Royal Ascot

Royal Ascot Day One Tips: Kevin Blake fancies 4/1 chance in Ascot Stakes

Betfair Ambassador Kevin Blake
Kevin Blake has a tip in the Ascot Stakes on day one of Royal Ascot

Royal Ascot is the highlight of the year for Kevin Blake, and our man is very keen on a well-handicapped runner in the Ascot Stakes on the first day of the Royal meeting...

Day One Royal Ascot 2024 Superboost

2024 Royal Ascot is finally here! And with Betfair we have some great value on offer for the opening day on Tuesday!

Betfair ambassador Ryan Moore has a great chance on Henry Longfellow in the St James's Palace Stakes at 16:25 today, and if you fancy the horse to run well you can back it at the super-boosted price of 1/12.00 from 1/41.25 to finish in the top four today.

This is it, Royal Ascot is here. Fans of National Hunt racing close your ears, as this is without question my favourite week of the racing year.

Tip-top international Flat racing of the highest class, an array of the most competitive handicaps of the year, a genuinely unique social and sporting occasion that all takes place in one of the greatest sporting venues anywhere in the world. And hardly an odds-on favourite in sight across 35 races! Absolutely brilliant.

In what is a slightly mad departure from the norms of such things, Royal Ascot doesn't seek to build to a crescendo, it blazes out of the blocks with the most remarkable barrage of racing brilliance from the very first bell of the meeting on Tuesday.

Three of the first four races of the week are Group 1s and the exception, the Group 2 Coventry Stakes, is often the highlight of the extensive bill of two-year-old stakes races run during the week. Such a structure isn't considered ideal by everyone, but like so many things at Royal Ascot, it works so well because it is so different. A literal assault on the senses whilst expectation and excitement levels couldn't be fresher.

Weather has taken a turn for the better

First things first, I'm afraid most of what I wrote on these pages and said on the Racing Only Bettor Royal Ascot preview last Wednesday (listen to the podcast below) has passed its expiry date of usefulness.

At the time, significant rain was forecast before and during the opening days of Royal Ascot, but it largely hasn't materialised and the forecast has dried right up. It looks all-but certain the meeting will start on good-to-firm ground and will continue like that until at least Thursday. Picking winners is hard enough, but the unpredictability of the weather remains undefeated.

Quality galore to open the Royal meeting

Those aforementioned first four races really are popcorn-munching good.

The Queen Anne at 14:30 promises to offer some clarity in the mile category that is shrouded in fog in the absence of a stand-out star and following a somewhat perplexing renewal of the Lockinge Stakes.

Similarly, the King Charles III Stakesat 15:45 will hope to crown a new King or Queen in a wide-open sprinting division, with Big Evs carrying the hopes of many in terms of a young contender that might rise to the challenge.

The Coventry Stakes at 15:05 has been the launching pad for many a superstar over the decades and this year's renewal will focus on a father-son clash as Joseph O'Brien attempts to wrestle away the trophy from his father Aidan, who is the most successful trainer in the history of the race with 10 wins.

Joseph will be represented by Cowardofthecounty who was one of the most impressive juvenile winners of the season thus far when overcoming greenness to beat the very highly-regarded Whistlejacket by 2½ lengths at the Curragh in April. The clock backed up the visual impression and he looks a potential star.

Aidan's primary means of attack will come in the shape of Camille Pissarro who may have been beaten in the Marble Hill Stakes, but promises to have improved significantly from that first really competitive experience on the track. Personal preference is for Cowardofthecounty, but it would of course be ill-advised to frame this as a two-horse race with so much unexposed quality amongst the remainder. It promises to be a belter.

There is much more certainty over what's what in the St James's Palace Stakes at 16:25. This really is a treat with the winners of the 2,000 Guineas and the Irish/French equivalents, as well as multitude of significant also-rans in those races all coming together around the round mile at Ascot to sort out who is the best.

