Day two was an odd (and, let’s face it, ultimately unsuccessful) day, with there being a clear track bias which scuppered the chances of many horses. They are applying water across the whole track overnight, but there is little point in trying to second guess whether the same bias will be apparent on Thursday. So I’ll try not to be swayed too much by the draw in my selections below – but be prepared to react to any such bias as the day unfolds.
In the first race, Le Brivido was an impressive winner from Spirit Of Valour – Dream Castle pulled hard as he is wont to do and it looks like a further drop back to 6f might suit him best. Happy Like A Fool looked enormous but couldn’t match expectations as she was well beaten by Heartache. Qemah did as expected although the price was impacted by Laugh Aloud’s withdrawal – Smart Call was 4th having just ran out of gas towards the end. The amazing Highland Reel won another Group One race, while Decorated Knight did as I expected and was a good second at 10/1. The Hunt Cup was also as I expected and I backed three losers and would have backed three more had I been so inclined. You then know it’s not going to be your day when Wesley Ward trains an older horse to win over a mile. Urgh. So onto day 3 and it really doesn’t get any easier! I feel the need to include a Frankel klaxon as today is going to be his day… I reckon. I try and preview these races neutrally but it’s tough today. So beware for the klaxon…
2:30 – Norfolk Stakes, 5f, Group 2
A race for speedy 2yo colts over the minimum distance, and one where likely favourites are often overturned by lesser-fancied horses; these odd results are borne out by the fact that the last three winners (Baitha Alga @8/1, Waterloo Bridge @12/1 and Prince of Lir @8/1) didn’t win another race following their Norfolk success. The winner the year before that, No Nay Never for Wesley Ward, did win a couple more so perhaps if favourite McErin prevails here there is hope for him yet. He, Santry, Nine Below Zero and Frozen Angel all look useful, as does It Dont Come Easy, whilst Sioux Nation is surely capable of better at a big price, but it’s to HAVANA GREY and CARDSHARP we’ll look to get us off to a flyer. Havana Grey hasn’t done a lot wrong to date, and his beating of Sound And Silence got a huge boost on the opening day. Karl Burke’s older horses have not been running well this season so it’s testament to Havana Grey that he’s already notched two wins this season. Cardsharp loves to make all and if he can get off to a good start, then on this ground he could be hard to peg back under James Doyle. He is, like many Mark Johnston 2yos, the most experienced in the field and he can put that to good use.
Selection: HAVANA GREY (each way)
Alternative: CARDSHARP (each way)
3:05 – Hampton Court Stakes, 1m2f, Group 3
The favourite here, Benbatl, has had a steep learning curve since making an impressive debut at Doncaster in April, coming third in the Craven, second in the Dante and then a staying-on 5th in the Derby. He looked for all the world like he might need a step up in trip to be seen to best effect, but Epsom is a hard course for inexperienced horses to come to terms with so perhaps this Ascot track dropped back in trip will help him. MIRAGE DANCER (Frankel klaxon) looked like he had the perfect Derby prep race at Chester behind Cliffs Of Moher but Sir Michael Stoute felt the horse wasn’t mature enough for the Epsom classic – this is only his third career start but he is sure to improve. Bay Of Poets and Taj Mahal both come here from decent efforts in the French Derby, whilst Irish Correspondent was a decent third in the Irish 2000 Guineas, behind Churchill and Thunder Snow but ahead of Lancaster Bomber. However, ORDEROFTHEGARTER should run a big race after taking in both the French Guineas and Derby. This looks easier and he should be taken as a cover bet.
