The Gary McKenzie View: Royal Ascot Group 1 races
Putting on my top hat
Anyone who has read my musings will know how much I love a racing festival. Cheltenham is my number one, obviously, but when it comes to flat racing Royal Ascot is the pinnacle. As at Cheltenham, owners, trainers, and jockeys with runners at Royal Ascot all want winner on their CV.
The weather helps to make the week but the recent biblical downpours have already softened the ground. The good news is that the weather for next week is cloudy, although dry with a gentle breeze. Blimey, I have turned into Tomasz Schafernaker (the best named of all the weather presenters).
I am writing this a week in advance so I am hoping the going is no worse than good to soft on Tuesday.
Usually I work out a yankee or Canadian for the week. But this year I am going to preview the eight Group One races and work my life changing, face spitting, multiple bet around some of the selections. I’ll be covering the other races over the next few days.
Starting at the beginning then.
The QUEEN ANNE STAKES is over a mile and is usually won by a previous Group One winner. Le Brivido is the favourite despite finishing behind four of his rivals here in the Lockinge. He would have to improve here and I don’t have the same faith in him as the bookies. Mustashry was the winner that day and he was four lengths clear of Le Brivido. He has form over ten furlongs and the stiff mile at Ascot will benefit him I think.
Rarely runs a bad race
Laurens rarely runs a bad race, although one of her lowest ratings was on this track. She was well below form when running in the QEII, but that was at the end of a hard season. She was two lengths behind Mustashry on what was her seasonal reappearance and she could be closer this time if she comes on for that run.
Accidental Agent and Romanised were third and fourth and I think Romanised could run close to a place if he settles better.
Zabeel Prince won the Prix D’Ispahan last time and that has proved a decent trial in the past. Personally I don’t think he is good enough but he has improved since last year.
I am deserting Laurens and taking a chance on BARNEY ROY. Two years ago he won the St James Palace after being second in the 2000 Guineas. Later he was a nose away from making me very happy when going down to Ulysses in a fantastic finish to the Coral Eclipse.
He was sent to stud at the end of that season but has had problems in that department so has returned to his racing career. He has run twice since his comeback, winning once, both at listed level, and would need to come on half a stone for those runs. But if he can then he has a major chance.
The KINGS STAND STAKES, like my willpower when offered a chocolate biscuit, lasts less than a minute. It is being billed as a clash between last years first and second, Blue Point and Battaash. I slightly favour Battaash especially if he can run like he did last time out at Haydock. He has got buzzy at these big meetings in the past but hopefully he has matured and can cope with the preliminaries better.
Apart from his runs at Meydan Blue Point’s best form has been at Ascot and he was very good in this race last year.
Mab’s Cross has to come into calculations. She won the Palace House first time out, and with a penalty, but was blown away by Battaash last time. She is so game though.
Equilateral was very close to beating Mab’s Cross after a slow start but he now faces the mare on worse terms.
Sergei Prokofiev has always been held in high regard by his Coolmore connections. He was fourth behind Mab’s Cross and Equilateral at Newmarket when starting favourite and he was getting 10lbs from the winner. Hard to see him faring any better on 7lb worse terms.
SOLDIER’S CALL was third, as a two-y3ear-old, in the Prix de l’Abbaye on Arc day getting a ridiculous amount of weight. He was a close up third on his three-year-old debut, carrying a penalty, and if he can come on from that he is worth an each way shout.
Eight of the last ten winners of the ST JAMES PALACE STAKES won either the English or Irish 2,000 Guineas. So Phoenix Of Spain and Magna Grecia have to be considered.
The former was five lengths too good at the Curragh and as that was his first run of the season he is entitled to improve. Magna Grecia’s Newmarket win looks even more influenced by the draw after that defeat. Too Darn Hot was second in the Irish race as well as in the Dante. Could he have just been an exceptional juvenile? He is still a decent horse and this race could see him come back to form.
John Gosden (pictured) has another in the race. King Of Comedy won the listed Heron Stakes, which was the same race won by Without Parole last season before he went on to win the St James Palace, so the master trainer knows how to get one to improve enough to win this.
SKARDU was best of the main group at Newmarket but was not quite as good in Ireland. He is still relatively inexperienced so may still have improvement in him. I’ll be on each way.
The form is dubious
Enable will now not be at Royal Ascot which means the return clash between her and Sea Of Class will have to wait. The Arc runner-up heads the betting for the PRINCE OF WALES STAKES and she is the form choice and, gets the fillies allowance. I think if this was over a mile and a half I would be more confident. Also getting weight is Magical. She is unbeaten this season but she keeps beating Flag Of Honour so the form is dubious.
Crystal Ocean is two from two this term, albeit at Group Three level. He won the Hardwicke here last year and has never been out of the first three. He could go for that race again.
Masar hasn’t been seen since his Derby win last year. It would take some training performance for him to win a race of this quality first time out but he is a quality performer.
