Royal Ascot. Quite simply, it’s one of the great traditions and highlights of the Flat season, with top class racing throughout the week matched only by the off-course spectacle. The weather looks set fair and we should have proper quick summer ground; non-runners should be minimal which helps for generous place terms.
2:30 – Queen Anne Stakes, 1m, Group 1.
Whilst nothing will ever match Frankel’s coruscating performance in this race 5 years ago, we should be in for an opening treat as RIBCHESTER continues to go from strength to strength. Richard Fahey’s stable star was third in last year’s Guineas before taking the Jersey Stakes at this meeting, before finishing a close third in the Sussex Stakes, winning the Jacques Le Marois and then running Minding to within half a length on Champions Day. Kept in training as a 4yo, Ribchester was third in the Dubai Turf on his seasonal reappearance before taking the Lockinge in fine style. It’s hard to see Lightning Spear turning the tables based on their previous duels, whilst Mutakayyef comes here on a career high official rating. It’s double figures the rest of the field – one to watch in the market could be American Patriot for Todd Pletcher and Frankie Dettori. This is American Patriot’s first visit to England and whilst it’s hard to know how much value there is in his form, he could spring a shock. But a shock it would be, as for me it’s hard to imagine Ribchester getting beaten and I think he’ll kick off the thousands of accumulator bets in style.
Selection: RIBCHESTER (win, and double with Churchill)
3:05 – Coventry Stakes, 6f, Group 2.
Our first glimpse at the Royal meeting of the early season 2yos, and it’s normally a race to savour, won in the past by the likes of Caravaggio, Dawn Approach, Canford Cliffs and Henrythenavigator. Brother Bear is the early favourite for the quite brilliant Jessica Harrington; there surely can’t be too many trainers who could win the Cheltenham Gold Cup and potentially a 2yo Group race at Royal Ascot in the same calendar year. Brother Bear’s form stacks up in his two victories so far, and he has also shown he can handle different types of ground. He travelled over on Saturday evening so should have plenty of time to settle in his first trip overseas. De Bruyne Horse took a huge leap forward following his debut 5th at Newmarket and continued that progress with a victory over the smart Cardsharp at Epsom on Oaks Day; he will surely go well again for Richard Hannon and Sean Levey. Arawak, like any of Wesley Ward’s 2yos who come over to Royal Ascot, will definitely be of interest; owned by Coolmore he will be primed for this *but* I can’t possibly tip it until we’ve at least seen him in the parade ring. One to keep an eye on in the betting, especially as John Velazquez comes over to take the ride. Denaar is unbeaten for Richard Hannon and Frankie Dettori and he has done everything asked of him to date, while MURILLO shrugged off his poor debut to win well at Tipperary; Ryan Moore takes the ride and given Aidan O’Brien’s record in this race, we’ll take a chance on this colt. Others at bigger prices I like are Zaman and AQABAH, both for Charlie Appleby and Godolphin. The latter in particular beat Cardsharp at Ascot in May on good to firm ground, before finishing 4th behind Brother Bear at The Curragh a fortnight later. That was on yielding to soft ground and I’m happy to give him an each way shout at a general 20/1.
Selection: MURILLO (win)
Alternative: AQABAH (each way)
3:40 – King’s Stand Stakes, 5f, Group 1.
One for the fully-fledged speed freaks and we begin with two fillies in the shape of Lady Aurelia and Marsha. Lady Aurelia gave a quite jaw-dropping performance in last year’s Queen Mary, making all and still quickening clear at the finish. It’s probably fair to say she hasn’t quite hit those heights since, and against older horses she’ll need to be at the very top of her game to prevail here. MARSHA won last year’s Prix de l’Abbaye at Chantilly and defied a penalty in the Palace House Stakes at Newmarket on Guineas Day. With Washington DC (who runs here) finishing second on both those occasions, that form looks solid and she should be fine on this quick ground. GOLDREAMwon this in 2015 from Medicean Man and Muthmir (both of whom reoppose today) and his prep has been broadly similar to two years ago – off since the autumn before a seasonal reappearance in the Palace House and then taking in the Temple Stakes at Haydock. I’m hopeful that can get him in prime condition for this. Signs Of Blessing is an obvious danger – but there is a chance the 5f on quick ground could prove too stiff a test for him. Clive Cox is dual-handed with last year’s winner Profitable and Temple Stakes winner Priceless.
