Wednesday 5.00 Royal Hunt Cup
For me one of the most eagerly awaited races of the Flat season. Run over the straight mile it is a handicap open to three year olds and upwards but is it really a handicap? At most this season there will be only twelve pounds from top to bottom, OR111-OR99, you may even need to have a three figure Official Rating just to get in!
With £175,000 worth of prize money the race is very attractive for those horses just short of Group company. In an ideal world you would like to find a four year old destined for future Group success whose handicap mark just happens to fit in that tight band in mid-June but those that could come into that category are cutting it mighty fine in 2017 and that means the current Ante Post market may have some value in it. Currently six out of the top ten quoted on Oddschecker may not get in. Next Stage (OR100, 12/1), Fastnet Tempest (OR99, 10/1), El Vip (OR99, 20/1), GK Chesterton (OR99, 16/1), George William (OR98, 16/1) and Chelsea Lad (OR98, 16/1) would all have their supporters but will they make the cut? I think Next Stage will but it will be sleepless nights for connections of the other five.
A key player in determining the starting line up in John Gosden as with thirty being the maximum field he trains five that are guaranteed a run. Gm Hopkins will surely run having won this race in 2015. Tashweeq is on his way back from injury having been a classy 2yo but his only run this season was a last of nine and Hamdan al Maktoum has two other horses guaranteed a run. Remarkable was second in the 2016 Balmoral handicap over C&D off just two pounds lower and surely runs. Castle Harbour and Johnny Barnes are both owned by Bermuda Thoroughbreds but for two different syndicates who are both made up of the sort of people who would want a runner at Royal Ascot. None of the five are currently on my shortlist but if Ryan Moore takes the ride on Remarkable I may need to have a second look.
Having checked the weather forecasts and had a good look at the seaweed I can’t see any rain but plenty of sunshine for the next ten days and I’m expecting Good to Firm, Good in places (watering to maintain) to be the going.
sportinglife.com June 13 2017, 10:49 Officials at Ascot have commenced watering ahead of next week’s Royal meeting. The ground is on the quick side of good at the Berkshire circuit and with predominantly dry and warm weather forecast between now and the start of racing next Tuesday, clerk of the course Chris Stickels felt it prudent to turn on the taps. He said: “The track is in great condition at the minute and we are watering today. We’ve got a dry week forecast, certainly until next Tuesday, possibly Wednesday. Even next week might remain dry. There is a risk at the moment of possible showers building up towards the end of next week, but we’re expecting a warm few days this week. Conditions are good, good to firm in places. By the time we’ve finished watering this morning, I expect we’ll be good all over. We’re expecting a hot day tomorrow (Wednesday). We won’t water tomorrow, but we’ll review the forecast and see what we’re going to do later in the week.”
With thirty runners spread across the full width of the Ascot straight I’m ignoring the draw. What you do need is to be with the pace to take you to the final furlong so you can launch a challenge. If they split into two groups you are either in the right group or not, if they come down the middle launching your final attack on either wing is probably best. Having the right man in the saddle is important and as I think Jamie Spencer rides this straight mile better than anyone else he will carry some of my English pounds whatever he is on, Banksea seeming most likely!
I’m looking for a horse in form, big field experience, preferably performed well at Ascot before and might just have a few pounds in hand. The Lincoln over the straight mile at Doncaster is often a strong indicator and with this season’s second home, Oh This Is Us stepping up to the G1 Queen Anne the form looks strong. The third, Donncha, ran on well but looks a bridesmaid at best whilst the winner Bravery is just four pounds higher here he may prefer slower ground although has to be on a shortlist.
So far this season there have been two key contests, the Spring Cup at Newbury over their straight mile and the Listed Hambleton handicap over eight furlongs at York but with two bends. Many key players in the Hunt Cup ran in one of these races or indeed both. At Newbury under a masterful Spencer ride Banksea got up to pip Another Touch with Donncha, El Hayem and especially George William flying at the finish. At York Here Comes When had a going day to beat Chelsea Lad, Victory Bond and Another Touch with the likes of Bravery and Donncha well beaten although Soft in the going was probably key to the winner.
