Andrew Hawkins’ Royal Ascot: Day 1

Race 1

The traditional curtain-raiser for Royal Ascot, the G1 Queen Anne Stakes over the straight mile, looks one of the highlights of the week. Last year looked a similarly even contest, although the 2023 runners lacked the upside that many possess this year, and it ended up being won by 33-1 outsider Triple Time. Not expecting quite the same shock this year but the anticipated good or good to firm ground could see some real turnarounds in form. One who is expected to be hindered by firmer ground is BIG ROCK, who was beaten 15 lengths in the primary lead-up, the G1 Lockinge Stakes. The start before that, over the course and distance in October, he won the G1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes by six lengths over G1 Dubai Turf winner FACTEUR CHEVAL on soft ground. It figures that soft ground may be pivotal for him, but on the strength of his second to Arc winner Ace Impact on a firm deck in the G1 Prix du Jockey Club last year, I think he’s fine on top of the ground. It’s more about whether the fresh performance was an aberration or indicative of how he has returned. It’s worth taking the chance that it was just a blip. Facteur Cheval’s Dubai Turf win was terrific and we have already seen Namur return to Japan and run Cox Plate winner Romantic Warrior to a half-length in the G1 Yasuda Kinen, while Measured Time won the G1 Manhattan Stakes in the US earlier this month. The firm track should be right up his alley and perhaps we are now seeing the best version of him as a five-year-old. Lockinge quinella – runner-up CHARYN and winner AUDIENCE – are next best, with the former expected to turn the tables on the latter this time around.

Numbers: 2-8-5-1

Suggested Bet: Big Rock WIN

Race 2

It’s rare that, this early in the season, the two-year-old form looks both reliable and strong. However, there has been enough so far to suggest that this week’s juvenile races are likely to throw up a couple of very decent prospects to follow. While that is usually the case, it’s unusual that you can almost certainly pinpoint them heading into the week. The two-year-olds begin with the G2 Coventry Stakes over the straight six (just longer than 1200m), a race that is akin to a Blue Diamond Stakes (just run slightly earlier in their season). This does appear a race where the market has identified the right horses, although perhaps in the wrong order. ANDESITE steps out for Karl Burke and Danny Tudhope. By young shuttle stallion Pinatubo, both Andesite’s dam Katie’s Diamond and his half-sister Dramatised (winner of the G2 Queen Mary Stakes at this meeting) were terrific juveniles. He chased so determinedly to win on debut at York and is sure to take plenty of improvement from that. Burke has won three juvenile races at Royal Ascot since 2020 and this looks a good chance to make it four. He gets the nod over Irish-trained COWARDOFTHECOUNTY for American outfit Stonestreet Stables. Stonestreet has had plenty of success at the meeting with fillies Lady Aurelia and Campanelle both two-time winners. This would be their first colt to win and he’s in the right hands with Joseph O’Brien. The colt he beat on debut, Whistlejacket, looks one of the bets in the week in Thursday’s Norfolk Stakes which suggests he should be hard to beat. The firmer surface might be the only negative. Next best are CAMILLE PISSARRO, potentially drawn the wrong side, while MIDNIGHT STRIKE is one to watch as well.

Numbers: 2-9-5-13

Suggested Bet: Andesite WIN

Race 3

This race, for the first time in over a century, has a new name. Formerly the King’s Stand Stakes, the five-furlong G1 will now be known as the King Charles III Stakes in honour of the reigning monarch. It’s the race that is likely to receive most interest from down under given Australia’s strong history in the event as well as the presence of the Henry Dwyer-trained ASFOORA in the field. She’s a contender, but it is the sort of race where it’s worth chancing the arm. With that in mind, the first value bet of the week comes up with DILIGENT HARRY. A seven-time winner, much will be made of the fact he is 0 from 14 on turf with all of his winners coming at synthetic tracks like Southwell, Lingfield and Newcastle. While it is an accurate statistic, it ignores the fact that he’s produced two of his career best efforts at his last two starts on turf. He was a fantastic third in the G1 Al Quoz Sprint, only a length and a half behind Hong Kong’s California Spangle, while he was just defeated in the G2 Duke Of York Stakes over six furlongs last time out. The drop to the 1000m is the way to go and, drawn the middle of the line, he should be able to land near the speed wherever the race develops. Asfoora would struggle to find a spot in a squad of Australia’s top 20 sprinters, but she’s the type of mare who – when circumstances permit – can measure up at the highest level. On ratings, if she were to run to any of her efforts in Australia this season at 1000m or 1100m – including her 10th in the G1 Oakleigh Plate – she would just about win. She does need to take a step forward though from her UK debut, when she looked both in need of the run and uncomfortable on the shifty surface. Next best are ROGUE LIGHTNING, who comes out of that same Haydock race as Asfoora, and the three-year-old BIG EVS but the race is far deeper than that.

