2.30 Ascot – Jersey Stakes (Group 3)
Day two gets underway with the seven furlongs Jersey Stakes and for many people, one of the bets of the week is the Richard Hannon-trained colt IVAWOOD. He would have arguably been crowned Champion 2yo last year had he not suffered a small reverse on his final start in the Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket in October. Having been beaten on his return to action in the Greenham, he has since dispelled any notions that he had not trained on having been placed in both the English and Irish renewals of the 2000 Guineas. Whilst he does stay a mile, it is probably fair to say that he is most effective over shorter so the drop back to seven furlongs should be in his favour. As a Group 2 winner he concedes 5lb to most of the field although I’m not sure that will be enough to stop him. He has not been far behind Gleneagles in two starts this term and safe to say there is nothing of his quality in this particular race. I am firmly in the Ivawood camp and it would surprise me if he went off a very short-priced favourite at the off.
Of the rest of the field there could be some each-way value in the race in the shape of William Haggas’ Hathal, who got off the mark at the second attempt at Lingfield ten days ago. The colt had only one start at two and ran into the smart Consort in a race which has worked out well. There wasn’t much to be taken from his Lingfield win as he coasted clear in the closing stages but that should have put him spot on for this race physically. He is something of an unknown quantity having had only two starts and it is interesting to note that his trainer’s last winner of the race Aqlaam also had just his third start in this race. He is currently available at around 14/1 and could offer some value in the race if you’re not keen on taking a short price.
Aidan O’Brien has won two of the last three renewals of the race and he could have a strong hand once again in the shape of Sir Isaac Newton. Having finished second to Dermot Weld’s Zawraq on debut in October, he was turned over at 1/6 at Chester in May when stepped up to 1m2f for the first time. He was subsequently dropped back to seven furlongs at Gowran Park and whilst the form isn’t up to much, he won in the style of a smart horse. He still showed signs of greenness that day and it may be that the penny is starting to drop with him. This is a big step up in class for him but there won’t be many Aidan O’Brien/Ryan Moore runners going off at 16/1 this week and he could also run well.
3.05 Ascot – Queen Mary Stakes (Group 2)
Course and distance winner Besharah looks likely to be popular in the market having won well here on her debut in May. An 85,000 guineas purchase as a yearling she had no problem taking her record to two from two in a Novice Stakes at Windsor last time. She still looks to be learning having been a bit on her toes last time and she had to be ridden to quicken last time but there is no doubt she is a filly of some potential and her connections rate her highly. One slight concern I would have is her draw in stall 3 because with so many runners (23) they are more likely to split into two groups and with the ground on the quick side, higher numbers are often favoured.
Also drawn on that side of the track is Michael Dod’s Easton Angel who also comes here on the back of two smooth victories at Musselburgh and Beverley. There was a lot to like about her latest performance in particular as she cruised into contention before bounding clear to win by a length at the line. The filly has since been purchased to run in the colours of Al Shaqab although importantly Paul Mulrennan keeps the ride on her. As I mentioned the draw is a concern but she has shown enough to date to suggest she is capable of going close here.
With trainer Mark Johnston’s juveniles continuing to run well it would be remiss of me not to mention the chances of his filly Rah Rah who made maintained her unbeaten record when making all in the Lily Agnes at Chester in May. Prior to that she had been successful on debut at Kempton on the first day of the season and ran away impressively that day. She is drawn well in stall 21 and it would be no surprise to see William Buick make plenty of use of her up this stands side rail. She is currently available at around 12/1 and I think she is a little overpriced.
However, the preference is for Martyn Meade’s KURLAND who quite an impression when recording a smooth success at the Craven meeting on debut. The form of that race hasn’t worked out as well it might have done but she won by three and three-quarter lengths under hands and heels and I got the impression she was a good deal better than her winning margin suggested. It has always been the plan to bring her straight here on the back of one run and her trainer is starting to make a name for himself particularly with juveniles. She is drawn in 16 which gives her options and I think she looks the one to side with at around 11/1.
3.40 Ascot – Duke Of Cambridge Stakes (Group 2)
Sir Michael Stoute took this race twelve months ago with INTEGRAL and he looks to have a strong chance of completing the double this year. She took a big step forward to win the race last year and followed it up with victories in the Falmouth and Sun Chariot Stakes at Newmarket. She has taken on the colts on her last two visits to the racecourse including last time when she finished fourth behind Night Of Thunder, beaten only one and a quarter lengths. Back against her own sex will be much easier for her and despite at 5lb penalty for her Group 1 successes, she is definitely the one they all have to beat.
