What are the best bets on day one of the royal meeting?
2:30 1m (Str) Queen Anne Stakes (Group 1) (British Champions Series) (Class 1) (4yo+)
Tactics played a huge part in the Lockinge with Aidan O’Brien’s decision to employ a couple of pacemakers with Rhododendron close up proving a masterstroke, as they grabbed the best ground and Ryan Moore got first run on the filly. I doubt she would have won had she been the yard’s sole runner and the fast-finishing Lightning Spear, who failed by a mere short head, might get his revenge here. But there’s a suspicion that he is best fresh and it could pay to look elsewhere, although not too far down the betting list as the market has been a good guide to this Group 1 with 14 of the last 16 winners priced at 13/2 or shorter.
Benbatl is second favourite in most lists and it’s easy to see why as he took his form to a new level in Dubai this year, winning three of his four starts, including the Grade 1 Dubai Turf (1m1f), and finishing an unlucky second in the other. However, he’s been absent since and I’m not sure he’s a bang miler either as he looked well suited to 1m2f when winning the Hampton Court Stakes at last year’s royal meeting.
He’s likely to be doing all his best work late on and that might also be the case with French challenger RECOLETOS as he too stays further and wasn’t beaten far when fourth in last year’s Qipco Champion Stakes behind Cracksman, Poet’s Word and Highland Reel. He meets nothing of that calibre here and has looked very good in two starts this term, winning well when dropped to a mile on his return and showing a terrific turn of gear to cut through his rivals in the Group 1 Prix d’Ispahan when last seen at Longchamp. Winning French form has been a good pointer to this in recent years – five of the last ten winners had that on their CV – and he has more than enough ability to win what is a relatively weak renewal.
3:05 6f Coventry Stakes (Group 2) (Class 1) (2yo)
Aidan O’Brien is bidding for his ninth Coventry and his Sergei Prokofiev is much preferred to stablemate The Irish Rover in the betting, with the former just 9/4 at the time of writing and the other available at double-digit prices. Over this trip, I think there is going to be less between them as those odds suggest as the former is stepping up from 5f for the first time and I wouldn’t be at all confident about him seeing out the extra furlong given he has looked all about speed in his three runs to date. Irish Rover, on the other hand, looked well suited to 6f when getting off the mark at Newbury last time and Seamie Heffernan has ridden big priced winners for the stable at this meeting before.
However, neither may cope with recent Newmarket scorer CALYX, who couldn’t have been more impressive over this trip on his racecourse debut, shooting clear of his rivals when asked and running the last three furlongs two seconds quicker than the high class handicap run later on the card. In doing so, he was giving his freshman sire and star miler Kingman his first winner and being out of a 1m Group 3 winner, he’s going to stay a bit further in time. That’s no bad thing as they go fast over this stiff 6f and while this race comes plenty quick enough, his trainer John Gosden must think he can handle it. Will Frankie Dettori taking over the reigns, he’s the one they all have to beat in my mind and he may even go off favourite.
3:40 5f King’s Stand Stakes (Group 1) (British Champions Series) (Class 1) (3yo+)
One of the best showdowns of the meeting with the brilliant Battaash taking on Wesley Ward’s high-class LADY AURELIA, a dual Royal Ascot scorer including in this race 12 months ago. Bookmakers are struggling to split them – Hills go 2/1 the pair at the time of writing – and it’s 8/1 bar. I’m in the camp of the transatlantic challenger as she always brings her A-game to this meeting and while only second in her prep at Keeneland this spring, she seems to improve 10lb every time she runs here. Battaash, on the other hand, was well beaten on his only visit (12th of 22 in the 2016 Windsor Castle), when boiling over beforehand and failing to give his true running. He’s since put that well behind him and sets a very high standard on his peak form, but he’s like a coiled spring and his chance depends on whether connections can can keep him calm in the preliminaries.
