What a fabulous start to this outstanding festival of flat racing. Ultra competitive, ultra talented horses from all over the globe and of course the most wonderful setting in which to stage this event. Day one has now fewer than 4 group races, a listed race and a great Class 2 handicap for us to sort out. We are of course up for the challenge.
2.30 Queens Anne Stakes – Group 1 – 1 mile
This might be the best race of the week and its just the start. One could argue that the winner of this race takes the title of the Worlds best 1 miler on Turf, although I am sure some Australians would have something to say about that. However with the arrival of South East Asia’s finest, Able Friend, the Hong King star brings some amazing collateral form that boosts that argument. Able Friend has won 12 of 18 races and has only ever been beaten once over a mile. The son of Shamardal goes well on this quick ground and seems ultra consistent. There should be no excuses. Night of Thunder, for Richard Hannon, brings his 2014 Guineas title to the party and this year as a four year old ran a cracker to deny stable mate Toormore in the Lockinge, who also runs in this race. That form also looks rock solid. Esoterique from France won a Group 1 at Deauville on softer ground but looks up against it, the same cant be said for French sensation Solow for Freddy Head. He looked a world beater when winning in Meydan although many crabbed the form because The Grey Gatsby was second over too short a trip. That may be the case but the manner of his victory this year at Longchamp was so impressive.
Its such an exciting race. On the evidence of what I have seen Solow is the best horse over this trip in the race and deserves to win. My problem is that Maxine Guyon simply makes too many mistakes and you cant afford that to happen in a race like this, particularly when you are being asked to take 6/4. For that reason, as much as I want to back Solow I am going with NIght of Thunder at 5/1. He may just improve again and at his best he has the scalp of Kingman to his name. The other factor is that his pilot, James Doyle, just doesnt make mistakes in big races. I dont think he can be out of the first three and if Solow shows his true class and bolts up then so be it.
13 of the 18 runners won last time out and 11 of those have run less than three times in their career. They are obviously all talented. The tricky part is understanding which of them is going to improve the most or is the bench mark set by Buratino, who has run 5 times and recorded his best run when bolting up at Epsom going to prove too much to conquer, should he improve again. Sic favourites in the lats 10 runnings have won this race and only one horse bigger than 11/2 has won during that time. So lets concentrate on all those who in the pre race betting are currently single figures in the betting and that is only 5 horses. The first is Round Two for Jim Bolger who has trained the winner of this race and at 2/1 is the likely favourite. My problem with this horse is that he is bred to get a lot further and whilst his listed win at the Curragh was a good performance I just think on this ground he could be caught out be a horse with a quicker profile. Finnegan fits that bil for Wesley Ward who brings him over from America but its hard to know what you get with a 2yo who won a 3 runner race at Pimlico to get off the mark. Clearly he was set up for this race but he may not be the stable star and it might all be a bit much for him. Air Force Blue for Aiden O’Brien and Ryan Moore also fits the profile and given that this partnership have won almost every big race going this year for juveniles then its likely he will run a big race. His neck victory at The Curragh may not look much but the second then won by 4 lengths next time out. War Department for William Haggas is fancied by many as he dotted up at Leicester but the second hasn’t helped that form line. That leaves us with Buratino who was to my eye so impressive at Epsom. He seemed to really click and I think his maturity will stand him in good stead for this race. They will have been tempted to aim higher but this looks well within his grasp again.
What a great race this is over the flying 5 furlongs. The amazing Sole Power has won this the last 2 years and comes here a worthy favourite. It may sound odd but I think at 8 years of age his legs will start going a little slower and this might just be beyond him. So at 7/2 we will swerve this sensation. Muthmir brings a win at Chantilly to the reckoning last time out and my concern is that like Meccas Angel, who also won at Longchamp last time out it was on good to soft ground and the forecast suggests that wont be the going to help these two. Goldream for Robert Cowell comes in to the reckoning on his win here last year but I dont understand why he faded so fast when disputing the lead at Haydock recently. In the same race G Force looked unlucky and Pat Smullen takes the ride on him for David O’meara. He looks a lot longer price that he should be and looks a bit of value. I also think bookies have underestimated the ability of the Australian sprinter Shamal Wind, who was described as winning the 5.5f Group 1 at Caulfied a “shade cosily” – in a group 1!!!.
Our two against the field in a race I cant wait to start are
Favourites have won 8 of the last 10 runnings of this race and it will be a surprise to many of the Aiden Obrien, 2015 2000 Guineas winner both here and in Ireland doesnt make it 9 out of 11. He is a best priced 8-13 at the moment and i genuinely think he will go off at 1-2 and win. Make Believe looks a good horse, having won his French equivalent but he hasnt produced figures as good as Gleneagles yet, who knows he may and if there is an upset then it might be that Make believe makes the pace under French magician, Olivier Peslier and Ryan Moore just doesnt get to him. Make Believe has to improve about another stone to win on merit but with tactics and a little more improvement, as he has only run 4 times, you could make a case. Either way he wont be outside the first 2 so each way seems the way to play him. Belardo got close at The Curragh, to the favourite but I think that was slightly flattering as Ryan Moore came from a long way back and had all the momentum. I expect the favourite to win but lets see if we can get him beat.
5.00 The Ascot Stakes Class 2 Handicap 2 miles 4 Furlongs
8 of the last 10 runnings of this race have been won by a jumps trainer in what is a notoriusly tough handicap. Nothing as short as 5/1 has won and that is an indication of the competitiveness of this race. In fact no favourite has won in the last 10 years. I have put a ring around 4 horses all who fit the profile. Fun Mac (7/1) for Hughie Morrison and Chester Racecourse President, Bobby McAlpine. Digeanta (14-1) for Willie Mullins and Pat Smullen. Broxbourne (14-1) for Nicky Henderson and finally Shwaiman (16-1) for William Jarvis with Frankie in the saddle.
I am going to opt for the last named as I think having run in the Gold Cup where he performed credibly he could just have a bit more class than the others. In a tricky race –
Our bet is :
5.35 The Windsor Castle Stakes – Listed Race 5 furlongs
Another end of day toughie, as we try to work out which 2 years olds have the ability to handle a huge field, massive amounts of noise and a wide open racetrack after limited experience. I wont pretend this is easy and if you need to have a bet take a look at these 4 horses. Washington DC for Aiden O’Brien, who has had the benefit of 3 runs, the last of which was the best, finishing just 2 lengths behind Round Two who runs in the Coventry earlier in the card as the favourite. Steady Pace, who didnt run to his best when beaten 6 lengths by King of Rooks but was very good on debut. Soapy Aitken who is unbeaten in his two runs for Clive Cox and Opal Tiara who was beaten by Easton Angel, who lines up in the Queen Mary, by just a length at Beverley
Our bet :