With just over a week until the start of Royal Ascot, Tony Calvin takes a good look at the Queen Anne Stakes, where two runners are interesting our man at massive prices...
"If she takes her chance, I think this dual Group 1 winner, proven on the course, will be a big, big shortener, maybe even third favourite. Her form tells you as much."
No superstars means a wide open Queen Anne
Another quiet weekend in store with the behemoth that is just Royal Ascot just around the corner - I am still waiting to see if my workload allows to me to attend - so I thought I would have a look at the opening race that houses some very opposable horses at the top of the market.
First up on Tuesday is obviously the Queen Anne and there is certainly no stand-out in this year's line-up in the model of a Frankel, Goldikova, or a Canford Cliffs.
Indeed, none of the last ten winners of this race went off at bigger than 15/2 - and six went off at 11/8 or shorter - but there will be no superstars on show on Tuesday.
It looks a 5/1-the-field race to me, as it stands, so I couldn't have Rhododendron on my mind, even at an industry best price of 10/3 with the Betfair Sportsbook.
She is a triple Group 1 winner and comes here on the back of a narrow defeat of my old favourite Lightning Spear in the Lockinge last time, but everything went right for her that day - she tracked her pacemaking stablemates Deauville and Lancaster Bomber - and she still only inched home.
Of course, she could come on again and she gets the fillies allowance, but the fact remains that she is rated just 118, has never raced at Ascot - a course that throws up plenty of specialists - and she also has entries in the Duke Of Cambridge and the Prince Of Wales's Stakes.
I know she is pencilled in for the Queen Anne but this filly stays 1m4f and Aidan O'Brien could well shuffle his pack if something happened to the likes of Cracksman. Very unlikely, but maybe something to bear in mind.
Benbatl also has three possible Ascot engagements and he is the current second favourite. On form, he has every right to his lofty position in the betting - he is the highest-rated in the field courtesy of his runaway win in the Dubai Turf over 1m1f - and he won the Hampton Court at this meeting last year.
I was very surprised to see that Saeed bin Suroor has won this race seven times - the first of which was Charnwood Forest in 1996 - and he will obviously be desperate to make his own mark after the Derby-winning success of trainer-mate Charlie Appleby this season.
He looked a much-improved performer last time and one who doesn't lack gears - if you take Dubai form, literally, that is - but the simple (or maybe simplistic) fact is that he is nought from two over a mile and, like Rhododendron, is a horse that is fully effective over 1m2f and stays 1m4f. They could be vulnerable to a pacier type on quick ground.
The long-range forecast for Ascot currently suggests some rain at the start of next week, but that is a complete guess-up. Connections of Recoletos will be hoping it is true, though.
He has come back an improved performer this season and netted his first Group 1 in the Prix d'Ispahan last time, but he does look to need plenty of juice to be at his best and I don't think anyone is getting carried away with a one-and-three-quarter length defeat of the then-rated 110 Almodovar at Longchamp.
Lightning Spear is a plausible 8/1 chance, and Addeybb could re-enter calculations if it is on the easy side, but you really are struggling for a an obvious bet from the top of the market here.
Two stand out at me at the current prices, though.
Hydrangea could bloom at a big price
Hydrangea was well below her best on her return, but her trainer made no secret of that beforehand and the market cottoned on big-style, and she is certainly no 20/1 chance if she lines up.
The Queen Anne is just one of three entries for her, hence the price, and she is currently installed as favourite for the Duke Of Cambridge. That is the likeliest destination, but that race is only a Group 2 and she was campaigned at the highest level last year, and against better-fancied stablemates, too.
And Aidan O'Brien rarely bothers with the Duke Of Cambridge, where Hydrangea would have to carry a 5lb penalty. He has only run one filly in the race in the last 10 years, 40/1 chance Peace Burg in 2014; a worrying stat for an ante-post favourite.
In fact, he has only ever had two runners in the race's history, the other being Airwave in 2005 when the contest (the then Windsor Forest) took place at York,
Hydrangea will be nowhere near 20/1 for the Queen Anne in fact, given that her trainer has been using opening runs of the season as stepping stones to Group 1 targets a lot more this season (Rhododendron being a prime example).
She put up a great performance to beat the mud-loving Bateel (a monster when she gets her conditions) over 1m4f in the soft here in October but she is another tremendously versatile horse.
Don't forget that her form ties in very closely with Rhododendron - they were separated by just a head in the Prix de l'Opera, and are both rated 118 - and this filly doesn't lack speed.
Indeed, she finished a good third to Winter in the Coronation Stakes at 16/1 last year on unsuitably quick ground (she handles it but connections are adamant she wants some dig).
She actually beat Winter in the Leopardstown Guineas Trial over 7f last season, and then went on to beat the Guineas winner by a head in the Matron Stakes over a mile on good.
That was incredibly strong form, too, with the likes of Persuasive, Wuheida, Qemah, Roly Poly and Rhododendron also trailing in her wake; indeed, the seven horses that followed her home that day were all Group 1 winners.
I really do think Hydrangea would be a massive player here if lining up, and I would expect a much different and fitter filly than the one who turned up at the Curragh last month, where she went off at even money when she was a 4s-on poke on paper. That tells a big story.
Quick ground would be a worry for her, as mentioned above, but I wouldn't have thought Ascot would let the meeting start on a quick surface, so perhaps this race is the best option for her.
I'll be all over her if she is given the green light to go here, but I have to sit on my hands at the moment with her target unknown. If she takes her chance, I think this dual Group 1 winner, proven on the course, will be a big, big shortener, maybe even third favourite. Her form tells you as much.
Suedois can put Lockinge performance behind him
The other price that interests me each-way is Betfair Sportsbook's stand-out 50/1 about Suedois. Unlike Hydrangea, he looks sure to go for the race, and I think the Sportsbook have over-reacted to his admittedly disappointing return in the Lockinge.
I say disappointing, which may be a bit harsh as it was his reappearance and he did go off at a weak 25/1, but he never really travelled like he usually does that day. He normally breezes into his races.
If it was just ring-rustiness then 50/1 is insulting for a horse who improved for the belated step up to a mile at the end of last season, with a Grade 1 win and an excellent fourth in the Breeders' Cup Mile, where he didn't get the best of passages.
A mile on decent ground, preferably quick, will be perfect for him and he has run well on his two starts on the course, both in the Diamond Jubilee over 6f. He remains unexposed, to a degree, over this trip.