The five-day marathon meeting that is Royal Ascot begins on Tuesday and Tony Calvin is aiming to get off to an explosive start with this quartet of mega-priced wagers...
"Ahtoug simply doesn't deserve to be nearly three times the price of Shea Shea on the much-improved form he showed in Dubai this spring."
Last week, the Racing Post's James Pyman wrote an excellent piece about hold-up jockeys in straight-course handicaps at Royal Ascot - it was a lot more interesting than it sounds, honest - and it was no surprise to discover that Jamie Spencer is number one at playing the waiting game.
Now Spencer, more than any other jockey, probably splits punters right down the middle in the popularity stakes. There are those who love his quiet, sit-and-pounce style, but plenty that find him the most frustrating pilot out there when it doesn't come off.
But the fact that I couldn't remember any recent acts of Spencer genius or howlers suggests that he should just be viewed as what he is.
Namely, a top-class jockey who simply tends to adopt a higher-risk strategy than most, but whose defeats live longer in the memory as a result.
The only reason why I bring this up - and I better be careful here, as I think he follows me on Twitter - is that I thought Spencer gave Suraj far too much to do first time out at York last month.
The fact that I managed to secure 14-1 about the horse the night before and saw it get smashed into 11-2 at the off may have something to do with my take on the ride. But I do think Spencer was asking for trouble in sitting way out the back there, and he simply couldn't get into a challenging position up the straight, eventually finishing a plugging-on sixth.
So, in the circumstances, that was an encouraging run - his first since being switched to Nicky Henderson from Michael Bell after being sold for 22,000 guineas last October - so I am more than willing to give the combination one more chance, and suggesting backing Suraj at odds of 12.011/1 or better in the 17:00.
He is 5lb lower than when 11th in this race last year, but that doesn't tell half the story. Despite missing the break - a worrying trait of his - and running far too freely there, he looked set to take a hand in the finish when sitting second going into the final bend, only to find less than expected in the straight.
It could be that this marathon trip finds him out, but I expect Spencer to try and get him settled further off the pace, and then come later than he did last year. If it doesn't work out, then so be it, but I think he is handicapped to run a massive race. Two seasons ago, he won a handicap by six lengths off just a 2lb lower mark.
And Henderson, who also has the badly-drawn Lieutenant Miller in here, is one of a number of jumps trainers who has farmed this race in recent years, winning it with Veiled in 2011.
I find it hard to see how anyone can have a firm opinion on a race like the Coventry, given the amount of improvement all the runners have in them. So you won't find me playing at the front end market in races like this, though, or to any size.
However, I wasn't expecting Mark Johnston's Jungle Cat to be trading at such a big price and he warrants a nibble at odds of 26.025/1 or better in the 15:05.
As if to hammer home my point how much these unexposed juveniles can suddenly progress then take a look at how much Jungle Cat improved from his first to second start.
Granted, he apparently hated the ground when starting favourite but beaten 20 lengths by The Wow Signal at Ayr on his debut - it was officially good to soft but his connections thought it a lot more testing than that description implied - but he looked a different horse when winning at Goodwood last week.
The form received a timely boost when the two-length runner-up Sixty won at Salisbury on Sunday and they had Richard Hannon's well-regarded Adelaid a further length away in third.
Johnston is better known for winning 2yo group races at Goodwood, and winning handicaps at Royal Ascot, but Jungle Cat could just reverse the trend from what could be a very good draw in 15, with most of the fancied horses all around him.
Keep stakes small though, as I certainly will.
The Queen Anne and the St James's Palace Stakes feature short-priced favourites in Toronado and Kingman respectively, and both could well win. But you won't find me backing them.
Toronado doesn't have the profile of a horse I want to back first time out in a Group 1 race, for all that the race looks a substandard renewal, while Kingman clearly has a very credible rival in his 2,000 Guineas conqueror Night Of Thunder, as well as three of the best 2yos from last year in the shape of Toormore, War Command and Outstrip in opposition.
And the St James's Palace Stakes could well be a very tactical and messy affair.
For my next play I am going to the King's Stand Stakes, and I am going to take two 16-1+ shots against the field in the 15:45.
Back Steps and Ahtoug at odds of 17.016/1 or better.
I can't remember who it was but someone on RUK guffawed when a bookmaker cut Steps for this race after his luckless run in the Dash at Epsom a fortnight ago. Normally a wise course of action with ante-post updates, but for once I think the layers were on the ball.
He would have won well off a mark of 109 at Epsom had he not missed the break and that is near Group 1 form.
Throw in the fact that he goes so well here - his course form figures read 48221 - and on any ground, and he is certainly no forlorn hope here.
I like the fact that he and Ahtoug are drawn in 15 amd 13 respectively, around possible pace angle Hot Streak in 11, and Guerre in 14.
Ahtoug simply doesn't deserve to be nearly three times the price of Shea Shea on the much-improved form he showed in Dubai this spring.
He has never run a bad race in four starts at Ascot, beating Steps ¾ length in receipt of 4lb in the Shergar Cup Dash last season, and went on to split Amber Sky and Shea Shea in the Al Quoz at Meydan in March, having earlier only been beaten a head by Mike De Kock's star sprinter.
The lack of a run since is a concern - as would any significant cut in the ground be, but it looks to be drying out fast- but Charlie Appleby's horses tend to go well fresh, and at the odds I am willing to take my chances.
If the 17-runner Coventry is largely a guess-up, then the 25-runner Windsor Castle is a bit of a lottery, as recent winners at 100-1, 33-1, 16-1 and 14-1 underline.
My token selection would be Midterm Break, but I won't be playing myself.
Back Jungle Cat @ 26.025/1 or better in the Coventry Stakes, Royal Ascot, 15:05
Back Steps and Ahtoug @ 17.016/1 or better in the King's Stand Stakes, Royal Ascot, 15:45
Back Suraj @ 12.011/1 or better in the Ascot Stakes, Royal Ascot, 17:05