Top weight Tabarrak is the class angle and has won both his last two visits to Ascot on Good to firm ground. Yuften, Persuasive, Afjaan and Sea Wolf all ran in last season’s Balmoral but that form doesn’t look strong enough to me. As well as Afjaan and Victory Bond William Haggas has the seasons big improver Fastnet Tempest who beat George William at Ascot over 7F and returns after a remarkable last to first victory at Chester but will that five pound penalty get him in?
So for me it’s three against the field.
VICTORY BOND is a lightly raced colt with a touch of class who travels very strongly in his races and I think he will improve for his recent run and is attractively weighted here. Two star** win @ 16/1 Ladbrokes
ANOTHER TOUCH recently won well at Nottingham to ensure he got a starting place and on decent ground what he wants is a strongly run race with something to aim at in the last hundred yards and that is exactly what he gets here. He’s in excellent form this season and if #FantasticMrFahey chose to put on either Adam MacNamara and claim three pounds or even Connor Murtagh and claim seven pounds I wouldn’t be disappointed although this is one horse that does go well for Tony Hamilton. One star* win @ 33/1 BetFred
After much humming and harring the third choice is BANKSEA mainly because he is most likely to be ridden by young Mr Spencer. One star* win @ 12/1 PP and Ladbrokes.
Saturday 5.00 Wokingham Handicap
The Wokingham is run over Ascot’s stiff 6F and much of what I said about the Hunt Cup holds true here. I expect the ground to be Good to Firm (watering to maintain) by the time we get to Saturday. Identifying where the pace is going to be is probably more important here as you have two furlongs less to get in the right position.
Once again we are looking for an upwardly mobile 4yo with Group potential who can handle a big field, quick ground and may have a few pounds in hand. There would seem to be many routes to getting to the Wokingham looking at those most likely to run with hardly any form tying in so I’m going straight to my three selections and then having a look at those who could be dangers.
I really fancy PROJECTION. Surely this hold up horse will get the breaks sooner or later and land one of these big pots. Since being gelded he’s run four excellent races, three of them at Newmarket, with form figures of 453-6 which may suggest he’s a nearly horse so why this race. Paul Jones sums it up perfectly in the Stats Guide on the excellent At The Races Royal Ascot 2017 microsite “Roger Charlton’s record catches the eye having supplied a winner, second and four other top-six finishes in recent seasons and his Projection will be a leading fancy running in the colours of The Royal Ascot Racing Club”. His run this season was behind Mr Lupton in a really hot handicap at HQ and that should put him spot on here as he didn’t look too busy to me. Two stars** each way @ 14/1 with BetFred 1234 ¼
My second selection is EASTERN IMPACT who was of course second, having done all the hard work, in that race at Newmarket Projection ran in. I wouldn’t normally consider backing Eastern Impact at anywhere but Newmarket as he’s a ten pound better horse in Suffolk. However the more I think about it the more I’m warming to his chances. He handles quick ground, he’s a course and distance winner, he needs a stiff course, he’s finished sixth and third in the last two runnings of the G1 July Cup, he ran a cracker last time out setting it up for the now OR113 rated Mr Lupton and he runs here in a handicap off just OR103 (..put on either Adam MacNamara and claim three pounds or even Connor Murtagh and claim seven pounds I wouldn’t be disappointed..) in a race #FantasticMrFahey mentioned as a target two months ago. One star* each way @ 25/1 Ladbrokes 1234 ¼
My final selection is NORMANDY BARRIERE purely based on the fact that he wants rattling quick ground and he runs this 6F brilliantly. Trainer Nigel Tinkler is bullish, the gelding is guaranteed a run and William Buick in the saddle would be a real bonus. One star* win @ 20/1 general.
As for the others:-
William Haggas has Squats entered who has solid course form but probably wants a seventh furlong.
The highly tried but out of form Birchwood for what would be his first handicap off OR105, he’s down nine pounds.
Last year’s winner Outback Traveller is another out of form and six pounds higher.
3yo Top Score was beaten less than four lengths in seventh behind Churchill in the 2000 Guineas. This is very different!
First Selection and Steady Pace haven’t raced since Meydan in February but both have solid Group form as two year olds.
Culturati burst into the market with a win at Newmarket last Saturday after eighteen months off. Bounce? He and the rapidly improving Naggers, both need a few to come out to get a run.
This race looks to be Plan B for Fastnet Tempest.
Otherwise it’s a case of familiar faces aged six or older! I’ll stick with my three.