Selection: MARSHA (win)
Alternative: GOLDREAM (each way)
4:20 – St James’s Palace Stakes, 1m, Group 1.
This race for the Classic generation looks to be a rematch between the 2000 Guineas first and second in Churchill and Barney Roy. Churchill followed up his tactical victory in the English Guineas with a facile success in the Irish equivalent, beating the reopposing Thunder Snow by two-and-a-half lengths. The way Churchill improved at Leopardstown suggests there could still be more to come, whereas Barney Roy was undone by the tactical brilliance of the Ballydoyle troops at Newmarket; he has been rested since and certainly has the ability to go one better here. Churchill has raced 8 times, winning his last 7, including in the Chesham Stakes at last year’s Royal meeting. Barney Roy, on the other hand, has only been seen 3 times and remains relatively unexposed. I’m very much torn between the two, but will likely put Churchill in various multiples and have a saver on Barney Roy on the day. If Rivet settles better he could go better than his big price suggests, and Lancaster Bomber has now been beaten by Churchill no fewer than five times – it would be a major surprise if he turned the tables here.
Selection: CHURCHILL (double with Ribchester)
5:00 – Ascot Stakes, 2m4f, Class 2 Handicap.
This marathon race which is longer than plenty of Cheltenham races has been dominated in recent years by National Hunt trainers, and they’re once again mob handed here. Thomas Hobson leads the charge for those perennial Cheltenham winners Willie Mullins and Rich Ricci, only this time it’s Ryan Moore in the saddle rather than Ruby Walsh. In spite of his obvious appeal, I think the quick ground and the fact he hasn’t run on the Flat since 2013 pose enough question marks, but it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve got a Mullins runner wrong. Who Dares Wins was a fine third in the Coral Cup at Cheltenham before seamlessly transferring that solid form to the Flat in the Chester Cup when he finished 4th – the extra couple of furlongs in this race could play into Tom Marquand’s hands. However, it’s Alan King’s apparent second string OCEANE who looks the value. He was third over 20.5 furlongs at Goodwood last year, and won at York’s Ebor meeting the following month – both runs were on good to firm, as was his excellent effort in his prep race last month when he carried top weight to second. At a double figure price he’s worth an each way play. Beyond Conceit is an intriguing runner for Nicky Henderson – this son of Galileo was previously trained by Andrew Balding, but then had 3 years off the track before emerging over hurdles to record form figures of 1162 since returning in January. Stamina should be no problem and he has raced on good to firm before with no noticeable drop in form. Magic Circle is sure to be given a peach of a ride by the red-hot Silvestre De Sousa; however all bar one of his career victories have come with “soft” in the ground description. One of the more unexposed types in the field isENDLESS ACRES – he’s only raced 7 times in his career and 4 of those, including his last 3, have been on the all-weather. If he handles the turf track for Charlie Fellowes and Stevie Donohoe then he could be on a fair mark.
Selection: OCEANE (each way)
Alternative: ENDLESS ACRES (each way)
5:35 – Windsor Castle Stakes, 5f, Listed.
This race for those 2yos who either aren’t quite top class yet or might not expected to be top class, it tends to be a competitive affair. Declarationofpeace is the favourite for Aidan O’Brien and Ryan Moore, having won on his second start at Dundalk at prohibitive odds of 1/4. I certainly wouldn’t put you off backing him given the connections, but Charlie Appleby has a pair of runners at much bigger prices and if one of them builds on the abundant promise they’ve shown then it could pay to back both each way. They are ROUSSEL, who won at Leicester last month when favourite, and SOUND AND SILENCE who looked very good at Newmarket on debut before not living up to that in a Listed event at Sandown. You can always forgive a 2yo a difficult second start, and interestingly William Buick has chosen Sound And Silence over Roussel in spite of having ridden both. James Doyle is a top class replacement on Roussel and both should run big races at big prices. Wesley Ward runs a pair of fillies in Nootka Sound and Elizabeth Darcy – both should be taken very seriously indeed. Another Batt, Dragons Tail, Marchingontogether, Dahik, June Dog, Declarationoflove and Magnus all come here off the back of victories, and in a field of 24 young ‘uns we need to hope for our charges settling early and getting a clear passage.
Selection: SOUND AND SILENCE (each way)
Alternative: ROUSSEL (each way)