The 2019 Royal Ascot Festival has finally arrived, and we kick off the five-day bonanza with arguably the best day of them all. We’re treated to three Group 1 contests on Day 1; the curtain raising Queen Anne Stakes, the King’s Stand Stakes sprint and the St James’s Palace Stakes for three-year-olds. Unfortunately I won’t be attending Ascot this year, but I will be providing live updates throughout the day on my twitter account @JakePriceRacing as usual. I hope you all have a successful Royal Ascot!
14:30 – Queen Anne Stakes (Group 1) 4yo+ – 1m
We kick off Day 1 with the Queen Anne Stakes, ran over a mile for horses aged four or older. The form of the horses coming into this race mainly revolves around the Lockinge at Newbury last month, a contest I was lucky enough to attend. Mustashry won very well that day, coming away from Laurens to score by two-and-a-half lengths. Whilst if you took this form on face value it would be hard to see this Sir Michael Stoute horse beaten, the feeling is that a few of those horses will be able to improve past him on the back of that run. Laurens was making her seasonal reappearance at Newbury that day and is likely to come on for the run, but I feel she is a horse who won’t be suited to any potential cut in the ground. Accidental Agent won this race last year and ran well to finish third at Newbury, despite being allowed to go off a 33/1 chance. You would have to feel however that he would also prefer a faster surface, winning this contest on good-to-firm ground twelve months ago. Among the eye-catchers in that race was undoubtedly my selection on the day in Le Brivido, who was slowly away from the stalls and kept too far back under Ryan Moore before powering home in the final furlong to finish fifth. Whilst it clearly was a typical ‘one to look out for next time’ type of performance, I find it hard to believe that he deserves to be favourite for this contest on the back of that run – even if he is trained by the genius Aidan O’Brien. Whilst there’s no doubting that the Lockinge form is strong, any of them could be capable of improving enough to win this contest, so from a value perspective I’m happy to look elsewhere.
The horse that I have come down on is Dermot Weld’s Hazapour. This Group 3 Derrinstown Derby Trial winner at Leopardstown last season wouldn’t be your typical selection for a Group 1 over a mile, but when you delve into his form then it’s clearly the mile trip which suits him best. As a two-year-old Hazapour won his Maiden at Galway over an extended mile, beating Aidan O’Brien’s Hunting Horn readily by a length before finishing third in the Group 3 Eyrefield Stakes behind Flag Of Honour. This performance almost forced connections to go down the Derby route with this son of Shamardal, and he did his claims no harm when winning the Derrinstown. When you look into this performance however, Hazapour was tanking along behind his rivals before showing a much superior turn of foot to ensure victory, with staying types Delano Roosevelt and The Pentagon coming back at him close to the line. On this evidence he had little chance of really being able to see out the one-and-a-half mile Derby trip, and this proved to be the case at Epsom despite a very spirited display. Hazapour was tanking along under Frankie Dettori until the two-furlong marker, where he was simply out-stayed by the likes of Masar and Roaring Lion – running on at one-pace to finish a very credible fifth. This race probably took its toll when a length third in the Group 3 Meld Stakes at Leopardstown last July, and connections sensibly decided to cut his season short.
Back on the track after a massive 268 day lay off at Naas in April, Hazapour needed the run when contesting the Group 3 Alleged Stakes over one-mile-two-furlongs – given an easy ride under Chris Hayes. He clearly came on for this run when last seen at Leopardstown however, when finally stepped back to a mile in the Group 3 Amethyst Stakes. Chasing the leaders powerfully, Hazapour found himself in the lead rounding the home bend before Oisin Orr asked his charge to go on and win his race, which he did in impressive style – powering away to score by two-and-a-half lengths. This four-year-old Colt will clearly need to step forward again to win at the highest level, but I feel there is lots more to come from this unexposed miler. Top jockey Frankie Dettori has been called upon for the ride, and any cut in the ground will clearly be to the advantage of our selection.
Hazapour Each/Way @ 12/1 12th
15:05 – Coventry Stakes (Group 2) 2yo – 6f
I don’t have a strong selection for the Coventry Stakes so I’m not going to put anything forward. Threat was very impressive when winning at Newmarket on debut and I’d expect him to feature in the finish here, whilst Arizona clearly has strong claims but is much too short in the betting for my liking. Well Of Wisdom and Fort Myers ran eye-catching races at Newbury last month as they were both seriously hampered in running, before just being touched off by Temple Of Heaven. They could provide some each/way value if able to take another step forward in this very competitive looking contest.
