Royal Ascot is here and horseracing expert Tony Calvin has six bets at long odds for day one including two in the opening race of the Festival...
"I am going to take a chance with Documenting too, as he is 10lb lower on turf. And crucially is available to back at [34.0] on the exchange."
Well, we got here, somehow. Royal Ascot has arrived, if not with the usual pomp, ceremony and tradition, but for those of us who believe it is all about the betting anyway - that would be the vast majority, you purists! - it matters not a jot that the Queen is not rocking up.
I do feel for the on-course bookmakers who cannot ply their trade, but they can always try making a book on the good ship Betfair while the track's gates are locked to them. And they won't get wet when it rains.
Anyway, let us crack on, and I will start in card order, as I usually do when it comes to these big meetings.
One quick word on the weather, though. It could be wet on Tuesday, and there is talk of thunderstorms, too, but I am going to work on the basis of good, decent ground on the opening day. One of the perils of tipping 24 hours in advance, I am afraid.
Two bets to get us under way
There would be easier races to kick off with than a 24-runner Buckingham Palace Handicap at 13:15, though I am sure many will be content to rely on the favourite Daarik.
He has a very sexy, lightly-raced profile, after all. But he has gone up 7lb for his recent Newcastle win, and he is surely no bargain at 9/2 in a race of depth and numbers, and the same applies to another progressive horse in the same colours, Mutamaasik.
Two made my betting cut, and the first of those is Firmament, one of the oldest in the party at eight years old, at [26.0] or bigger.
His age obviously makes him vulnerable to a younger improver but I took a lot of encouragement from his fourth at Newcastle at the start of the month, and the handicapper has dropped him 1lb for it.
It was a promising effort on a couple of levels, not least for the fact that he has increasingly needed his first outing as the years have advanced - he took a massive step forward from first to second start last term - and it looked a very strong Newcastle handicap to my eye, especially with the third Fifth Position winning at Doncaster on Sunday.
And it could well be that Danny Tudhope found himself in front far too early at Newcastle over what is a stiff mile.
It is interesting that James Doyle is back on the first time since their York success over 7f last June. He went up to a mark of 99 after that convincing success (and he was up to 109 in his 2017 pomp) but he is back down to 96 here.
He may be best known for his York exploits but he has run a series of big races at this track, including a second in a Balmoral.
I am going to take a chance with Documenting too, as he is 10lb lower on turf. And crucially is available to back at [34.0] on the exchange.
That is probably justified given all of his best efforts have been on the all-weather - indeed, the handicapper reckons he ran a career-best when a strong-finishing second to Urban Icon (wide-margin Newmarket scorer Marie's Diamond in third) at Wolverhampton in March, following a Lingfield win and excellent efforts in defeat at Chelmsford - but I reckon it is too early to simply label him a sand merchant.
Granted, he was a 50/1 no-show here on his last start on turf last July, but that was his only start on grass since his career took off after a Lingfield win in December 2018, so I am not giving up on him just yet. Not at his price anyway.
There is no reason why he shouldn't be as effective on turf, given his pedigree. He is related to three winners on grass, two of which actually won at Ascot. I'd prefer it to stay dry for him, though Firmament would probably prefer a shower or two.
Bless Him is worth a nibble
It could be the fact that he only scrambles home and wears blinkers - two reasons to be snobby - or it may just be that he blossomed after I tipped in the Derby, but I have to be against Circus Maximus at around 5/2 in the Queen Anne at 13:50.
Not that I would recommend laying him, as you are effectively backing the field at 2/5 if you do, and that is not my style.
In fact, I am constantly asked why I always ignore the obvious and go for the longer-priced horses, and the inevitable long losing runs.
Quite simply is it because it is how I bet.
The shorteners at the top of the market, Circus Maximus and Terebellum, increasingly dominate the betting, so I am going to take two against the pair again.
The first was going to be Mustashry, who is an insultingly big price at [19.0] on the exchange. I know he is the oldest in line-up at seven but he also happens to be the highest-rated in the field on a mark of 121, 3lb higher than the favourite.
I imagine the market has taken against him because of his age, and the fact that Jim Crowley has got off him to ride the same owner's Mohaather. Or maybe because some doubt the validity of his Lockinge win last season. Or they could be reading too much into his below-par seventh in this race last season, though he is a course winner.
But the Newbury win is the best form on offer here, whatever way you cut it up, and his Group 2 Challenge Stakes win from Limato under a 5lb penalty in October wasn't too shoddy, either.
I will probably end up backing him personally as a saver, but the ground could be the big worry for him. Apparently, he was very sore after his Eclipse run on good to firm last season, and the ground was already good on Monday morning at Ascot, with a hot, drying day in prospect.
So I am very reluctantly not putting him up here - I will update my betting stance on Twitter if they get rain before the race - and my first play is Bless Him, who has always been a favourite of mine since his 25/1 (Betfair SP of 40) Britannia win here three years ago.
He is worth a nibble at [50.0] or bigger. Hope that the rain stays away if you back him.
He had a long spell in the doldrums after that but he seemed to blossom at the end of last season, beating recent Sandown winner Solid Stone off 92 at York and then easing home from subsequent Cambridgeshire/Group 3 winner Lord North over course and distance off a 5lb higher mark.
He was ridden very much with a view to the future, as they say, on his return at Newmarket, but it served the purpose of Callum Shepherd getting his first leg up on a horse that needs plenty of knowing.
He needs to improve 10lb to win this - and you would prefer a fit Jamie Spencer to be riding him, as he has no equals on Ascot's straight mile - but his late summer efforts last year suggests it is not out of the question.
