Day one at Royal Ascot looks like an absolute cracker. We begin with three Group 1’s and a Group 2 on Tuesday, and while we could see something a little special from the world’s leading miler Palace Pier, he’s not a betting opportunity at long odds-on.
We do however have an interest in all six of the other races on the card, beginning with some of the best juveniles on the planet.
3.05 Ascot (Coventry Stakes – Group 2) – DHABAB
Those drawn near the stands side appear to have a well-defined advantage on the straight course these days, though there are enough fancied horses and therefore enough pace on the far side to even this up somewhat.
Over that side is American horse Kaufymaker. Wesley Ward is very keen on her and he knows exactly what it takes to win two-year-old races at the royal meeting.
That said, the Coventry isn’t really his bag and even with her undoubted ability and 3lb pull, it’ll be difficult for a filly against these colts.
Aidan O’Brien’s The Acropolis won nicely last time and may improve plenty, but the most taking debut run for me was that of John & Thady Gosden’s Dhabab.
In terms of his reputation, his debut win at Leicester and the genuine speed he showed he appears to be the best in the race. He’s drawn well and should get help from speedy type Berkshire Shadow on his side of the track.
We shouldn’t read too much into Frankie Dettori riding the stable’s other horse Tolstoy, with John Gosden stating early that Rab Havlin would ‘keep’ the ride on this son of No Nay Never who will surely be well backed overnight.
3.40 Ascot (King’s Stand Stakes – Group 1) – BATTAASH
The fastest horse in the world, last year’s winner Battaash, had to have surgery over the winter and was in danger of missing this meeting.
His excellent and trustworthy trainer Charlie Hills however has reported him to be back to his best in the run-up to this and if that’s true then we have an unusually generous betting opportunity.
The York track record holder always does very well first time out, that’s been proven. Even if he is some way below his best in this race, he should still be good enough to score.
Despite that, prices of more than 2/1 are available at the time of writing for a horse who dominates his division in a similar way to Palace Pier, who is around 4/9 for the opener.
Tim Easterby’s Winter Power was so good at York, but a three-year-old filly has quite a task on in this event and the out-and-out speed test she passed on the Knavesmire doesn’t really equate to what’s needed here.
She remains next best on the list however, while July Cup winner Oxted may appreciate this drop to five furlongs after some disappointing runs and can grab a place. In behind, there isn’t much to choose between Acklam Express, Extravagant Kid and Que Amoro.
4.20 Ascot (St James’s Palace Stakes – Group 1) – HIGHLAND AVENUE
This race has been a basket case to handicap as, all things considered, so many are very close in terms of what’s expected.
Battleground can come back to form, Thunder Moon is very good but may appreciate it softer, La Barrosa will love the conditions and can join the top rank while Chindit has proven himself and will again be competitive.
Sir Michael Stoute’s Maximal was tipped here to win on Derby Day but was pulled out and he can improve plenty over this trip – he certainly has very strong form. The 2000 Guineas form is represented by winner Poetic Flare and Lucky Vega but this race on the round mile will play out differently.
John Gosden won this in 2018 with Without Parole and nearly repeated the trick a year later with King Of Comedy, both horses having taken the Heron Stakes first.
He’s trying that route again with nice unbeaten type Mostahdaf and that form may be the line to concentrate on. The soft ground wasn’t ideal for the top runners that day, but Mostahdaf got the job done and is now primed to take on the best.
A smidge behind him that day having given away 3lbs was Charlie Appleby’s Highland Avenue however and he is fancied to turn the tables. He was very good over nine furlongs at the Craven meeting, could have gone for the Guineas and now over a quicker, turning mile can prove his worth at the top level.
5.00 Ascot (Ascot Stakes – Handicap) – GOLDEN RULES
If the Gosdens are to miss out in the St James’s Palace Stakes, they may yet rack up yet another win in this tough two-and-a-half-mile handicap.
Their Golden Rules is stepping up markedly in trip but right from the very beginning of his short career he’s been screaming out for a test.
Over a longer distance and on fast ground he is very well capable of reaching a mark somewhere around 105, making him look particularly well handicapped in this event off just 93.
5.35 Ascot (Wolferton Stakes – Listed Race) – SOLID STONE
Forest Dean can improve on turf and would go close without a 5lb penalty, while Felix and Patrick Sarsfield are also solid overall.
Given that we’re set to run on genuine quick ground though, Sir Michael Stoute’s five-year-old Solid Stone stands out. He won despite racing all on his own last time at Windsor, putting up a performance that would have given him a winning chance here anyway.
What’s more extraordinary is that in not having company he clocked a very good speed figure and with more typical Stoute improvement to come, he may just have too much tactical speed for the line-up now he’s in a more competitive environment which will bring out the best in him.
6.10 Ascot (Copper Horse Stakes – Handicap) – ARTHURIAN FABLE
Willie Mullins runner Saldier, a Grade 1 winner over hurdles, will be all the rage here and that’s to be expected. He may yet go and win this easily, but strictly on the numbers he really does have to take a very big step forward from his last flat start off this handicap mark.
Better value for the closer is Brian Meehan’s Arthurian Fable. His best form last year was over this 1m6f trip on fast ground, with his good fourth at Newmarket to open this campaign having been achieved in very wet conditions. He’ll be a different proposition now and can get the job done under Jim Crowley.