WALDGEIST ran a career best in the Prix Ganay which shows he may not yet have peaked. His record over this distance is two wins and two seconds from five runs and his trainer is a legend who has won this race before.
The GOLD CUP is my favourite race of the meeting. The last few years have seen some dramatic and emotional finishes. Big Orange gave me a lump in my throat and the final furlong in last years race saw four of the best stayers around in a line. Vazirabad was my fancy and he nosed ahead but Stradivarius is a champion and proved it that day.
He will be a warm favourite to retain his title. He has already won the Yorkshire Cup (pictured) under a penalty and he is the most likely winner. Seven horses have defended their title in their last forty years and he is young enough to try and emulate the great Yeats.
Aiden O’Brien has five in the race and St Leger winner Kew Gardens definitely has the class for this. He has been beaten twice this season and has never run this far before. But few first time winners have.
But I am going to go with SOUTHERN FRANCE. He was second in the Yorkshire Cup so has to make up a length on less favourable terms but at a double figure price I can see him in the frame at least.
Dee Ex Bee won the Sagaro Stakes and the extra half mile should be within him. Cross Counter won the Dubai Gold Cup and before that he came from way back to win the Melbourne Cup. He has pace so if he handles the distance he is a danger.
Cross Counter beat Call The Wind at Meydan and I was hoping the French horse would reoppose here. But that son of Frankel will not be travelling. There is a Gallic challenge however. CALLED TO THE BAR is another who has been finishing well over shorter trips. He would need to find a few pounds on form but I think he could be the dark horse in the race.
Calyx was all the rage for THE COMMONWEALTH CUP following his blistering trial win. He won’t run at the meeting now due to injury. There were concerns anyway following his defeat at Haydock. This means that Ten Sovereigns is the favourite. He won the Middle Park last season but probably failed to stay in the Guineas.
That was his only run this season and assuming he comes on for that, and the trip suits better, he is a worthy favourite. Aiden O’Brien has a decent second string in So Perfect. Third in a blanket finish to the Fred Darling she won a Group Three next time over this trip.
Hello Youmzain beat Calyx last time and was visually impressive that day. Khadeem won a competitive listed contest last time and has been improving steadily throughout his career.
I managed to find the winner of this race last year and I am hoping Sheik Hamdan can double up alongside me. JASH has only been beaten once, by Ten Sovereigns in that Middle Park, and looks the real deal to me. He looks versatile regarding running style. The going could be a concern though as he has only run on good or faster.
Dual Guineas winner Hermosa could be this years Alpha Centauri. It was reported that she would be going for the Prix Diane but as she is now favourite for the CORONATION STAKES I think that idea has been shelved. She was even better at the Curragh than at Newmarket and she looks a special filly.
Castle Lady won the French Guineas and is unbeaten. She will handle the forecast underfoot conditions too. The form of the race, however, looks a few pounds inferior. Pretty Pollyanna was no match for Hermosa in the Irish Guineas but that was her first run of the season. She may get closer than four lengths this time.
Sir Michael Stoute (pictured) runs Jubiloso who is second favourite despite only winning a novice event. She has run just twice so I would be surprised if she can win this but Mr Stoute knows a bit more about horses than I do doesn’t he?
I was hopeful MAQSAD would run well in the Oaks but she looked a non stayer. She gets ten furlongs though and could be strong in the finish of this mile race. Her price looks value for my purposes.
The final Group One of the meeting is the DIAMOND JUBILEE STAKES. Invincible Army is favourite and he has run career bests in his two races this term. He has to be respected even though his overall form is slightly behind some of these in my view.
The Tin Man won this race two years ago and also won the Sprint Cup last September so his recent form is decent. But only one seven-year-old has won this race in the last forty years. In fact only five horses older than five have been successful in that time.
Blue Point is still in the race and if bypassing the Kings Stand he has to be on everyone’s radar.
Despite the fact that only three winners this century have been trained outside the British Isles I am hopeful that a foreign trainer will defy that statistic this year.
Wesley Ward has won this race before with Undrafted. His runner this year is BOUND FOR NOWHERE. He was fourth in the Commonwealth Cup in 2017 and third in this race last year. He should be thereabouts again.
The French have a strong hand here. Inns Of Court is two from three over six furlongs, all at Maison-Lafitte. His last run was his best so he is in form. The horse he beat two runs ago was CITY LIGHT who was second in this race last year. He has only been sent abroad twice and won on his other start outside France. I think this race has been the plan since last June.
So there you have it. My weapons to go to war with against the bookies.
Good luck all
Royal Ascot Key Stats
Day 1 http://wp.me/p8e3Dl-26d
Day 2 http://wp.me/s8e3Dl-8079
Day 3 http://wp.me/p8e3Dl-26K
Day 4 http://wp.me/s8e3Dl-8160
Day 5 http://wp.me/p8e3Dl-27U