Alex Hammond: Royal variety
Sky Sports News HQ's Alex Hammond marks your card for Royal Ascot next week in her latest blog – and she's got something for everyone.
Will you be having a few quid on the Ribchester, Churchill, Order Of St George, Caravaggio and Winter accumulator? If not, which is most likely to let acca punters down?
I love an acca, but I think this one could be vulnerable; aren't they all?! They are all the form horses in their respective races, but I wouldn't like to think my house depended on them all coming in. Richard Hannon highlighted Barney Roy as his horse to follow for the season and it was interesting to listen to him being interviewed on At The Races at Windsor on Monday night. He was in bullish form about his 2000 Guineas runner-up and looked a bit put out when it was suggested he was the forgotten horse. The track at Newmarket didn't suit him as well as Ascot is expected to and I'm going to go with him for the slight upset to beat Churchill in Tuesday's St. James's Palace Stakes. It's also possible that Order Of St George is opposable in Thursday's Gold Cup. I'm a fan of Big Orange and it was great to see him winning the Henry II Stakes at Sandown last time out as he liked. That will have helped his confidence no end and the lovely weather we are expecting all this week will only aid his cause. Given decent fast ground, he will give the favourite plenty to think about.
The Group One sprints look more open than the races mentioned above. Which horses are on your radar for the King's Stand and the Diamond Jubilee?
The market for Tuesday's King's Stand is dominated by fillies with Lady Aurelia and Marsha the top two in the betting with Sky Bet. As a three-year-old filly Lady Aurelia gets all the weight allowances and she won't mind what ground she encounters. Wesley Ward's charge came back with a win at Keeneland in April and it's great to see her back at Ascot after an impressive win in the Queen Mary last year. Sir Mark Prescott's Prix de l'Abbaye winner Marsha didn't do anything wrong in giving weight away to win on her reappearance at Newmarket. Of the duo, I'm with Lady Aurelia. Also, at 14/1 with Sky Bet I think Goldream is a decent each-way selection after an unlucky second in the Temple Stakes at Haydock last time out. The trouble with Robert Cowell's sprinter is that he has a tendency to fluff his lines at the start and that is something that cost him dear on that occasion. Given a level break, he must have a good chance of a big show in the race he won two years ago, providing he gets his favoured fast ground.
As for the Diamond Jubilee the ground looks like being right up The Tin Man's street if the rain stays away before the final day of the five-day meeting. James Fanshawe didn't have the fastest start to the season, but his horses are in fine form now and this chap looked in serious need of his reappearance run at York's Dante meeting last month. He was giving weight away to all of his rivals that day and the ground was softer than ideal. The ground was also too soft for him when he ran in this race last year and compensation awaits this time round. He's 7/1 with Sky Bet.
The other Group One we haven't mentioned is the Prince of Wales's Stakes. Would the drop back to 10 furlongs with Jack Hobbs be an area of concern for you?
With So Mi Dar out of this race with muscle problems, that must mean that John Gosden will run stablemate Jack Hobbs in this mile and a quarter Group One instead; he also has the option of the Hardwicke over a mile and a half. Godolphin are sure to want a leading contender in the race and with another of their horses, Cloth Of Stars, also an absentee, this looks Jack Hobbs' most likely destination. But, is it the right race? His run in the Champion Stakes (10 furlongs) at Ascot last October was a bit inconclusive as he was ridden out the back and was stuck out wide. He stayed on without threatening the first two home, Almanzor and Found, but he wasn't disgraced. I'm concerned that Gosden said after his Sheema Classic win in March (12 furlongs), that he would like to run him in the Hardwicke (12f) and then the King George (12f) as they are his ideal races. That leads me to believe that a mile and a half is his ideal distance, but will he be good enough to win this over a mile and a quarter? Ulysses may be the fly in the ointment. Sir Michael Stoute's horses are hitting the crossbar a bit at the moment, but he has been amongst the winners and the majority are running to form. This horse is beautifully bred, being by Galileo out of Light Shift and as such has been the subject of plenty of hype. He returned to action at Sandown at the end of April where he won the Gordon Richards Stakes, beating Deauville and there should be significant improvement to come after his first run since early November. Unlike Jack Hobbs, 10 furlongs looks the right fit for this horse and that just gives him the edge in the Prince Of Wales's Stakes for me. He's 5/2 joint favourite along Jack Hobbs with Sky Bet at the time of writing.
Are there any juveniles on your radar that we should be looking out for next week?
I'm guessing anything that Wesley Ward runs! He has Happy Like A Fool in the Queen Mary and having won the race for the past two seasons with Acapulco and Miss Aurelia and also back in 2009 with Jealous Again, then this filly will be incredibly popular. All we have to go on is her win in a four and a half furlong Maiden Special Weight at Keeneland back in April, but that is the same route Ward took with Miss Aurelia and Jealous Again. This filly looks fast.
Jessica Harrington is equally brilliant at handling a three-mile chaser as she is a smart juvenile and I hope Brother Bear wins the Coventry for her. He won on debut at Leopardstown on good to firm ground and then followed that up with a soft ground win in a listed race at the Curragh last time out. He didn't enjoy underfoot conditions that day, but showed how talented he is by overcoming it and he looks a colt of considerable potential.
Finally Alex, give us a couple of tips for the handicaps please!
You don't want much, do you?! OK… here goes. The Royal Hunt Cup is a commentator's nightmare for more reasons than one, but it can be a punters paradise with plenty of each-way value to be found. Now, I'm not sure if ease in the ground is crucial for Victory Bond, but if it's not and he goes on decent Flat racing ground, then he could be one to have on side at a decent price. William Haggas is always a trainer to follow in big handicaps and this horse is unexposed having only run five times in his life. He didn't run as a juvenile and won a maiden on his second start as a three year old. He was tried in Group Two and Three company before being gelded and showed promise to finish third in a big York handicap over a mile on his seasonal reappearance last month. He has only ever run once on good to firm, so it's hard to say if it's what he wants or not, but I won't be dismissing him for that just yet. He's currently 16/1 with Sky Bet for the one-mile cavalry charge and given a decent draw can run into a place at the very least.
Speaking of Haggas and one of his Hunt Cup entries is a horse called Fastnet Tempest, but he may not get a run there and I think he could be interesting in the Wokingham on Saturday instead for which he is 10/1 second favourite with Sky Bet. He's never run over six furlongs, but you need to stay six well at Ascot and he doesn't look short of speed. He showed a good turn of foot to win at Chester over seven and a half furlongs last time out having been slowly away and had to come from last to first. He showed his liking for Ascot the time before that when winning the Victoria Cup over seven furlongs. He isn't an easy horse to watch as his preferred running style is to be held up and not hit the front too soon, but he's consistent and improving and there should be more to come.
And finally, not a handicap, but I fancy Daban to win the Jersey Stakes on Wednesday. John Gosden's filly is smart and is entered in the Group One Coronation Stakes at the meeting, but that race is over a mile and on what we have seen so far, that trip stretches her. She won her first two starts over seven furlongs, including the Group Three Nell Gwyn at Newmarket. She then ran a cracking race to finish third in the 1000 Guineas, but was overhauled by Rhododendron in the closing stages. The 4/1 available with Sky Bet looks very tempting for a filly placed in a strong-looking classic, dropping back to her preferred trip.
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