Royal Ascot 2020 – Day One

Despite the uncertain times we have been living in recently, Royal Ascot will be the first major Festival to take place this week since lock-down restrictions were eased. It clearly won’t be Royal Ascot as we know it, with racing taking place behind closed doors, and no Royals in sight. That’s a small price to pay to get racing back underway however, and I can’t wait for the action to get started. I’ll be the first to admit that it hasn’t been the best of starts to the season for this page, but many hours of hard work have gone into this Preview, so fingers crossed we can be rewarded with a few winners. Best of luck if you’re getting involved, and be sure to give me a follow on Twitter @JakePriceRacing for updates throughout the day, including a link to the Day 2 Preview once it goes live!

1:15 – Buckingham Palace Handicap (Class 2) 3yo+ 0-105 – 7f

I was impressed with the way Daarik went about his business on Handicap debut at Newcastle on the 6th June, and he looks well worth his position at the top of the market for Frankie Dettori and John Gosden. This Hamdan Al Maktoum charge must have had his issues over the years having only ran twice at two and three, with a 50% strike rate up to that point. Last season Daarik made his seasonal reappearance a winning one when winning a 7f Kempton Novice Stakes under Dane O’Neill, before then running in the 1m Listed Burradon Stakes at Newcastle – finishing 2nd to Fox Power (99). The Mile trip that day seemed to test Daarik’s stamina to the limits as he could only stay on at the one pace in the closing stages, but he still managed to cling on to 2nd ahead of the likes of Bayroot (97) and Marie’s Diamond (113). Daarik was Gelded shortly after this run in June and was declared for a Newmarket Class 2 Handicap in August, but was a non-runner in the end.

Although it is worrying he missed the rest of the Season, Daarik made a brilliant return to the track after a 414 day absence. Travelling powerfully under Robert Havlin up at Newcastle on the 6th June, Daarik fairly comfortably dispatched of the useful Vitralite (102) – an impressive feat to return to winning ways from a mark of 97 despite such a lengthy absence. Daarik has been raised 7lbs for that victory but you’d have to think that he won with a bit in hand that day, and considering he’s so lightly raced, there’s still a lot of untapped potential in this Son of Tamayuz. Clearly Daarik will need to step forward again to follow up in this competitive Handicap, but Frankie Dettori jumps aboard for the first time, which clearly is a huge positive.

-3pts, (-3pts)

In a max field of 24 however, it’s completely acceptable to have two darts at the race, and the second Horse I will side with is Mark Johnston’s Blown By Wind. This Son of Invincible Spirit was quite a classy Juvenile, winning a 5f Novice Stakes at Ascot under a penalty, before then going on to finish 7th in the Group 2 Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2018. As what often happens in large field events, the field split into two groups that day at Ascot. Blown By Wind was in the near-side group, but the far-side group seemed to have the advantage – so finishing 7th meant that he actually won his group’s side if you take out the freak that was Calyx! The fact that Blown By Wind has both won at Ascot and ran well at Royal Ascot previously however is a strong positive to his chances here – even if his sights have been lowered between two and four.

Last Season started quite well for Blown By Wind – finishing 2nd on Handicap debut off 96 at Leicester over 6f, before then stepping up to 7f at Newmarket in June when running a really nice race to finish 2nd behind Awe (94) from a mark of 99. Up to a mark of 102, Blown By Wind started to lose his way a little as connections messed around with his trip – running him over 6f at York and Newmarket either side of a dire effort at Chester off top weight. A couple poor efforts followed over 1m on the AW (A surface which he doesn’t seem to enjoy as much), where he didn’t seem to stay the trip. With connections finally settling on 7f being his optimum conditions, Blown By Wind ran in a Class 2 7f Handicap at Musselburgh in October – where he flew through the field from last to first to record a comfortable three-length success under Joe Fanning. The form has since received a boost from the 2nd placed Montatham (97), who won impressively at Newmarket on the 6th June. In the interest of fairness, Blown By Wind’s official mark had dropped from 102 to 93 during the period of working out his best trip, but it was still an impressive performance at Musselburgh.

