Ante-Post Preview Saturday June 23

Royal Ascot Tips: Hardwicke Stakes and Wokingham Handicap

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Horse racing - Ascot race

The Hardwicke Stakes

The mile-and-a-half Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes, staged on the fifth and final day of Royal Ascot, was first run in 1879 and has supplied a steady stream of smart winners, many of whom have gone on to win top races around the world. Probably the most memorable recent winner was Sir Michael Stoute’s Harbinger in 2010, who easily accounted for Duncan before going on to destroy his rivals by 11 lengths in the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes over the same course and distance a month later.

Indeed, Stoute has completely dominated this event in recent years winning seven of the last 12 renewals – he’s won it 10 times in all – and his Crystal Ocean is a warm ante-post favourite to make it 8 from 13 on June 23.

Horse racing Sir Michael Stoute

Sir Michael Stoute has won the Hardwicke Stakes seven times in the last 12 years

Crystal Ocean is currently a top priced 2/1 market leader to continue his trainer’s great record in this race having put up a very eyecatching performance at Newbury last time out where he stormed to a six length win over Second Step in the Group 3 Al Rayyan Stakes, the race better known as the Aston Park Stakes. Last year’s St Leger runner-up had previous won over 10 furlongs in Sandown’s Group 3 Gordon Richards Stakes, just edging out The Queen’s Fabricate, and he’s clearly in great heart and progressing well.

 

The question is, will he go for this race, or tackle his alternative engagement in the Group 1 Prince of Wales’s Stakes? Jockey Ryan Moore has made it clear he believes the Hardwicke Stakes is the best option, but Stoute’s last comment on the matter was, “He’s got form at ten and twelve furlongs, but we’re not going to decide where he’s going to go yet as I don’t know!”

Given the above, and for reasons previously highlighted in my analysis of the Prince of Wales’s Stakes, taking 2/1 at this stage about a horse whose target hasn’t yet been finalised is a bit too risky. If he does show up for the Hardwicke Stakes, Crystal Ocean will be a serious contender, but it is still an ‘if’, not a ‘when’.

Last year’s winner Idaho, trained by Aidan O’Brien, may possibly bid for back-to-back successes, but is also engaged in the Gold Cup for which he would be a fascinating runner taking on stable companion Order Of St George. If he does come here he would have to have a solid chance, especially if the ground is good or better, having beaten Roger Varian’s Barsanti in a terrific race 12 months ago.

Barsanti is expected to show up again and looked in good heart when winning the listed Buckhounds Stakes over the course and distance on his seasonal reappearance. We know he goes well here and he looks to have solid credentials.

Varian has also entered the very progressive Defoe, winner of the Group 2 Jockey Club Stakes at Newmarket this season, and Sheikh Obaid’s colt wasn’t by any means disgraced when third over an inadequate 10 furlongs in the Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh last month. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that both horses may represent their owner in this contest.

But at this stage, given all the above, the horse of most interest to me is Aidan O’Brien’s Classic winner CAPRI. It’s a strange thing how St Leger winners are often underrated at shorter distances, but the form of his win on Town Moor last September is outstanding. He battled home to beat Crystal Ocean by a neck, with the very classy Stradivarius right behind in third. Fourth placed Rekindling, subsequently went on to win no less a race than the Melbourne Cup.

Capri hadn’t been at his best a few months earlier when sixth to Wings Of Eagles in the Derby, but on the more conventional track at the Curragh he outpointed the subsequent impressive Champion Stakes winner Cracksman to win the Group 1 Irish Derby before running no race in the ‘Arc’, when it appeared he had gone ‘over the top’ for the season.

Already this term the son of Galileo has proved his wellbeing, battling to victory in the Group 3 Alleged Stakes over an inadequate 10 furlongs at Naas in April. He will be fresh and ready to go at Ascot and looks great each-way value at 10/1 with Ladbrokes.

There are plenty of other potentially interesting contenders including Poet’s Word, Hawkbill, Cliffs of Moher and Eminent, but it would be unfair not to give a quick mentin to Sylvester Kirk’s Salouen, who ran such a great race to so nearly defeat Cracksman in the Group 1 Coronation Cup at Epsom last week. The Hardwicke Stakes is his only Royal Ascot entry and the current 25/1 on offer with Betfred is insulting, others go as short as 10/1 which looks neared the mark.

