The best five days of the Flat season are upon us and Tony Keenan has previewed some of the big races this week at Royal Ascot...
"A better way into his form however is surely to back Gabr at four times the price. Without Parole beat him in the Heron Stakes but Gabr was first time out and given a bit to do and could improve enough to reverse form."
Royal Ascot 2018 has a slightly unusual shape to it and not just because a number of races have been switched from their traditional positions. The feature Group 1s on the opening two days are often populated with stars but not so much this year; both the Queen Anne and St. James's Palace are wide-open and while Cracksman is in the Prince Of Wales's, he is facing sub-standard opposition.
Perhaps it is Coventry and the clash of Sergei Prokofiev and Calyx that is the most interesting race of day one though the King's Stand has plenty to it too. For me, the best contests are later in the week in the Gold Cup and the Diamond Jubilee, but that doesn't mean there aren't good betting races beforehand.
Queen Anne Stakes - Tuesday 14:30
The front end of market - Rhododendron, Benbatl and Recoletos - appears quite solid, although each has a question to answer. Will Rhododendron improve again from the Lockinge? Can Benbatl transfer his Meydan improvement back to Europe? How will Recoletos handle fast ground? At the prices, I'm inclined to give a positive answer to the last of those and bet the French horse.
Recoletos put up an excellent time performance in the Prix d'Ispahan last time, travelling and quickening like a horse that would handle the drop back to a mile, and he shaped second best when fourth Cracksman in the Champion Stakes last October, travelling well until halfway up the straight when his stamina faded. A four-year-old now, he basically didn't have a juvenile season with just one run in the November of 2016, so has scope to improve again. A quick surface is a concern but Tuesday could be the slowest going of the week and he has shown his form with good in the description on many occasions.
St James's Palace Stakes - Tuesday 16:20
My way into this is to oppose the Irish 2,000 Guineas form; it looked a false result after a pace collapse and while U S Navy Flag was the one that shaped better than the form, his keen-going style makes lasting the mile difficult. Tip Two Win is the Newmarket standard-bearer after running second to Saxon Warrior, but he will have been much fitter than most of his rivals there, having been racing at Doha during the winter. It is hard to see where the improvement comes from.
The position of Without Parole at the head of the betting after winning just a listed race has been questioned by some but he is good on the clock and I'm inclined to drink the Kool Aid with him. A better way into his form, however, is to back Gabr at four times the price. Without Parole beat him in the Heron Stakes but Gabr was first time out and given a bit to do and could improve enough to reverse form. I like that he ran in the Racing Post Trophy which was by far the best juvenile race in the UK or Ireland last year and he offers some value in an open race.
Ascot Gold Cup - Thursday 16:20
Very little has been made of the ground for Order Of St George ahead of this year's Gold Cup but while he handles good-firm, he is a better horse on soft with his career highs coming in the Irish St. Leger rather than in this race. Similar comments apply to another Irish runner Torcedor and I much prefer the claims of Stradivarius on the likely going.
When asked for a bet for 2018 at the turn of the year, he was the one I went for at 9.08/1 but even at current odds he appeals as the pick of the short-priced runners this week. He did very well against older stayers last year, notably beating Big Orange at Goodwood and shaping better than the result in the Long Distance Cup on unsuitable ground, and his York win last month suggests he is at least as good as last season. Proven at this meeting, his record on good or faster reads: 112111.
Coronation Stakes - Friday 16:20
The Coronation is one of the most open Group 1s of the week but favourite Clemmie is worth opposing in light of Aidan O'Brien's comments on her in the Irish Field this past weekend: "Clemmie is not really there yet and she will progress again... We just hope that she runs a nice race... She is catching up quick but she is not there yet."
By the sound of that, it might take until the Falmouth, or even Matron Stakes, before she is at peak-fitness.
Alpha Centauri is a good alternative and fast ground seems the key to her; with good in the description she is 1121. Her Irish 1,000 Guineas win is the best recent time-figure in the race, although Billesdon Brook's Newmarket win isn't far behind. That Curragh race was unusual from a sectional point-of-view as while Alpha Centauri finished fast, the front-running second Could It Be Love also went too hard. Cutting back in trip in the Jersey should suit that one and small related contingency double on those two might not be the worst bet of the week.
At a bigger price, Capla Temptress is also appealing. The Pouliches in which she finished fourth in was a messy race and the winner Teppal looked to be in the right place throughout, with those coming from behind at a disadvantage. Coeur De Beaute was second but also had a prep run which Capla Temptress did not and the Marco Botti filly seems much more likely to enjoy this ground having won on firm last year. A deeper look at the Chantilly form suggests that all three fillies from that race should be similar prices but, with Capla Temptress much bigger than the other, she rates a bet.
Back Recoletos @ 6.411/2 to win the Queen Anne
Back Gabr @ 14.013/1 to win the St James’s Palace
Back Alpha Centauri @ 5.04/1 and Capla Temptress @ 15.5 to win the Coronation Stakes