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Royal Ascot Tuesday Tips…. the madness begins, what to trust? which stories to unfold?

Good evening from the Major who writes to you on Royal Ascot eve from a dusky Worcestershire whose cool air belies the season.

The Major must confess to not mustering quite the Cheltenham heights of fervour on Ascot eve.  Yet, we gaze down as Generals on the scene below with the battle about to be joined.  Our artillery are firing Armstrong shells which are bursting brightly above the enemies damn business like looking lines.  Our forward infantry is skirmishing in open formation and the heavy cavalry with lance drawn are bristling to get involved.

What orders shall we send?  What combination of factors does our reason, experience and instinct favour?  Are they right?

Shall we dig in grimly like the Warwickshire’s at Rorke’s Drift, firing our Martini Henry rounds until the enemy is upon us and we entertain them with bayonets drawn and twenty rounds per man?

Shall calamity strike us, like Lord Cardigan, with Raglans orders, charging his Lancers, Dragoons and Hussars into, to quote Tennyson, into that valley of death, sluicing through Russian positions at awful cost; shall we be done the same way? Discharging our bets, each greater than the last seeking glory to shadow past loss but finding none.  Shall our utter defeat be glorious and draw awe from our friends.  As the French General Bosquet famously said; c’est magnifique mais c’est ne pas guerre.

or.. dare we dream, shall our Ascot be akin to Sir James Hope gloriously marching to Beijing, sweeping far numerically superior foe before him, punching his great fist of heavy horse through those ranks of elite Mongol warriors and bringing the Qing forces to heel in glorious style.

At this moment, we can savour the uncertainty, our preparations are made, our strategy of bets laid out.  I wish you luck in the field, my friends.

Royal Ascot Tuesday Tips

The opening day of Royal Ascot is my favourite.  The St James Palace, The Kings Stand and the Queen Anne; not to mention the Coventry, the delights are laid before us, we must eat slowly as not to gorge.

The Queen Anne

The Queen Anne gets us off to an absolute flyer with a single question race… Will Animal Kingdom run to form on his first British start.  If you could answer that with a solid yes then you surely have the winner of the race.  After a number of high-profile defections, the 2011 Kentucky Derby and 2013 Dubai World Cup winner is the star of the show.

He has not raced in Britain, he has not raced over a straight mile.  He has not encountered an uphill finish… cause for concern?

None of these factors seem to bother Graham Motion, UK born trainer of Animal Kingdom.  He has been housing the horse in Lambourn since his travel from Dubai.  Animal Kingdom has had plenty of time to acclimatise and has spent some time at Ascot too as part of his induction.  Having handled the heat and pressure of his former exploits, surely the opening crowd of Ascot won’t effect him…

Motion states his main fear is the ground.  Currently good but with rain forecast, the horse does not want it too soft.

On balance, the other factors bother me less too.  Animal Kingdom is an impressive looking specimen and has a world-class jockey on board.  I would expect those facets to more than cover the unusual course and finish.  The ground is a concern… maybe worth waiting for…

The contenders include Sovereign Debt who was runner-up at a massive price to Farrh in the Lockinge.  That form holds up and he loves Ascot, Sovereign Debt won’t mind the rain either, in fact I dare say that Michael Bell is currently praying for the heavens to open.

Of the John Gosden pair, clearly Elusive Kate is the favoured sort.  I think this is a big ask against the big boys on seasonal debut and I would be more interested in Gregorian who look very pleasing when hitting the front last time out at Epsom on Oaks day.

O’Brien saddles Declaration of War who has something to prove but is in the finest of hands to do it.

On balance, the balance of this race is going to come down to the ground.  I am hoping it stays fairly sound and plan on taking every available bookie offer to supplement the current evens price of Animal Kingdom in the morning.  Coral are going 2/1 for £25 and I am sure there will be more.  The thing that convinces me most is class….. the recent history of the Queen Anne reads like a who’s who of Group 1 racing… Goldikova, Frankel, Canford Cliffs….. Animal Kingdom, feels right n’est pas?

Kings Stand Stakes

Another Group 1, another international star, this time it is South Africa and Shea Shea, as well as Aussie representative Shamexpress.  Prohibit, Sole Power, Kinsgate Native, Swiss Spirit and Reckless Abandon make this an absolute mouth-watering renewal.

Prohibit won the Kings Stand two years ago and can be backed at 40/1, I seriously would not put you off, even if it does not appear, at first glance, to be best in his yard yet alone best in the race.  His stablemate Kingsgate Native, a sterling warrior, back to form last time out is from the same yard and while he will have his fans, if he ever wins again, he won’t be carrying my money.  Kingsgate Native has misbehaved at Ascot before so caveat emptor.

