When compared with Day 1, Day 2 of the 2013 Royal Ascot meet was a godsend – at least the first half of the meeting.
Best bet of the night, Gale Force Ten? Winner. Duntle? Winner. Al Kazeem? Winner.
Then, our dartboards failed us as the Royal Hunt Cup went to an outsider in Belgian Bill, and we laboured home in the final two races.
However, it has given us confidence ahead of Ladies Day, the middle day of the festival featuring the Ascot Gold Cup for the stayers.
I was lucky enough to take my mother and sister to Ladies Day last year, a great experience.
It wasn’t so good on the tipping front, though. My sister, who knows next to nothing about racing, tipped two winners to my one.
She’s given me her input on tonight’s races, although I must admit it differs from mine.
Hopefully tonight’s not a night for quirky names!
In all seriousness, though, tonight depends a lot on the weather.
An early prediction was for some heavy showers to fall this afternoon – if so, it could play havoc to the final couple of races on the card. It’s still a bit hit and miss, though, so it’s best to tackle the races with a good track in mind.
Norfolk Stakes – Group 2, 5f (a1000m), 2yo
Another two year old contest, this time for the speedier horses than those that contested the Coventry Stakes.
The juvenile races have been a trap this week, so I’m hardly confident here.
However, Coolmore’s Coach House has been well backed and for good reason. After being beaten narrowly at his first start, he won at Tipperary by six and a half lengths before a dominant victory at Listed level at The Curragh last start.
He’s a speedy type who shouldn’t be far off the leaders, and I expect him to prove tough to beat.
If there’s to be an upset, it could come from Royal Mezyan, who is yet to win but has taken improvement from two starts to date. Last time out, he finished just over a length behind Reroute, who was our fancy in last night’s Queen Mary Stakes where she finished just behind the placegetters, hitting the line strongly.
I think his best chance comes if he settles behind the pace. If he can do that, he can run a huge race at odds.
Next best is Green Door, who improved markedly last time out, while Emirates Flyer has slipped under the radar and improvement’s to be expected.
1. Coach House
2. Royal Mezyan
3. Wind Fire
Ribblesdale Stakes – Group 2, 1m 4f (a2400m), 3yo fillies
A very good contest for the three year old fillies – but for some reason, it is one where Epsom Oaks form never seems to stand up.
Alive Alive Oh is a short priced favourite, and she looks a staying filly with plenty of potential. She had one start as a two year old, finishing seven lengths from Irish 2000 Guineas winner Magician.
At her two starts this season, she’s won by four and a half lengths (over 1m 1f) and six lengths (over 1m 2f) respectively. Last time out
She’s clearly the one to beat.
However, I think she can be beaten by Riposte for Lady Cecil.
She has only won a maiden over this trip at Newmarket, but she did it so easily and could have won by a further margin than the eventual two lengths.
One British journalist said she “could be anything” and I think she’s the one to upset Alive Alive Oh.
Outside the top two, I’d be looking at Waila, who defeated Riposte in a Sandown maiden in April, Irish 1000 Guineas placegetter Just Pretending and Epsom Oaks third The Lark.
2. Alive Alive Oh
Gold Cup – Group 1, 2m 4f (a4000m), 4yo+
This extreme test may have been surpassed as the world’s premier staying event by the Melbourne Cup in recent years, but it still carries quite the history.
Even in recent times, we’ve seen Yeats win four Gold Cups, while other winners familiar to Australians include Drum Taps, Double Trigger, Kayf Tara and Enzeli.
This year may not be the strongest Ascot Gold Cup ever, but it is one of the more competitive renewals in recent years with a large field of 18 set to take on the marathon trip.
It’s not the sort of race where one would normally be tipping a horse who has only had two runs in three years since winning this race. But if he is near his best, I think Dermot Weld’s Rite of Passage will be winning here.
He was 20/1 when he won the Ascot Gold Cup in 2010, defeating Age of Aquarius by a neck with globetrotter Purple Moon six lengths away in third.
Since then, he’s only run twice. He was third in the Saval Beg Stakes behind subsequent Gold Cup winner Fame and Glory in May 2011, but amazingly, he came out and won the Long Distance Cup on Champions Day last October having not seen a racetrack in almost 18 months.
It was one of Weld’s greatest training performances, just another reason he’s one of the world’s top trainers.
He’s first up here, but who can doubt Dermot Weld anymore? He’s a big chance.
The biggest danger does appear to be Estimate, raced by the Queen. She was very impressive first up in the Sagaro Stakes, and she looks to have come back better than last season.
Remember, she won the Queen’s Vase by five lengths at Royal Ascot last year, so if she has improved she’ll be a good chance here.
The query is her stamina, and it is not a question that will be answered until she enters the long Ascot straight.
Times Up also rates some consideration, too.
Despite a first up run that can probably be best described as pathetic, he’s been known to improve into his preparation so I’m far from dismissing him after that run.
He won the second and third legs of Britain’s triple crown for stayers, the Yorkshire Cup and Doncaster Cup, last year. He’ll now look to add the Ascot Gold Cup, traditionally the first leg, as his final leg.