15:40 – King’s Stand Stakes (Group 1) 3yo+ – 5f
Twelve months ago we saw a fantastic renewal of the King’s Stand Stakes, with Blue Point able to pick off Battaash close to home and claim the Group 1 prize. Th pair re-oppose here, but I fancy the form to be reversed. Since coming back from a second wind-operation over the Winter, Battaash looked much more professional at Haydock; blitzing his rivals by two-and-a-half lengths to win the Group 2 Temple Stakes. The general consensus of this Son of Dark Angel is that he is probably the most talented five-furlong horse in training, but it is his temperament that has let him down in the past. I’m going to take a chance here however that on the basis of Haydock he has improved mentally from four to five, as the draw looks to be perfect. In last year’s renewal Battaash was forced to make his own running with Blue Point tracking in behind, which surely contributed to the Godolphin horse being able to come through and snatch the lead in the final furlong. Houtzen – the Australian raider – has been drawn right next to our selection in stall eleven, and she is capable of setting a blistering pace as she is fast away from the stalls. If this is the case then Battaash will be in his element, tracking a strong pace behind cover before being sent on when quickening up. It is also of significance that Blue Point has been drawn in stall one – on the opposite side of the track to where this pace could be. All eyes will be on Charles Hill’s star sprinter in the preliminaries, where the race is so often won or lost for these sprinters.
Battaash @ 2/1 2nd
16:20 – St James’s Palace Stakes (Group 1) 3yo Colts – 1m
As I haven’t been able to build a strong enough case for any of these against the short-priced favourite Phoenix Of Spain, I’m going to leave this competitive St James’s Palace Stakes alone. Too Darn Hot hasn’t seemed himself this season, but I wouldn’t entirely give up on him until seeing what he does here. King Of Comedy certainly interested me from the unexposed angle, but it’s hard to predict how he will face up against Group 1 horses. Circus Maximus is another interesting contender, but I’m not sure he wants to be stepped all the way back to a mile. Skardu is clearly a good horse, but he ran awfully at the Curragh last month.
17:00 – Ascot Stakes Handicap (Class 2) 4yo+ – 2m4f
This certainly isn’t a vintage renewal of the Ascot Stakes, with Snow Falcon and Mengli Khan providing the class from National Hunt trainers. Snow Falcon has been handed a pretty tough task returning to the Flat from a mark of 99, but this 157 hurdler clearly has the class to carry the weight under top Irish Jockey Colin Keane. Mengli Khan has also been given a tough enough task from 96, having only won an all-weather race at Kempton in September 2016 for Hugo Palmer. He has of course improved from all recognition to become a 150 rated hurdler, but I couldn’t be backing him here having been beat thirty-five lengths at Fairyhouse in April.
The horse I really fancy here is Alan King’s ever reliable Coeur De Lion. This six-year-old finished sixth in this race twelve months ago, but the opposition was much stronger with the likes of Lagostovegas, Stratum and Whiskey Sour ahead of him. With no real proven Willie Mullins Flat horses in the contest this year, this Son of Pour Moi has a fantastic chance. Second behind Coeur Blimey on seasonal reappearance in April, Coeur De Lion was a big gamble in the 2m2½f Chester Plate Handicap last month, scoring by five lengths under the useful 5lbs claimer Thore Hammer Hansen. This was the exact same path this Alan King charge took last season, but his performance at Chester from the same mark was much improved this time around. He comes into this renewal of the Ascot Stakes from a mark of 93, but after you account for Thore’s claim he is actually running from a 3lbs lower mark in what looks to be a weaker race. The trip and any cut in the ground obviously won’t be a problem for this 137 rated Hurdler, and I’d be very disappointed if he’s not able to feature in the finish here.
Coeur De Lion Each/Way @ 8/1 5th
17:35 – Wolferton Stakes (Listed) 4yo+ – 1m2f
The Wolferton Stakes has cut up significantly from the entry stage, meaning Elarqam has become an even more fancied selection for me. Third top rated on official ratings, this Mark Johnston horse finally seems to have put it together this season. Fourth in the 2018 2000 Guineas at Newmarket, Elarqam went off as favourite for his next three starts, beaten each time. His best performance undoubtedly came at York however, finishing a half-length second to Thundering Blue in the Group 2 York Stakes last July. Having received a wind operation during the winter, Elarqam made his return to the tack at Newmarket in the Group 3 Earl Of Sefton Stakes – finishing fourth behind Zabeel Prince in one of the races of the season so far. The form has worked out immaculately; the third Mustashry winning the Group 1 Lockinge Stakes, the second Forest Ranger winning the Group 2 Huxley Stakes, and the winner Zabeel Prince winning the Group 1 Prix d’Ispahan at Longchamp last month. Elarqam boosted the form himself when winning a Listed Stakes race at Goodwood last time out, beating one of today’s rivals in Willie John by an impressive two-and-a-half lengths – always in command in the final furlong. The pair re-oppose today with our selection 3lbs worse off at the weights, but Elarqam looked to have plenty more in the tank in that Goodwood contest. There’s surely no coincidence that his best two performances since that Guineas run have come over 1m2f, and he is fancied to continue his progression over this favourable trip here. Any cut in the ground shouldn’t be an issue having ran so well on good-to-soft at York last season, and top Jockey Jim Crowley regains the ride. Mark Johnston’s horses have been running well all season, and this impeccably bred four-year-old Son of Frankel out of Attraction can gain his biggest victory to date.
Elarqam @ 9/2 3rd
Good luck! – Jake Price