St James’s Palace Stakes
(Published 09:00, June 2, 2018) – If there is one race at the outstanding Royal Ascot meeting that has a rock solid track record for punters it has to be the Group 1 St James’s Palace Stakes, run on the round mile and restricted to three-year-old colts only.
Staged on the opening day of the fixture, June 19 will see this year’s renewal of a race that over the last decade has produced 7 out of 10 winning favourites, five of whom started odds-on. The three non-favourites to have won scored at odds of 5/2, 6/1 and 9/1 respectively, so no horse starting at double-figure odds has landed the spoils during the period. The overwhelming majority of the winners won or were placed in either the English or the Irish 2000 Guineas.
These are very strong trend guidelines so it appears to go slightly against the grain that the current clear 3/1 ante-post favourite, the unbeaten Without Parole, hasn’t run in either of the colts’ mile Classics this season. Indeed, he hasn’t won above listed class. On the face of it he appears poor value.
That’s not to say that John Gosden’s charge isn’t a potentially very smart horse. He is. But is his three-quarters-of-a-length victory in Sandown’s listed Heron Stakes over Sir Michael’s Stoute’s Gabr, a horse having his first run for seven months, really worthy of him being clear favourite for one of the hottest Group 1 mile races of the season (see video below)?
Heron Stakes (L)
Sandown Park, 1600m, 3yo
1st Without Parole (GB) by Frankel
2nd Gabr (GB)
3rd Vintager (GB) pic.twitter.com/euzR9sMpje
— Mstf GRGC (@Hcum3) May 24, 2018
If you’re backing Without Parole, you’re backing him on potential, not proven form. He did well to win at Sandown on soft ground that clearly didn’t suit, but there’s no guarantee it won’t be on the soft side at Ascot, British weather being what it is.
There has to be value elsewhere, and the first place to look is the Qipco 2000 Guineas. Saxon Warrior, a brilliant winner, almost certainly won’t contest this race but the excellent runner-up, Roger Teal’s Tip Two Win, a horse never out of the first three in his eight career starts, is an intended runner. There was no fluke about his Newmarket run (see video below) and he continues to improve with every start. The son of Dark Angel goes on most ground, so the current 6/1 generally on offer looks fair value given that he is proven at this top level.
Aidan O’Brien has won this race a remarkable seven times since 2000, most recently with Gleneagles in 2015. US Navy Flag and Gustav Klimt appear to be his main contenders this time and both have claims, although preference is for the former.
US NAVY FLAG was the highest ranked juvenile of 2017, winning both the six furlong Group 1 Middle Park Stakes and the seven furlong Group 1 Dewhurst Stakes. He wasn’t fully wound up and hated the heavy ground when last of four behind Gustav Klimt in a listed event at Leopardstown in April, and after running a brave race when a close fifth in a typically rough French 2000 Guineas, he bounced off in front at a rate of knots in the Irish 2000 Guineas and kept up the gallop, finding only the surprise winner Romanised too good for him (see video below).
The War Front colt is a smart performer, and if the ground is on the fast side of good he might take some pegging back, especially if Ryan Moore is on board to judge the fractions. At 8/1 with Coral he looks excellent each-way value. Gustav Klimt hasn’t quite lived up to expectations, finishing sixth in the 2000 Guineas and third in the Irish equivalent. He just lacks a finishing kick.
Ken Condon’s shock Irish 2000 Guineas winner Romanised is very much respected, especially on a sound surface, and is arguably overpriced at 10/1, while French 2000 Guineas winner Olmedo is another class act. Dice Roll, only a neck behind Olmedo in third at Longchamp, would also be an interesting contender. James Tate’s Hey Gaman split the pair in that photo-finish but holds the form down having looked no better than his 111 rating in previous outings against James Garfield et al. Both Hey Gaman and Olmedo are due to tackle Sunday’s French Derby at Chantilly.
The two dark horses in the race are Gabr, runner-up to Without Parole at Sandown last year, and Jim Bolger’s Verbal Dexterity, fifth and fourth respectively in the Racing Post Trophy won by Saxon Warrior last October. Gabr will be much fitter following his fine effort behind Without Parole at Sandown, while Verbal Dexterity was smart last season and if he makes it to the start having not run yet this term he would be worth considering. Both can currently be backed at up to 14/1.
