Royal Ascot - Saturday 22nd June
Ascot 5.00 (Wokingham): HEY JONESY / BARON BOLT / TIS MARVELLOUS / SUMMERGHAND – all e/w
Skybet paying 7 places, Paddy Power, Ladbrokes, Coral, Betfair SB all paying 6 places
As the final day of Royal Ascot arrives, things don’t get any easier for the betting public with, traditionally, one of the most competitive sprint handicaps of the year taking place.
The Wokingham is run over the straight 6 furlongs and the key is to find either something progressive or something well proven in races of this nature. Ascot form can also be important as can be the draw.
The ground is the other factor to consider and, after a very soggy start to the week when soft ground horses were at an advantage, the straight track will have been drying during the past 24 hours and may even be riding on the quick side by the time this race is off.
There is a maximum of 28 horses set to go to post and, such is the clamour to get into a race like this, the handicap is quite condensed with just 12lbs covering the whole field.
The horse heading the weights is last year’s winner BACCHUS who returns here off just 3lbs higher. This is his seasonal reappearance and he has won first time out in each of the last 2 years, including in this race 12 months ago. The break, therefore, is no disadvantage and he is sure to have been primed for a repeat performance. The horse has always had a touch of class about him and he drops back into handicap company here having contested Group races for the remainder of last season following his victory in this. Jim Crowley, again, takes the ride and, on the evidence so far this week, he does not look to have a bad draw. One big negative, however, is the form of the trainer as, at the time of writing, he is yet to have a winner in the month of June.
The current favourite is CAPE BYRON who runs for Roger Varian. He won the Victoria Cup here in May but that is run over 7 furlongs and he drops back to 6 furlongs for the first time in his career here. Following his win last time, The Royal Hunt Cup was named as the likely target so it is interesting that they have chosen to step back in trip rather than moving up a furlong. Perhaps his showing in that race last year was a factor? Whilst the shorter trip is unknown, he does, at least, have plenty of experience in big fields and, of course, winning form at the track. A strong pace will suit him given his extra stamina.
Recent history in this race suggests that you need to be drawn middle-to-high and that has, also, looked to be the best place to be on the straight course during this week. The probable pace is, also, likely to come from this area of the track with several of the likely front-runners all drawn in double-figure stalls.
One of the likely pace-setters is LAKE VOLTA. This 4 year-old is often at his best when able to dominate from the front but was unable to do that last time, at Epsom, due to a high draw and a stumble coming out of the stalls. He still ran very creditably, however, to finish 2nd behind WATCHABLE who re-opposes here.
David O’Meara’s horse is another likely pace-setter and he has found a new lease of life this season, as a 9 year-old, winning his last 2 outings. He is officially 2lbs ‘well in’ following that Epsom win and has run several good races in big-field handicaps here in the past.
The 3 year-old RECON MISSION is another who is 2lbs ‘well in’ under a penalty and another who could well make the early pace (from stall 20). He was rather run off his feet in The Epsom Dash at the start of this month, on quick ground, but found conditions much more to his liking when stepping up to 6 furlongs to win at York last Saturday against his own age group. He would not want the ground to get too quick however.
The other possible pace-setter is GIFTED MASTER who is berthed in stall 30 and this is only the fourth time he has competed in a handicap. His first two ventures in handicap company came last year, firstly winning at Newmarket in May then, in August, when he won the Stewards Cup at Goodwood leading for much of the way. He has failed to fire back up into listed and group contests since and was, also, disappointing last time back in a handicap. He is, however, now 4lbs below the mark he won off at Goodwood and is not easily dismissed.
One who prefers to race handily, if not necessarily leading, is HEY JONESY. He looks to be ideally drawn for his racing style with plenty of pace all around him and, although he has only won once from 13 starts, he has some high class form. As a 2 year-old, he came 4th in The Middle Park, beating the likes of Sands Of Mali, whilst, last year, as a 3 year-old, he ran a very good race to finish 5th in The Commonwealth Cup. That run proves he handles the track and it is, probably, a run that could be upgraded as he was drawn in stall 1 on the far side with single-digit stalls only providing 3 of the first 11 horses home. He was gelded and given a wind operation over the summer and ran a decent race on seasonal reappearance, at Chelmsford, when 2nd behind a Michael Stoute horse who competes in The Diamond Jubilee today, despite not handling the bend very well. His last run was also creditable when finishing 5th in The Group 2 Duke Of York Stakes. In behind that day were subsequent winners El Astronaute, Ornate and, stable-mate, Brando so the form of the race looks strong.
