ROYAL ASCOT SENSATIONS: GREATEST RACING STORIES EVER TOLD: There are thrillers today we’ve only dreamed of. The Duel of the Champions, a Tale of Two Powers, The Star Witness, The Cliffs Hanger, The Case of Frankel and the Sleepless Knight.. It’s all happening on the Ascot Opening Day.
THE DAY OF THE WONDER HORSE: You couldn’t write the script as not one but two so-called European wonder horses, Goldikova and Frankel, are joined by the latest Aussie speed champion, Star Witness, and a quality supporting cast, in an equine extravaganza of Star Wars proportions.
DAQMAN WON 139 POINTS AT THE MEETING LAST YEAR: Amid all the Royal Ascot drama, Daqman attempts his usual sober judgments at a meeting which landed him 139 points profit last year, with 18 winning bets.
9-1 WINNER AND NINE OUT OF 11 LAYS UP: He was in good form yesterday with Duster (WON 9-1), Ma Quillet (WON 7-4) and Timepiece (WON 11-8), and Keyhole Kate (last of 17 at 6-1) was his ninth successful lay in the last 11.
BETDAQ VALUE TODAY AT 110.0: Daqman finds massive value on Betdaq at 110.0, 47.0, 41.0, 16.0 and 15.5, and much more.
Take it easy, Frankel! Seldom have Royal Windsor results had any bearing on Royal Ascot but Windsor is just down the road and the returns from the evening meeting there last night showed slow times for every race, despite an official going return of good, good to soft in places. It’s going to be a long mile home for Frankel on an easy surface.
2.30 Royal Ascot (Queen Anne Stakes): This is Canford Cliff’s day; or at least it has been two years running, with Tuesday success in the Coventry Stakes (2009) and the St James’s Palace Stakes (2010). As the younger horse, he should be the improver.
But it was also Goldikova’s day last year, when she beat Canford Cliff’s stablemate Paco Boy in the Queen Anne, and she’s had 12 other Group-1 winning days, a record in Europe.
Since her 130 rating a year ago, the handicapper says she has deteriorated to 125. In that time, he has raised Canford Cliffs from 122 to 127, theoretically overtaking the older horse. Cape Blanco also notched a higher mark than Goldikova last year after his Irish Derby win and Irish Champion Stakes romp but his 126 has been whittled back to 122 after poor Spring form and, on all known form, he’s no miler.
But it’s so close on the ratings that pace or going could make the difference. That’s exactly my thinking. Cape Blanco’s demise in European championship races has been on soft ground, though he won on it as a juvenile; Canford Cliffs has never raced on worse than good; so today’s easy surface could hand it to Goldikova, seven times a winner with ‘soft’ in the going return. Not many horses can quicken off slower ground. Goldikova can. And how!
The stats say it’s not easy for either of the main protagonists: the last horse to land back-to-back wins in the race did so in 1907; only four of 21 Lockinge winners have gone on to take this race. But don’t hold your breath for long: there’s a lightning fast King’s Stand Stakes. Then Frankel.
3.05 Royal Ascot (King’s Stand Stakes): The heady days of Dayjur and Lochsong seem long ago. Now the best sprinters come from abroad: they’ve won six of the last eight King’s Stands and only Equiano has scored for England since the race gained Group-1 status, and he had won it two years earlier for Spain.
The second telling factor from the stats is that eight of the last 10 winners had raced three times already in their year: so, to succeed in this race, an animal must obviously be fast but also very sharp and super fit.
Overseas challengers today are Overdose (15 wins from 16 starts in Hungary), War Artist (German but a winner at Longchamp and Meydan), Keeneland-track-record breaker Holiday For Kitten and Bridgetown (USA), Sole Power and Arctic (Ireland), Mar Adentro (France), Star Witness (Australia) and Sweet Sanette (Hong Kong).
The English handicapper has failed only to connect with Overdose: all other raiders are rated, with Sole Power off 117, Star Witness 116 and War Artist 115, the rest nowhere. You are asked to believe that only the odd pound (about a neck) separates three or four horses.
Star Witness’s best performances have come down the famous Flemington ‘straight six’ and he’s scored with cut in the ground, whereas Bridgetown is a pure 5f speed horse on the firm and Holiday For Kitten gets further but his winning form is also on a fast surface.
Overdose was said to need the race when outpointed by Sole Power and Kingsgate Native at Haydock but had made all on his home track a month earlier. I’m worried about the ground for Sole Power but – like Sweet Sanette and War Artist – he’s had the requisite three runs this year.
Seven out of 10 past winners were younger than six, and I fancy Star Witness and Sole Power, with the Aussie star most suited to a tough 5f on a straight course with cut. They are the pair with their careers still in front of them and, racing on opposite sides of the track, will tell us if there is any draw bias for the Coventry Stakes later on.
3.45 Royal Ascot (St James’s Palace Stakes): This is it, the defining moment for Frankel, or rather the defining 98 seconds or so. That’s what he’d have to do to beat the last five winners of this, who all clocked around 99 but on a sound surface. If Frankel can better their times today with cut in the ground, he will indeed be a champion.
Frankel looked a freak in the 2,000 Guineas but sweated up and was accompanied to post. That he could boil over is the sole reason not to back him today but, at the same time, he can hardly be opposed.
He is around a stone clear of all – including the Guineas second, Dubawi Gold – bar Dream Ahead (but that’s 2010 form) and Wootton Bassett, who was probably beaten in the French 2,000 Guineas by exaggerated tactics and lack of a previous run, but excuses don’t win races.
Dubawi Gold was second again in the Irish 2,000 but the winner that day was Roderic O’Connor, who’d run only 11th in the Newmarket farce, so we can’t believe everything we saw on the famous Heath that day.