It is interesting that Stoute also saddles Bragging who looked a filly on the up when winning the Dahlia Stakes at Newmarket on 1000 Guineas day. She was turned out pretty quickly after that to run in the Middleton Stakes at York but she never really showed the same spark. I would imagine that the run came too soon for her and the ten furlongs trip may just have stretched her stamina reserves. She certainly shouldn’t be written of just yet although she has plenty to find with her stablemate.
The one who could give Integral most to think about is Clive Brittain’s Rizeena who won the Coronation Stakes on the round course last year. That came on the back of a disappointing run in the 1000 Guineas so it might be best to also ignore her first run this term, where she finishing seventh behind Bragging in the Dahlia Stakes. She got within two lengths of Integral in the Falmouth Stakes and looks the most likely to chase her home for me here.
4.20 Ascot – Prince Of Wales´s Stakes (Group 1)
This race looks to be one of the more open Group1s throughout the week with no real standout performer in the line-up. Nevertheless, it is a race full of quality with runners from all over the world, the most interesting of which could be Criterion. The Australian four-year-old won on his penultimate start when accounting for Red Cadeaux in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Randwick. That gave him a third success at the top level and he was far from disgraced last time when third in Hong Kong. Clearly the form is hard to weigh up against our own but overseas runners have done well in this race in the past and he looks of most interest amongst that group.
The Grey Gatsby shouldn’t be dismissed despite running below expectations on his first two starts this term. He didn’t lose a great deal in defeat to Solow in Meydan and whilst he was only fourth last time, he was only beaten a couple of lengths. The addition of cheekpieces may just help him to travel a bit better in his races and bring about a little bit of improvement in him. He showed plenty of good form throughout last season and I think he will be thereabouts in the closing stages here.
However, there could be a potential star in the making in the shape of Dermot Weld’s FREE EAGLE who was third over course and distance in the Champion Stakes last October on just the fourth start of his career. Prior to that he had been off the track for nearly a year before winning impressively on his return to action at Leopardstown in September. His connections have made no secret of the regard in which they hold this colt and the heavy ground here in October would not have been ideal for him. History tells us that Mr Weld tends not to bring horses over unless they are likely to go close and the same applies to this horse. He should be able to improve this year at the age of four and given how lightly-raced he is there should be more to come from him. His jockey Pat Smullen, who is usually reserved, can’t contain his excitement when speaking about this horse and he looks very much the one to beat.
5.00 Ascot – Royal Hunt Cup HANDICAP
In terms of age, the horses to follow in recent years have been the four and five-year-olds as they have accounted for eight of the last ten winners of this race. The fact that Prince Of Johanne and won at the age of six and the seven-year-old Field Of Dream won this twelve months ago offers some solace to the older member of the line-up. However, there is no hope for the duo of Bancnuanaheireann and Field Of Dream as there has been no winner older than seven since 1980.
Another strong trend is regarding the weight carried and it looks as though 9st 3lb is the summit as only one of the last ten winners have carried more than that to victory. In terms of this year’s field, this eliminates the top fourteen horses as they appear in the race card. The connections of Tenor have given him half a chance by putting a five-pound claimer on his back, but he still has to carry 9st 5lb rather than the 9st 10lb that he was originally given.
The draw can often play a big part in the outcome of a race and with thirty runners set to charge down the straight mile at Ascot, it would be useful to eliminate some of the field. Over the last decade, the high numbers have been favoured as seven of the last ten winners have come from stall 17 or higher. Some of the horses drawn low in this year’s renewal include the likes of Ayaar, Bronze Angel and GM Hopkins so it will be interesting if they can overcome their perceived poor draw.
When looking at the form of horses coming into the race, it is often popular to look for horses that may have won last time or have at least hit the frame. However, with seven of the ten most recent winners having finished outside the first three on their latest outing, this perception needs to be reviewed. It may be that in such a competitive handicap, recent winners are often more exposed than some of their rivals. Whatever the reason, this statistic needs taking seriously and with only one horse having won last time and followed up in this race, there must be doubts around the chances of Spark Plug, Speculative Bid, Big Baz, Fort Bastion, Ayaar, Lanceur and Temptress.
When considering the official BHA rating of recent winners, we can see that six of the last ten winners were rated 97 or higher. This stat is not as useful this year as all thirty runners are rated higher than this mark. This shows how high the standard of the race is this year and it could well be that we see a very good winner of the race.