ADVICE: Capri (10/1 each-way with Ladbrokes)

 

The Wokingham Handicap

Although it was first run in 1813, in its current form as a rattlingly good six furlong contest the Wokingham Handicap has existed at the royal meeting since 1874. It’s a cavalry charge featuring up to 28 runners spread across the straight course and the draw often plays a significant part in proceedings.

Staged on the fifth and final day of the fixture though, any draw bias is usually calculated into the betting on the day, and that could account for the fact that for such an open-looking contest populated by talented sprinters carrying different weights, remarkably six of the last 10 winners have started at 10/1 or less, suggesting this is a better race for punters than it might appear at first glance.

At the time of writing, one horse is completely dominating the ante-post market for this year’s race and I suspect has the bookies fearing the worst. The John Gosden-trained DREAMFIELD is a top priced 5/1 with Sun Bets in a market where they bet 16/1 and upwards the remainder! Is Dreamfield going to prove a bookies nightmare?

John Gosden trains hot Wokingham Handicap favourite Dreamfield

Well, you wouldn’t bet against it because this completely unexposed, unbeaten four-year-old, could potentially be a very smart performer in the making and off a mark of 103 may potentially have got into the race as much as 10lb below a rating that reflects his full potential. The son of Oasis Dream cost Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin team a whopping £1.1 million as a yearling and duly won both his starts as a two-year-old, taking a six furlong Nottingham maiden by eight lengths on his racecourse bow, then showing battling qualities to prevail by just a short-head from the far more experienced and subsequently 110-rated Top Score.

On the strength of his two wins as a juvenile Dreamfield was a lively outsider in the betting for last year’s 2000 Guineas ,but he met with a training setback and didn’t race at all last season. He reappeared after an 18 month gap at Ascot last month in the Montfort Handicap where he was allotted an official rating of 95, but with plenty of questions to answer about his fitness and ability. Clearly there were no concerns voiced from the Gosden team as James Doyle’s mount was backed off the boards in the 15-runner six-furlong event and sent off the 10/11 favourite. He duly made every yard of the running with the minimum of fuss and won without ever seeing another rival.

Dreamfield could potentially be a Group 1 class sprinter so raised 8lb to 103 he may indeed by a blot on the handicap and looks sure to go very close to keeping his unbeaten record despite facing 27 rivals this time at a higher grade than last month. I would not be surprised to see him go off as short as 5/2, so the current 5/1 on offer looks a fair price.

There are any number of potential dangers among the current 85 other entries.

The last three-year-old to win this race was Paul Cole’s Bel Byou way back in 1987, but David Simcock has handed his talented colt Raid an entry and he’s worth a second glance. The son of Havana Gold easily won his only start as a juvenile, a Doncaster six furlong maiden last November. Looking as though he would benefit from the outing he reappeared at Newbury in April in the seven furlong Group 3 Greenham Stakes won by James Garfield, and stayed on well to finish a close fourth. The form of the race is sold with third-placed Hey Gaman losing out by just a neck in the French 2000 Guineas next time out.

Raid was then handed a crack at the Qipco 2000 Guineas over a mile at Newmakret last month and after making his move two furlongs ran into traffic problems as his stamina ebbed a furlong out. He eventually finsihed eighth behind Saxon Warrior, but was only beaten just over five lengths.

It’s likely that a strong-run six furlongs is ideal for Raid, and while he has an entry in the three-year-olds only Commonwealth Cup – for which he is a 20/1 shot – it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility he could tackle the Wokingham instead. At 25/1 each-way with Paddy Power he looks a sporting bet at this stage of proceedings.

The likes of Blue De Vega, Mr Lupton, France’s Gold Vibe, previous winner Out Do, and the talented Ekhtiyaar are others who have claims, but at this stage it’s all about Dreamfield, with Raid suggested as a value alternative.

ADVICE: DREAMFIELD (5/1 with Sun Bets); RAID (25/1 each-way with Paddy Power)

Paul Alster Betting.net

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.