On balance, at this stage of proceedings, US Navy Flag looks the best value in a fascinating race that for once doesn’t appear to have an outstanding candidate.
ADVICE: US NAVY FLAG (8/1 each-way with Coral)
King’s Stand Stakes
As opposed to the St James’s Palace Stakes run 40 minutes later on the opening day of Royal Ascot (June 19), the Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes, a top class five-furlong sprint for three-year-olds and upwards, has proven a tricky challenge for punters over the last 10 years.
Only one favourite, Australia’s Scenic Blast (11/4f in 2009), has obliged during the last decade, and there have been a few big priced surprises, including Equiano (22/1 in 2008), Hong Kong’s Little Bridge (12/1 in 2012), Goldream (20/1 in 2015), and Profitable (14/1 in 2016). One trend that did emerge during the decade is that of dual winners, with Equiano going on to land a second victory in the race in 2010, while Ireland’s admirable Sole Power won it in both 2013 and 2014.
Flying American mare Lady Aurelia won the race in fine style 12 months ago (see video below) having also scored at the previous Royal Ascot when scorching home to a seven-length win in the Group 2 Queen Mary Stakes. Wesley Ward’s mare is clearly well suited by the Berkshire track and has been trained specifically with a repeat King’s Stand bid in mind. She hasn’t quite been in the same form as last term to date, but connections are reportedly bullish about the current 7/2 shot defending her crown.
Battaash, trained by Charles Hills, is officially the highest rated sprinter in the world with a mark of 123. He was blisteringly good last season winning the Group 2 King George Stakes at Glorious Goodwood and the Group 1 Prix de l’Abbaye at Chantilly with plenty in hand, either side of a flop at York in the Group 1 Nunthorpe Stakes in which Lady Aurelia lost by a nose to Marsha.
Battaash has a fairly short fuse and boiled over at the start at York. It was a surprise to many than he managed to finish fourth in that top-class race having expended so much energy before the gates opened. There was no sign though of his temperament getting the better of him on his seasonal reappearance at Haydock recently in the Group 2 Temple Stakes, his first start since a wind operation last winter. Despite a poor start, the son of Dark Angel soon recovered then stayed on well to hold the late thrust of Washington DC and Kachy by a head and the same (see video below). On decent ground at Ascot, Battash, a general 5/2 ante-post favourite, will prove a tough nut to crack.
Battaash is back with a bang in the Armstrong Aggregates Temple Stakes.
Impressed with his performance?
A big season awaits the four-year-old. pic.twitter.com/ogCQ9awbro
— Haydock Park Races (@haydockraces) May 26, 2018
All the post-race analysis at Haydock centred on Battaash’s return to the fray, but pundits gave little credit to the fine effort of the runner-up WASHINGTON DC. Aidan O’Brien’s colt had around four lengths to make up on the favourite at the furlong pole and closed to within a head at the line, suggesting he ran much his best race for a long time. Although he is still officially rated around a stone inferior to Battash, on his day the five-year-old is a smart sprinter and the 20/1 each-way on offer with Paddy Power appeals as a tempting alternative to the favourite.
Tom Dascombe’s Kachy, available at 12/1 and also involved in that Haydock photo, is a pure speedball. He blasted off in that race and blazed a trail on the far side before being caught close home, but this is a tougher task on the stiffer Ascot track and he makes less appeal than Washington DC at bigger odds.
Australia’s Redkirk Warrior is a fascinating contender having won Group 1 sprints over five and six furlongs this winter (see video below). It’s a tough ask to beat such as Battaash and the rest on their home soil but David Hayes’ charge will give it a good go.
Others to consider include another Ballydoyle speedster Merchant Navy, a good winner of the Group 2 Greenland Stakes at the Curragh last week, while his stable companion Sioux Nation, more likely to run in the Commonwealth Cup, would be very interesting if he takes on the older horses in this instead.
Godolphin’s inconsistent but talented Blue Point, possible US runners Bound For Nowhere and Bucchero, and Michael Dods’ progressive filly Mabs Cross (a close fourth behind Battaash at Haydock) are others who wouldn’t be without a chance of running into a place.
In summary, Battaash and defending champion Lady Aurelia both have plenty going for them, but at current odds, and in the hope of quick ground, the 20/1 each-way offered by Paddy Power about Washington DC is our chosen investment for the time being.
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.