Ante-Post Preview Wednesday June 20

Royal Ascot Tips: Prince of Wales’s Stakes and Royal Hunt Cup


Race Preview

Horse racing - Cracksman

The Prince Of Wales’s Stakes

The Group 1 Prince of Wales’s Stakes, first run way back in 1862, is a top-class mile-and-a-quarter race open to four-year-olds and upwards worth a massive £750,000. It’s roll of honour includes some of the greatest names in the sport bringing together as it does not only specialist 10 furlong performers, but also smart milers and mile-and-a-half horses as well.

The ante-post market for the June 20 event well and truly centres around the top class colt Cracksman, winner of his last five starts including Group 1 triumphs in the Qipco Champion Stakes over the Prince of Wales’s course and distance last October, this April’s Prix Ganay at Longchamp, and last weekend’s Investec Coronation Cup at Epsom.

Anyone who saw John Gosden’s colt run at Epsom must have had their heart in their mouth as the long odds-on favourite never looked as though he would reel in the gallant outsider Salouen, who was still four lengths clear a furlong from home. But under a full-on drive from Frankie Dettori, the son of Frankel rallied in the gamest possible fashion and somehow managed to nab the long-time leader in the last couple of strides to score by a head.

That was a hard race on soft ground, and it later transpired that as well as reportedly being unsuited by the track – although he did finish a very close third in the 2017 Investec Derby – the Anthony Oppenheimer-owned colt had hit his head in the starting stalls and ran much of the race in a stupor.

Was that an ideal prep race for the Royal Ascot? I’d be a little reluctant to weigh in at the current top price of 5/4 with Paddy Power – even though it’s bigger than the evens we suggested as value in our first look at Royal Ascot whihc came some time before the Coronation Cup escapade. 

Not only did Cracksman have a very hard race, there is also the fact that he has never raced on ground faster than ‘good’, and with a mainly dry forecast in the two weeks leading up to the big race it is far from beyond the bounds of possibility that Cracksman may not even run if the course really dries out. He is engaged in the Coral Eclipse Stakes at Sandown on July 7, which would give the four-year-old more time to recover from Epsom, or he could wait until the end of July and come to Ascot a relatively fresh horse for the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes.

Given the above, my ante-post advice is not to go in again on Gosden’s star but to look for an each-way alternative, even though there is no doubt that Cracksman is, under the right conditions, easily the best horse entered in the contest.

It’s hard to believe that the great Sir Michael Stoute hasn’t won the Prince of Wales’s Stakes since 1991 when his Stagecraft scored under ’The Kentucky Kid’, Steve Cauthen. The Newmarket-based handler has two interesting potential runners this time though in Poet’s Word and Crystal Ocean. The pair are rated 119 and 118 respectively, yet Poet’s Word is a top price 6/1 with BetVictor (the best of the rest are 5/1), while Crystal Ocean is as big as 16/1 with 888Sport.

Poet’s Word was beaten seven lengths into second place behind Cracksman in soft ground in the Champion Stakes last autumn, but might not have been beaten so far on quicker ground in mid-season. Second to Godolphin’s Hawkbill (another possible runner here) in the Group 1 Dubai Sheema Classic in March, he showed the benefit of that run when easily landing the Brigadier Gerard Stakes at Sandown a couple of weeks ago.

Crystal Ocean, beaten just half a length by Capri in the Group 1 St Leger at Doncaster last September, has never been out of the first three in his eight-race career, winning four times, including both starts so far this campaign; the Group 3 Gordon Richards Stakes at Sandown in April, where he just got up to beat The Queen’s Fabricate, before hacking up by six lengths on quick ground in the Group 3 Aston Park Stakes at Newbury last month.

This son of Sea The Stars appears to be getting better with every race, and on a sound surface at his optimum trip I could see him running a very big race at Ascot, although he has an alternative engagement in the Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes later in the meeting for which he is currently ante-post favourite. No final decision has yet been taken however as to which event he will contest, so the 16/1 on offer looks a decent value speculative each-way investment.

