Royal Ascot commences with some top class action on Tuesday, featuring Group 1s and some competitive handicap action, and Tony Calvin has seven tips for you to consider...
"If there is a strong enough gallop, the 2017 Britannia winner could outrun his massive odds, win and place as well as in the without jolly line."
We all know that Palace Pier will win the Queen Anne if running to the level of any four of his last five start, and the money-buyers will no doubt be out in force for him at around 1/2 on the exchange.
But the non-believers at the price will be pointing to his odds-on defeat on the straight track here in October, and maybe the fact this will be the quickest ground he has raced on since winning on his debut at Sandown as a 2yo, as negatives (though I am always very wary when courses have been watering so much in lead up to any multiple-day fixtures).
And being drawn on the wing in 11 of 11 may not be ideal.
Two each-way plays without worrying about the fav
However, I don't think directly laying Palace Pier is the way to go myself, so the way to play this race is in the without favourite market.
The annoying issue with the two I fancy is that the third potential flaw to the favourite's chances - a steadily-and falsely-run race - is exactly the scenario they don't want, either.
Both are at their best coming late off a good, honest gallop.
There appears very little guaranteed pace in this contest, with Pogo the only occasional front-runner/prominent racer in here, and even he sometimes takes a lead, as he was content to do in the Lockinge last time and when third in the Hunt Cup last season.
Maybe Breeders' Cup winner Order Of Australia will be ridden more aggressively as a horse who stays a lot further.
That is a concern for Bless Him and Sir Busker, but not enough to put me off at the prices.
Bless Him is my number one bet at 25/1 each-way, three places, without the favourite.
He would still be a bet at 18/1+.
The last time he had his optimum conditions he ran all over Lord North giving him 4lb over course and distance on good to firm ground here in September, and he really was spectacularly impressive there. Of course, Lord North has improved massively since in winning his two Group 1s since but he was only running off 97 that day.
A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then and he has not bettered that performance but I reckon he has been performing to a pretty similar level throughout 2021 under less-than-ideal conditions, including when racing around a bend when third at Lingfield and second to Palace Pier in the bet365 Mile on his two most recent outings.
The only time he has raced on a straight track this season he won at Newcastle in January, and that relatively lowly form (in Group 1 terms) is not to be sniffed at with the runner-up and third now rated 104 after winning their most recent starts.
If there is a strong enough gallop, the 2017 Britannia winner could outrun his massive odds, win and place as well as in the without jolly line.
Sir Busker is very similar in profile in that he has a fair bit to find form-wise but he absolutely excels at this track on quick ground off a fast pace (so let's be having from the outset, please Pogo).
Last year's Hunt Cup consolation winner, he went on to finish fourth in the QEII here in October (just ½ length behind Palace Pier) and we haven't seen him with a suitable set-up in his two starts this season, for all he has run creditably.
The 11/1 each-way without, three places, is acceptable, as would 9/1+ be.
Those are the two I want on my side without the favourite, so you just wait and see my old mucker Lope Y Fernandez sluice up now under Seamie Heffernan.
Go to War with Golden at a big price in the Coventry
If I am going to have a bet in a 2yo race it will probably be a wild swing, so I am going to chance Golden War at 40.039/1 or bigger win-only on the exchange in the Coventry at 15:05.
If you want to take 40s now, he is that price with the Sportsbook, four places.
The time bandits have been talking up Dhabab and, as regards Wesley Ward youngsters here this week, I am going to ignore them and take my medicine if they win. He is just too bullish about all of them for me to take him seriously, for all he is a PR dream for the media.
Of course, the form of Golden War's Goodwood second on soft gives him an acre of ground to make up here but he was given the kids gloves introduction treatment there in what I think could have been a fair novice, especially with the third having shown a good deal on his debut.
Curiously, the selection was allowed to take his chance in there, despite having been taken out on good to soft at Newbury a week earlier, so hopefully the quicker ground here will be a massive plus for this son of Churchill.
He has a load of stamina in his pedigree on the distaff side, so he will need further down the line sooner rather than later, but a waiting ride in a strongly-run 6f in a big field could just see him cause a shock, even if not as big a one as we saw at 150/1 in this race last season.
Kid of interest in Kings Stand but no bet for now
It is weird how you can go off horses as the race approaches.
I have been a big fan of Winter Power for the King's Stand at 15:40 ever since she left Atalis Bay trailing in her wake at York on her return, and clearly the runner-up did the form little harm at Sandown on Saturday.
But for some reason, I have cooled on her chances, not least because there is so much pace on in here - though I appreciate she doesn't need to lead - and it could suit a closer like Extravagant Kid now.
Ryan Moore was very complimentary about the American speedster after he won the Al Quoz over 6f at Meydan in March, getting up pretty late, and he could really be suited by the stiff 5f here with so much early gas on show.
And he did run a cracker when fourth, when drawn 14 of 14, when just over a length fourth to Glass Slippers in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint over an extended.
He was 12/1 with the Sportsbook (paying four places) on Sunday morning but he has now been backed into 7/1, so I will have to sit this one out now. If he drifts out again, I will back him, though.
There isn't a great deal of guaranteed pace in the St James' Palace Stakes at 16:20 and it looks fearsomely competitive, too.