Blown By Wind was Gelded over the winter, and made his return to the track at Wolverhampton in March when running in the 7f Listed Lady Wulfruna Stakes. Connections seemed to just want to get a run into this Horse that day, as Joe Fanning bided his time in the rear and never really got serious on his mount, who stuck on under a hands and heels ride. Although he finished 8th that day, Blown By Wind was only beaten 4¾ lengths by the winner Urban Icon (109), and he was only narrowly behind the likes of Gulliver (109) and Marie’s Diamond (113). Connections clearly weren’t expecting to have to wait until June to run him again after such a nice prep, but Blown By Wind finally returned to the track at Newmarket on the 6th June. Close up to the pace (a tactic rarely used on this Horse), Blown By Wind took up the running with 2f to go, and stayed on strongly under PJ McDonald to win by half-a-length. I didn’t think PJ gave Blown By Wind too hard a time that day at Newmarket which is a plus in his bid to follow up just 10 days later, but more importantly he beat the right Horses – with Pogo (105) 2nd, and Qaysar (107) staying on back in 3rd. Blown By Wind has been raised 4lbs from a mark of 100 to 104 for winning at Newmarket, but I still think there is more to come from this Invincible Spirit four-year-old, who looks to have found further improvement since being Gelded. The Mark Johnston yard have been in flying form since racing resumed, and Joe Fanning seems to get a good tune out of this Horse.

-1pt, (-4pts)

1:50 – Queen Anne Stakes (Group 1) 4yo+ – 1m

The Queen Anne Stales is a funny race this season, with there being two Horses prominent in the betting that I’m very keen to take on in Fox Chairman and Terebellum. Both Horses have been seen to better effect over 1m2f, and I don’t really see why they would now want to drop back to a mile stepping up into Group 1 company. Circus Maximus is solid at the top of the market with two Group 1 wins to his name last season, but it is worth noting that all of his career victories have come on tracks with a bend – so I wouldn’t want to be backing him on the straight course at Ascot at such short odds. If you were being really harsh, then you could even say that beating King Of Comedy and Romanised in those two aforementioned Group 1s isn’t exactly amazing form. Roseman is a horse I like, but I suspect he’d prefer much softer ground conditions than he’ll encounter at Ascot on Tuesday. Mustashry is interesting returning to the track as a seven-year-old this season, but that might be his biggest problem – no seven-year-old has won the Queen Anne Stakes dating back to 1946 (although I could not find the data on how many have tried). Regardless of their record, it is hard to see Mustashry finding the necessary improvement this season considering he only managed 7th 12 months ago. Space Traveller is yet to convince me that he really wants a mile.

With most of the field ruled out (albeit some more harshly than others), one Horse in this field who I think could be a real improver again this season is Duke Of Hazzard. This Paul and Oliver Cole charge won a Listed race at Deauville over a mile as a Juvenile, and returned to France for his first two starts at three – finishing 3rd to Persian King (117) in the Group 3 Prix de Fontainebleau at Longchamp, before then taking 5th in the Group 1 French 2000 Guineas behind that same rival. For some reason connections decided to run Duke Of Hazzard 13 days later in a Class 2 Handicap off top weight (giving away 6lbs+ to his rivals) when a creditable 5th, but returning to pattern company a month later would really be the making of this Horse.

Dropping in trip to 7f, Duke Of Hazzard ran in the Group 2 Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot last season. Duke Of Hazzard flew out of the stalls into a prominent position that day, with Jockey Christophe Soumillon just reigning him back a little to track the pace. Travelling powerfully, Duke Of Hazzard seemed to relish the straight course at Ascot and found himself leading with 1f left to run – where he stuck to his task well but just didn’t have the necessary speed over 7f. Although being overtaken in the closing stages by speedier types such as Space Blues (114), he still ran an absolute cracker to finish in 5th place. Connections opted to equip Duke Of Hazzard with a pair of blinkers for his next start, stepping back up to his preferred 1m trip for the Listed Sir Henry Cecil Stakes at Newmarket. Once more breaking strongly, Duke Of Hazzard again proved just how effective he is on a straight course, going on to win impressively by two-and-a-half lengths.

