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. As I said yesterday however, that’s a small price to pay to get racing back underway. Day 1 was a mixed day for the page with Frankly Darling winning at short odds, but fingers crossed we can be rewarded with a few more winners on Wednesday. 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 3 Preview once it goes live!
13:15 – Silver Royal Hunt Cup Handicap (Class 2) 3yo+ – 1m
The introduction of these new Handicaps at Royal Ascot this year doesn’t make for an easy start in terms of punting, but there’s a clear stand-out Horse in this consolation race for the Royal Hunt Cup in the form of Richard Hannon’s Ouzo. Although well found in the market, Ouzo looks to be extremely well Handicapped off 91 thanks to his most recent run. This Colt ran six times as a three-year-old last season, racking up a hat-trick of wins at Nottingham, Sandown and Newmarket. That latter effort on the straight course at Newmarket in June was easily the most impressive performance of them all, as he travelled all over his rivals before coming home strongly down the center of the track to win by an easy two-and-a-half lengths from a mark of 85. Ouzo was given a break after this string of victories over the Summer, before returning to Newmarket on the 1st November. Raised 6lbs from his latest victory to a mark of 91, Ouzo tried really hard once more, but the soft ground just seemed to bottom him out in the closing stages, and he could only stay on at the one pace to finish 4th. Ouzo went to Kempton 18 days later for his final start of 2019, where he found himself in the lead with 4f left to run. Ouzo was unfortunately a sitting duck when the closers started to come at him that day, but he did well to finish 5th. The race is actually working out quite well, with the winner Entangling now rated 95, the 2nd Bear Force One rated 93, and the 4th Montatham now rated 97 – and he is prominent in the betting for the main Royal Hunt Cup later on the card.
The piece of form that I feel leaves Ouzo ridiculously well handicapped however is his seasonal reappearance at Newmarket on the 7th June, where he ran in a 1m Class 2 Handicap. Racing down the center of the track, Ouzo came through the field strongly from a held-up position to lead by about two lengths with half a furlong to go, but he was just collared on the line by Bell Rock. The Andrew Balding winner that day had form behind the likes of King Of Comedy and Duke Of Hazzard last season, but was able to run in that Handicap from a mark of 98. The handicapper has since reassessed Bell Rock’s mark, raising him by 6lbs to 104. He will run in the main Royal Hunt Cup from a mark of 103 (under a 5lbs penalty), and he is well fancied in the betting at second favourite. Ouzo’s mark has also been reassessed for that Newmarket run, where the handicapper has raised him 5lbs to a mark of 96. Despite this rise however, Ouzo can still run from his old mark of 91 in this race, meaning he is 5lbs ‘well in’. Ouzo has already proven to enjoy straight-mile courses throughout his career, and considering he’s run behind two Royal Hunt Cup contenders on his last two starts, his unchanged mark of 91 looks a gift under top jockey Ryan Moore.
13:50 – Hampton Court Stakes (Group 3) 3yo – 1m2f
I feel at Royal Ascot you’ve got to be prepared to not have a bet in every race, and that’s very much the case with the Hampton Court Stakes. This is a proper top-quality Group 3 race, which leaves me with the problem of liking three of them; First Receiver was really impressive on his return to the track at Kempton on the 2nd June, winning by seven-lengths. He’s got to step up again here, but will clearly be popular under Frankie Dettori. Juan Elcano is the next Horse I am a fan of, and he ran a cracker in the 2000 Guineas to finish in 5th place, despite being sent off a 66/1 shot. Stepping up in trip and dropping in class should suit him well. The third Horse I’m a big fan of is Kenzai Warrior. He was another to run in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket, but his chance was gone within the first 5 seconds of the race, as he broke awkwardly and nearly unseated his rider. Despite such an awful start, Kenzai Warrior did pluck on for 9th in the end, and he should also appreciate stepping up in trip. With there being no real way of me splitting these three Horses, I am going to leave the race alone, but I wouldn’t put you off backing any of them.
