Alex Hammond: Cracks is your Man!
Alex Hammond reflects on the Royal meeting and has selections for this weekend's Irish Derby and Northumberland Plate.
After a breathless week at Royal Ascot, which performances impressed you the most?
Probably the winners I backed! Joking aside the first breath-taking performance of the week came from Lady Aurelia. She's now 5/4 favourite to win the Nunthorpe after her scintillating win in the King's Stand and the plan is to come back for the York race. She's a total speed ball and is a great advertisement for the skills of her trainer Wesley Ward; what a force to be reckoned with the American handler is becoming with a variety of horses at our showcase fixtures.
I tipped Big Orange to win the Gold Cup in last week's blog and also put my money where my mouth is, so I was delighted with his gritty win over Order Of St George. He's a real crowd pleaser, very much in the vein of the National Hunt horses we grow to love, and for once Aidan O'Brien had to watch one of the big prizes go elsewhere. I'm excited to hear that they could face off again in the Goodwood Cup, which has been promoted to Group 1 status for the first time. Big Orange will be bidding to win the Sussex contest for the third year in succession after he became the first horse to win back to back running's of it last year since Double Trigger did the double in 1997/98. Vazirabad, who missed Ascot with injury after being struck into in his previous race could add some more spice to the mix if his trainer Alain de Royer Dupre can get him back in time for the race which is on 1 August.
I took Caravaggio on in the Commonwealth Cup and that proved to be an error! My money was on Blue Point and there were excuses as he has come back jarred-up after his third-place finish and will require a short spell on the side-lines as a result. Having said that, I don't think he would have beaten Aidan O'Brien's star three year old sprinter regardless. We tend to get a bit complacent when Aidan tells us this is the best horse he has ever trained, or the fastest, or most naturally talented, but this horse is truly special and I'm looking forward to seeing this unbeaten colt take on the older sprinters in the July Cup at Newmarket. It has be difficult for three-year-old sprinters in the past with a lack of opportunities, but the introduction of this race has been a great addition to the racing calendar and he doesn't strike me as a three-year-old that is going to struggle with the opportunities he is given this season.
Will I be foolish to bet against Caravaggio again? I'll be torn, because another of my highlights from the week was the win of The Tin Man, whom I tipped to win the Diamond Jubilee and was delighted to see him do so. A match up like the one we should get at Newmarket is what racing is all about and Sky Bet have the best older sprinter around at 7/1 for next month's Group One with the young pretender the 11/10 favourite.
Give us two to follow from last week's handicaps that could be worth keeping onside in the coming weeks.
Again, you tend to remember the horses you had/lost money on. The draw caught a few fancied horses out and one of those looked to be Projection who finished third in the Wokingham. I backed the Roger Charlton trained four year old each-way, so it wasn't all bad, but despite winning his group on the stands side, he couldn't win the race. The Bunbury Cup could be his next port of call at Newmarket's July meeting for which he's 12/1 second favourite. That looks like another race where I'll have divided loyalties as a horse that also went into my notebook was Fastnet Tempest; my selection in the Royal Hunt Cup. He's 8/1 favourite to win the Bunbury Cup having finished ninth at Royal Ascot, not getting the run of the race and also taking the stand's side path. Both horses could progress beyond handicaps and it will be interesting to see who fares best of all in next month's big handicap. Finally Ronald R was a horse that earned me a few coppers last week and almost gave trainer Michael Bell and owners Bill and Tim Gredley a magnificent Thursday with his second-placed finish in the Britannia. He's an improving horse and should be placed to good effect by his Gold Cup winning trainer. So, I can't count because that's three to follow and not two, but I suppose two of them could end up in the same race!
Can anything prevent Aidan O'Brien from winning another Irish Derby at the Curragh on Saturday?
I hope so because I'm on a retrieval mission with Cracksman. Everything went Wings Of Eagles way at Epsom, staying on off a strong pace, a pace that was possibly the undoing of John Gosden's Derby third. If he is ridden slightly more from off the pace and hoping the son of Frankel settles better at the Curragh, I'm going for him to turn the form around with the shock Epsom winner. It's a pity that regular rider Frankie Dettori is recuperating from the arm injury he sustained at Yarmouth the week before Royal Ascot, but his loss is Pat Smullen's gain and the leading Irish rider comes in for the plum spare ride on the 5/2 second favourite. Things won't be easy for Smullen though as eight of the 12 entries are hail from Ballydoyle and tactically he is likely to be up against it, but let's hope Gosden's colt and Smullen can outfox the Coolmore onslaught.
Where will your money be going in the Northumberland Plate up at Newcastle?
At the time of writing the final declarations hadn't been made for Newcastle's two mile handicap; fondly known as the Pitman's Derby. I'll tell you what I fancy now, but if after the draw is known and we are stuck out wide, I'd almost be inclined to put a line through it as a low draw is fairly crucial.
Flymetothestars is Sky Bet's ante-post favourite for the powerful combination of Sir Mark Prescott and Luke Morris. He's a worthy favourite (5/1) having won three of his four starts and having that typically unexposed, improving profile of a Prescott horse on a roll. He has shown his liking for this all-weather track a couple of times, including a win over Saturday's trip back in May in a race that has worked out well. The runner-up that day went on to finish second to Thomas Hobson in the Ascot Stakes and he should run a big race on Saturday given a decent draw.
I'm with the James Fanshawe-trained Higher Power though, currently a 7/1 shot. He has been placed in all four starts on artificial surfaces, winning two, and whilst he didn't frighten Big Orange too much in Sandown's Henry II Stakes on his latest outing in May, he could do no more than finish second to the subsequent Gold Cup winner and that form needs no explanation. Prior to that, he finished second in the Queen's Prize at Kempton with Endless Acres one place behind him in third (the same horse that finished runner-up to Flymetothestars at Newcastle and went on to finish second in the Ascot Stakes last week). Yes, Higher Power is rated 107, but this is a horse that is an out-and-out stayer, but also seems to be blessed with a turn of foot and I think he's classy enough to win a race like this.
What else has come onto your radar for the weekend's action?
I can't help thinking that Ornate's turn to win another race can't be far away and Robert Cowell's sprinter is entered in the Chipchase Stakes at Newcastle on Saturday. He is currently 10/1 with Sky Bet for the six-furlong Group 3 sprint which could just tempt me to back him each-way.
Richard Fahey's Don't Touch is another in that race that I'll be watching with interest. He ran well behind The Tin Man on Champion's Day last October, only being beaten a length and three quarters by the Diamond Jubilee winner. He is one from one on the all weather and he ran well on his reappearance in Ireland a couple of week's ago. He's 4/1 second favourite behind the William Haggas-trained three-year-old Second Thought who won on All Weather Finals Day at Lingfield back in April and has since finished second to Harry Angel at Haydock, form that looks pretty smart now. It looks like a good race.
I'll be keeping a keen eye on the weather for Newmarket's card on Saturday too because if it stays soft then I'm looking forward to seeing Lord Yeats run in the Fred Archer Stakes. He is 14/1 for Yorkshire trainer Jedd O'Keeffe and is the sort of horse that could fly the flag for the Middleham handler on his favoured soft surface. He has a bit to find on the ratings with some of these including the likes of Midterm and Second Step, but he's one to watch and could easily run into a place.
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