The stable won this contest in 2013, with York Glory, and have also had a couple placed in recent years so it is a race they like to target and this classy sort might be just the sort of well-handicapped horse that could help them win again.
Just 1lb lower than HEY JONESY in the handicap is the Paul Cole trained BARON BOLT. This 6 year-old is a highly consistent individual who, in 23 runs on turf, has won 7 times and been placed in a further 8 races. He had a good 2018 season which culminated in a dead-heat for first place in The Ayr Gold Cup. He went up 7lbs after that win but, having disappointed last time at Windsor, is back down to a mark, albeit a career-high, that is just 4lbs higher here. A key factor here could be the return of the cheekpieces, which have been absent since Ayr, and the horse has won 3 of his last 4 in which that particular form of headgear has been applied. He has never raced at Ascot, so the track is a bit of an unknown, but, with winning form over further than this, he stays the 6 furlongs very well and could be well suited by this stiff course given a strong pace to aim at.
An intriguing horse here is SOUTHERN HORSE who makes his stable debut for Jim Bolger having previously raced all of his career in Argentina. He has some big-race entries, including The July Cup, so connections clearly see something in him and he did finish 2nd in a Group 1 in his native land.
A horse that has run several good races here is SPRING LOADED. He contested this race last year and in 2016. 3 years ago he finished 7th whilst, last year, he did not get the clearest of runs when finishing 9th. He then dropped back to 5 furlongs to win back at the track in July and was placed again here in October. Last season he came into the race without a prep run but this year he has already had a run when taking in a listed contest at Windsor. He is a past winner of The Portland Handicap so likes these big fields, is nicely drawn and is one for the short-list.
Another who ran in this event last year is TIS MARVELLOUS. That was one of four runs he has had here at Ascot and he followed it up with a win in a 5 furlong contest in August. He is another who has contested The Commonwealth Cup at this meeting, finishing 6th in a strong renewal, 2 years ago, behind the likes of Caravaggio, Harry Angel and Blue Point. His performance last year gives plenty of hope that he can go well again this year as he was beaten just under a length by the winner and was running on the unfavoured side of the track. He is, also, 1lb better off at the weights with BACCHUS and appears to have a more favourable draw this time close to the likely pace. He will appreciate the drying ground and another good run looks to be on the cards.
I think FOXTROT LADY has been campaigned with this race very much in mind and she showed some very good form in big-field handicaps last year. She ran a nice prep for this at Windsor last time and as a 4 year-old may still have plenty of progression left in her. She is another who will welcome the drying ground but I am put off by her draw in stall 1.
Vying for favouritism in this is the 8 year-old DANZENO. Older horses do not have a great record in this race in recent years but an 8 year-old did win the race two years ago so the age should not be a barrier. He has been a very good horse in the past but had looked a shadow of his former self in the last year until winning impressively at Nottingham last time. This is a tougher task but, on his old form, he is well handicapped and he does have the services of man-of-the-moment Frankie Dettori.
If CENOTAPH were to win this it would prove an emotional farewell for trainer Jeremy Noseda who retires after this horse becomes his last ever runner. Noseda has won the race before, in 2010, and will have, no doubt, plotted a path for this one here. He has never won on turf but has won several times on the all-weather and that form often translates well here at Ascot. He is another who will not be short of assistance from the saddle as Ryan Moore takes the ride.
In addition to WATCHABLE, David O’Meara has another 3 runners here. INITISAAB has run in the last two renewals of the race, without much success, but is favoured by the drying ground and has Jamie Spencer on board which is always a plus up the Ascot straight course.
PERFECTION is a horse who switched from John Gosden over the winter and this will be just his 3rd start for his new trainer. Gosden successfully switched him back in trip to this distance last season and, whilst he disappointed on his first try at the distance foe current connections, he could make a bold bid here.