The blinkers seemed to be working a charm on Duke Of Hazzard, as he followed up his Newmarket success with victory in the Group 3 Thoroughbred Stakes at Goodwood in August. PJ McDonald proved he has balls of steel that day as Duke Of Hazzard was smothered up in the middle of the pack and struggled to get a clear run (despite travelling all over his rivals), but once he switched to the outside of the field, Duke Of Hazzard flew home to beat Tujomaan a shade cosily in the end. Stepping up in class once more for his final start at three, Duke Of Hazzard made it a hat-trick when landing the Group 2 Celebration Mile Stakes back at Goodwood. Rossa Ryan struggled to get a bit of cover for this Colt that day (who desperately needs it to stop him from pulling hard), but once Nayaleti went on he settled down nicely. Duke Of Hazzard once again had to be switched to the outside of the field to get a clear run that day, but this really likeable Horse gives everything off the bridle, and once more quickened well to win by a comfortable three-quarters-of-a-length.

You don’t need me to tell you that Duke Of Hazzard clearly needs to step up on his three-year-old form to win the Queen Anne, but I feel he’s got massive potential stepping up into Group 1 company this Season. The way he improved through the grades during the Summer last season really impressed me, and returning to the straight course at Ascot should be perfect for him. It also seems to be the case that blinkers have improved his form considerably, so there’s no wonder he’s already rated a 10lbs better Horse than at Royal Ascot last season (now rated 115). Joint-trainers Paul and Oliver Cole are extremely happy with how this Colt has been working at home, and he should be ready to go first time up as he was originally being aimed at the Lockinge Stakes (before it was cancelled). In a race which many Horses face big question marks, the young improving out-and-out miler Duke Of Hazzard looks a big price worth playing at 14/1.

-3pts, (-7pts)

Update: 16/06/20 9:00am

After 10mm of rain overnight, the going at Ascot has eased from ‘Good’ all over to ‘Good to Soft’ all over. With this in mind, I am going to add a second selection into the Queen Anne picture. Mohaather is a Horse who will love the ease in the going description, having only ever really ran under such conditions. As a Juvenile this talented Horse won the 7f Group 3 Molson Coors Stakes at Newbury, before then returning to the track at three and winning the 7f Group 3 Greenham Stakes, beating some good Horses such as Great Scot (112) and Hello Youmzain (118). Mohaather wasn’t seen for the rest of the season after this run however, until returning to the track 189 days later for the Group 1 QEII Stakes at Ascot on Champions Day in October. The ground was Heavy that day at Ascot, but Mohaather ran a cracker on his return to finish 5th behind King Of Change (120). This Hamdan Al Maktoum Colt finished close up to a lot of good Horses such as The Revenant (119) that day, which is form that is more than good enough to see him go close in the Queen Anne. This Colt has only ever ran on a straight track in his career which is another positive, and I’m sure returning to slightly better Good to Soft ground today will see him improve from his promising QEII run. It’s also worth noting that Jim Crowley has chosen to ride Mohaather over Mustashry.

-2pts, (-9pts)

