Warm sunshine, some spectators and Group 1 racing on the international stage - simply brilliant! Throughout the week, I'll do a mix of individual race previews and a summary of the rest, and hopefully find some winners in there for us. And if you're after an audio version instead, I've been on a podcast as well!
1430 - Queen Anne Stakes
The Festival kicks off with this G1 WFA contest over the mile, the race that saw Frankel propel himself to an even higher level in 2012, winning by 11 lengths.
PALACE PIER is simply the best Flat horse in training, at least in Europe, and these are prime conditions for him. His three biggest winning margins were on good or good-to-firm going, none of these rivals hold a candle to him. It won't quite be like the 2012 rout delivered by Frankel, but you get the idea. 4/9 isn't my sort of price but I do think he should be a few ticks shorter. The double into Battaash is likely to be very popular.
I don't see a great deal between the rest of the field. Lope Y Fernandez was placed in all four G1 starts on good/firm ground last season, and didn't like the softer going at Newbury last time. Nor did rank outsider Pogo who finished 31L behind Palace Pier that day, but had he run to his previous start rating, he'd have been around a 4.5L third. He ran third in the Royal Hunt Cup last season at the top end of the weights and is worth an each-way nibble at a huge price.
Palace Pier, Lope Y Fernandez, Pogo
1500 - Coventry Stakes
Always a challenge line up a rather wide assortment of 2yo form, this year no exception. The favourite Kaufymaker comes with the traditional American hype, (not to mention the nauseating silks) but I'm not convinced. Wesley Ward loves a 2yo filly, this year he has brought three 'great' ones and spreads them out across different races. He has trained a few winners here over the years but mostly over 5f and if you take out two big-priced winners (Jealous Again 33/1 and Con Te Partiro 20/1), his record is a negative one at level stakes - i.e. backing his favourites is a losing proposition!
The next in the market, Masseto, looks to have enormous talent, winning on debut at Navan, then running second behind the high-class Castle Star (who would have started favourite here), beaten by what I thought was a fairly poor ride, looking for gaps that weren't there in a seven-runner race, and was left behind when the winner made his run. And that's the danger here, the colt is very good but this is a step up in class, the big stage, a big field, yet they've kept the stable apprentice aboard. Gavin Ryan is winning at just 6% in 2021 - you might be able to get away with that on a leader but wanting to settle back in the pack...that's a massive swerve from me.
The one I am keen on is ANGEL BLEU, a blue-blood colt by Dark Angel out of a sister to Highland Reel. He has shown steady progress, winning two of his three starts, and looked to relish the step up to 6f last time, running away to win by 1.75L in a conditions race at Pontefract. Not from the usual juvenile production lines of Coolmore or Hannon, he seems a massive price.
Gisburn was unlucky on debut at Newbury then bolted in last time, while Berkshire Shadow impressed winning his first start (over Gisburn). Ebro River is quick but needs to improve his racing manners, while Tolstoy was ridden out with the crop on debut which I'd guess is rare for a Gosden juvenile and suggest there might not be a great deal up his sleeve.
Angel Bleu (33/1), Gisburn, Berkshire Shadow.
1540 - King's Stand Stakes
BATTAASH is quite simply a sprinting superstar and if he's near his best, they don't catch him. But this is a living, breathing animal not a robot and things can go wrong. Last season he went three-for-three with no spectators allowed, on other occasions, he's gotten too worked up and not finished the job. He's now a 7yo, has only won once from four Royal Ascot runs (unplaced as a 2yo, twice second to Blue Point in this race, then last year's success) and ran at least 6pts below his career-best RPRs in all three wins in 2020. Is that the first sign of decline, or just not needed to do any more to win? Expecting him to carry on the form of last season, the query is can any rival step up to challenge him?
Keep Busy is a progressive filly trained by John Quinn who knows how to win a big sprint race. Ran second in the Palace of Holyroodhouse Hcp (3yo sprinters) here last year, and has gone up another 12lb in rating since. Slightly disappointing at her last two, but heavy track probably not ideal for her. Second in the G1 Flying Five, fifth beaten 2L in the Prix d'Abbaye, has Ryan Moore aboard (note - probably due to the Coolmore connection rather than stable preference, as I think she is owned by Michael Tabor's wife), definite each-way chance.
Ubettabelieveit ran third in the BC Juvenile Turf Sprint (behind Wesley Ward's Golden Pal), Top class 2yo, won the G2 Flying Childers at 40/1 (beating Sacred and Winter Power), but flopped on first 3yo start in a G3 at Chantilly, behind Suesa, who is a leading contender for the Commonwealth Cup on Friday. He started 6/5 fav on that occasion with no obvious excuses but the run was so out of character you have to take the stable confidence to run here as a sign they've solved the issue.
Winter Power takes a big step up in class here, racking up three straight PBs in impressive wins, a bit too short in price for me. Oxted and Que Amoro haven't yet lived up to the best of their 2020 form.
Battaash, Keep Busy, Ubettabelieveit
1620 - St James's Palace Stakes
1700 - Ascot Stakes
A 2.5 mile handicap, often raided by jumps trainers but this year we see Godolphin, John Gosden, Dermot Weld and Roger Varian trying their hand at it against Willie Mullins and co. Not the sort of race I'll get excited about.
Representing the jumpers we have the likes of:
Cape Gentleman, winner of the Irish Cesarewitch last Flat season, before going hurdling, winning two of his four starts. Classy enough to have earned top weight, but the spread of weights here isn't that big.
Rayapour - a wild card, had only one start for Mullins (third in a maiden hurdle) since being bought out of France. Was handy on the Flat there but basically you are banking on the wisdom of Willie if taking the 6/1 here.
M C Muldoon - rated 96 from his 3yo flat career, had two years off then went hurdling. Certainly talented in that sphere, second in a G2 two starts back, has been popular ever since markets opened and has Ryan Moore on board. Chance in open race.
And then on the Flat side we have:
Island Brave - last, beaten 13L by Stradivarius here in late April. But I doubt many of today's rivals would get any closer (just 2L behind frequent Melb Cup runner Prince of Arran). Won over 2m here on good-to-firm last summer, up 7lbs from that and seems to have found this handicap mark much tougher. Claims 7lb via Callum Hutchinson though, 40/1 with four or five places isn't the worst bet ever seen.
and then a group of lightly-raced Flat horses:
Closing the eyes and sticking in the pins to come up with...
Untold Story, Golden Rules, Island Brave
1735 - Wolferton Stakes
1810 - Copper Horse Stakes
Another staying handicap with a mix of stayers and jumpers. Saldier has come up very short early because of Mullins & Moore, but his form is largely on softer tracks. That's enough for me to swerve him. Without diving too deep into it, THEMAXWECAN ran fourth in the first edition of this race last year and the firmer the better, Dubious Affair raced through the grades last season around this distance and only failed in the Long Distance Cup on soft going (unusual for a daughter of Frankel), while Sextant did a similar thing in 2019 before stepping up to higher grade last season and not quite making the grade. He loves firm tracks and might be able to sneak a place at around 50/1.
Themaxwecan, Dubious Affair, Sextant
Pogo 0.25pts EW 100/1 (but look for extra places)
Angel Bleu 1pt EW 33/1 (four places minimum)
Battaash 1pt Win 2/1
Poetic Flare 2pts Win 4/1
Victory Chime 0.25pts EW 33/1 (four places min)
with no doubt some dabbling in exotics and the like closer to race time.