Today our picks come from Royal Ascot in the UK and from British racing expert Andy Holding.
Race 1 (08:15 EST) - Picks: Kaeso (6/1 ML) & Greenside (20/1 ML)
Not the traditional start to the Royal meeting, that normally goes the way of the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes, but at the same time, it’s good to see this popular seven-furlong handicap return and, as is befitting of a race of this nature, a wide-open contest is the order of the day. That said, if you apply the golden rule of staying loyal to horses who have previous solid form over this demanding track, the field can be whittled down to a manageable level and of those who fall in to that category, KAESO (best price 6/1) and GREENSIDE (best price 20/1) make the most appeal at the morning prices.
The former has developed into proper reliable and tough handicapper in events of this nature and although he’s yet to win here in four starts, his form figures still read an impressive 5333. Best of the low numbers when a creditable third to the well-handicapped Cape Byron in last year’s Victoria Cup, Nigel Tinkler’s gelding only just got touched off by another course specialist in the shape of Raising Sands in the ultra-competitive International Handicap on his return to the Berkshire venue two months later. Not seen out for 315 days, the seven-year-old made his comeback in a hot contest at Newcastle 10 days ago and although he ended up fading inside the final furlong behind the impressive winner, Daarik, his keenness in the early stages ended up being his undoing. Sure to be all the better for that initial outing and very much at home in a well-run, big-field handicap on turf over this specialist trip, the stocky son of Excelebration looks sure to go well from his favourable middle draw with Oisin Murphy on board.
The latter is getting a little long in the tooth, but on the evidence of his last half-a-dozen starts, he’s not quite ready to hang up his boots just yet. Well-backed to land last season’s Spring Cup at Newbury, Henry Candy’s gelding may have gone close to justifying the gamble with a clearer run and it was no surprise to see him make amends at Windsor next time out. A series of fine placed efforts culminated with a solid performance in the bet365 Challenge Cup over today’s C&D last October and a repeat of something close to that level should see him go well again. Moreover, he goes particularly well when fresh (form figures of 1412542 when off for 90 days or more) and hailing from a yard just beginning to find their stride after a slow start, the nine-year-old looks set to roll back the years with conditions to suit. 10ml of overnight wouldn’t have done his prospects any harm either.
Race 2 (08:50 EST) - Picks: Fox Chairman (15/2 ML) & Mohaather (15/2 ML)
A competitive renewal for this Group 1 which usually kicks off the meeting and there are cases to be made for quite a handful. Circus Maximus has been popular in the build-up to the race and it’s easy to see Aidan O’Brien’s colt going well in his bid to follow up last season’s St James’ Palace Stakes victory. However, both FOX CHAIRMAN (best price 15/2) and MOHAATHER (best price 15/2) have the necessary tools to prove troublesome upstarts and they are taken against the field.
The former is the most lightly-raced among the 16-strong field, having just had the four starts, but he’s also one of the most gifted in the line-up and he’s fancied to prove that point here this afternoon. Pitched into listed company off the back of winning a maiden at Newbury last season, Andrew Balding’s colt was undeniably unlucky in the Dee Stakes at Chester won by Circus Maximus and based on the evidence of what we witnessed that day, the argument for him being the best horse in the contest was by no means an erroneous one. A very creditable runner-up in the Hampton Court on his next start, the son of Kingman wasn’t exactly blessed with the greatest of fortune at the Berkshire track and he soon made amends when rounding of his season with a regulation win in listed affair at Newbury. Not seen out since, his fitness shouldn’t be any sort of issue given the form of his yard at present and with a likely well-run contest sure to suit this strong-travelling four-year-old over today’s stiff mile, a big run looks on the cards.
The latter is easily one of the most gifted horses in the field and providing he’s anywhere near his best following 241-day sabbatical, his class should ensure he’s bang on the premises. An electric winner of the Greenham Stakes at Newbury last season, Marcus Tregoning’s colt was a big fancy for the 2000 Guineas, but a stress fracture meant he had to miss out and it then just a case of salvaging something from the rest of the campaign. Making just one more appearance before stumps were pulled, the son of Showcasing ran an absolute blinder when a keeping-on fifth in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes here on Champions Day, proving he not only belongs in the very highest grade, but that he also handles today’s stiff C&D. Drawn right next to likely pace-setter Maria’s Diamond in stall 14, the four-year-old should get a nice tow into the business end, and hailing from a yard who is currently running at a 40% strike-rate, it would be disappointing if he wasn’t involved in the shake.
Race 6 (11:10 EST) - Picks: Queen Power (9/2 ML)
Sir Michael Stoute looks to have a strong hand in this well-contested Group 2 prize for fillies and even though Jubiloso has very strong claims, the percentage each-way alternative to her stable mate is QUEEN POWER (best price 9-2).
Strongly-fancied to land the Ribblesdale here last season, the daughter of Shamardal totally blew her chances of winning by pulling way too hard in the early stages, but there’s also a school of thought to suggest the trip might have played a big part in her demise, too. Even more disappointing on her final start of the season at Windsor, it was good to see the chestnut filly bounce back to something approaching her best with a solid effort behind the progressive Terebellum in the Group 2 Dahlia Fillies’ Stakes at Newmarket 10 days ago and with that run likely to have put tightened her up nicely in regards to her condition, there’s every reason to feel upbeat about her chances of proving herself over today’s stiff mile.
Race 7 (11:40 EST) - Picks: Blue Laureate (14/1 ML) & Diocletian (16/1 ML)
There’s no denying DIOCLETIAN (best price 16/1) could have done with a better draw posted out in stall 19, but given that he’s likely to be dropped in to get the trip anyway, it probably doesn’t make as much difference as it normally would, and in any case, he has enough class and quality to make an impact on his first beyond 2m2f. Way too keen for his own good the last time he raced over two miles, Andrew Balding’s gelding proved much more effective when he was given a patient ride over slightly shorter trips and his best performance came when ridden in this fashion at Chester on his final start of last season. The way he cruised through the race on the Roodee last September was a sight to behold and it was a performance that also produced a sparkling speed figure. Interestingly, the hood goes on for the first time in order just to allow him to settle in the early stages and providing Oisin Murphy can switch him off and conserve his energy for the business end, there isn’t many in today’s field who can cope with his change of gear at this sort of level.
Just in case everything doesn’t go to plan for Diocletian, the safest policy is to have a back-up option and using the tried-and-trusted strategy of favouring National Hunt races in this stamina test (10-10 in the last decade), BLUE LAUREATE (best price 14/1) makes plenty of appeal from the runners in that category.
Lightly-raced over jumps, Ian Williams’ gelding proved that he stays well when runner-up to the useful Bally Conor over 2m7f at Haydock back in December and also that cheekpieces really sharpened up his game. Making his reappearance and back on the Flat after a 187-day layoff, the Poet’s Voice gelding was once again fitted with the same headgear on his return to the Flat at Haydock eight days ago and despite not quite managing to get his head in front, his performance still managed to be a very commendable one. Slightly outpaced as the pedestrian tempo finally increased three out at the Merseyside venue, the five-year-old hit the front over a furlong out and looked the most likely winner until just getting run out of the argument close home by the rallying Moon King. Sure to be all the straighter for that initial outing, it’s worth pointing out that Blue Laureate has plenty of solid form over today’s course with three placed efforts from four starts and, hailing from the same stable who took this race last season with a similar type in the shape of The Grand Visir, it would come as no surprise if history repeated itself.