With less than four weeks to go to the start of Royal Ascot 2018, the best five days Flat racing in the world, a quick glance ahead to see what’s in store is all that is needed to well and truly whet the punting taste buds.
Five days, 30 superb races, the best jockeys, trainers and horses in the world, they’ll all descend on the iconic Berkshire venue that has seen it all and will see plenty more by the time the final race of the meeting, the marathon Queen Alexandra Stakes, is run at 5.30 on Saturday June 23.
Royal Ascot handicaps are always fiendishly difficult, and this far ahead it is enough of a task trying to figure out which horses might run, never mind trying to find the winner! The Royal Hunt Cup is a perfect example; 111 horses are still entered for the great race but only 30 can face the starter over the straight mile – and even when you have the final list of 30 it’s still no cakewalk finding the winner as evidenced by the 25/1 victory of Zhui Feng last year (see video below).
It’s a similar story in the six furlong Wokingham Handicap, as well as in the Britannia Handicap, the Duke Of Edinburgh Handicap, and the rest. We’ll keep you posted on the best value available about our particular fancies as soon as the picture becomes just a shade clearer.
On each of the five days there are at least two major pattern races and the opening day, Tuesday 19 June, sees a stunning three Group 1 events, one after the other. I’ve chosen to highlight the pattern races I’m most looking forward to and offer some early ante-post advice, but all the big races will be covered in depth over the course of the coming weeks.
Can Lightning Strike on Day One?
The Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes is the traditional opening event of the meeting, named after the English monarch who established Ascot races back in 1712. This top class mile race invariably attracts overseas stars, a glance back over the last five seasons sees winners hailing from Ireland, France, USA/Canada, and England.
If recent Group 1 Lockinge Stakes winner Rhododendron takes her chance, Aidan O’Brien’s superb filly looks sure to go well and is the current market leader at 4/1 with 888sport. Stable companion Lancaster Bomber, third at Newbury should also go well, especially if the ground is quick, but David Simcock’s LIGHTNING SPEAR, beaten in the last stride by Rhododendron at Newbury (see video below) and a fine third in this race two years ago behind Canada’s Tepin, looks the best value at the moment at 12/1 each-way with Bet Stars.
The only American entry this time is Bill Mott’s Yoshida, winner of a Grade 1 at Churchill Downs earlier this month over nine furlongs. He’s a good horse and goes on any ground, but doesn’t look quite good enough to land the spoils. Legendary French trainer Andre Fabre won it in 2005 with Valixir and has entered Inns Of Court and Jimmy Two Times, while other French entries include Christophe Ferland’s talented Heshem.
ADVICE: Lightning Spear (12/1 each-way with BetStars)
Battaash Can Outgun Lady Aurelia in King’s Stand
If the main protagonists show up for the Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes on the opening day, the world class five furlong sprint could prove an absolute cracker. Charles Hills’ BATTAASH was hugely progressive last term graduating through the ranks winning the Group 2 King George Stakes at Glorious Goodwood before ending the term landing the Group 1 Prix de l’Abbaye at Chantilly in October (see video below). The four-year-old is a high-class sprinter and returns tomorrow in the Group 2 Temple Stakes at Haydock. Assuming he comes through that having had a wind operation in November, he should be spot on for Royal Ascot and 3/1 with Bet365 looks a fair price.
On last term’s formlines through both Marsha and Profitable there is very little to choose between Battaash and the defending champion, US star Lady Aurelia, but Hills’ charge is taken to come out on top in what could truly porve a battle royal.
US trainer Wesley Ward has a great record in big sprints at this meeting and his Lady Aurelia, who won the Queen Mary Stakes here as a juvenile before following up in this race 12 months ago (see video below), is going to be a tough nut to crack. Although the filly has been beaten in all three starts since, the word from the States is that she has been working very well and connections will be more than hopeful she can land a Royal Ascot hattrick. She is sure to make a very bold bid to become that rarest of things, a winner in three successive years at Royal Ascot.
Coming all the way from Australia will be David Hayes’ Redkirk Warrior, winner of his last two starts at Flemington. He stays six furlongs, and may be well ideally suited by this very stiff five furlongs. The Aussies also do very well with their sprinters at this fixture – remember Choisir, Takeover Target, Miss Andretti and Black Caviar – so there is every chance this seven-year-old will give a good account of himself.
This race is one of the few Group 1’s that hasn’t been one by master trainer Aidan O’Brien, but if he runs recent Naas scorer Sioux Warrior here in preference to the Commonwealth Cup, it wouldn’t surprise to see this very exciting three-year-old run a big race. Our understanding is that he is held in particularly high regard at Ballydoyle.
ADVICE: Battash (3/1 with Bet365)
Superb Cracksman Looks The NAP Of The Meeting
Assuming he comes through next weekend’s Group 1 Coronation Cup at Epsom without a hitch, John Gosden’s superb colt CRACKSMAN looks the bet of the meeting in the Group 1 Prince of Wales’s Stakes. The son of Frankel was placed in Derbys at Epsom and the Curragh last year and has won his four subsequent starts, including the Group 2 Great Voltigeur Stakes at York, and a seven-length romp in the Group 1 Qipco Champion Stakes over this course and distance in October (see video below).
Frankie Dettori’s pride and joy bolted up on his seasonal return in the Group 1 Prix Ganay at Paris Longchamp last month and, the truth is, it’s hard to see him being beaten in this race. Despite the likely presence of the classy trio of Poet’s Word, Benbatl, and Hawkbill, as well as star filly Rhododendron among others, I believe that Evens with Sky Bet is a good price for Cracksman who could be much shorter if he gets to the starting line in one piece.
ADVICE: Cracksman (Evens with Sky Bet)
Stradivarius Ready For Gold Cup Battle
The Group 1 Gold Cup is the showcase event of Royal Ascot and is the racing centrepiece on Thursday 21 June. This two-and-a-half mile marathon on Ladies Day is an iconic sporting occasion and Ireland’s Aidan O’Brien has won it a remarkable seven times in the last 12 years, including four times with the legendary stayer Yeats.
O’Brien sent out Order Of St George to score in 2016, and the Ballydoyle horse failed by only a short-head in a race to remember when edged out by Michael Bell’s Big Orange 12 months ago. Big Orange is sidelined this term and won’t be at Ascot, but Order of St George will, having been in fine form already this season. He’s proven at this rare marathon trip and won’t be easy to beat, but I believe STRADIVARIUS might be on the upgrade and can deny the likely favourite.
John Gosden’s charge was very progressive last term, winning the Group 1 Goodwood Cup (see video below) before losing out by just half a length in the St Leger at Doncaster to O’Brien’s Capri. He was then beaten just a length when a close third to Order of St George on soft ground at Ascot in October at the British Champions meeting.
As long as the ground isn’t soft at Ascot, Stradivarius is taken to lower the colours of Order of St George.
Advice: Stradivarius (3/1 with Betfred)
Written by Paul Alster
Paul Alster has been part of the British and international racing media for more than three decades working as a race commentator, TV/radio presenter, journalist, betting correspondent, SP returner, and form analyst. He’s always sought out overpriced runners in handicap races, a quest that excites him as much now as it did at the start of his career.