The eyes of the racing world descend on Berkshire this week for the special Royal Ascot meeting and after the behind closed doors version of the event last year crowds are back and the profile of the event is restored a little closer to normality.
We have an extra race on each day this year so there are seven fantastic races to get stuck into rather than the usual six. The headline race on the opening day on Tuesday is the St James’ Palace Stakes which we bets in. Scroll down for our preview of each race of the day!
2.30 Royal Ascot: Queen Anne Stakes
The opening race of Royal Ascot 2021 looks a special race in that we have the world’s best miler going for Group 1 glory with Palace Pier a very short priced favourite. They race over the straight track here & a pretty small field over 11 head to post. The favourite really does look hard to oppose having won 7 of his 8 career starts, his only defeat coming here when only 3rd in the QEII at the end of the last year. He quickly put that defeat right by landing a Group 2 on reappearance & then sprinting away from a good field in the Lockinge with only Lady Bowthorpe able to throw down any sort of challenge. It would be the shock of the week were he not to win but that’s not going to stop me looking for an alternative.
Aiden O’Brien saddles 2 & they are the nearest market rivals to the favourite. Moore’s pick is Order Of Australia who landed the Breeders Cup Mile at big odds. His form is difficult to read; he is unexposed at this trip but doesn’t have a whole lot to recommend him aside from his win stateside. I actually much prefer the chances of Lope Y Fernandez. He had an up & down 3 year old campaign where his preferred trip was in question. Many think of him as a sprinter but others, including me, believe he’s a better miler. He was a close 3rd behind Order Of Australia in that Breeders Cup race and since then, he hacked up in a Listed event back over in Ireland before disappointing on ground too soft for him in the Lockinge. He’ll be a different horse on this quicker ground & should go well. Top Rank is the mount of PJ McDonald & has progressed well out of handicap company winning at Listed & Group 3 level before finishing 3rd in the Lockinge. If he can back that up, more place money at the top level could be on offer.
At a bigger price, there’s one I’m interested in & that’s Sir Busker, another to progress from handicap company last year. He loves Ascot with a record of 1-4-3 over this course & distance. The win came at this meeting last year where he won the Silver Hunt Cup & his 4th was in the QEII, half a length & one place behind Palace Pier, despite giving him 3lbs. His most recent run here was his seasonal reappearance where he was 3rd in a trial for this. He sweated up beforehand & took a keen hold so it was no surprise to see his effort flatten out inside the last furlong despite travelling as well as anything in the race. Like Top Rank, one of his last runs in a handicap was the Clipper Logistics at York in August where he was a neck 2nd, and a length in front of Top Rank giving him 4lbs. I don’t see any reason why the form won’t be franked here. Palace Pier aside, it doesn’t appear to be the best renewal so I’m happy to be on the horse that has finished closest in any run to the favourite & an Ascot specialist despite the fact he’s yet to win a race outside of handicap company.
Back Sir Busker (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 21.00 BetVictor BOG (⅕ odds 1-3)
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Back Sir Busker (e/w) in the ‘without Palace Pier’ market for a 0.75/10 stake at 7.50 Bet365 (⅕ odds 1-3)
3.05 Royal Ascot: Coventry Stakes
The Coventry is the first 2 year old race of the week & is over a trip of 6 furlongs. US trainer Wesley Ward looks to have a strong hand this week & the first of his to run is the filly Kaufymaker. She receives 3lbs off her rivals & really could be anything but Ward is all about speed so there has to be a question mark over the trip. John & Thady Gosden have 2 runners, Dhabab & Tolstoy, both of whom have won their only race to date whilst the O’Briens, Aiden & Donnacha, both have a runner in the shape of The Acropolis & Masseto. Both have 1 win to their name from 2 runs. Richard Hannon has a live challenger in Gisburn who won a Newbury maiden by over 6 lengths but he was beaten on debut by Berkshire Shadow who is more than twice the price here. Ebro River has won twice, including the National Stakes, but may be better over shorter while Clive Cox, who saddled the shock winner of this last year, has a chance with another at a good price in Caturra.