His two best effort have come here, and a big field and strong pace is right up his strasse. The form of the David Simcock yard has been pretty poor but at least they have managed to get that run into Bless Him.
Ground could play to Plumatic's strengths
I am also putting up and backing Plumatic win-only on the exchange at [36.0] or bigger in the race - he was 40+ on Monday morning, but the current price is still acceptable - as he shaped really promisingly when splitting two big improvers at Chantilly last month, travelling strongly into the race and not persevered with once it was clear he wasn't getting to the winner on the rail.
It was only a Group 3 but I am inclined to view that as strong form, and he can be reasonably expected to improve for it.
He was beaten only one-and-a-half lengths in the Group 1 Prix du Moulin two years ago when trained by Andre Fabre, and he was beating the 2018 French 2,000 Guineas winner Olmedo when winning a Group 2 at Saint-Cloud last May.
He is no 25/1+ chance, and I am hoping the ground plays to his main strength, namely his turn of foot.
There's no need to bet on every race
Having backed Frankly Darling at 25s, 20s and 16s for the Oaks after her impressive Newcastle maiden victory, I obviously hope she advertises her Epsom claims by winning the Ribblesdale at 14:25.
Her potential is fully factored into her odds of 6/4 though, and I was going to Passion each way at 10/1 with the Betfair Sportsbook, but then the price was cut to 7/1- and then into 11/2 after a non runner- and there ended my betting interest in the race.
I can see her running a big race, though, without my money. She was stepped up to Group 2 company after her maiden success last season, and she ran far better than seventh would suggest in what was a very strong May Hill Stakes - Powerful Breeze won it, Run Wild was third and Cloak Of Spirits was sixth - as she still had place claims when getting badly hampered approaching the furlong pole.
She again shaped like a stayer when fourth, in first-time cheekpieces, over 1m2f at Navan last week, and the step up to 1m4f is very much in her favour. Which shouldn't be a surprise given she is a sister to Capri and Cypress Creek.
You don't have to have a bet in every Royal Ascot race, and I will be taking a pull in the King Edward VII Stakes at 15:00 and the King's Stand Stakes at 15:35.
I wouldn't be in a mad rush to either back or lay the odds-on favourites Mogul and Battaash - they have varying positives and negatives - which led me to a very quick conclusion.
Give Queen Power another chance
No bets there then, but I am aiming to get my money back on Queen Power in the Duke Of Cambridge at 16:10.
There is a very good word doing the rounds for her stablemate Jubiloso, and you can clearly make a case for several of the lightly-raced and unexposed fillies in here too, but I have to give Queen Power another chance after her Newmarket second over 1m2f to a probable Group 1 filly earlier in the month.
She was very weak in the market that day as all the money poured in for Terebellum, and rightly so as it happened, as the John Gosden filly won well after taking it up 2f out and is thought highly enough of to take her chance in the Queen Anne earlier on in the card.
But the race didn't pan out ideally for Queen Power, who was a touch keen and settled off the pace, and she was always up it against trying to make up ground on the outside on a speed-favouring track.
So I took a very positive view of the run, especially as the third Magic Lily (admittedly carrying a 3lb penalty) was well beaten off, and I think a strongly-run race over 1m could see the best of her.
That means that her jockey could have to elect to make the running here - Miss O'Connor is the most likely front-runner but she has done all her winning on deep ground - as I don't see a lot of pace on, but I wouldn't mind that, especially as she may settle better in front.
It was her refusal to settle that proved a negative for her on occasions last season, but her Newbury win over 1m2f proved to be red-hot form - Lavender's Blue and Star Catcher filled the placings - even if she needed all of the trip to get up there.
But she doesn't lack pace, and I am hoping a switch of tactics stepping down in trip, and being ridden nearer the pace, can see her back to winning ways.
Back her at [9.0] or bigger.
The handicap case for Verdana Blue is pretty compelling in the 2m4f Ascot Stakes at 16:40. She is one of the best 2m hurdlers around and is rated some 60lb lower on the Flat.
But what isn't as convincing is her ability to stay 2m4f in this sphere, given she barely got it over hurdles.
At 4/1, she is a poor price on stamina grounds alone, and Coeur De Lion has to be my selection at four times the price.
He has come up short in his last two outings in this race but he has obviously run well in both, finishing sixth in 2018 and fifth in 2019, the latter off a 2lb higher mark, again with today's 5lb claimer aboard. On each occasion he kept grinding away until the finish, so the trip holds no fears.
His record when fresh (big and small breaks) is also a big positive, while hopefully the change of headgear to a visor could perk him up further.
All his best flat form has come in cheekpieces (including when he wore them for the first time when touched off a neck in a Chester Plate) and Alan King is a fair three from 17 on the Flat when trying horses in a visor initially.
Back him at 14/1 each way, five places, with the Sportsbook. I know connections feel he is better on easier ground but two of his best Flat runs have come on good to firm.
Royal Ascot Free Bet Streak offer
Bet £20 on the 'Win' market of the 13:50 at Ascot on Tuesday. Get £20 to start your Free Bet Streak.
Place your Free Bet, you can divide the stake if you like. If you win a free bet, you get another the next day, until you lose
Firmament at [26.0] or bigger in 13:15 at Ascot
Documenting at [34.0] or bigger in 13:15 at Ascot
Bless Him at [50.0] or bigger in 13:50 at Ascot
Plumatic at [36.0] or bigger in 13:50 at Ascot
Queen Power at [9.0] or bigger in 16:10 at Ascot
Coeur de Lion at 14/1 each way, five places, in 16:40 at Ascot (Sportsbook)