2:25 – Ribblesdale Stakes (Group 2) 3yo – 1m4f

This doesn’t look like a strong renewal of the Ribblesdale Stakes, which is of course a backwards race this season due to it being run as an Oaks trial, rather than after the Oaks itself. One Horse who really impressed on her seasonal reappearance was Frankly Darling, who may prove hard to beat here. This Filly finished second on her two-year-old debut at Yarmouth in October, running in a Heavy ground Novice Stakes over a mile. Frankly Darling ran with promise that day and looked like she was going to go on and win with 1f left to run, but she was just outstayed by Cabaletta – who finished second in the Listed Abingdon Fillies’ Stakes at Newbury on Saturday. Returning to the track at Newcastle on the day racing resumed, Frankly Darling stepped up in trip to 1m2f for the first time. Robert Havlin had to wind this Filly up into the race that day, but once the penny dropped she absolutely flew home – lengthening away the further they went to score by an impressive five-lengths. The form clearly doesn’t mean much, but this Frankel half-sister to First In Line (108, Listed placed over 1m4f on the 7th June) is an exciting prospect stepping up to 1m4f for the first time. Frankie Dettori has chosen to ride her over stablemate Miss Yoda, and I’d be hopeful this Filly can continue her sharp upwards trajectory.

+4.5pts, (-4.5pts)

3:00 – King Edward VII Stakes (Group 2) 3yo – 1m4f

Whilst there’s little doubt in my mind that Mogul will end up being the best of these, I have serious doubts about how ready he is going to be for the King Edward VII Stakes – with this now being his last real chance at a Derby prep before Epsom next month. In fact, Aidan O’Brien even stated in a recent stable tour ‘He’s a big, powerful horse and he’ll probably need his first run’. With this in mind, I feel you’ve got to oppose Mogul at odds-on, even if he does have the best form and potential of these.

The Horse who I will take a chance on here is David Simcock’s Mohican Heights. This Colt used to be trained by Fozzy Stack in Ireland, where he won his sole start for the yard at Leopardstown in May 2019, making all under a good ride from Chris Hayes to win a 7f Maiden by one-and-a-half lengths in game style. The Horse he beat into second that day was Lil Grey (95), who actually beat the ill-fated Year Of The Tiger by nearly three-lengths on her next start at the Curragh, and placed in a Group 3 subsequently. Mohican Heights was sent straight to the Goffs London sales following on from his Maiden success, where he was purchased by David Simcock for £520,000. Qatar Racing took joint ownership of this promising Colt alongside today’s owners Sun Bloodstock Sarl, and connections gave him plenty of time before having his first start in Britain.

98 days after his Maiden, Mohican Heights was sent to Salisbury to contest the Listed Stonehenge Stakes over a mile. Settling just behind the leaders, Mohican Heights quickened nicely when asked to go on and win his race under Jamie Spencer, where he stayed on strongly at the finish to record a commanding two-length success over Subjectivist (94). The form received a big boost from the third-placed Berlin Tango (106) at Kempton on the 3rd June, as this rival went on to land the Group 3 Classic Trial Stakes at Kempton – beating Pyledriver. Mohican Heights looked forever like a step-up in trip would suit him in his two victories as a Juvenile, but the fact that he still managed to win a Listed race over a mile is testament to his ability. When you delve into his breading, Mohican Heights is by Derby winner Australia out of a Shirley Heights Mare called Mohican Princess, who has produced 6 black type performers including Eye Of The Storm (Group 3 winner over 1m4f for Aidan O’Brien in 2007) and Curbyourenthusiasm (2nd in the 1m6f Group 2 Yorkshire Cup for David Simcock in 2013).

Mohican Heights will (like all of these) need to step forward on what he’s achieved so far to win this Group 2, but stepping up to 1m4f should be right up his street considering his breeding. Another positive is the fact that Mohican Heights has won both of his starts to date fresh, winning on debut and then after 98 days at Salisbury. One concern that I do have with this Horse however is his trainers’ form; David Simcock is yet to record a winner since racing resumed on the 1st June, but in fairness he has only had 11 runners so far. When you delve into those runners chances a little further, 5/11 were sent off at prices 25/1 or bigger, and only one Horse went off as favourite. Mohican Heights will easily be the best horse David Simcock has sent out so far, so you’d be hopeful that he will be ready to go first time up. His trainer said in a stable tour that he has done well physically over the Winter, and a Derby Trial has always been the aim.