This looks like a minefield where you’d be betting on potential & to me, there are very few you could leave out of calculations. If you wanted 3 against the field, I’d go with the 2 Irish raiders & Caturra but am nowhere near confident enough to have a bet in the race.
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3.40 Royal Ascot: King’s Stand Stakes
This is all about speed, a Group 1 over the minimum trip. Last year’s winner & the undisputed sprint king, Battaash, is the favourite but is trading at a much bigger price than I expected at odds of around 2/1. However, there are 15 rivals with the one most likely to give him something to think about being the up & coming 3 year old Winter Power, a winner of 4 of her last 5. She’s in receipt of 10lbs from the favourite but when it comes to it, Battaash has been there, done that so it would take a brave person to oppose. Remember, aside from his 2 year old campaign, Battaash’s record early in the campaign (ie, his first 3 runs of each season) is exceptional, with 10 wins from 12 runs. The 2 defeats were in this race where he finished 2nd on both occasions behind the top class Blue Point. Extravagant Kid is one of two from the US & he’s hard to ignore but the value has gone whilst Oxted, Liberty Beach & Que Amoro could all go well too.
This isn’t a race I want to be involved in so I’ll sit back & watch the best sprinters around go toe to toe for around 1 minute. I’d love Battaash to win but 2/1 shots just aren’t my game.
4.20 Royal Ascot: St James Palace Stakes
What an open race this appears to be. 13 runners for this Group 1 over a mile on the round horse, we have the best colts from the classic generation doing battle. The market isn’t giving us many clues as it’s 4/1 the field & over the field trading at 8/1 or less. The most likely to go off favourite right now is Poetic Flare who almost certainly has the best form in the field having won the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket & then finishing a short head 2nd in the Irish equivalent behind stablemate Mac Swiney. Both those runs were on contrasting ground so this fast ground won’t phase him & he’s sure to go well.
There were a couple of well fancied disappointments in the 2000 Guineas. Battleground was backed into favouritism but could only finish 13th of 14 with suggestions that he was unsuited by the track. Thunder Moon was another & he finished stone last but was top class at 2 & was made winter favourite. Wembley is the 3rd after finishing 11th of 14 & then last of 11 in the Irish 2000. All 3 could bounce back but in a race of this quality, I’m not sure that’s the angle to take especially as the first 2 are trading in single figures. Lucky Vega is consistent with a record of 3-4 in the 2 Guineas whilst Chindit had won all 4 starts on good or better ground before finishing 5th at Newmarket but I’m still convinced he’s a 7 furlong horse.
The first 3 in the Listed Heron Stakes all reoppose here & it’s the winner of that race, Mostahdaf, that I am very keen on. He beat Highland Avenue & Bullace that day to maintain his unbeaten career record & he looks to be one that’s going right to the very top. He’s trained by the Gosden’s who has saddled 2 of the last 3 winners of this race in Palace Pier & Without Parole. What’s interesting is that my selection here has had an almost identical preparation to those 2 in that he comes into the race off a 3 from 3 record & has never raced in Group company. Palace Pier had never run outside of handicap company whilst Without Parole won the Heron Stakes too on his most recent start. Add to that, all 3 had won at Sandown & Gosden has often said he likes to take a horse there before going to Ascot & everything points to a big run. This Frankel colt won his first 2 starts on the all weather before being sent off a 9/2 shot at Sandown. He got no cover on the outside, travelled well out the back although still looking a little green before making his effort 2 furlongs out. He quickened up well & although not managing to pull clear of the 2nd & 3rd, he was clearly the best horse on the day & was always doing enough. There looks to be more in the locker & I can’t see him out of the first 4.
Back Mostahdaf (e/w) for a 1.5/10 stake at 9.50 Betfair Sportsbook BOG (⅕ odds 1-4)
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5.00 Royal Ascot: Ascot Stakes Handicap
The second longest race of the week is this big field handicap over two and a half miles. Willie Mullins saddles 3 & his runners have to be feared but the one I’d like to be on is Cape Gentleman. Much better known as a hurdler, his one flat handicap resulted in a win in the Irish Cesarewitch. He’s the mount of racing’s newest superstar, jump jockey Rachael Blackmore, but his price & the slight question mark over the ground make this a race for me to sit out.