Keep an eye on Vadamar, too. Bought by Dunaden’s owner Sheikh Fahad Al Thani last year and now racing under his Qatar Racing banner, he was touted as a likely contender for this year’s Melbourne Cup by his owners.
Next best Last Train.
1. Rite of Passage
3. Times Up
Britannia Stakes – Heritage Handicap, 1m (a1600m), 3yo colts and geldings
It wouldn’t be a raceday at Royal Ascot without a dartboard race, and I think it is fair to say that this is today’s lottery.
This three year old handicap over a mile, with 30 runners battling down the straight, is very difficult.
I also think I’m a bit gun-shy after last night’s Royal Hunt Cup, where roughies ran the trifecta.
If it plays like last night, you want to be on horses drawn among the lower numbers.
If that’s the case, I’d be looking at horses like Homage, Secret Talent, Maputo and Shebebi.
However, it could easily play to those on the outside today, one of the quirks of straight racing across five days.
Therefore, I’m going to hedge my bets a little bit by having horses drawn on both sides of the track in my selections.
On top, I have Llaregyb for David Elsworth, a winner of his last two starts at Newmarket and Musselburgh.
Take note, though, that Llaregyb did finish more than 13 lengths behind Cape Peron in a maiden in April. However, he looks to have improved significantly his last two starts, he meets Cape Peron 5kg better at the weights and I think this test of speed and stamina should suit.
He’s drawn right towards the outside of the track, so we need to hope the outside is the place to be.
Cape Peron is drawn towards the outside, too, and there’s no doubthing he’s some sort of a chance. He should find this race to his liking, although he’s starting to get up in the weights.
Back towards the inside, Homage is capable of causing an upset. He’s bred to be a sprinter, and so there must be some doubt over his ability to run a strong mile out.
However, having watched his last two, I’m looking forward to seeing him get out to his distance as I believe he can defy his pedigree.
Next best are Maputo and So Beloved.
2. Cape Peron
Tercentenary Stakes – Group 3, 1m 2f (a2000m), 3yo
This race tends to fly under the radar, but it always seems to have good depth. In recent years, we’ve seen horses like Hong Kong Derby winner Collection, Mackinnon Stakes winner Glass Harmonium and Arlington Million runner up Afsare win this race.
This year is no exception, it’s a terrific race.
Many pundits have labelled Remote one of the better bets of the week, and I’m inclined to agree.
He was rather disappointing on debut at Pontefract over 1m 2f, finishing third, seven lengths from the winner.
At his next start, though, he came out at 25/1 and won very easily at Newbury, before stepping back in distance and thrashing his rivals by six lengths over a mile.
I guess of some concern is that he may be a better miler, rather than a 2000m horse.
Still, he looks to have an abundance of class and that should take him a long way here.
I was very keen on Chopin in the Epsom Derby, and while he loomed up, he failed to go on with the job behind Ruler of the World.
If he can return to his form before the Epsom Derby, I think he’s clearly the testing material for Remote.
It wouldn’t surprise me if he turns out to be at his best over this trip, rather than the 1m 4f of the Derby.
Shikarpour is coming off a fifth in the Prix du Jockey Club behind the very impressive Intello.
That form stood up when Mshawish, who was fourth in the same race, finished only four lengths off Dawn Approach in the St James’s Palace Stakes.
These three look to have it between them on form, and the market has clearly identified this.
Australians should pay close attention to Kitten on the Run, who races in the familiar OTI Racing colours.
OTI Racing’s Terry Henderson has already indicated that Kitten on the Run will be seen in Melbourne during the spring, with the Caulfield Cup and Melbourne Cup on the agenda.
If he is to make the Cups, though, he needs to boost his rating significantly so he needs a good showing here for those races to even come into consideration.
He’s still untapped, but on what he’s shown to date, he may be better suited to the lesser staying races at this stage.
King George V Stakes – Class 2 Handicap, 1m 4f (a2400m), 3yo
When the rush for imports began just a few years back, buyers at first seemed to target this race looking for future stayers.
However, as demand has grown to suit the market, buyers have targeted classier horses and so this race has fallen by the wayside somewhat.
That said, horses can still be bought from this race for Australia – Ghost Protocol, second to Destiny’s Kiss at Rosehill last weekend, ran second last in this race last year.
This year, I’m predicting the Queen will win the race named after her grandfather with Bold Sniper, a son of the all conquering sire New Approach.
Another who disappointed in that April maiden behind Cape Peron, finishing a couple of lengths ahead of my Britannia Stakes selection Llaregyb, Bold Sniper has come into his own as he’s stepped out in trip.
He won a 1m 4f Thirsk maiden by five lengths, before stepping back in trip to win a Leicester handicap over 1m 2f by over three lengths.
He looks well suited in this field and he should prove hard to beat.
His main dangers appear to be Spillway, who now appears to be looking for the 1m 4f but may not appreciate a soft track, and Royal Skies, who has won his last two in weak company in the easiest of fashion.
I’m also prepared to entertain Carry On Sydney (perhaps that’s just the Sydneysider in me) and Number One London, who finished third in that now much dissected maiden won by Cape Peron.
1. Bold Sniper
3. Royal Skies
Best of the day: Remote
Most interesting runner: Rite of Passage
Horse to watch for the Melbourne spring: Kitten On The Run or Vadamar