Selection: MIRAGE DANCER (win)
Alternative: ORDEROFTHEGARTER (win)
3:40 – Ribblesdale Stakes, 1m4f, Group 2
This race for fillies is often a high class affair, and the field is led by Alluringly who was last seen finishing 3rd in the Oaks for Aidan O’Brien. That is the best form by far but it was a tough race and she may struggle to follow up with another big effort. However, as soon as I saw the declarations for this race there was only one horse I was going to pick; ever since I saw the video of her being foaled, I was waiting for MORI to make her debut. By Frankel (klaxon) and out of the wonderful Midday, she was not seen on a racecourse as a 2yo, and on her debut at Newbury in April it seemed to take a while for the penny to drop as she came fifth. She has since shown great character to win at Ascot and Goodwood and the way she battled to both those victories without having a blistering turn of foot suggests this should be her ideal trip. Coronet, Hertford Dancer, Astronomy’s Choice and Gracious Diana form a formidable foursome for John Gosden, and Naughty Or Nice has proven stamina and is hitherto unbeaten in two career starts.
Selection: MORI (win)
4:20 – Ascot Gold Cup, 2m4f, Group 1
Order Of St George leads the charge here, coming back to defend his crown he won in impressive style last year. Since then, he’s had a rather chequered record – he’s been beaten at odds on 3 times including at 1/7 in the Irish Leger, but he’s also finished third in the Arc. He should win, and should win in style, but we’ll go with SIMPLE VERSE each way as if she stays she’ll be a huge threat. This classy 5yo won the St Leger, then lost it in the stewards room, before winning it again on appeal before a terrific win on Champions Day to round off a fine Classic season. She hasn’t quite hit the same heights since but her effort in the Yorkshire Cup on the Knavesmire last month bodes well. Big Orange is a big, tough, popular stayer and should give a good account of himself, whilst if Quest For More can recapture the form of last season which saw him win the Prix du Cadran on Arc weekend he will be a big player at a big price. Sheikhzayedroad has his 39th career start here and rarely finishes out of the places, and Harbour Law brings last year’s Classic form to the table in the form of his St Leger win. He was last of 7 here on his seasonal reappearance though, a race which the reopposing Sweet Selection won nicely.
Selection: SIMPLE VERSE (each way)
5:00 – Britannia Stakes, 1m, Class 2 Handicap
This is much the same as the Hunt Cup – a real cavalry charge from a huge field with very little to separate them. The only tangible difference from the Hunt Cup is that this is for 3yos only, which makes pundits and trainers vulnerable alike to unexposed improvers. Bearing in mind we’re trying not to pay too much attention to the draw before we’ve seen how it plays out, our three selections (with brief reasons for each) are: KEYSER SOZE. Richard Spencer became a Royal Ascot winning trainer with just the 8th win of his career on day one, and the combination of trainer and Stevie Donohoe can make it 3 wins from 3 runs this season. His Kempton all-weather win from Gymnaste would have looked better had she not been undone by the draw in Wednesday’s final race. MATHS PRIZE was a decent 2yo who has had just one start this season, finishing 5th at Newbury. That was a very hot race though with the likes of Oaks heroine Enable and Shutter Speed ahead of him, and he can go well here under the impressive claimer Kieran Shoemark for Roger Charlton. Frankel (klaxon!) is represented by Lightening Fast and Senator, but COLIBRI rounds off our trio after an encouraging run at Sandown in April, beaten into fourth but just a short head and a neck behind the winner Atty Persse (see the next race…). Hugo Palmer’s stable wasn’t in great form then so he can go better now.
Selections: KEYSER SOZE, MATHS PRIZE and COLIBRI (all each way)
5:35 – King George V Stakes, 1m4f, Class 2 Handicap.
We’ll start with the favourite ATTY PERSSE (Frankel klaxon), who won both his career starts over a mile before stepping up in trip at Haydock when he was beaten by Laraaib. I think the extra two furlongs from that will help his chances and Roger Charlton and Kieran Shoemark have a great chance of a quickfire double to end the day. Master Singer and Tartini should both go well for John Gosden, and the same applies for Utah and Homesman for Aidan O’Brien. All those four should be on anyone’s shortlist, but for our other selection we’ll go with SOFIA’S ROCK for Mark Johnston. This colt has won on both good to firm and firm ground (both over the same distance as today) and under the champ Jim Crowley he should get a nicely judged ride.
Selection: ATTY PERSSE (win)
Alternative: SOFIA’S ROCK (each way)