There is one who will be more nervous than Frankel, and that’s his trainer, the sleepless knight, Sir Henry Cecil. The last Guineas winner to come direct to this race and win it was Bolkonski in 1975. The trainer was then known as Henry Cecil.
4.25 Royal Ascot (Coventry Stakes): Richard Hannon has four chances of completing the hat-trick, following Canford Cliffs and Strong Suit in this, but it used to be Aidan O’Brien’s province – three wins out of seven to 2007- and Power has earned clear top rating with his two wins at The Curragh.
Tom Dascombe has shown he has a hot bunch of juveniles at home and his Barolo Top is the only horse in the race to have won with cut in the ground, though you’d think on their breeding that Roman Soldier and St Barths, the pick of two-year-olds in depth at the Noseda and Meehan yards, would adapt to an easy surface.
The hampered St Barths is entitled to feel aggrieved by his two lengths arrears to Trumpet Major, seemingly Richard Hughes’ pick of the Hannon quartet, from which Campanology (64.0 on Betdaq this morning) is likely to be the one to take out of the race.
There are strong words for Gatepost, Commissar and Mezmaar, and the American flag has already been unfurled by Italo at Longchamp.
I’m opposing Italo on the grounds that the blinkers used for the first time then might not work a second time, and I’m against Mezmaar and Gatepost only because their yards haven’t had a flood of juvenile winners.
I like Barolo Top (110.0) and Commissar (16.0) at big prices but I can’t really see past Power (5.7), with Ballydoyle having so many to choose from. Stalls between two and 11 did best at the May meeting at Ascot in an 18-runner handicap and I’m going out on that limb for Commissar, ridden by the Ascot king, Frankie Dettori.
5.00 Royal Ascot (Ascot Stakes): Junior is up 10lb for strolling home in this race last year but will be hard to beat again, having gone close in the Goodwood Stakes off 2lb lower than today, though his switch from hurdles to chasing (won the Kim Muir) may have him in a different mindset.
Of the outsiders, Ermyn Lodge is the ‘same horse’ as Zigato at the weights on their running at Ascot last month, yet Ermyn Lodge is 20.0 and Zigato 5.6 this morning and, though Zigato quickened away that day, the race was run in very slow time for the conditions (good to firm).
Veiled is short because she’s with Nicky Henderson. The Sadlers Wells mare could improve for the trip but her winning form is in class-4 and class-5, and she was a long way behind when Plymouth Rock was third at Neemarket last summer.
Plymouth Rock, who has had two runs back, was then an excellent third on good-to-soft in the Cesarewitch (Palomar fifth) after being hampered and switched and 15.5 offers look unreal in the Betdaq exchanges as I write.
5.35 Royal Ascot (Windsor Castle Stakes): The results by stall of the King’s Stand and the Coventry Stakes will tell you more than the limited form available about which way the cookie crumbles. Will the Mitie Mouse get a nibble from the one draw? Or will the Baylef arrive from stall 19 and spoil your day?
Remember this is only Listed level so the lesser stables get a look-in (winners up to 100-1 in 2008), though the last two years have seen a blitz from America (Strike The Tiger) and a gamble by the Richard Fahey yard, once maybe a lesser stable but now one of the top, and – significantly – in a season when it has unleashed a bevy of good two-year-olds.
Fahey runs two, with champion jockey Paul Hanagan seemingly preferring Worthington to the dual winner, Lexington Spirit. Worthington (in 17) is drawn alongside Frederick Engels in 22, but the rest of the market leaders are in the lower numbers.
In any case, I can’t back a favourite in this race (they’ve won only one out of 12) and I can’t back the winner of a five-horse race at Musselburgh, so I’m laying Frederick Engels, with the third reason that he seems out on a limb in the high draw.
Richard Hughes has deserted Wolfgang (in 21) for Magic City (in 9), racing adjacent to Gentlemans Code (in 10) and Bear Behind (5), who were one-two at Folkestone. Look for Coventry pointers from Mezmaar for Ballesteros, North Star Boy and Gatepost for Bayleyf, Fulbright for Caspar Netscher, Effervescent for Lupo D’Oro, and Gabrial and Gatepost for Hamza.
I can’t understand why Hamza is a bigger price (27.0 offers on Betdaq) than Stonefield Flyer (14.0), to whom he has given weight and a beating. Baylef is 47.0 and Ballesteros 41.0.
I shall assume that the American could be better than these, and I shall assume that the Group-2 Coventry indicates potentially good chances in particular for Hamza, Ballesteros and Baylef at big prices. But it’s all assumption in a race like this. Good luck!
BET 12pts win (nap) GOLDIKOVA (2.30 Royal Ascot)
BET 4.1pts win STAR WITNESS (3.05 Royal Ascot)
WIN-30 JACKPOT: BET 6.3pts win POWER, 2pts win and place COMMISSAR and 0.2pts win and 1pt place BAROLO TOP (4.25 Royal Ascot)
LAY to win 10pts VEILED, and WIN-30 JACKPOT: BET 6.8pts win JUNIOR, and 2pts win and place PLYMOUTH ROCK (5.00 Royal Ascot)
LAY to win 10pts FREDERICK ENGELS, and BET 2.7pts win GENTLEMANS CODE plus 0.5pts win and 1pt place each on BALLESTEROS and BAYLEF and 0.7pts win and 1pt place HAMZA (all 5.35 Royal Ascot)
DAQ MULTIPLES: 3 x 2pt win doubles and 1pt win treble GOLDIKOVA (2.30 Royal Ascot), STAR WITNESS (3.05 Royal Ascot) and FRANKEL (3.45 Royal Ascot)