-1pt, (-5.5pts)

3:35 – King’s Stand Stakes (Group 1) 3yo+ – 5f

I’m not going to waste everyone’s time on the King’s Stand – if the real Battaash turns up, then he will win. It’s that simple really. I adore this nutcase, and I really hope he can break his Ascot ‘curse’ to prove the doubters wrong.

4:10 – Duke Of Cambridge Stakes (Group 2) 4yo+ – 1m

My strongest fancy on Day 1 of Royal Ascot is Amanda Perrett’s Lavender’s Blue. This Filly showed a high level of promise last year as a three-year-old, starting her career off with a deadly success over a mile at Newmarket, easily beating Maamora (99) by two-and-a-half lengths. Connections stepped this Filly up in trip for her next stat at Newbury in May 2019, running in the Listed Fillies’ Trial Stakes. Lavender’s Blue travelled all over her rivals that day and looked set to go on to win, but this Filly was narrowly beaten on the line by Queen Power (107), with subsequent three-times Group 1 winner Star Catcher (115) in third. Lavender’s Blue was given her chance in the Oaks at Epsom last season after running such a promising trial, but this Filly didn’t seem to stay the trip, and then after the race it came out that she was suffering from ‘thumps’. After doing a bit of research, ‘thumps’ are like a much more serious version of hiccups, which clearly wouldn’t have helped her breathing.

Lavender’s Blue was given three months off the track after Epsom to allow connections to sort this issue out, and this Filly returned to the track at Sandown on the 31st August in the Group 3 Atalanta Stakes back at a mile. Travelling strongly in a prominent position, Lavender’s Blue once more showcased her deadly ability over a mile, bravely squeezing through a gap before powering away to score by 1½ lengths. Jim Crowley only needed to use his hands and heels to get Lavender’s Blue home that day, so this Filly clearly won with a fair amount in hand. Connections stepped Lavender’s Blue up into Group 1 company for her final start of the season, running in the Sun Chariot Stakes at Newmarket. Robert Havlin had Lavender’s Blue dropped out in the rear that day, and because everyone wanted to race on the ground up the far-side running rail, there was a lot of traffic for her to negotiate. Lavender’s Blue did quicken despite the ground being softer than ideal to come through the field and take fourth that day, which to be fair to her was some effort. The form of that race is working out to be strong, with the winner Billesdon Brook (116) running a nice trial for the Queen Anne Stakes (despite being able to race against the Fillies here) at Kempton a couple weeks ago, the second Veracious (113) following up with a 4th placed finish in the QEII Stakes on Champions Day, but most importantly the third placed Iridessa (116) won the Group 1 Filly & Mare Turf at the Breeders’ Cup in November.

Lavender’s Blue clearly has some strong form to her name, and I’m of the opinion that the faster ground she gets, the better she is. As of Monday 15th morning, the ground at Ascot is ‘Good’ all over, with the Sun out and 21° heat forecast all day. Although there is potential for a few showers during racing on Tuesday, the ground should be no worse than ‘Good’, which gives her every chance. It’s also worth noting that Lavender’s Blue has been running extremely well off of a break, winning on debut at Newmarket and then after 91 days at Sandown. Connections did have the option of running Lavender’s Blue in the aforementioned Snowdrop Fillies’ Stakes at Kempton on the 3rd June, but they instead opted to run her in the Duke Of Cambridge fresh, so you’d imagine she will be spot on fitness wise. Now that connections have sorted out her issues and found her optimum trip, I’m expecting to see Lavender’s Blue to continue to progress this season, and I’ve always had this race down as a perfect starting point her. Robert Havlin has been booked to ride this Filly for the third time, and she’s already the joint-highest rated in this field. The Horse who I cannot have at all for this race is Jubiloso, who was beaten six-and-a-half lengths into 7th at Sandown in August by Lavender’s Blue, so she would have a mountain to climb to reverse that form.