Shea Shea is clearly a leading talent and had Sole Power well beaten twice so must be the form pick  Again we are dealing with an international star traveller who we must take on trust has settled into British life.  Given his globe trotting success, it makes sense to assume he is OK with it.  He is sometimes a bit lit up though and will be ponied to the start.

The other raider, Shamexpress, troubles me as connections have clearly stated that firm going is preferable.

I like Reckless Abandon and three years olds have a great record in this sprint.  He has every chance of reversing form with Swiss Spirit and winner Kingsgate Native as he raced on the wrong side and did not have a lot go his way.  He also gets a shift in the weights to his advantage.

Something tells me to get after Shea Shea.  With the top sprint horses often getting turned over as the season develops, I would never want to be on something that short in the Kings Stand.  That is my strategy.

On balance, I think Reckless Abandon is the most solid option.

The St James Palace

What a beautiful renewal of the St James Palace – For me, this is worth the entrance fee alone, if only I were lucky enough to be present.

First of all, you have to assess Dawn Approach.  When winning the 2,000 guineas, he looked like Pegasus, powering away from the bushes.  His derby run is best described as unexplained.  He broke fine but after half a furlong, something went click and he lit up like a wild bear.  Kevin Manning fought for control, no doubt with his shoulder sockets burning but half way down the hill, no matter who was to win the Herculean struggle for supremacy between man and horse, the race was gone.

Much was made of whether Ballydoyle got the horse beaten with a muddling pace while Bolger had no pacemaker… That is remedied tomorrow with Lettir Mor surely in there to ensure his stablemate has a hare to aim at.

My concern is the mental effect of the Derby on the horse, the whole affair must have at least confused the horse and for me, he is a watch animal for now.  I am a bit surprised they have not sought distance with Dawn Approach to recuperate.  I cannot have been the only punter watching the whole affair unfold to consider the wonder and fortune with which the late Sir Henry Cecil drew the best from Frankel.  Such a comparison is unfair, I draw it not to criticise Bolger – After all Sir Henry will have made his own mistakes at times… Rather it highlights the fine judgements and simple luck needed in managing this top quality precocious youngsters.

Clearly leaving Dawn Approach out of calculations is a big call because his previous form as an unbeaten star is impeccable….. yet it is decided.

I am not keen on horses sub 5/1 with excuses last time.  Toranado may well have had good reason but solving it does not make him value.  What I specifically mean is that to think that it represents value, you have to think Toranado had a great chance of beating Dawn approach anyway.  I did not.

So Magician then… surely.  Well…. there is a horse with a disturbed preparation and that bothers me too.  This horse otherwise would be my pick.  He has won a  2,000 guineas and that is the route that Henrythenavigator, Rock of Gibraltar and Mastercraftsmen all took on the way to their successful St James Palace stints.

So, we have one horse with potential mental issue, one who needs to get over a palate / breathing issue and one that needs to overcome a setback from kicking out in his box.

Of the shorter horses, I fancy Magician.  I trust O’Brien to have him OK after his knock and I think he has a solid winning chance.

Then there is Mars.  Like many, I was very surprised to see Mars stepped back to a mile after doing his best work at the finish in the derby.  I think the course will suit him much better, he got going late at Epsom on a course that doesn’t suit many horses.  There is  going to be a lot of pace on in the St James Palace so a closer might be a good idea.  12/1 is available, I suggest a win bet.

The Coventry

Two lines strike me in the Coventry.  Firstly there is the tale of Sir John Hawkins, after his Curragh win, Sir John Hawkins was supplemented for this race.  That process cost connections £45k, they are plenty fluid enough to have a pop at any race they fancy but my view is that to do so at a later stage when they have a stable of other live chances… well, connections must think there is a decent chance of winning.

The second line of enquiry is Richard Hannon.  He has won this race with Canford Cliffs and Strong Suit, the latter racing in the colours of Championship.  Interestingly, those horses also took in the Newbury maiden which Championship won too… interesting.

If the Coventry was more open, I would definitely be betting War Command.  It is hard to split that one from Sir John Hawkins.  Yet this race favours those at the head of affairs and I am going to stick with Ryan Moore who I rate the superior of the jockeys on my fancied sorts.

Ascot Stakes

I am minded to have a pop at two in this for win bet purposes as there are two I am struggling to be drawn on.

Tiger Cliff would bring the house down winning for the recently widowed Lady Cecil.  Sir Henry said that he thought this was the winner of the race prior to his sad parting and 11/2, I want to be on – Even if it is just to be a part of the emotion of this horse winning.  There will not be a dry eye in Ascot.

The other I want on my side is the Phillip Hobbs trained Big Easy.  There are so many of these jump horses that transfer well back to the flat and Hobbs is pretty decent at it, I still have memories of Detroit City performing well reverting back to the flat.  12/1 is plenty for me to take an interest.

