14:30 Ascot - Churchill
It took a while for the penny to drop on his debut over 6f at the Curragh last month but he was certainly getting the hang of things late on, and he shaped really well for me when staying on into third behind Van der Decken. The runner-up has doesn't much for the form since but the winner finished a good fifth in the Coventry and the fifth, Pedestal, finished third for me in the Windsor Castle on Tuesday, so that opening effort has substance as well as promise.
You would hope and expect that run to have brought him on a lot and that today's extra furlong should suit; he obviously takes more after his sire than his dam, who finished second in a Queen Mary here. It was soft at the Curragh, so hopefully the ground won't be a problem, and I think you have to be positive about his chances.
But, of course, by its very nature this race is full of unexposed horses likely to take a big step forward and I'm sure the connections of Frankel colts Cunco and Frankuus will be fancying their chances, and the French filly Aiming For Rio, as well.
15:05 Ascot - Sir Isaac Newton
Sir Isaac Newton would have gone very close to winning the Jersey Stakes last season had he not met so much trouble in running and, to be honest, he hasn't really built upon that performance. And he hasn't really shone in small fields this season, though his third to Portage on fast ground over 1m2f at the Curragh last time obviously got a boost in the Hunt Cup on Wednesday.
I definitely think a mark of 102 underestimates his ability and I think a big field will suit him, but soft ground would be an obvious worry.
Educate has big-field handicap form, having won a Cambridgeshire three years ago, and testing ground is clearly no worry for him. And he reappeared to run an excellent second to Decorated Knight in a listed race over this trip at Goodwood. The problem with that comeback run was that he was raised 12lb for it to a mark of 108, which seems a little harsh to me, but I suppose he has been rated higher in the past and conditions will suit. He is perhaps one to note from the others, along with Best Of Times.
15:40 Ascot - Exosphere
Didn't race at two, but progressed steadily at three, and hopefully the boss's patience will be rewarded here. I would love to ride a Royal Ascot winner for him.
He didn't show a great deal for me on his debut last season but he won his maiden and progressed to win a good Sandown handicap and finish third in a listed race over 1m2f at Ayr. To be honest, we weren't expecting fireworks in the Jockey Club Stakes on his return - I would have been happy with an encouraging third or fourth on his first attempt over 1m4f first time up - but he was a revelation there, always travelling powerfully and brushing aside Simple Verse and Big Orange with ease.
Whether or not he is as good as he looked there we will see - and this will be the softest ground he has encountered - but you couldn't have been anything other than impressed at Newmarket and this looks a winnable Hardwicke.
I rode Dartmouth to beat Wicklow Brave, another horse I know well, at Chester last time and he is progressing well. This is a much stiffer task for him though. Eagle Top ran poorly on his comeback but he goes really well here and he has an obvious chance on his King George second in the soft.
Highland Reel is another with major form claims, and I'm not sure any of these horses would be capable of the form he showed when beating Flintshire in the Hong Kong Vase, as he did in December. But ground this testing is probably not ideal for him, and he does have to bounce back from a couple of below-par efforts in Dubai and Hong Kong.
16:20 Ascot - Twilight Son
I rode Magical Memory in the early part of last season and really liked him, and he has blossomed into a high-class sprinter since. But whether this strong traveller will be at home if the ground rides very testing I am not so sure.
The Tin Man should be able to handle it okay, and he is on the up, and Twilight Son will hopefully be fine on it, too. He handled cut when winning his Group 1 at Haydock and then he bumped into one of the best sprinters in recent years when second to Muhaarar here in October. He finished a fair way behind Magical Memory in the Duke Of York on his reappearance but hopefully he will be all the sharper for that run, and he has a lot going for him.
You always have to respect Hong Kong sprinters - or I do, anyway - so Gold-Fun can't be ignored, even if this is probably the softest ground he will ever have encountered, and Holler is a Group 1 winner in Australia. Last year's winner Undrafted obviously has to be respected, too, though the ground will be a lot slower than it was last season.
17:00 Ascot - The Happy Prince
His record suggests that 6f in soft ground are optimum conditions, so let's hope that he goes well. This is the first time that he has raced over the trip since a good second in a listed race at the Curragh last October, and he shaped well enough for me over 7f at Naas last month. The handicapper has dropped him 2lb for that run, which helps, so he has each-way claims.
At one point I was possibly going to ride Tupi in this race. I imagine he would be one of the outsiders in an incredibly open race, as always, but I think he has a fair chance. Ideally, he probably wouldn't want it as soft as this but I was quite taken with him when he finished a close second to Magical Memory in the Abernant earlier in the season and a mark of 108 is fair judged on that form.
And hopefully a big field will suit him, and the first-time blinkers, too. As for the other dangers, pick any of the rest, as they all have some sort of chance.
17:35 Ascot - Clondaw Warrior
I have won this race for Willie with Simenon and Pique Sous in recent years. Clondaw Warrior stays, acts on soft ground and seems to have been in fair form over hurdles, and his Flat form obviously gives him a big chance, too. I won the Ascot Stakes on him here last season and he progressed to finish a close second to Pallasator in the Doncaster Cup. There is a lot to like about his chances.
Last year's winner Oriental Fox has an obvious chance, too, after shaping well enough over 1m4f first time out here last month. He handles testing conditions well, and simply looks guaranteed to run his race. It looks a deeper field than usual this season, though.