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5.35 Royal Ascot: Wolferton Stakes
13 runners for this Listed event over a mile and a quarter & there’s a mix of Group proven performers & progressive handicapper’s. The favourite is Patrick Sarsfield & he’s one of those proven in Group company. A Group 3 winner, he was a head 2nd in Listed class on his return & he’s also finished 3rd behind Barney Roy in a German Group 1 & 2nd behind Skalleti in a French Group 2. The big unknown is firm ground so he must be opposed at odds of around 7/2.
Felix has been well backed & despite finishing 3rd in a Meydan Group 1 on his most recent start, he’s much better known as an all weather horse so isn’t for me. Solid Stone has a solid chance for the Stoute yard after progressing out of handicap company. However, that impressive Windsor Listed win 5 weeks ago has landed him with a 3lb penalty which might just be the difference. Forest Of Dean is another horse better on the all weather & after his Winter Derby win, he’s another with a penalty to carry but this time it’s a 5lb one.
All of which leaves me with the progressive handicapper Blue Cup. Last summer he won a handicap off 77 & he’s been lightly raced since with just one more start last term. This year, he kicked off by finishing 5th of 10 in an Epsom handicap where he was a definite eyecatcher. Ryan Moore got him in all sorts of trouble & after veering left & right in search of a clear path, he was eventually eased to finish just over 2 lengths behind the winner. He was a very unlucky loser in my opinion. He then ran too free at York before going back to Epsom on Oaks day. This time it was very different; he was held up out the back but once asked for an effort, the result was never in question as he came home clear by over 5 lengths in what was a high class field. There’s no doubt he needs to improve again but I’m certain there’s more in the locker & with 5 places available, he rates as an excellent each way bet.
Back Blue Cup (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 8.00 Skybet BOG (⅕ odds 1-5)
6.10 Royal Ascot: Copper Horse Stakes Handicap
The closing race of the first day is the second handicap on the card, again over a long trip but not quite as far as the Ascot Stakes at 1 mile 6 furlongs. This is only the second running of the race & last year we saw a well backed horse land the spoils in Fujaira Prince. He’d been gambled on in the run up to the race & there appears to be a similar pattern this year with loads of money for current favourite Saldier. Much better known as a hurdler, he did win on his first start on the level for over 4 years when coming home 7 lengths in front at Listowel just over a week ago. He’s hard to weigh up but comes from the top yard of Willie Mullins so must go close but at around 5/2, he isn’t a bet for me.
Global Storm is the mount of William Buick & he’s a last time out winner having won a Newmarket handicap off 4lbs lower. He has a definite chance but he may just prefer a bit of juice in the ground. Arthurian Fable is interesting. He oftens races on soft ground but did win on his only try with firm in the description. He was also 5th of 17 behind Hukum at this meeting a year ago but now 9lbs higher than his last win, I’m not sure he’s that well handicapped. Throne Hall has potential but flatters to deceive, On To Victory needs it to rain & Sleeping Lion could have done without a 7lb hike in the weights.
At a big price, I like the chances of Cardano. He’s a horse that thrives on his racing having had 10 runs since the end of August, winning twice & finishing 2nd on a further 4 occasions. He’s equally adept on turf & the all weather, and doesn’t look handicapped out of it like some of his rivals. After winning at Lingfield in February off a mark of 92, he went to Musselburgh for the Queens Cup over this trip. He ran a cracker off a mark of 96, denied by a neck by Themaxwecan who reopposes here off 1lb worse terms. He then went off a well fancied 15/2 shot in the Chester Cup & after travelling well, he stopped quickly. However, the marathon trip & softer ground was against him & I put it down to him simply not staying. Back in trip here, on better ground & ridden by a jockey who has a 4 from 4 record on him, I just cannot leave him unbacked especially with the 6 places on offer in a 16 runner race.
Back Cardano (e/w) for a 0.75/10 stake at 26.00 Skybet BOG (⅕ odds 1-6)
Back Cardano in the ‘without Saldier market’ for a 0.5/10 stake at 23.00 William Hill
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