The aforementioned Hawkbill was well beaten on soft ground by Cracksman at Epsom at the weekend and has it all to do, in my opinion, but his fellow Godolphin-trained Benbatl, winner of a Group 3 at Royal Ascot 12 months ago and impressive when landing the Group 1 Dubai Turf from two smart Japanese horses, may be more of a danger. I would suggest however that the handicapper has overreacted in raising Saeed bin Suroor’s horse 9lb for the Meydan win to a new career high of 123. He’s good, but there would have been many in that race that weren’t fully wound up in late-winter.

I can’t let this race go without mentioning the possible Aidan O’Brien runners. It appears that Lockinge Stakes heroine Rhododendron is most likely to go for the Queen Anne Stakes over a mile, but his in-form Lancaster Bomber would be an interesting candidate having done it well when beating stable companion Cliffs of Moher in the Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh recently. Both colts may take their chances and preference would be for the former to do best. Hydrangea, a classy filly, may also take her chance.

LATEST ADVICE: CRYSTAL OCEAN (16/1 each-way with 888Sport)


Royal Hunt Cup

First run in 1843, the cavalry charge that is the Royal Hunt Cup is a handicap staged on the straight mile and usually attracts a maximum field of 30 runners. The draw can play a major part in the destiny of the prize, but any draw bias rarely becomes evident until just a day before the race when the action takes place on the opening day of the royal meeting.

There have been only two winning favourites since 1990, and in the last eight years only one winner has started at single-figure odds, highlighting just what a challenge this is for punters. It’s impossible to go through all 111 current entries for this great race, so I’ve picked out four horses who appeal as likely sorts. Hopefully, they’ll make it to the starting line-up and give supporters a run for their money.

James Fanshawe is one of only two trainers currently hold a licence to have won the Royal Hunt Cup Twice – the other is John Gosden. Fanshawe sent out the well backed 8/1 shot Macadamia to score in 2003, then stuck again with Cesare (14/1) in 2006. The Newmarket handler has a fine record at this meeting and his Tribute Act would be a serious contender if she makes the starting 30. The daughter of Exceed and Excel is No.71 on the list so it is touch and go as to whether she’ll get into the race, but if she does I can see her running a very big race having caught the eye on her seasonal return when failing by just a neck to beat Urban Fox over course and distance last month.

Raised 4lb for that effort this progressive four-year-old fits the bill but with the uncertainty about her participation Ladbrokes have stuck their neck out and go 33/1, while other firms are more cautious, William Hill, for example, offer only 14/1.

Urban Fox, who edged out Tribute Act in that Newbury handicap, was having her first start since joining William Haggas from James Tate for whom she showed good form last term including in pattern race company. She would also be worth a glance if she take sher chance on June 20 and is currently 33/1 with Coral. At No.25 on the list she is guaranteed a run if connections decide to have a crack.

Jeremy Noseda’s Abe Lincoln was beaten just a short-head in the 2016 Britannia Handicap at Royal Ascot then was remarkable made favourite for last year’s Royal Hunt Cup despite not having run for 370 days due to an injury. On fast ground he failed to fire and finished in midfield, but if there happens to be some give in the ground then this could be the chance for this five-year-old to shine. He ran well through the winter at a good level on the All Weather tracks and will come to Ascot refreshed and ready to go. The 25/1 currently on offer with bet365 looks worth a chance given he started at 13/2f twelve months ago.

Charles Hills’ Afaak gained plenty of admirers when winning a hot York handicap instyle at the Dante meeting. Raised 5lb for that success he is currently 12/1 joint-favourite with many firms (alongside David O’Meara’s classy Lord Glitters) and is respected. Favourite for the York race was Roger Varian’s Cape Byron, having his first start since undergoing a wind operation following a below-par effort in  Group 3 event in Meydan during the winter. This son of Shamaradal has been very lightly raced but did win over course and distance in October (see below).

He could still be improving so with that York run under his belt it wouldn’t surprise to see Cape Byron turn the tables on Afaak. He’s a 20/1 shot with Sun Bets.

ADVICE: Tribute Act (33/1 each-way with Ladbrokes); Abe Lincoln (25/1 each-way with Bet365)

Paul Alster

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.