Our lay bet specialist, Patrick Weaver, picks out his horses to oppose on the first day of Royal Ascot, where he believes Oxted will be run off his feet in the King's Stand Stakes...
"It is a huge ask of a five-year-old to use a Group 1 to introduce him to a different trip. At around 3, he is a good lay bet not to be placed."
The opening day of Royal Ascot is upon us and, of the seven favourites, only Palace Pier in the Queen Anne Stakes (14:30) and Battaash in the King's Stand Stakes (15:40) look likely to start at under 3.5.
Neither appeals as a lay, though they don't tick every box. Palace Pier's sole defeat was on his only start over today's course and distance. He won on the round course at Royal Ascot 12 months ago but in October was only third to The Revenant and Roseman when sent off odds-on for the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on Champions' Day. Losing his left fore shoe may have contributed to that defeat, so I will forgive him that run and not oppose him.
Oxted could be tapped for toe over minimum trip
Battaash is running in the King's Stand Stakes at 15:40 for the fourth time. He led from start to finish last June, having come second to Blue Point in 2018 and 2019. He has 6lb in hand of Oxted according to the official handicapper, and 9-28lb in hand of the rest of the field.
Rather than opposing Battaash I suggest laying Oxted for a place.
There are 16 runners in this five-furlong sprint and Oxted is the only one not to have won over the minimum trip. That's because he hasn't raced over it, and it is a huge ask of a five-year-old to use a Group 1 to introduce him to a different trip. By all means, try him in a Group 3 and if he is competitive step him up in class but I can see Oxted being pushed along to keep up and weakening. At around 3.5, he is a good lay bet not to be placed.
Battleground's odds are shorter than his form warrants
The St James's Palace Stakes at 16:20 is wide open, according to the betting and the handicapper.
Poetic Flare is top-rated having run in three 2,000 Guineas, finishing first at Newmarket, sixth at Longchamp, and runner-up at The Curragh.
Lucky Vega is second in the ratings and the betting, having finished just behind Poetic Flare - and well ahead of Wembley at Newmarket and the Curragh.
The first three home in the Heron Stakes at Sandown last month, Mostahdaf, Highland Avenue, and Bullace don't appeal to me but I appreciate that they may be capable of better still. This is a big step in class for them, as it was for Palace Pier who beat Pinatubo in this 12 months ago after impressing in an all-weather handicap at Newcastle.
Improving three-year-old colts can, and occasionally do, beat better-fancied horses that have had tough races in the Classics.
For the place lay, though, I'm going with Battleground who was favourite for the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket but only beat one home, the second favourite Thunder Moon.
The vet's post-race examination of Battleground failed to reveal any abnormalities but a tongue strap is being used on the colt for the first time in a race in the hope he can return to his form of last year, when a winner at theis meeting and at Glorious Goodwood before a second in the Breeders' Cup meeting at Keeneland.
At under 2.75 for a place, he is worth laying given his dire run in the Guineas.
Forest Of Dean not as good as he was
Steering clear of the Willie Mullins-trained favourites - M C Muldoon in the Ascot Stakes at 17:00 and Saldier in the Copper Horse Stakes at 18:10 - my third lay is in the Wolferton Stakes at 17:35.
There are two runners whose odds are not in sync with their handicap marks, Forest Of Dean and Blue Cup.
The former has a 5lb penalty for winning the Winter Derby at Lingfield. The other Group 3 winners with a penalty in this Listed race are Volcanic Sky a winner over half a mile further at Meydan and Euchan Glen winner of the falsely-run four-runner Brigadier Gerard Stakes at Sandown.
Forest Of Dean, has to give either 5lb or 2lb to five runners that would be giving him weight in a handicap: Patrick Sarsfield, Solid Stone, Felix, Stormy Antarctic and Palavecino. Given he has not run on grass since 2019, he is quite an attractive lay despite having Frankie Dettori back on top.
As Solid Stone is more of a miler than a 10-furlong horse, I don't see him winning but Ryan Moore's mount could hang on for a place, keeping Forest Of Dean out of the 1-2-3.