-4pts, (-9.5pts)

4:40 – Ascot Stakes Handicap (Class 2) 4yo+ 0-100 – 2m4f

Day 1 of Royal Ascot concludes with a race more synonymous to Jumps Horses rather than Flat, as we step up into the unknown territories of a 2m4f trip. Irish Champion Trainer Willie Mullins has historically done extremely well in this race, but in this strangest of years, he won’t even be represented in the race. In fact, only 6 Horses this year are trained by predominantly Jumps trainers (The likes of Alan King and Ian Williams aren’t included in this total as they are dual purpose), compared to 7 in 2019 and 9 in 2018. The leading hope for Jumps trainers this season is Nicky Henderson’s Verdana Blue, who hasn’t been seen on the Flat since finishing 4th in the Group 3 Sagaro Stakes at Ascot last year. Personally however I feel she has it all to do off top-weight now rated 100, especially as she’s always been seen to best effect over 2m (2m4f on the Flat could really stretch her stamina). She looks like a favourite worth taking on, especially with 5/6 places on offer.

The first of two Horses that I’ve come down on here is Karen McLintock’s Dubawi Fifty. This stayer has already enjoyed a successful career, with one of his best performances on the track coming when second to Lagostovegas in this race two years ago from a mark of 97. Dubawi Fifty wasn’t seen for a whole year after this performance, missing the 2019 renewal of the Ascot Stakes, and instead making his seasonal reappearance in the Northumberland Plate at Newcastle. Despite the lengthy absence this Dubawi gelding ran a cracker off a mark of 100, hitting the front with 200 yards to go before just being collared towards the finish by Who Dares Wins (107). Raised to a mark of 102 for this effort, Dubawi Fifty seemed to struggle off top weight at Goodwood and York subsequently, before then finishing a creditable 9th in the Cesarewitch at Newmarket in October on Soft ground (which wouldn’t have suited). Dubawi Fifty was dropped 2lbs for that run back down to his 2018 Ascot Stakes mark of 97, and he returned to form at Newcastle in December when running in a very competitive Class 2 Handicap. Running well for a long way, Dubawi Fifty didn’t quite have the pace to quicken with younger Horses Raymond Tusk (111) and Funny Kid (106), but he stuck to his task well to finish 4th, just two-lengths behind recent Group 3 Sagaro Stakes runner up Mildenberger (112). The Handicapper has left Dubawi Fifty on that mark of 97 despite the decent performance at Newcastle, so if he can replicate his 2018 Ascot run (which looked a stronger renewal), then he would have a big chance here. Another positive is that Horse goes well fresh, with a record of 5112 having had 80+ days off the track.

-1pt, (-10.5pts)

The second Horse I’ll take a chance on is Smart Champion. This Gelding joined David Simcock from Simon Crisford in July 2019 for 23,000 guineas, and he’s already paid that sum back to connections. His first start for the yard came at Goodwood in September 2019 when finishing 4th to Themaxwecan (102) over what is really an inadequate 2m trip! Stepped up to 2m2f for his next start, Smart Champion ran in the Cesarewitch Trial Handicap at Newmarket – finishing a brilliant staying-on second to Land Of Oz. Smart Champion was wearing a first time hood that day which seemed to really help him, and although he will re-oppose with that rival at Ascot, our selection will be 13lbs better off at the weights. Smart Champion ran some decent races on the AW over the winter behind the likes of Rainbow Dreamer (107) and Mildenberger (112), but his best performance came at Newcastle on his last start. The 2m track at Kempton probably just isn’t testing enough for this extreme stayer, but the extra half-furlong and stiff finish at Newcastle really brought the best out in him. Staying on strongly under Callum Shepherd, Smart Champion beat last year’s Northumberland Vase winner Carnwennan (96) by half-a-length, with the useful Sir Chauvelin (101) back in third. Although raised 4lbs for that effort to a mark of 87, Smart Champion should relish the 2m4f trip at Ascot, and he’ll surely be one staying on late in the day when others have cried enough.

+1.7pts, (-8.8pts for the day)

If you have enjoyed reading, please consider giving my original tweet a like/RT to show your support – it would be much appreciated considering the effort that goes into these articles!

Good luck! – Jake Price

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