Live: Royal Ascot preview, race updates: Frankel and Ortensia
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Frankel and jockey Tom Queally score perfect 10 in stunning win
More than 5000 Australians have travelled to the 2012 Royal Ascot meeting and it gets underway this evening with a bang. Join us for live race updates tonight as we build up to the appearance of world number-one Frankel at 11:30pm who will be followed by Australian mare Ortensia at 12:05am.
The heightened interest in this year’s Royal Ascot meeting is directly attributable to appearance of champion mare Black Caviar who races in the Diamond Jubilee on Saturday.
Tonight’s racing kicks-off the Royal meeting and it’s a dream start with number one rated horse in the world Frankel opening the carnival in the Group One Queen Anne Stakes over one mile.
It will be directly followed by Ortensia who along with Black Caviar are the only Australian representative at the meeting.
The Paul Messara trained mare, who will start a global favourite in the Group One sprint, is scheduled to race at a shade past midnight in the King’s Stand Stakes over five furlongs (or 1005 metres).
She will be attempting to extend Australia’s recent dominance in Europe’s leading dash. Since 2003, Australian trained gallopers have won four King’s Stands.
Both the Queen Anne and the King’s Stand are run down the Ascot straight track which is a testing course because of its flowing undulations and climbing finish.
At the time of the writing the track was rated in the good-to-soft range which by my reckoning is the equivalent of a slow track in Australia. It’s not heavy, but not as quick as dead.
The weather forecast indicated rain was a big possibility on Monday and Tuesday afternoons in Berkshire.
With the Ascot track lying less than six miles from Windsor Castle, expect to see plenty of royals at this year’s meeting. (The colour of the queen’s dress is often a popular betting option for casual punters in the UK.)
The Queen Anne Stakes, one mile, Group One, 11:30pm.
It’s impossible seeing Frankel getting beat in this race. He meets a field he has accounted for before and he is a winner at the course and distance. It seems win number 11 is simply a formality.
I expect an opening day crowd of around 70,000 to be in attendance and they will be getting to the track early to ensure they secure a good view of the world’s leading thoroughbred.
The only query for the Henry Cecil trained colt (who will start at odds of close to 1-10 or $1.1) is the wet track. Frankel’s only start on deteriorating ground was in his first appearance at the races when he accounted for the eventual group performer Nathaniel by less than a length.
But the way Frankel is ridden by Tom Queally takes defeat due to track condition out of the equation. Queally will have Frankel fully stoked up before the 400-metre mark and even if he doesn’t appreciate wet ground, he will have enough momentum up to win.
Once again the main danger for Frankel is equal world number three rated galloper Excelebration who hasn’t troubled Frankel in four meetings.
In his last start, he was defeated by Frankel to the tune of five lengths in the Lockinge at Newbury. Aiden O’Brien, the trainer of Excelebration was confident of victory on that occasion but Frankel, who had overcome a leg scare less than a month before, was miles too good.
It seems Frankel has come on in his four-year old season.
Excelebration destroyed the rest of the Lockinge field, of which many are backing up for more punishment here.
Once again there are two pace-makers entered in this race. It is expected the three-quarter brother to Frankel, Bullet Train, will lead the Queen Anne field as he did at Newbury. If he doesn’t oblige, O’Brien has Windsor Palace engaged and he has a history of pace-making.
Strong Suit was a late exclusion from the Lockinge. He is a star over 1400 metres, having taken out several group races at that distance. Importantly he is a winner down the Ascot straight having taken out the Jersey Stakes at this meeting last year.
Strong Suit met Frankel in the Greenham Stakes over 1400 in April last year and finished last. I think he will struggle at a mile.
Former Australian-trained galloper Helmet may be the only knock-out chance in this race. He will be having his first start for world-leading stable Godolphin, after being transferred from Peter Snowden’s Warwick Farm setup following his dismal 24-length 12th-place finish in the UAE Derby (1900 metres) on Dubai World Cup night.
The growing consensus is that Helmet has not recovered from a taxing Melbourne Spring Carnival where his courage helped him claim last year’s Caulfield Guineas. Off the back of that win, Helmet started a short favourite for the Cox Plate but tired into an eighth place finish at Moonee Valley.
But back to a mile and grass (having run on the artificial Tapeta surface in Dubai), I expect an improved showing from Helmet. The wet ground will suit, with Helmet a Group One winner on a heavy track in Sydney.
Every indication, however, is that he no long wants to be a racehorse and as such the breeding barn could be calling.
On his Caulfield Guineas performance, I would have him in contention for a second-placed finish here. The form out of that race however is nothing short of shocking. If he finds his best – and he has been working well in England – it wouldn’t surprise to see him challenge some of his more famous English counterparts.
In 2008, the previous season’s Doncaster Handicap winner, Haradasun, proved that Australian mile form is more than adequate when taking out the Queen Anne for O’Brien.
I’m tipping Frankel in this year’s Queen Anne. He’s by far the best horse in the world at a mile and even on wet ground he will prove far too strong. He’s bashed up these horses before and I’m expecting him to do so once again.
The King’s Stand Stakes, five furlongs, 12:05am
You’d need a degree in European horse racing, majoring in the sprints, to do a good job of the form here. It’s a very hard punting race – about as hard to pick as the Melbourne Cup.
Not only does the form for the 23 participants come from four different continents but the more prevalent European lead-ups are widespread over 12 months with as many as 30 races featuring prominently.
We’ll focus on Ortensia because she’s the Aussie hope on night one and she will start favourite in this race.
