2.30 Ascot – Albany Stakes (Group 3)
The Richard Hannon yard has always been associated with producing top-class juveniles and whilst they have yet to have a winner in that field this week, they look to have a strong contender in the shape of Illuminate. The Zoffany filly was the stable second-string on debut at Salisbury in May and having been very green early on, didn’t look like achieving a great deal but once the penny dropped with her a furlong out, she quickened up smartly and bounded clear of her stablemate, who had already won impressively on debut at Windsor.
That runner-up has since won in Listed company in Ireland so the form looks strong. She looks to have strong claims but with so many unexposed fillies in the line-up 3/1 looks short enough.
The success of Acapulco on Wednesday has once again shown how forward American trainer Wesley Ward has his two-year-olds at this time of year. He has two runners here in the shape of Laxfield Road and Back At The Ranch and I marginally prefer the chances of the former. Having been purchased for $130,000 as a yearling, this filly won her only start over four and a half furlongs by eleven and a quarter lengths (11 ¼) at Keeneland in April. It is hard to know what ran behind her that day but to put so much distance between herself and her rivals suggests she must have some serious pace. Frankie Dettori is riding as well as he ever has at the moment and he could find himself back in the Winner’s Enclosure with this filly.
Back in May, William Haggas enjoyed a fine afternoon as he introduced two smart performers, on being War Department who was unable to give a true showing on Tuesday and Tutu Nguru who got off the mark at the first attempt at Lingfield. She was slow from the stalls but soon got the hang of things and quickened up to lead with a furlong to run. She stretched clear nicely in the closing stages and won with two and a quarter lengths to spare at the line. She was an expensive yearling at $175,000 and with Haggas’ team appearing to have a strong set of juveniles in his possession I don’t see this filly being too far away.
However, the one I am going to side with is Kevin Ryan’s ASHADIHAN who made quite an impression on me when winning at Haydock at the end of May. She was purchased for 48,000 guineas at the breeze-up sales in May and seemed to know her job from an early stage. Having been ridden patiently, she threaded a passage through and quickened up to lead with a furlong to run before stretching clear to win by three lengths. Her trainer spoke glowingly about her afterwards and given how well Areen ran in the Windsor Castle I think this filly could also go very close at around the 9/1 mark.
3.05 Ascot – King Edward VII Stakes (Group 2)
Perhaps the most interesting runner in the field for the King Edward VII is Aidan O’Brien’s Ol’ Man River who it is fair to say has not lived up to expectations in his two starts to date this term. He was effectively pulled up in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket and turned out quickly in the Dante afterwards ran a little better but was still well beaten by the main protagonists. He has been given a short break which is reported to have freshened him up and given how well Aidan’s horses are running this week it would be remiss of me to ignore him.
Sir Michael Stoute has won this race twice in the last decade most recently with Hillstar in 2013 and he saddles Stravagante in this year’s line-up. Having got off the mark on his final start at two, he was third behind Jack Hobbs at Sandown in April. He took a big step forward last time when winning at Epsom on Derby Day, overcoming a wide draw to come down the outside and win going away by three and a quarter lengths. The step into Group company is something of an unknown but Stoute’s last winner of the race also stepped out of handicap company to win here.
I feel it is worth mentioning that favourites on the whole have a pretty poor record in the race in recent years so it might worth having a look at one at a bigger price. The one that makes most appeal is John Gosden’s MR SINGH who has a similar profile to Gosden’s winner last year Eagle Top. He got off the mark at the beginning of this season when stepped up to 1m3f for the first time getting up to beat Scottish, who has won since then. The third Fabricate has also gone out and won twice since so that looks a pretty strong maiden on paper. He was on the face of it a little disappointing at Goodwood in May where he only finished fifth but I’m not sure he was that keen on the track and having been beaten just over three lengths he doesn’t have a great deal to find. Gosden’s Eagle Top caused something of a shock last year and at around 10/1 Mr Singh could just repeat the dose in an open looking race.
3.40 Ascot – Commonwealth Cup (Group 1)
If I’m absolutely honest I think this could be one of the most competitive races this week and that is including all of the handicaps. I think I would be lying if I told you that I fancied anything strongly with so many of the main protagonists closely tied in with one another.
Over the winter, the market couldn’t really see past Henry Candy’s Limato who was unbeaten in four starts as a two-year-old including when beating Mattmu on the bridle at Redcar in October. There were reports that he hadn’t been working the same ahead of his return to action but he dispelled any concerns with a nice victory under hands and heels. He suffered the first reverse of his career last time although the ground would have been softer than ideal and he was only beaten a length at the line. His trainer has expressed concerns about whether his rivals are catching him up physically which looks a sensible concern but he should be much better on fast ground on Friday.
The horse that beat him at Haydock was William Haggas’ Adaay who having looked a smart two-year-old at the beginning of last season, looks to be starting to fulfil that potential. He is clearly thriving at present and has improved on his reappearance run when he finished third behind Limato. He is in good form with himself at present and couldn’t be ruled out with any certainty.
There are two American raiders with Wesley Ward’s Windsor Castle winner Hootenanny of particular interest. He blitzed his rivals to win at the Royal meeting last year and was denied a Group 1 in France by Coventry Stakes winner The Wow Signal. He returned to action later in the year at the Breeder’s Cup and despite stepping up to a mile, he held on close home to land the spoils. He showed he was in good form on his seasonal reappearance when bolting up by six and a quarter lengths at Keeneland and I find it hard to see him out of the frame.
Last year’s Queen Mary Stakes could also play a major role in the outcome of this race with the first and second, Anthem Alexander and Tiggy Wiggy, both coming back to Ascot in search of glory.
