The first day of Royal Ascot is up there with the best days in British Racing. Those first four races on Tuesday are just pure class; bang, bang, bang, one after the other. Even someone like me who sways massively towards National Hunt gets a bit excited by the racing on offer this week.
It is just the racing that gets me though, I’m more a fan of that than the actual meeting and everything Royal Ascot has to offer in terms of tradition and as an event.
The pomp and glamour of Royal Ascot just don’t do it for me. I can see both sides of the argument but I just feel the rules, dress codes and elitism excludes a lot of people; it fails to make racing inclusive and does nothing to detract from the view that racing is just for the moneyed elite. I’m not saying they have to take away all dress codes but just make it a little more accessible and less pompous. My own experience of Ascot, including outside of the Royal meeting, is that the attitude of staff and members is overly snobbish and can put a lot of people off racing.
The coverage of Royal Ascot is probably the biggest gripe I have though and I hope ITV can change that with their first year of coverage. The sycophancy towards the Royals and the fashion coverage that has been a constant in terrestrial coverage puts me right off. Not everyone is a fawning royalist or amazed that the Queen can wave at people from a distance and I’d imagine 99% (plus) of racing fans have no interest in seeing someone talk about hats for five minutes between every race. I know it’s done in an attempt to attract different audiences to watching but it just seems pointless; they’re turning off their core audience and if you are in to that sort of thing, you’ll be pretty disappointed the next time you switch the racing on and find there is no white-hot hat talk.
Before I get into too excessive of a rant, I’ll move quickly onto selections for the opening day of Royal Ascot.
2:30 Queen Anne Stakes (Group 1) 1m
It’s hard to see beyond RIBCHESTER here. I can’t confess to being his biggest fan but he is effective and clearly the best of the older milers; he looks like a banker for the opening race and even at odds on could be worth a punt. There are some minor concerns over the likely fast ground but it would have been watered so is unlikely to be lightning quick. If you’re looking for an each way play Lightning Spear is the obvious one with American Patriot perhaps worth a play at a bigger price given his form in the US on a quicker surface.
3:05 Coventry Stakes (Group 2) 6f
This looks very tough to call with a case to be made, on some level, for almost all of the 18 runners. A tentative selection goes with MURILLO. He was a disappointing last on debut but then won convincingly on his second start and given the record of Aiden O’Brien in this race, the son of Scat Daddy is the pick.
Brother Bear, De Bruyne Horse, Aqabah and Arawak are among the more obvious alternative choices, but as an each way play perhaps it is worth taking a chance with Prince Of The Dark at a bigger price.
3:40 King’s Stand Stakes (Group 1) 5f
The favourite at the time of writing is Marsha and she looks best of the British given her impressive win at Newmarket last time out, however, the pick goes to LADY AURELIA. She was probably the most impressive winner at the meeting last year and with the weight allowance I think she will be hard to beat if repeating anywhere near that performance. I expect her to hit the front immediately from the gates and she will be incredibly tough to peg back.
4:20 St James’s Palace Stakes (Group 1) 1m
CHURCHILL has been the best three year old this year by some distance and can confirm supremacy here. Some would argue that he was a bit lucky in the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket but I think that’s just backers of beaten horses looking for excuses; he is never going to blow opposition away, only ever doing enough and he would have won regardless if the race was run differently. At the prices I can see the argument for backing Barney Roy but I just don’t think he can beat Churchill.
For each way value I may persevere with backing Lancaster Bomber who has form on quick ground and could hold on for a place at a big price.
5:00 Ascot Stakes (Class 2 Hcap) 2m4f
A marathon in terms of the races at Royal Ascot and not surprisingly this race has a habit of falling to those more associated with National Hunt and that is the angle I’ll be following here. Connections think a lot of THOMAS HOBSON, he’s just not a very good jumper, and Rich Ricci spoke positively of targeting races on the flat with him this year at a Cheltenham preview I attended earlier this year. If he handles the going he could be very well handicapped.
The only thing that puts me off the selection is the likely short(ish) price given connections and jockey booking, so at bigger prices any of the National Hunt trained horses could be worth chancing but I’m going to have a go on Cleonte. It is only his second run for Andrew Balding after transferring from Andre Fabre, where he showed some decent form, and this is a big change in approach after making his debut in the Jockey Club Stakes at the Guineas meeting but if he takes to this he could be overpriced.
5:35 Windsor Castle Stakes (Listed Class 1) 5f
With such an impressive record with juveniles over the minimum trip and having won this race twice, it seems obvious to look to Wesley Ward for inspiration in the closing race on Tuesday. The only issue is he has two runners. I’m not completely sure how to split the two contenders, Elizabeth Darcy and Nootka Sound, but given the advance hype was more about the latter the selection goes to NOOTKA SOUND.
Declarationofpeace has also been on my radar since winning last time out but I can’t be backing him now at the short prices available, so for each way purposes I may side with Sound And Silence. Both of his starts have been on quicker going and he should be close to the pace of the race, being drawn next to Nootka Sound, which is key over the course and should give him the best chance of placing.
2:30 Ribchester @ EVS (Betfair)
3:05 Murillo @ 7/1 (Bet365) & Prince Of The Dark e/w @ 18/1 (Bet365, ¼ odds first 4)
3:40 Lady Aurelia @ 4/1 (Betfair)
4:20 Churchill @ 4/6 (Betfair) & Lancaster Bomber e/w @ 28/1 (Bet365, ¼ odds first 3)
5:00 Thomas Hobson @ 9/2 (Betfair) & Cleonte e/w at 25/1 (Paddy Power, 1/5 odds first 5)
5:35 Nootka Sound @ 11/2 (Betfair) & Sound And Silence e/w @ 20/1 (Betfair, 1/5 odds first 4)