Royal Ascot is here Ladies and Gentlemen! Five fantastic days of racing kicks off with three Group 1’s on the opening day, where the likes of Palace Pier, Battaash and Poetic Flare will bid to add to their impressive CV’s. Throughout the week I will be assessing each race, looking for value and hopefully picking a few winners!
Palace Pier can stamp his class on Queen Anne field
The Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes over a mile gets Royal Ascot underway and all eyes will be on star miler Palace Pier 4/9. The Gosden inmate has been electric over the past two seasons and looked as good as ever when shooting clear to win the Lockinge on his last start. Frankie oozed confidence that day and the turn of foot Palace Pier demonstrated was jaw-droppingly good. He finds himself 5lbs clear on Official Ratings and has course form in the book. With two runs under his belt this season and no concerns about the ground, he should be extremely hard to beat. From a betting perspective I would imagine plenty of punters will have him as the first leg of their accumulators, but it may be worth looking in the without market or an each way play. Sir Busker 25/1 has some excellent course form to his name and should relish the return to quick ground. He could be the value/one for the place markets.
Ignore the American raider at your peril
Up next on the card we have the first two-year-old race of the meet, the Coventry Stakes over 6 furlongs. Arguably the most interesting runner of the day is American raider Kaufymaker 7/2 who currently heads the betting for trainer, Wesley Ward. The vibes surrounding this filly are incredibly strong with Wesley himself saying she could be the best horse he has ever trained. This looks a competitive contest, and I wouldn’t be particularly keen on any of the home team. Dhabab has been subject to some early market support and put up a very good time on debut, whilst The Acropolis should love ground conditions and could take another step forward. Masseto got the social media side of the racing world talking with a blistering piece of video footage but to take that literally could be a dangerous thing to do. In a wide open contest, I’m going to side with the American hype and Kaufymaker.
We’ve had Snowfall in summer and I’m predicting more Winter Power
A fantastic field of 16 are set to go to post for this year’s Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes over five furlongs. The brilliant Battaash heads the current betting and will bid to defend his crown after breaking his Ascot duck in this race last year. He was awesome last year and went a perfect 3/3, however he did suffer a set back this year and will have a crowd to contend with for the first time in two years. I have always deemed him a slightly risky proposition and my opinions haven’t changed. He finds himself well clear on Official Ratings but due to the conditions of the race, he will have to concede 10lbs to the extremely exciting Winter Power 4/1. Two good wins late last season were backed up with a fine reappearance win this year. Winter Power burnt her rivals off from the front and powered clear in the style of an extremely good horse. Officially rated 114, the 10lbs she receives of Battaash puts her 1lb clear. My only concern is the amount of pace in this race. Plenty of these like to go forward and I’m hoping Winter Power can be equally as effective if she has to take a lead.
Take a chance on Battleground in St James’s Palace Stakes
This year’s renewal of the St James’s Palace Stakes looks a highly competitive one. 2000 Guineas winner Poetic Flare has strong claims on both his Newmarket form and Irish Guineas second. In a field where plenty have question marks, he appears to be the solid option. The unbeaten Mostadaf has some closely matched form with Highland Avenue, but the pair need to step up again if they are to go close here. Lucky Vega has solid claims on ground he is likely to favour but I am going to take a chance on Battleground 11/2 for Aiden O’Brien and Ryan Moore. Last season’s Chesham winner has course form in the book and was subject to late gamble in the 2000 Guineas. He ultimately disappointed that day but connections felt he didn’t handle the undulating nature of Newmarket. With that in mind, and conditions set to suit, Battleground remains unexposed at three and could be the superstar of his generation. If he is going to build on his two-year-old promise, today has to be the day!
Defending Champion and Willie Mullins outsider can fight out the finish
Willie Mullins has a typically strong hand for this year’s Ascot Stakes. M C Muldoon heads the current betting and has some excellent recent form over hurdles. Ryan Moore takes the ride, and he shapes as though this trip on the flat could bring out the best in him. He does look a tad short though for a horse with some fairly average flat runs already to his name. Rayapour is another interesting runner for team Mullins, but he was disappointing on hurdles debut for the yard just over a month ago. That may well have been used as a pipe opener for this but at the current prices he wouldn’t make great appeal to me. At the prices, I quite like the claims of Royal Illusion 16/1 who appears to be the third string of the Mullins assault. The inform Tom Marquand takes the ride and I have long thought a test of stamina on the flat may really suit this mare. Her last start saw her fall in Grade 1 company over hurdles, but she caught my eye numerous times last season staying on over inadequate trips on the flat. Willie might’ve had this race in mind for a while now.
The other runner who I quite simply could not ignore was last years winner Coeur De Lion 12/1. He was awesome that day but hasn’t run to that level since, whether it be over jumps or on the level. His last two starts have certainly been a step back in the right direction and it may well be he is coming to the boil once again. Thore Hammer Hansen takes the ride and his three pound claim brings him back down to last year’s winning mark. Ground conditions wouldn’t be a major concern and at 12/1 he looks a lovely each way play.
Go for the Solid option in the Wolferton Stakes
The penultimate race of the day is the Wolferton Stakes, a listed event over a mile and a furlong. Last season’s St Leger winning trainer and jockey team up here with current favourite Patrick Sarsfield. Second in his reappearance run at the Curragh, he is entitled to come on for that effort and his form at the back end of last season with the now Group 1 winning Skalleti looks very strong. My one area of concern for him would be the rapidly drying ground. His best form to date comes with cut in the ground and with temperatures soaring he could encounter his quickest surface to date. Felix appears to have very strong claims on the back of a fine third to Lord North in a Group 1 at Meydan. His trainer Marco Botti has had just the 1 winner from his last 23 runners though so I would have slight concerns about the form of the yard. Solid Stone 5/1 was given a peach by Ryan Moore last time out and arguably benefited from being on the right side of the track. The form of the race looks rock solid though with Stormy Antarctic (second) bolting up in a listed event, Oh This Is Us (third) winning a Group Three and Brentford Hope (fifth) cruising to success in handicap company. Sir Michael Stoute is a genius with these older horses, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this five-year-old take another step forward.
Grade 1 winning hurdler can strike in the lucky last
The final race on Day 1 is the Class 2 Copper Horse Stakes over one mile and six furlongs. On To Victory tops the weights for trainer Alan King who struck gold twice at the meeting last year. On To Victory shaped as though this step up in trip was needed last time out and he looks sure to go well for the inform Tom Marquand. He does have to concede one pound to the Willie Mullins trained Saldier 3/1, who is rated 28lbs superior to him over hurdles. Now, On To Victory is almost certainly a far better performer on the level, but Saldier is dangerously unexposed on the flat and appeared to really enjoy himself when bolting up on his first flat start for Willie last time out. The form of that race is tricky to assess but he did have Aintree Mares Bumper winner, Me Too Please 14 lengths back in third that day. His last start on the flat in France, before moving to Willies, is also an eye-catching piece of form. He finished last of five but was just over 6 lengths behind Group 1 winner Recoletos and 4 lengths behind 2019 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe hero Waldgeist! Ryan Moore has been booked to ride, we know Saldier comes here in fine form, and a mark of 99 could seriously underestimate his talents. Willie Mullins is currently operating at a staggering 43% strike rate so fingers crossed he can end Day 1 with a win.
By Sam Rideout
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