The possibility of an ease in the ground had steered me towards Henry Longfellow, but enthusiasm for that project has diminished on the quickening ground which will play to the strengths of Notable Speech and Rosaillon. I find it hard to have a strong betting view at the current prices, but can't wait to see how it all pans out.

Royal Ascot - 17:05: Back Zanndabad

One race that I do have a strong betting view on the Ascot Stakes at 17:05. In terms of valuable handicaps run on the Flat, this race sits at the extreme end of the stamina it demands with it being run over two-and-a-half miles and I always find it a particularly interesting puzzle to try and decipher.

The one that I keep coming back to is the Cathy O'Leary-trained Zanndabad. If that trainer's name is unfamiliar, the explanation is that she is a sister of Tony Martin who trained Zanndabad but is currently serving a three-month suspension. O'Leary is training many of his horses until that suspension is served.

The reason I keep coming back to Zanndabad is his run in the Chester Cup last time. Prior to that he had the look of a disappointing horse on the face of it having failed to win on the Flat or over hurdles since joining Martin in late-2022, but there has long been a suspicion that that was a big day in him in the right circumstances. Based on what we saw at Chester, it seems that an extreme test of stamina is that key circumstance that he requires.

In many ways, Zanndabad's run in the Chester Cup speaks for itself on superficial inspection. Beaten just a length in third having charged home from the rear in a race where four of the first five home were in the first four positions with over two furlongs to run, it is obvious that he ran very well from what proved to be a poor position on the day.

Better run than it initially looked

However, when one digs in deeper to the data, what looked a very good and perhaps unlucky run is made to look significantly better.

Total Performance Data harvested the numbers from the race and they make for eye-widening reading. Everyone is aware of the tightness of Chester and the importance of draw coupled with track position, but all of that is amplified to the maximum extent in the Chester Cup which is such a long race that any wideness of track position means covering far more extra ground than most would appreciate.

Watching Zanndabad's run in the race, one would be forgiven for thinking that he didn't cover that much extra ground after his rider dropped in to negate a wide draw and was never much more than two wide until swinging wide for room in the straight.

However, just how mercilessly Chester punishes racing off the rail is illustrated by the data which tells us that Zanndabad covered 11.6 meters more than the winner Zoffee and four meters further than the runner-up Emiyn. Is a game of millimetres, it goes without saying those are substantial differentials amongst horses that were separated by a length at the line.

Royal Ascot side on finish 1920x1080.jpg

Distance travelled differentials are part and parcel of Chester, but positional factors and luck in running are just as significant and it is in this regard that Zanndabad's run can be even further upgraded. As well as having been held up in an unfavourable position well off the pace, Zanndabad was caught in a pocket that he needed to switch wide to get out of, running the fastest penultimate furlong of any runner in the race to get himself into the clear at the furlong pole.

It was from the furlong pole that he did something that is unusual for any race, never mind a handicap run over such an extreme distance. He ran the final furlong in 11.46 seconds which was the fastest furlong run by any horse at any stage of the race excluding the first furlong. More typically, horses will run their fastest furlong at the business end of the race in the third-last or second-last furlong before slowing in the final furlong.

For Zanndabad to produce such an objectively powerful finish in the final furlong speaks for just how much he had left in the tank after coming from a poor position and having been made to wait to deliver his run.

In short, Zanndabad was a deeply unlucky loser in the Chester Cup. He has been raised 2lb for that run, but it goes without saying that he still appeals as being well handicapped off his revised mark. The Ascot Stakes represents a similar stamina test, albeit on a very different track, but it appeals as being likely to play to his strengths.

While he finds himself near the head of the market based on the superficial assessment of his run at Chester, really, he should be the clear favourite. With William Buick who has ridden two of the last three winners of this race booked for the ride, he couldn't be in better hands. He has a very big chance.

Now read Ryan Moore on his Royal Ascot Day 1 rides here.

Listen to Racing Only Bettor Royal Ascot Day One Preview...

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