Gentlemen, time to dust off the top hat and tails. Ladies, put on your very best dress and extravagant headwear. Royal Ascot is here, packed full of first rate Flat racing action to get the heart racing.
The first race is one of the best of the five days, there’s no warm-up event, as we kick off with the Queen Anne Stakes. Let’s start with the American runners, who should both appreciate the lightning quick conditions. Miss Temple City has run twice at Ascot and both times with credit. She won three Grade 1s in the US in 2016, so she is no forlorn hope for each-way players at around 20/1. American Patriot is another who could outrun his price. Many have written him off, as he’s clearly not got the same profile as previous winners of this race, but with Frankie Dettori booked, he’s got a pilot with a canny knack of winning at Ascot. Mutakayyef will enjoy both the trip and the ground, but much like Lightning Spear (who is apparently in great nick), the class level may just be a little high. The fascinating one is Deauville, who has been supplemented for the race and genuinely it could be brilliant piece of placement. The horse stays further than a mile and given there will be a rattling fast pace with a combination of pacemakers and US horses, the race may fall in to Ryan Moore’s hands. So for each-way backers I’d have some at 14/1 on him. However, I think the horse to beat by far is Ribchester. He’s a phenomenal athlete, likes the track and trip and should be primed for this. Godolphin have been crying out for a superstar and I think they have one. The only question he has to answer is handling the very quick ground. As long as he does that, the boys in blue could be first in the winners’ enclosure.
Race two is the Coventry Stakes over six furlongs and the horse to beat on form is Brother Bear. Jessie Harrington’s colt won the Marble Hill Stakes at the Curragh last time, which was won by Caravaggio in 2016 before he went on to land this race last year. He will need to be good to fend off some tough rivals. Arawak is one to keep on side. I’m sure Wesley Ward will want to get his Royal Ascot off to a good start and in the familiar colours of the Coolmore boys, 8/1 might be a bit generous. At similar odds, Aidan O’Brien’s Murillo showed a nice turn of foot at Tipperary and is worth a look in the paddock. At longer odds, Prince Of The Dark ran well at Bath lately and looking at his family tree, his sire finished a creditable fourth in this race. The two that make most appeal for each-way players are Rajasinghe and Headway. The former is sired by top-class sprinter Choisir and I think if Rajasinghe was trained by O’Brien or Hannon, he would be half the price. Headway impressed me at Chester last time with the way he put the race to bed and although it was a maiden I’m surprised he’s 25/1.
A great race at 3.40, the King’s Stand over five furlongs. There’s eighteen runners set to line up for this and it should be a belter to watch. I think 2015 winner Goldream has legitimate claims at 16/1. Make no doubt, Robert Cowell is the sprint king and Goldream has been running really well so far this term. The conditions will be perfect for him. Muthmir is another who could go well at a price, while I wonder if last year’s winner Profitable would prefer softer ground. Watch the market for a move on Washington DC, who is overpriced at 16/1. If the boys think he has a chance then the money will come and it might be time to get on. Personally, I’ve never been a huge fan of the horse but he’s got ability and the ground conditions will be ideal. Priceless won the Temple Stakes at Haydock last time and is in good form, although this is tougher. However, I have saved what I suspect are the two best horses in the race to last. Marsha gave weight to Washington DC last time and still won, and here she receives weight from the same horse. She has a big chance. Lady Aurelia was the most impressive winner of Royal Ascot last year. If she can return to that level of form she may leave them trailing in her wake. I don’t think there will be any tactics on her other than ping out and make all.
Race 4 is the St James’s Palace Stakes. Nothing particularly original from me here as I think the race lies between Churchill and Barney Roy. They are the class acts in the field and Barney Roy could have pushed Churchill a lot closer in the Guineas if he had not stumbled in the dip at Newmarket. I think they will be the first two home and for the sake of being different, I’ll take on the favourite. Go on Barney!
Ireland have won the last five renewals of the Ascot Stakes, race five on the card. Willie Mullins has won two of those and he is represented by Thomas Hobson. He won four times on the Flat for John Gosden before switching to the master Irish jumps trainer. While he’s not been seen in this sphere for quite a while, with the booking of Ryan Moore, he’s sure to go off favourite. If you’re looking at ones at big odds, I’ll be having a small wager on Moorside. She has a very intriguing pedigree and profile. She’s 33/1 so no complaints if she doesn’t impress, but here’s why I think she’s value. Her sire Champs Elysees has already sired an Ascot Gold Cup winner, Charlie Hills has been careful to protect her mark and I have a sneaking suspicion the step-up in trip will be right up her street. Beyond Conceit, Who Dares Wins and Cleonte are others who could feature.
To the lucky last, the Windsor Castle stakes and Wesley Ward has won this race twice before. He’s got two, Elizabeth Darcy and Nootka Sound. They both trained at Ascot last week and on that basis Nootka Sound is the number one choice as Elizabeth Darcy could not keep up. Maybe Nootka Sound is something special. If neither are up to scratch, then Declarationofpeace for Aidan O’Brien may take full advantage.
The Duke – Day One Royal Ascot Picks:
Queen Anne – Ribchester WIN, Deauville each-way
Coventry – Brother Bear WIN, Rajasinghe each-way
King’s Stand – Lady Aurelia WIN, Washington DC each-way
St James’s Palace Stakes – Barney Roy WIN
Ascot Stakes – Thomas Hobson WIN, Champs Elysees each-way
Windsor Castle Stakes – Nootka Sound WIN