Highland Avenue clocked a very good time when winning the Fielden Stakes and ran to a similar level of form when second to Mostahdaf in the Heron Stakes under a 3lb penalty last time, despite the ground probably being too soft there and him possibly racing on the unfavoured part of the track on the inner.
But I just found it too deep a race to have a strong betting opinion. Or any, at all.
Hoping Lion can be a roaring success one more time
Given his record in the race - and his record, full stop - the Willie Mullins trio of MC Muldoon. Rayanpour and Royal Illusion were never going to be missed in the market for the Ascot Stakes at 17:00, but I am happy to look elsewhere at the prices and I make no apologies to staying loyal to Couer De Lion at 12/1 each-way, five places, with the Sportsbook.
He cut them down late when wearing a visor for the first time when winning this race under today's claimer last season, and is just 3lb higher here (though his rider can claim only 3lb now).
He also comes here on the back of a good fourth off this mark in the Chester Cup last time, a race in which he was one of the hard luck stories and may well have finished second with a clear run.
So I think he is still fairly treated, and I like the angle of the visor returning (he has been wearing cheekpieces of late), to freshen him up.
He would probably like the ground a touch easier but he did finish third on good to firm in a very valuable Newbury handicap in 2018, and, in any case, I reckon Ascot clerk of the course Chris Stickels will have this track very well-watered on day one.
Solo Saxophone firmly caught my eye first time out at Newbury in April - he was not given a hard time at all on his first start since December - and he is my bigger priced alternative win-only on the exchange at 34.033/1 or bigger.
He has form over 3m over hurdles, and I reckon an extreme test of stamina on the Flat is just what he needs on the level. He sees out 2m (he is a three-time winner over the trip) very well.
He goes on heavy ground but all his best form over hurdles has been on a decent surface, and this has presumably been his target all season, having sidestepped a race at Haydock last month to come here (I backed and tipped him ante-post for that race, so he owes me).
Volcanic and Hochfeld wagers to close the card
The Wolferton at 17:35 looks incredibly trappy, but I am going to take a wild stab on outsider Volcanic Sky at 34.033/1 or bigger.
To minimum stakes, and I wouldn't go lower than 25/1.
The last time we saw this horse he was running, and running very badly, over 2m in the Dubai Gold Cup in March and this will be the shortest trip he has ever raced over.
Hopefully, he was not declared in error without connections clocking the 1m2f race distance, but I can definitely see their speculative reasoning.
They could have got lucky with there not being any guaranteed pace in here, though a lot have gone forward in the past, and I reckon an aggressive ride from the front could pay dividends here, even though Pat Cosgrave (who has a 24% strike rate for the yard in the past five years) is going to have to drill him early to do so from trap 14 of 14.
Some may look at the trip and the draw, the 5lb penalty for his Group 3 win in February and see negatives - and I am not blind to those - and also think that the first-time cheekpieces do not tally with a front-running ride.
But think Cloth Cap in the Ladbrokes Trophy. Sometimes this pieces angle can allow horses to find more tactical speed - and I think the Godolphin trainers are good when experimenting with headgear - and he is bred to be more of a 1m2f horse than a stayer, too.
And maybe he has been showing them more pace at home of late, as he could have run in the 1m6f handicap on the end of the card if they had so wanted (off the ceiling mark of 107), but they came here instead. Oh, and bin Suroor is 16 from 80 with first-time cheekpieces since 2016, a very healthy 20% strike rate.
Of course, there are doubts but he is a worth a stab at 34/1+ on the exchange.
There is only just over a furlong run to the bend in the 1m6f handicap at 18:10, so the highly-drawn horses could be on the backfoot early doors here, and that will be a challenge for the riders of the wide-berthed pair that I initially liked, On To Victory (19) and Brilliant Light (16).
The potential blot on the handicap is clearly the Grade 1-winning Saldier from a mark of 103 after his impressive Listowel win on the Flat recently, but good luck if you are taking around 3/1 on him on what promises to be easily the quickest ground he has faced in his career.
Once again, I don't see a great deal of pace in here, and that is why I am putting up Hochfeld at 20/1 each-way, five places, with the Betfair Sportsbook.
All this horse's best form has been when getting on the lead or being ridden prominently, so I don't understand why they don't always at least try to adopt these tactics.
They didn't at Goodwood last time but I strongly suspect they will from trap five here - they should, anyway - as this horse had previously been in great form when third, despite meeting trouble, in the Chester Cup and is just 1lb higher here.
A lot of his best form has come over 1m4f and this 1m6f trip, and although blowing out when ridden aggressively in this race last season (though that was his first run for 409 days), his only other start at this track yielded a ¾ length Listed race third to Weekender and Raheen House here in 2017.
Good luck all.
2021 FLAT SEASON (started April 14)
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Back Bless Him at 25/1 each-way, three places, with Betfair Sportsbook in without favourite market in 14:30 at 26.025/1
Back Sir Busker at 11/1 each-way, three places, with Betfair Sportsbook in without favourite market in 14:30 at 12.011/1
Back Golden War in 15:05 at 40.039/1
Back Couer de Lion at 12/1 each-way, five places, with the Betfair Sportsbook in 17:00 at 13.012/1
Back Solo Saxophone in 17:00 at 34.033/1
Back Volcanic Sky in 17:35 at 34.033/1
Back Hochfeld at 20/1 each-way, five places, with the Betfair Sportsbook in 18:10 at 21.020/1