14:25 – King George V Stakes Handicap (Class 2) 3yo 0-105 – 1m4f
Roger Charlton looks to have a great chance of repeating his 2017 King George V success this year with Win O’Clock. This Colt ran three really eye-catching races on the All-Weather over the Winter, with his debut at Kempton in December over 1m particularly interesting. I urge you to go and watch that race back, as Win O’Clock was stone last rounding the home bend, but flew through the field under Adam McNamara to finish an ever closer 4th at the line. His next start came at Chelmsford in January, where he ran a much more conventional race to stick on for a close fourth – running behind the likes of Al Mayson (84) and Rideson (81). Returning to Kempton in January saw Win O’Clock run another eye-catching race however, as he was niggled along in the early stages to keep his mind on the task. Once more travelling up the inside running rail, Win O’Clock made really smooth progress in the home straight, this time finishing a clear third under Adam McNamara, with the winner King Of Arms (79) getting first run and kicking clear.
By Derby winner Australia, it was clear from these runs on the synthetics that he wanted to be stepped up in trip beyond a mile, and that’s what he got on Handicap debut off 75 at Haydock on the 8th June over 1m2f. Travelling into the race powerfully as usual, Win O’Clock had to be wound up into the race by Jason Watson, but once he reached top gear he powered away from the field, winning very impressively under an eased down ride by two-and-a-quarter lengths. He may have only been running off a mark of 75 that day, but the most notable part of the race for me was that Win O’Clock was pulling Jason Watson’s arms out crossing the line, suggesting that a further step up in trip to 1m4f should be perfect. In terms of Handicapping, Win O’Clock sneaks into this race from a mark of 79 thanks to a 4lbs penalty for winning at Haydock, meaning he only has to carry a mere 8st0lbs under the in-form Hollie Doyle. That doesn’t tell the whole story however, as the Handicapper has since raised Win O’Clock by 9lbs for that run at Haydock, meaning he is 5lbs ‘well in’ for this Royal Ascot assignment. This Horse has clearly still got a lot in hand, and I think stepping up in trip will help him to further realise that potential.
15:00 – Prince Of Wales’s Stakes (Group 1) 4yo+ – 1m2f
We’ve got a another short priced favourite in the feature race on Wednesday, as Japan is the stand-out Horse to line up in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes. This Aidan O’Brien charge clearly sets a high standard thanks to his win in the Juddmonte International last season before running 4th in the Arc, and although all roads will lead back to Longchamp this season, he will be extremely hard to beat on reappearance.
Of the remainder, one Horse who I am interested in looking ahead to the rest of the season is Headman, who just kept on improving at three after winning the London Gold Cup Handicap at Newbury. I wouldn’t want to be backing him in this contest going up against Japan, but perhaps when he’s allowed to run in France, this Horse is one I feel could pick up a Group 1 win this year.
15:35 – Royal Hunt Cup Handicap (Class 2) 3yo+ – 1m
This cavalry charge is as competitive as ever this season, with a Handicap ratings band ranging from 97-109. I’m going to take a punt on two Horses at decent prices, but make sure before you have a bet on this race that you’re checking the each/way terms – some bookies are paying 6 or even 7 places.
The first Horse I want to have on my side here is Afaak, who of course won this race 12 months ago. Afaak has developed into a bit of a course specialist, finishing second in this race off 103 in 2018 (stall 17), before winning from the same mark under Jim Crowley last year (stall 21). Afaak always seems to save his best for Ascot, but he did run some decent races last season – finishing 5th behind Pivoine in the Diamond Jubilee Cup Handicap at York on his next start. His last start of the season came in Bahrain in November, running in the Bahrain International Trophy. Running a stormer for the Charles Hills stable, Afaak finished fourth behind Royal Julius (114) and Turgenev (110) – only beaten a length. This Gelding returns to his beloved Royal Hunt Cup this season on a mark of 106, but Cieren Fallon Jr takes off an invaluable 3lbs, meaning he will race off the same mark as last season. There were a few showers of rain on and off during racing on Tuesday, and there is more forecast on Wednesday, but Afaak won on the race Soft last season. Although there may be question marks about how much this course and distance winner can improve this season, Afaak is the proven course and distance winner and has a good draw from stall 18 this time around.