The final factor worthy of consideration is the betting and this is definitely not a race in which following the favourite has proved prudent. Forgotten Voice remains the only winning favourite in the last decade having gone off at 4/1 for Jeremy Noseda in 2009. This also seems a race in which taking a chance on one at a bigger price has been successful with four of the last six winners having gone off 16/1 or bigger.
LAMAR – 6/6
American Hope – 6/6
Don’t Be – 6/6
Baraweez – 6/6
Munaaser – 6/6
I wouldn’t normally put as many as five in the shortlist but as these were the only five horses in the field to match all six of the trends I felt it best to include all of them.
To start with I have put LAMAR up as the top pick as I feel that she has plenty going for her here. Her only other start in a handicap to date was in the Sandringham last year where she finished seventh behind Muteela. Since then she has been mightily consistent winning twice on the all-weather and being narrowly denied in Listed company in February and on All-Weather Finals Day in April. I fancied her quite strongly for the Princess Elizabeth Stakes but she was undone by the draw on that occasion. She should have no issues on that score here as 28 is perfect for her and the fact she ran down the field last time also works in her favour. She sits towards the bottom of the weights and with Pat Smullen an eye-catching jockey booking, she can outrun her odds of 33/1.
She is joined on the shortlist by Mike Murphy’s American Hope who was narrowly denied over course and distance last July. He was a little unlucky not to win on his return to action at Kempton in March but has failed to build on that subsequently. He has been cut some slack by the handicapper as a result and if he can produce a career best he should be in the shake-up.
Sir Mark Prescott is no stranger to handicap success and he has an intriguing runner here in the shape of Don’t Be who was very progressive throughout the winter and won a Listed race at Goodwood on her return to turf. She ties in quite closely with Lamar on a couple of pieces of form and she can’t be dismissed for her shrewd connections.
Brian Ellison’s Baraweez landed a couple of valuable prizes at Galway and Leopardstown last season and he turned in his best effort to date this campaign when finishing fourth at Chester a couple of weeks ago. He was staying on in the closing stages on that occasion which suggests that the stiffer Ascot Mile should be more suitable. His stable is currently in great form of late and he can’t be dismissed lightly.
The final member of the shortlist is Sir Michael Stoute’s Munaaser who sneaks in at the bottom of the weights on 8st 11lb. He too was progressive last season winning at Newmarket before running well at York’s Ebor meeting and finishing second to GM Hopkins in the Silver Cambridgeshire. He wasn’t seen until he ran at Newbury last month where he never really got involved and whilst he need to take a big step forward here, from a trends perspective he looks to hold solid claims.
5.35 – Sandringham Handicap (Listed Race)
The standout filly on form looks to be Saeed Bin Suroor’s Always Smile who is three from three in her career to date. A winner over six furlongs on debut at Kempton, she made a winning return to action when beating John Gosden’s Taysh at Wolverhampton in April. Her best piece of form looks to be her last run however as she hung on well to win by three-quarters of a length at Doncaster. The runner-up that day Sahaafy has since gone out and won a Newmarket handicap by five lengths and the third Al Bandar landed a valuable handicap at Epsom a couple of weeks ago. She is currently available at around the 3/1 mark and whilst I think she deserves to be favourite that looks short enough considering she is drawn in 4 and there are seventeen runners in the race. She could prove a good bit better than these fillies and looks to have strong claims but it might be worth looking for a bit of value in the race.
Richard Hannon’s Pack Together had some good form to her name as a juvenile having beaten another of today’s rivals Sulaalaat by a neck on debut. Her only other start last season was in the Listed Star Stakes in which she found only Henry Candy’s Alonsoa too good on the day. She looked in need of the run at York last time but despite coming under pressure a long way out, she wasn’t disgraced finishing sixth, beaten only four lengths. She should strip fitter for the run and can outrun her odds of 20/1.
However, it may be better to go with Charlie Hills’ KODIVA who was last seen chasing home Irish Rookie in the Listed Montrose Stakes at Newmarket in November. She was beaten only one and a half lengths that day and the form has worked out well with the winner having run well in both the Irish and French Guineas and the runner-up Lady Of Dubai won a Listed race before finishing third in the Oaks. Obviously we have to take her fitness on trust but she sits towards the bottom of the weights here and Hills has booked the excellent Oisin Murphy to ride her. The yard were a little unlucky not to take this race with Queen Catrine last year and at 14/1 I think Kodiva looks worth siding with.