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Princess Margaret Juddmonte Stakes preview

All eyes on Ascot today with the running on the King George but with a questionable surface and a heavily odds-on favourite, perhaps it's best to look elsewhere.

Early in the day, the Group racing starts with a tantalising sprint for the fillies. Dave Stevens, @DaveStevos, chips in with his shrewd analysis...

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14.05 PRINCESS MARGARET JUDDMONTE STAKES
Group 3 for 3yo Fillies
6f, £50k

This race has been a relatively successful hunting ground for favourites in recent years, with four obliging in the last ten runnings, including two of the last three. Richard Hannon supplied both of those winning favourites, and he is doubly represented today.

There have only been two winners at double-figure odds in that time, with both of those being 25/1 shots. The trends would seem to suggest that sticking to the more fancied fillies is the way to go, but the fact that the ground is going to be soft and many of the fillies are unproven on such a surface means that there could be a surprise or two in store. Below is my take on the runners and riders in what will undoubtedly be a keenly contested Group 3 contest.

1. BESHARAH (Haggas/Cosgrave)

The current market leader at 6/4, and unsurprisingly so given the strength of her form. She has already won at Ascot this season (5F good) on her first start where she had today's rival Kassia over a length behind in second. She followed that up with a win in a Novice event at Windsor (5F good to firm) at prohibitive odds, and was stepped up in class on her next outing in the Group 2 Queen Mary at the Royal meeting here.

She managed a solid fourth behind the ultra impressive Acapulco in that event, again over 5F on fast ground, before being stepped up to today's trip in a Group 2 at Newmarket's July Festival on her last start. She went down by the narrowest of margins (a nose) and proved that the trip held no fears.

However, whilst she undoubtedly has the best form in the book in this race, she has yet to encounter ground anywhere near as soft as she is going to face today. Her sire, Kodiac, has an average record with his progeny on ground softer than good, and an examination of her dam line provides more bad news on that front. There is no shortage of black type in there, but crucially it all comes on quick ground. In fact there has barely been a runner on ground softer than good among her relatives, and the couple that have tried it have been beaten out of sight.

She is currently a best priced 6/4, which, given the doubts about her ability to handle soft ground, looks a tad short to me. If the ground conditions were different she would take all the beating, but they aren't, so I think this filly might struggle in the mud. Too short for me at 6/4 and might well be one to lay.

2. CHIRINGUITA (Bethell/Lee)

One of the outsiders in the field who is available to back at 25/1. She looked good on her debut, taking a maiden at Pontrefact with the minimum of fuss (6F Good). The form has taken a few knocks since though, and the second that day, Sunnua, was in rear in the Super Sprint at Newbury last weekend.

She was stepped up in class on her next outing, a couple of days ago in a Listed event at Sandown (7F good to firm), and was found wanting, beaten almost six lengths into sixth (of seven). That level of form suggests that she may well struggle in this company.

She is a daughter of Hard Spun, who is admittedly an outstanding sire, but his progeny's effectiveness on soft ground is questionable. Her dam is related to a few that had placed form on good to soft ground, but there are no real mudlarks to be found.

She looks to have it all to do in this field, and with only two days break since her last run she looks to be one for another day. 25/1 is an accurate reflection of her chance.

3. GREAT PAGE (Hannon/Dobbs)

Twice victorious in five runs this season, including a Listed win in Ireland (6F good to yielding), she looks to be the Hannon yard's second string on jockey bookings and can currently be backed at 8/1. Won easily first time up at Windsor (5F good to firm), as many of Hannon's horses do, and followed that up with a solid second in a conditions event at Salisbury. The filly in front of her that day (Illuminate) lowered the colours of today's favourite on her next run in a Group 2 event at Newmarket.

She stepped into Listed company on her next run at Naas and won easily. The third, beaten seven lengths that day, has won at Listed level since, but apart from her nothing else has franked the form. She was stepped up again after this, into Group 3 company at the Curragh, and was well beaten (6F good). She took her chance in the Super Sprint at Newbury last weekend, and ran with credit in finishing seventh of 22.

Her form looks pretty decent, and her pedigree is none too shabby either. She is by first season sire Roderic O'Connor, who has had a decent start. Two of his four runners on good to soft have won, and he won on heavy ground himself, so the omens are good. Unfortunately the dam line is full of fast ground performers, and there is little encouragement to be found that would indicate that this filly will relish today's conditions.

However, she produced the best performance of her short career on yielding ground over today's trip, so there is hope that she will handle the underfoot conditions. The fact she is overlooked by Hughes has to be seen as a negative though, even if Pat Dobbs is riding as well as he ever has this summer. All things considered 8/1 looks a fair price, and if she handles the ground she could have each way prospects. It is difficult to see her winning though.

