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.
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.
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.