The latter proved that she was the better filly throughout the course of last season and turned in some terrific efforts particularly at Newbury and York. Her connections tried her in the 1000 Guineas and she ran really well to finish third although the drop back in trip should be in her favour. She has had a little time to recover from that effort and she also looks to have solid place claims.
However, in a wide open race it might be best to look for one at a price and one horse who I think is a little overpriced is Hugo Palmer’s HOME OF THE BRAVE. Having turned over a highly-touted rival in the Free Handicap at Newmarket on his first start of the year, he blatantly didn’t stay in the 2000 Guineas but still ran very well to finish sixth having set the pace early on. The 2000 Guineas is always a good race but several horses have won since including Dutch Connection who was also suited by the drop back in trip. The drop back to six should be ideal for him and as an each-way bet at 16/1 I think he looks pretty solid.
4.20 Ascot – Coronation Stakes (Group 1)
This year’s Coronation Stakes looks a bit stronger than normal with placed horses from the English, Irish and French Guineas all lining up.
Jim Bolger’s Lucida was perhaps a shade unfortunate not to win the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket as she made her race-winning move with a furlong to run, only to be collared close home by Oaks runner-up Legatissimo.
I think it is interesting that she didn’t go the Curragh for the Irish equivalent but I think that was probably done with this race in mind and of course the yard won the race with another filly. She sets a good standard here but I have a slight concern in the back of my mind that she could be vulnerable to an improving filly. However, her form stands up well and given her connections, she shouldn’t be dismissed lightly.
Over the winter, Aidan O’Brien’s Found was just about favourite for both the 1000 Guineas and Oaks but was beaten on her return to action at the Curragh in May. The ground was definitely on the slow side for her that day and she showed up much better in the Irish 1000 Guineas last time, staying on all the way to the line to go down half a length to Pleascach. She sits at the head of the market at present which seems fair enough but I have a feeling she will need to find a bit more in order to take this prize.
The one to go with might well be the French filly ERVEDYA who does looked to have improved over the winter for Jean-Claude Rouget. She won her Guineas trial in good style at the beginning of April and came from a long way back at Longchamp to get her head in front. She was beaten by Found in the Prix Marcel-Boussac last term but she got over from her wide draw to lead that day and used up quite a bit of petrol in the process. Those exertions seemed to tell in the closing stages as Aidan O’Brien’s filly ran on strongly. I think there is reason to think that she can reverse that form and for me she is the one they have to beat.
5.00 Ascot – Duke Of Edinburgh Stakes (Handicap)
The yard of Luca Cumani are starting to run into a bit of form of late so it might be worth having a second look at Ajman Bridge who has run two solid races this term, particularly when staying on over 1m4f at York last time. He runs here off a 2lb higher mark and I think connections are starting to get the best out of this five-year-old.
Amanda Perrett’s Astronereus was a good winner for us at the Guineas meeting when he held off the late challenge of Roger Charlton’s Quest For More. That form has been franked with the runner-up having gone one better at Goodwood next time despite racing on a 6lb higher mark. Astronerous has been raised 7lb on the back of that effort and having run well over course and distance twice last season, he looks likely to go well again here.
However, the horse who finished third at Newmarket behind Astronereus at Newmarket could be worth siding with as he gets a 6lb pull in the weights with the winner. ARAB DAWN was making his seasonal reappearance at Newmarket and stayed on well in the closing stages to finish within one and a half lengths of the winner at the line. He was conceding match fitness to the winner that day and there is good reason to think he will reverse those placings. The one negative would be the draw as he is out in 21 but if he can overcome that, he looks likely to be a major player.
One at a massive price who could outrun those odds in Saeed Bin Suroor’s Famous Kid who won a handicap in Meydan off a mark of 99 in February and races off just 5lb higher here. He beat smart stayer Ahzeemah that day and although he carries top weight here, if he can return to that sort of form, 33/1 looks a little generous.
5.35 Ascot – Queen´s Vase (Listed Race)
Only three trainers have saddled the winner of this race in the last decade, Aidan O’Brien, Sir Michael Stoute and Mark Johnston, so it seems sensible to focus our attentions on their runners this time around.
Mark Johnston does not seem to have as strong a hand as normal and is restricted to two relative outsiders. However, Yorkidding has already won over 1m6f at Sandown and whilst this is another big step up, her trainer knows what it takes to win this race. She didn’t seem to enjoy the drop back in trip last time and whilst she needs to improve a lot, I think she will stay and 40/1 seems a little big to me.
Sir Michael Stoute won this race with a progressive filly in 2012 in the shape of Estimate and he could have another on his hands in the shape of Yarrow. A close relative of Golan and Tartan Bearer there has always been a lot expected of her and it seems as though she is starting to get the hang of things having got off the mark at Leicester last time out. She ran on strongly that day to win by five lengths over a mile and a half and whilst you can’t be sure if they stay until they do, both her pedigree and her latest run suggest it is worth a go.
If I mention Yarrow then I have to also talk about Michael Bell’s Fabricate who beat Yarrow by two and a half lengths at Salisbury in May. Having said that, Michael Bell’s colt had the benefit of a run under his belt and he too won on his next start. I can see Sir Michael’s filly reversing the form with that rival over this trip and with Pat Smullen in the saddle, she looks to have good each-way claims at around 14/1.
However, probably the most intriguing runner in the field is Aidan O’Brien’s ALOFT who was last seen finishing second to Elm Park in the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster in October. Prior to that, he got up close home to beat Storm The Stars in a Newmarket maiden, who as we know was third in the Derby a couple of weeks ago. We clearly have to take on trust that he will stay and that he is fit and ready to go on his return to action but he has been fitted with cheekpieces and a tongue tie to assist him. His trainer has won this race three times in recent years and despite his relatively short price, he looks the one to beat.