4. KASSIA (Channon/Harley)

A filly that will be having her first go at 6F today having been kept to the minimum trip thus far. Two of her three starts have come at this venue, including a second on debut (behind Besharah) and a creditable keeping-on fifth in the Queen Mary behind Acapulco, shaping as if the step up to 6F may well suit. Sandwiched in between these efforts was a maiden win at Sandown where she landed the odds by a short head (5F good to firm).

She is a daughter of Acclamation, who is a standing dish when it comes to producing speedy two year olds. However, his stats would suggest that his progeny are far better on quick ground, which does not bode well for Kassia today given the rain that has fallen. Her two half siblings showed a liking for decent ground too, which must go down as another negative. Her grand dam is a half sister to Lady In Silver, who won the French Oaks on good to soft, so at least there is a modicum of hope there.

Whilst her last run was decent in the Queen Mary, and she definitely looked like she would improve for stepping up in trip, the ground today looks to have gone against her. Like many of her rivals she would have preferred if the sun was shining, but as it isn't I believe she is best watched today to see how she handles the ground. 16/1 an accurate reflection of her chance.

5. RAH RAH (Johnston/Buick)

Won her first two starts (5F polytrack and 5F good to soft), with the second win coming at Chester in a Class 2 conditions event. Stepped into Group 2 company next time out at Royal Ascot, and fished midfield in the Queen Mary, behind a couple of today's rivals. She was stepped up to 6F on her next start in the Group 2 that saw Besharah finish a close second to Illuminate. Rah Rah was a further two lengths behind in fourth, but it was a good run and a big improvement on her Queen Mary effort.

She is a daughter of Aussie sire Lonhro, who hasn't had many runners over here but Aussie contacts assure me it's a classy bloodline. The dam line reveals some quality operators, including the dam herself who managed a 3rd in the French 1000 Guineas and a second in the Rockfel, both on good to soft.

There is a nagging doubt though about the suitability of the more extreme conditions she will face today. Good to soft seems to be the worst surface that any of her relatives have succeeded on, and her current odds of 6/1 look a bit on the skinny side to me. In saying that, it wouldn't be the biggest surprise to see her handling the conditions better than some of the others, and if she does she has a decent chance of making the frame. At 6/1 she could run into a place if a few of the others flounder in the mud.

6. SALVO (Fellowed/Dettori)

Represents connections that have had a bumper year with Derby hero Golden Horn, who takes his chance in the King George later on the card. Salvo has had just the one start so far, and he won it easily enough. That form is nothing to write home about though, and he takes a massive step up in class today.

She is a daughter of Acclamation, whose qualities were discussed earlier (Kassia) and is out of a daughter of Lear Fan, an American sire that has a good record with two year olds. She is a half sister to a host of winners, and a couple of them handled soft ground well, so there is hope that the same will apply to her.

She is currently priced up at 8/1, which looks pretty short given her achievements so far. She has an awful lot to prove at this level, and despite the fact that she may well handle the ground, she looks to be one to watch to see how she handles the ground and the step up in quality.

7. WHATDOIWANTTHATFOR (Hannon/Hughes)

Intriguing runner from the Hannon stable, who looks to be the definite first string on jockey bookings. Started off in a 5F furlong maiden at Windsor, and found only Besharah too strong. That was on quick ground, and her next start, on easy ground over today's trip at Leicester, resulted in a facile victory. She won again on her next start at Windsor (5F good) by 3/4 of a length in a Class 2 conditions event, showing her versatility regarding ground, and also shaping as though 6F is her perfect trip.

She is a daughter of Kodiac, who as was discussed earlier has an indifferent record on soft ground, but her dam line is far more interesting. Her dam did nothing on the track, but she is exceedingly well related as a half sister to Kind Regard and White Heart, two black type performers and who both showed ability on soft ground, in particular the former who won on this very track over 12F on soft ground, as well as a listed handicap on good to firm.

Judging by her dam's relations, this is a filly that is versatile groundwise, and she has proved this already with her two wins coming in contrasting ground. She is currently priced up at 4/1, second favourite, and I think she is well worthy of that status. I can see her reversing her debut form with Besharah on this ground and over an extra furlong, and she is a confident selection to bring home the bacon for Richard Hughes, one of the finest horsemen of his generation.

CONCLUSION

With doubts about the suitability of the ground for so many of the runners this is a tricky puzzle to solve. Besharah is a short priced favourite, which is justified on her form so far, but students of pedigree will have major doubts about the suitability of soft ground.

The three that look most likely to handle conditions according to their pedigrees are Rah Rah, Salvo and WHATDOIWANTTHATFOR, and the Hannon/Hughes filly is a confident selection giben that she has already won on easy ground. She only has two lengths to find with her debut conqueror Besharah, and given the doubts about the favourite on this ground she is a confident selection at 4/1 to give Hughesie a big winner in the final throes of his glorious career. Perhaps the biggest danger will be her stablemate Great Page, who could very well handle the ground better than most.

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