This is by no means a two-horse race and with the front two taking a big chunk out of the market, there is scope for an each-way bet. Kachy nearly made all up the far rail when beaten a neck into third behind Battaash in the Temple Stakes last time and he should again make a bold bid. However, MABS CROSS was a fast-finishing fourth in the same race, having posted a career-best when landing the Palace House Stakes previously, and this improving filly will love the stiff uphill finish. At 18/1 with Hills, she’s the best value each-way value in the race.
4:20 1m (7f213y) (Rnd) St James’s Palace Stakes (Group 1) (Colts) (British Champions Series) (Class 1) (3yo)
Not a particularly strong renewal and that bookmakers have settled on John Gosden’s Without Parole as favourite, despite the fact he hasn’t won above Listed level, tells you that. He’s all about potential and while only workmanlike when landing the Heron Stakes last time, the ground was softer than ideal and he had suffered an interrupted preparation. Even so, he has got to find a stone in improvement to trouble some of these and he’s not for me at the forecast odds.
Classic form is in evidence elsewhere and Tip Two Win, who only found Saxon Warrior too good in the 2000 Guineas, and Romanised, who sprung a 25/1 surprise in the Irish equivalent, have to be seriously considered. Godolphin’s Wootton is another with claims having failed to show his true colours in the French 2000 Guineas last night time, when missing the break and ruining his chance by failing to settle.
However, it’s worth looking for something at a bigger price in such an open race and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if GABR proved up to the task. Sir Michael Stoute’s charge showed he was a talented miler when fifth in last season’s Racing Post Trophy and he looked to have done well from two to three when reappearing in the Sandown race won by Without Parole, going down by less than a length. He gave the impression that he would benefit significantly for that outing and his trainer has a fantastic record with progressive three-year-olds like him. At 18/1 with bet365, he looks cracking each-way value.
5:00 2m4f (2m3f210y) Ascot Stakes (A Handicap) (Class 2) (4yo+ 0-100)
Willie Mullins has won three of the last renewals and must have high hopes of adding another with all his five runners priced at 11/1 or lower at the time of writing. I’m struggling to split them and it will be interesting to see which way they go in the market, arguably the best guide, but this prize might not be heading back across the Irish Sea as Charlie Appleby’s WHITE DESERT is one of several British challengers with claims. A lightly-raced sort after just five starts, he absolutely hacked up when stepped up to 1m6f at Wolverhampton last time in a good time and while he’s gone up a harsh-looking 10lb, he may have even more to offer now he tries a marathon trip for the first time given he’s a half-brother to Melbourne Cup runner-up Red Cadeaux. At 14/1 with Betfair, he’s well worth an each-way interest.
5:35 1m2f (1m1f212y) Wolferton Stakes (Listed Race) (Class 1) (4yo+)
A tricky final for punters but Roger Varian’s SHARJAH BRIDGE ticks more boxes than most and is a perfectly backable 13/2 with Paddy Power. A consistent sort who has yet to finish out of the first three in five starts, he lost little in defeat when going down narrowly to a progressive race-fit rival on his seasonal return over 1m1f at Newmarket, having lost his right-fore shoe and looked in need of the run. Andrea Atzeni, who retains the ride, was of the opinion afterwards that he would be better over a little further and he undoubtedly has the potential to rate higher still.
Royal Ascot 2.30, Recoletos @ 6/1 bet365
Royal Ascot 3.05, Calyx @ 11/4 Ladbrokes
Royal Ascot 3.40, Lady Aurelia @ 2/1 Boylesports / Mabs Cross each-way @ 18/1 Hills (1/5 odds, 1.2.3)
Royal Ascot 4.20, Gabr each-way @ 18/1 bet365 (1/4 odds, 1.2.3)
Royal Ascot 5.00, White Desert each-way @ 14/1 Betfair (1/4 odds, 184.108.40.206)
Royal Ascot 5.30, Sharja Bridge @ 7/1 bet365
All odds were correct at time of posting.