.

Soapy Aitken is unbeaten on both of his starts and won nicely at Windsor last time in a three-runner Novice Stakes event. The second from that race Silver Wings re-opposes here again after running in the hotly contested National Stakes at Sandown 19 days ago. This two-year-old is one of the stable stars by the sounds of Clive Cox and after that Windsor win suggested that he wasn’t fully ready for that run indicating he should be fully prepared for this big race. The trainer also indicated he didn’t want the ground too quick for this race; it is currently described as good however someone who walked the course yesterday suggested it was more on the firm side of good. He has showed talent and there is definitely more to come from him. A very nicely bred sort too out of Pastoral Pursuits and an Oasis Dream dam. Despite a low draw in four he is one that I really like the look of.

Others at the head of the market include the Aidan O’Brien trained Washington DC. He was a beaten favourite on debut before win a four-runner contest at Tipperary. His latest race saw him well beaten by Coventry hopeful Round Two. You cannot discount him easily but I’m not too keen by what he has shown. The Godolphin runner Steady Pace arguably has the best drawn from the horses on my shortlist however he was only one paced and didn’t really see out the National Stakes race won by King Of Rooks at Sandown, yet he still finished third. He won over course and distance on debut, so will be one to watch in the market. In this race he’ll get more cover than what he did last time and if the gaps appear could easily show the turn of foot to see off his rivals.

One at a bigger price that I quite like the look of is Harvard Man. Forget his last run as that was over 6f and he didn’t see it out. Back down to this minimum trip should see him back to his best. It isn’t something usually seen but this colt provided a win in his first race, not something Brian Meehan horses usually do. He won his maiden at Newbury showing good pace and lead from 2f out. He was quite green, so will have come on for both of his racecourse experiences. The second Ring Of Truth stayed on well late and in the end he won by a shoulder. The second, third and sixth from that Newbury maiden won on their next start while the fourth was second on his next start. The form of it looks quite strong and his price seems to be factoring his poor run over the 6f, which clearly didn’t suit. For me, he looks a really good each-way price.

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In the last five years Wesley Ward has trained two winners, including Commonwealth Cup hopeful Hootenanny last year. This year he runs Ruby Notion and this will be her first start on turf. Don’t let that put you of, as that was the case with last year’s winner too. Ard San Aer isn’t without a chance for Jim Bolger. He won on bottomless ground last time out despite connections suggesting he would prefer quicker ground plus that win was over 6f. He’ll have stamina and a turn of foot. Watch what the market suggests.

Of the rest, Areen won on debut at York and that was 6th in the National Stakes. Kevin Ryan won this race in 2012 with Hototo. For me he will show a better run than he did at Sandown and return to something like his York run where he beat Brocklesby winner Ravenhoe. Richard Hannon trains Nelspruit, who was second behind Buratino at Epsom ten days ago and returning to 5f could see improvement. Three starts, one win over this trip and two seconds over 6f isn’t a bad record, especially his last run. If he can replicate that and build upon it then at 33/1 he could feature in what is expected to be a bunched finish.

Advice: Soapy Aitken (6/1 each-way)

            Harvard Man (22/1 each-way)

Good Luck!

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