I’m selecting her on top for this race. I think Australia can go into this Royal Ascot meeting expecting one win, hoping for two with the possibility of a quinella in the Diamond Jubilee.
If Ortensia’s connections are going to experience Royal Ascot glory it will be tonight. I expect the mare to back-up in the Diamond Jubilee on Saturday but she will be racing for a second, chasing the daylight between her head and Black Caviar’s tail.
Ortensia is in super form. If she wins tonight, you could make a case to suggest she’s the second best sprinter in the world and with Hay List on the long-term injury list that idea gains momentum.
Her performance to win the Al Quoz over this trip at Dubai was enormous. She came from last and charged past England’s Sole Power and Hong Kong’s Joy And Fun, both of which are engaged here.
The tough Ascot track poses absolutely no problem for her because she is a winner at this level at 1200 metres and was placed in a Stradbroke over 1400 a few seasons back. She will be strong at the finish.
Some English pundits were voicing concerns about her wet-track form but if you look back to her pre-2011 form, there are many good performances on rain-affected tracks; the best being that placing in the Stradbroke on heavy going.
In my opinion, the main concern is her barrier draw of five. It places her on the inside section and in recent seasons, the winners of straight races at Royal Ascot on opening day have come down the near or outside part of the track.
That bias however didn’t stop the last Australian to win this race. Scenic Blast, was the furthest horse from stands when he won the 2009 King’s Stand.
Paul Messara has expressed concern about the uphill finish possibly blunting Ortensia’s sprint and has therefore suggested the mare will race a little more forward than last.
I think Craig Williams should ride Ortensia in the exact same manner that Steven Arnold rode Scenic Blast in 2009.
Arnold settled backward of midfield and made his move a long way from home (perhaps at the 500 metre mark), meaning that the baldy-faced West Australian was well in front before the final climb to the finish. He was able to hold onto victory.
Like Ortensia, Scenic Blast had decent form over longer ground. He was a horse that had placed over a mile in the Caulfield Guineas the year before.
If similar tactics are employed on Ortensia, it would be an arrogant stance to take but luck will be removed from the equation. Ridden this way, the Scone mare will win if she is good enough. And trust me, she is good enough.
I think the main dangers to Ortensia could lie in the horses she beat in Dubai.
Joy And Fun is one of two Hong Kong horses engaged here. He’s a nine-year old that’s been around forever it seems. He finished third in the Al Quoz after sitting off the speed. Prior to that he won once and placed second on two occasions in three Group One sprints at Sha Tin in Hong Kong.
He’s a major player in this race but he isn’t a horse that appreciates wet ground.
His Hong Kong compatriot is Little Bridge who is having his first start overseas at Royal Ascot. I recall him racing through the grades at Sha Tin in 2010 before he was extended to the 2000 metres of the prestigious Hong Kong Derby where he finished last.
I question his ability at this level having only been victorious at a level of Group Two (and only once).
The distance will pose no problems but his class and the wet ground are concerning.
The best English hopes are Sole Power and Bated Breath who together managed to lower the Haydock Park track record by 1.3 seconds when running one-two in the Temple Stakes last month.
That smashing of the track record should be qualified by the fact half the field bettered the old mark in that race.
Sole Power ran second to Ortensia in Dubai.
My main concern for Sole Power is that he is suspect at anything longer than five furlongs and there aren’t many tougher ‘fives’ than the King’s Stand at Royal Ascot. He could be found wanting late as he was last year when he finished eighth in this race.
Bated Breath ran second in a feature sprint in Canada last year before finishing behind Joy And Fun in the Hong Kong Sprint.
Perhaps that HK Sprint form is the best indication that the Asian and Australian form will stand up; remembering that Joy And Fun and Ortensia were well in contention at Meydan in March.
Bated Breath could back up and race Black Caviar on Saturday. I think he’ll work home well here to potentially fill a placing.
The French are represented in this race by the up-and-coming Wizz Kid whose best performances are in Group Two grade.
She is a winner on wet ground and should be competitive. She finished fifth behind Tangerine Tees in her only Group One outing at Longchamp in France last season.
Wizz Kid warrants a crack at this race and I suspect she’ll finish somewhere in the top five. She’s always competitive.
If you’re looking for a blow-out chance here perhaps Tangerine Trees is the horse. He was super strong in that race in Paris and will attempt to ‘make all’ from the lead. If the track is favourable to those on-pace, he will be hard to beat.
Tangerine Trees finished last in this race in 2011 but it was probably an aberration and he can be forgiven.
The best roughie in the race could be last year’s winner Prohibit. It’s no surprise to see past winning horses continually run well in the King’s Stand.
Spanish horse Equiano won this race twice in three seasons, while Australia’s Takeover Target finished in the top four in three consecutive King’s Stands.
Prohibit has been below par in Dubai and France this year but getting back to England, Ascot and wet ground could see him improve sharply.
Amour Propre’s best form is good enough to figure here but he was well below par first up, while Stone Of Folca is attempting to repeat the dose after winning at similarly long odds in much weaker grade on Epsom Derby day a few weeks back.
Mardot Did is a well-performed English horse that has lost form this season.
It’s a horribly open King’s Stand but I’ve no reason to think Ortensia can’t win. I’m tipping her on top and with a shade of confidence from Joy And Fun and Wizz Kid.
Let’s hope to hear caller Richard Hoiles declare “Australia’s stranglehold on the King’s Stand continues!”
If you want to watch live coverage from Royal Ascot, you can stream TVN’s simulcast of At The Races’ coverage for free from racingnetwork.com.au from 8:45pm.
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