The O’Meara horse I do like in here is SUMMERGHAND and he is the mount of Danny Tudhope. The jockey, of course, is enjoying a really good Royal meeting so far with his 3 winners including a double on the first day. This 5 year-old was very progressive last year rising 20lbs through the handicap in what was a successful season including 5 wins. He is best suited by 6 furlongs on fast ground and, if the sun shines all day as forecast, he may well have those conditions by the time of the race. He has kicked off this season with a brace of runner-up spots and in the second of those he got the better of both GIFTED MASTER and GUNMETAL who both re-oppose here. His draw, in the middle, will give the jockey options and he comes here fresh following a nice break since his last run. He is worth chancing as a fourth dart at this competitive race, possibly at half-stakes.
Ascot 5.35 (Queen Alexandra): BLACK CORTON – 1pt e/w. MAX DYNAMITE – WIN ‘SAVER’
The final race at Royal Ascot is also the longest in distance, at 2miles 6 furlongs and is a real contrast to the preceding Wokingham.
Last year’s winner, PALLASATOR, returns looking for a repeat win. If successful, he will be the first horse to defend the title since 2003 and will give trainer Gordon Elliott a third win in the race in four years. This horse was a smart stayer for Sir Mark Prescott before being sent to Ireland to go hurdling. After 5 attempts in that discipline, however, Elliott switched him back to the flat and his first run on the level for the trainer was when winning this last year. He won well last year and, but for wandering around a little when hitting the front, could have won more easily than the official distance. The course-and-distance form is obviously a big plus but the horse is a 10 year-old now and this year’s race looks to be a stronger renewal.
The favourite is another horse trained by a man who is better known for National Hunt horses, Willie Mullins, and that is MAX DYNAMITE. He has not won for nearly 2 years but his trainer, who has also won this race twice in the past, has made no secret of the fact that he has been targeting this race with him for some time. The horse has twice finished runner-up in The Melbourne Cup and ran an excellent race when finishing 2nd to stable-mate Thomas Hobson in The Doncaster Cup last September so he has some good form in the book. He is the highest rated horse in here, having been a Group 1 regular in the past,Ryan Moore has been booked for some time for the ride and he is worth a win ‘saver’ bet at the current odds.
The second highest rated horse is CLEONTE who runs for Andrew Balding. He has often shaped as if this extreme trip would suit him and was staying on late in a number of big contests last season. He was a strong finisher in The Cesarewitch and again ran an eye-catching race behind Gold Cup runner-up Dee Ex Bee in The Sagaro Stakes here in April. He, then, found the ground too soft at Chester in The Chester Cup and will be more at home on this sounder surface. He ran in The Ascot Stakes for the last two years and, although well beaten in 2017, last year his run was better than his final position suggests.
The drying conditions should also suit LUCKY DEAL who bids to give Mark Johnston his third win the race. He ran encouraging races early in the season before finally get his head in front last time out, over 2 miles, at Haydock. He has to prove his stamina here but, if getting the distance, he is a strong contender to make the frame.
There are 2 interesting NH horses in here who are making their debuts on the flat. The first is YOUNEVERCALL who runs for Kim Bailey. He is lightly raced for an 8 year-old, having had his problems over the years, but has shown some decent form over hurdles and won a Grade 2 hurdle at Sandown in April over today’s distance on good ground. The ground conditions are important for him and he does seem to be better going on a right-handed track. His rating of 157 over hurdles would indicate he has a big chance here if able to transfer that form to the flat.
Equally interesting is the other flat debutant BLACK CORTON. Better known as a chaser, this horse has an amazing career record on ground with the word ‘Good’ in the description. In 20 runs on such ground, he has won 11, placed 2nd on 6 occasions, 3rd twice and 4th once. The drying ground, therefore, is right in his favour and, given he has won over 3 miles the trip should be no issue. He also runs well after a short break and comes here 56 days after his last run. He has won all 4 of his runs after similar breaks. He is being prepared for The Galway Plate in early August, so this is a perfect stopping point on the way to that, but his excellent trainer would not be bringing him here if he wasn’t ready to do himself justice and, especially so, with his daughter on board.
He has a rating of 159 over jumps and, if using the approximate 40lbs adjustment often cited as needed for comparison, this puts him in with a big chance here if translating his form. At the prices, he is excellent each-way value.