The Windsor Castle

If the twenty runners in the penultimate race provides a conundrum, the twenty-eight due to post in the finale make life insanely tough.

I want one in a high draw and I am opting for last years winning trainer and jockey combination in Ryan and Makin.  Sleeper King is 16/1 in a few places and that is where my pin landed.

Best of luck to you.  For the Major, after a mammoth post, it is to bed.

The Saturday Sermon – Doncaster and Kempton Tips plus Football, plus Keeneland for the US Blue Grass

Good morning from the Major who writes from his bed, comfortable but busy as is the home of a young family.

A very short post as family duties call so, as disappointed as you loyal few will be, I declare no great rambling thoughts shall spill from my mind today, no Sir, a more direct to sports version.

I was contemplating some commentary on the reaction of ordinary folk to the death of Margaret Thatcher this week.   I wanted to make observations over the polarisation of views and the lack of moderate voices.  No time.  I wanted to question whether conviction over compromise in leadership (and gambling) was indeed a virtue, as has been attributed to the late Baroness, no time.

Instead, I leave it to a labour MP from my hometown, Gisela Stuart: When you get to my age, there are no enemies any more; there are just people who are still alive with you…

Beyond that, the Major must confess to being fashionably classless myself.  There is no membership here, my sporting advice remains free, barely profitable and certainly unhinged but we do encourage and discourage followers on their behaviours.  Please act with decorum at all times.

Doncaster Tips

The opening two year old maiden is a typical event for this time of year.  It offers us precious little evidence to work on and we have to base our judgement on breeding and hype.  We shall avoid it.

The 2.20 is the listed Doncaster Mile and there are some interesting runners in a  smallish field.  Highland Knight and Sovereign Doubt have tied form that looks solid, I prefer the former but his prominent racing style might be setting this up.  I have a line through Don’t Call Me as Nicholls tends not to be at his best at Doncaster.

Instead I am having a reasonably lumpy bet on Chandlery.  Richard Hannon is a master of nursing horses back to their best and this is a Group 2 winner who has an entry in the G1 Lockinge.  That is an advert in itself and the season out bears no ill concern for the Major in these capable hands.

In the 3.30 I am sticking with Jack Dexter, 6/1, whose rise through handicapping ranks last season has been admirable.  I was taken by him when he won at Ascot and was delighted to see him go in at Doncaster on seasonal debut.  I think he is a group sprinter ultimately and the way he keeps dealing with these big fields is magnificent.  How he handles the better ground is clearly some concern as is the Majors admission that there is some heart in the selection of this tip.

In the 4.40 maiden, Lewisham is going to be a hot bet as has posted efforts in much better contests than this.  I am always nervous though about horses that are gallant in defeat, even when stepping back in class.  As such, I am suggesting a small speculative slice of Flirtinaskirt at 6/1 who ran with enough credit on the only racecourse appearance and is not here for the air.

Kempton Tips

Just one tip, I think the 3.50 may go the obvious way of Solar Deity at 7/4.  He has won four of his last five races, the last in listed company.  Martin Harley has a decent ride.

Keeneland – The Blue Grass

Having watched Black Caviar strut her stuff again this morning (please come to Ascot!), the Major makes another foray on the global racing scene to up the quality of the fare we are offered.

Keeneland host the Blue Grass a race that is an excellent prep for the Kentucky Derby.  Ladbrokes have a market open and I suggest the following are of interest.

Palace Malice had a horrific trip last time out in the Louisiana Derby – This Todd Pletcher horse is likely to be involved.

Tesseron is no 33/1 shot having come from a prep race that has thrown up plenty of winners.

Java Man is also one that had a horrible trip last time out but still closed to a second behind Verrazano who is the current favourite for the Kentucky Derby.  Java Man has an excellent chance to show that the form of his Tampa derby run is enough to make him a serious player and come and have a pop again at Verrazano in the big one.

My advice is to take a win bet on Java Man, 7/2, and an each way saver on Tesseron, 33/1.

The Football

I am surprised that Villa are 13/10 – With such a wind in their sales, I suspect they will secure the three points that moves them much closer to Premier League safety.  Equally surprising is the price on Southampton who are home to West Ham.  Southampton are a team not getting enough credit for how dangerous they can be and just the wrong size of evens is a decent price.

I like Hull to win away at Ipswich (13/8) and urge all to remain aboard the Watford money train which admittedly has been momentarily derailed but shall be stopping at Peterborough at 6/4 on its way to Profitown.

The Martin Hill Lucky 15 is Chandlery, Solar Deity, Watford and Southampton. (No napalm)

May your dinner be glorious and the company divine.  Courage, roll those dice.