The second Horse I’m going for here is Indeed, running for the Dominic Ffrench Davis yard. This Gelding was purchased from H-F Devin in France, and enjoyed a brilliant season last year. Starting off in England at Newbury in April 2019, Indeed was only beaten a neck in the Class 2 Spring Cup Handicap over the straight mile, just held off by Chatez (104). Raised to a mark of 96, Indeed then won a Class 2 Handicap at Chelmsford, before returning a straight mile at Newmarket’s July course and defying a mark of 100 in very comfortable fashion. Although well beaten in the Golden Mile Handicap at Goodwood (with a bend), Indeed returned after 71 days off the track to run in the Group 3 Darley Stakes over 1m1f, where he ran a decent race to finish second behind Feliciana De Vega (106), giving away 7lbs to that Filly on Soft ground. Indeed finished his season by once more running on the straight Rowley Mile course at Newmarket, contesting the Listed James Seymour Stakes on Heavy ground. Running another big race, Indeed finished a very good 2¼ length third to Lord North (116), with Pablo Escobarr (108) clinging on to second place. Back down to a mile for the Royal Hunt Cup shouldn’t be a problem considering his love for straight courses, and the forecast rain won’t do his chances any harm. Indeed has to step up again on his Handicap form from last season to defy a mark of 107, but his form at the end of last season suggests he is a smart Horse.
16:10 – Windsor Castle Stakes (Listed) 2yo – 5f
Two-year-old races at Royal Ascot are going to be an absolute nightmare – let’s be honest for a second. Usually at this point in the season we’d have seen these Juveniles have two or three runs under their belt, meaning there would be more of an order established, and crucially more form in the book to go off. For me that means one of two things; firstly, I’ll only being putting up Horses who have really caught my eye on debut. Secondly, expect me to not put up a selection in some of these two-year-old races!
In the case of the Windsor Castle however, there is a Horse who really caught my eye on debut, and that is Andrew Balding’s Tactical. This Toronado Colt made his debut at Newmarket on the 4th June, running in what I think could be a hot Novice Stakes. Fairly green out of the stalls, Tactical settled right in the middle of the pack under Oisin Murphy. Coming to make his challenge with around 1.5f left to run, Tactical started to show a good turn of foot and quicken up, but he was then bumped by Vedute at the 1f pole when trying to run through a gap, forcing him to lose momentum. Despite not getting a clear run, Tactical still quickened again to take third past that aforementioned rival on the line. The winner that day was Eye Of Heaven, who was impressive on debut for Mark Johnston under Frankie Dettori, and he is now favourite for the Group 2 Norfolk Stakes on Friday. Whilst I’m not necessarily saying Tactical would’ve beaten that Horse on debut, he certainly would’ve finished a lot closer having got a clear run, and I’m confident he’ll be able to reverse the form with Get It, who finished in second that day at Newmarket. Although the Queen might not be in attendance at Royal Ascot this week, Tactical gives her a great chance at having a winner. It’s been well documented that the Andrew Balding stable has been flying since racing resumed, and Tactical is reportedly up there with their best Juveniles this season.
16:40 – Copper Horse Handicap (Class 2) 4yo+ 0-105 – 1m6f
Fujaira Prince hasn’t been seen since running at Royal Ascot last year, but if he continues on the same path as he did last season then he could take some beating here. This Roger Varian Horse made it a hat-trick on his seasonal reappearance as a five-year-old last season, winning very easily on Handicap debut at Doncaster off a mark of 88. His next start came at York when stepped up in trip to 1m4f for the first time. Fujaira Prince hit the front that day and looked like he would go on to win, but he was just headed by First Eleven (109) in the final few strides under a good Frankie Dettori ride. Fujaira Prince then had that aforementioned run at Royal Ascot, running in the 1m4f Duke Of Edinburgh Stakes. Fujaira Prince stuck to his task well down the farside running rail that day, finishing third under Andrea Atzeni. Although he didn’t get his head in front that day, the form is quite strong – the winner Baghdad is now rated 108 having placed in Group 3 company since. A significant runner who was behind Fujaira Prince that day was the 5th placed Collide, who is now rated 105 having won a Listed race in France, before winning at Chelmsford on the 9th June. Due to these wins however, Collide will be 7lbs worse off at the weights with Fujaira Prince in the Copper Horse Handicap – despite being beaten. Fujaira Prince is a half-brother to the top-class (and much missed) Nichols Canyon, rated 111 on the Flat and 164 over Hurdles. This means that stepping up to 1m6f for the first time will surely suit Fujaira Prince, especially as he returns to the track from an unchanged mark of 99.