Numbers: 1-8-6-12

Suggested Bet: Diligent Harry EACH WAY (Best Bet)

Race 4

What a race we have coming up in the G1 St James’s Palace Stakes, this time over the round mile (as opposed to the straight mile) for the three-year-olds. With an honour roll that includes Shamardal, Frankel and Kingman among a host of top-liners, this is always one race to watch. However, for the first time in eight years, the winners of the UK 2000 Guineas, Irish 2000 Guineas and French 2000 Guineas clash at Ascot. In 2016, they ran the trifecta with the Newmarket victor Galileo Gold defeating his Longchamp equivalent The Gurkha with the Curragh hero Awtaad in third. This year, though, there are enough queries about the three Guineas winners that it is worth looking around them. There are a few opportunities, but the colt that catches the eye is French contender DARLINGHURST. Owned by Jean Dubois, who trained until recently in NSW with horses like Aylmerton, See You Soon and Julian Rock, Darlinghurst is coming off two wins over 1800m and is unbeaten from four starts in 2024. The horse he defeated last time out, First Look, came out and finished second in the G1 Prix du Jockey Club and there is other form around him to suggest he can figure here. He goes on top of the undefeated UK 2000 Guineas winner NOTABLE SPEECH, who could be anything but still has questions to answer here. ROSALLION, who finished second at Newmarket before winning the Irish 2000 Guineas, can figure as well while the untapped ALMAQAM is improving at a rate of knots and could run a big race.

Numbers: 3-6-7-1

Suggested Bet: Darlinghurst EACH WAY

Race 5

The Ascot Stakes, a handicap over two miles and four furlongs or just longer than 4000m, can produce a Melbourne Cup contender every now and then – most notably horses like Simenon and Thomas Hobson for Willie Mullins. The Andrew Balding-prepared Coltrane also improved off victory in this race in 2022, winning four Group races over the last two seasons and looming as a contender for Thursday’s G1 Ascot Gold Cup at the track and trip. Balding could potentially figure in this race again with BERKSHIRE ROCCO, a horse who was beaten by a neck in a G1 St Leger in 2020 but has had many issues since. Queries remain over whether he truly wants this trip but on his very best he does appear so well in at the weights. He gets the nod over PLEDGEOFALLEGIANCE, with Sir Mark Prescott a genuine weapon when it comes to these handicaps. The win at Goodwood was good and, if Luke Morris can get him into a good enough position early, he will be right in contention for a long way. MY LYKA has his second run for Mullins here, having brought some good French form to his yard. That one appearance for the Irish maestro saw him come up just short in a novice hurdle at Killarney but this might just be his race. ZANNDABAD, a fast-finishing third in the Chester Cup last start, is best of the rest.

Numbers: 9-18-3-10

Suggested Bet: Berkshire Rocco EACH WAY

Race 6

The Listed Wolferton Stakes over just further than 2000m is a race with a proven track record of throwing up horses for Australia. Winners In Time’s Eye, Imperial Stride, Gatewood, Forgotten Voice, Contributor, Sir Isaac Newton, Snoano and Addeybb have all raced down here, with varying levels of success, while last year’s victor Royal Champion is also now in Australia and will be seen for Anthony and Sam Freedman during the spring. Throw in Australian G1 winners who contested this race – the likes of Sir Dragonet, Magic Wand, Mirage Dancer and My Kingdom Of Fife – as well as Melbourne Cup runners like Purple Moon and it quickly becomes apparent that this race is just about the most important of the week from an Australian perspective. This year, the nod goes to Sheikh Hamdan’s ISRAR, a Group 2 winner at a mile and a half last year who can be a frustrating horse to follow. There’s no doubting his talent but he struggles to put his best foot forward. Still, if ever a race looked tailor made for him, it is this. His main danger is BOTANICAL, with Sheikh Obaid having a very good record in this race with horses like Royal Champion and Juan Elcano. He comes out of handicaps, having been so impressive on either side of the winter. He may not want it too firm but he’s clearly a Group horse in the making. ASTRO KING and outsider CEMHAAN are next best behind the two clear picks.

Numbers: 9-5-4-6

Suggested Bet: Israr and Botanical QUINELLA

Race 7

The Copper Horse Handicap is one of the newest races on the program, but already the contest has had a major effect on the Melbourne Cup. From the moment Vauban crossed the line last year seven lengths clear of his stablemate Absurde, he was favourite for the race that stops the nation. Despite everything that happened from June through November, the Willie Mullins trainee did not yield that position and started favourite before finishing 14th. That is unlikely to happen this year but it is worth keeping in mind, particularly given the race has also produced horses like Cleveland, Selino, Floating Artist and More Felons in its four years so far. That said, Mullins does look likely to win the race again with BELLOCCIO, who made his debut for the stable at Punchestown last month with a big maiden hurdle victory over two miles. He’s clearly far from straightforward but he has some good performances to his name behind the likes of Bay Bridge last term and he looks at the right spot in the weights to make an impact. FOX JOURNEY may be his main danger with Ryan Moore such a good rider in these races (not to mention generally). He took a huge step forward at his four-year-old debut, winning by 11 lengths, and even with a nine-point hike in the ratings he might still be on the upward spiral. Topweight ALSAKIB has a good handicap record and cannot be overlooked down in class, while KIHAVAH is worth including in all exotics.

Numbers: 8-9-1-12

Suggested Bet: Belloccio WIN

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