A bit like the recent Cheltenham Festival, punters will be looking to perm-up many of the strongly-fancied runners over the five days at Royal Ascot and in the process try and hit the bookies where it hurts.
Normally at Royal Ascot you might get two or three well-fancied favourites, but this year looks a bit different with around five or six that we can see punters making strong cases for. These runners are sure to figure on the layers radar and really the outcome of these races will probably determine whether it’s a win for the punter or the bookmaker at this year’s Royal meeting!
With that in mind, then we thought we’d take a look at the so-called ‘bankers’ at the 2017 ROYAL ASCOT meeting to see if we should be backing or laying these potential ‘good-things’!
Tuesday 20th June:
RIBCHESTER – This Godolphin-owned horse was last seen running away with the Group One Lockinge Stakes by an easy 3 ¼ lengths and with the second horse that day – Lightning Spear – the next best in the betting for this race then this looks Ribchester’s to lose. Yes, some may feel that the runner-up that day will improve for that first run of the season, but 3 ¼ lengths is a fair amount of ground to make up, while with only 2 runs this year then Ribchester can also be expected to have improved.
Those against the Richard Fahey-trained 4 year-old might look at the ground if it gets really quick as all his best runs to-date have been of good or softer, but if there is a dry spell then we can expect the Ascot officials to water in the eye to getting good ground.
He landed the Jersey Stakes over 7f at this meeting last season so the hustle-and-bustle of this big event is not a worry and was also a close second to Minding in the QEII Stakes here on Champions Day. With the opposition looking thin on the ground then we’d rather be a backer than a layer with this consistent miler – who, don’t forget, is yet to finish out of the first three in all his 11 career starts!
CHURCHILL – If the ante-post betting is anything to go by then this year’s renewal looks a two-horse race, but with Aidan O’Brien’s Churchill one of those then many will also feel this could actually be a ‘one-horse race’! This season’s English and Irish 2,000 Guineas winner has not disappointed his backers during the early part of the season after landing the Dewhurst last October and there should be more to come.
His only defeat came on his debut back in May 2016 and since then has won his last 7 starts. The temptation to step him up to 1m4f and tackle the Derby was quashed with connections preferring the more sensible route of keeping him to a mile for now, with this race clearly in mind. He landed the Chesham Stakes over 7f here last season so is another that has tasted this big meeting, while based on that the track experience is also a big plus. He’s likely to get his ground too and being 2-from-2 over a mile then it’s hard to see him getting beaten.
His main danger looks to be the Richard Hannon-trained Barney Roy, who was last seen running second to Churchill in the English 2,000 Guineas at HQ. He was only a length behind that day so with the expected improvement then he’s sure to have his supporters to reverse the form – especially as he’s only had three career runs. Yes, there should be more to come from this Godolphin runner, but with proven winning track form, experience of this meeting and four Group One victories under his belt then Churchill looks the more reliable of the pair – he can give O’Brien his sixth win in the race.
Wednesday 23rd June:
DUKE OF CAMBRIDGE STAKES:
LAUGH ALOUD – This Godolphin runner was hugely impressive at Epsom last time out and based on that will be very popular again here. With 11 of the last 13 winners of this race being aged 4 then she’s got this on her side, while a 5 length romp in that recent Group Three means she more than deserves to take her chance in this higher grade. She’s a strong-travelling sort that should have more to come, but those against her do have a few things to cling to.
Previous track form has often been a good guide to this race in recent years with 9 of the last 13 winners having run at Ascot, while 6 of the last 13 had won here – Laugh Aloud is yet to race at the Berkshire track.
Yes, it’s not a bad contest for the favourite, with 4 of the last 13 winning and 7 of the last 13 placed, but it’s also a race that the Cheveley Park owners like to do well in. They’ve won 4 of the last 13 renewals and at this stage have several entered. We’ll have to wait until nearer the time to see which ones have made the final cut, but, with their cracking record in the race the ones that do run can be expected to be fit and ready to rumble.
Thursday 22nd June:
ORDER OF ST GEORGE – This horse gave trainer Aidan O’Brien his seventh win in the Ascot Gold Cup 12 months ago and will be a warm order to repeat the feat. His talented stayer – Yeats – landed this race four times on the spin between 2006 and 2009 and there are many people that feel at just 5 year-olds old this horse can run up a similar sequence. A one-time Derby fancy this horse has been a revelation since stepping up in trip and took this race by an easy 3 lengths last year.
That win came in soft ground, which he’s unlikely to get this year, but with victories on good and good-to-form surfaces in the past that’s not a worry. So, with stamina assured and proven winning form in this race he’s clearly the one to beat as his powerful trainer eyes up a famous eighth win. However, those willing to take him on will know that he was beaten at odds-on on Champions Day here back in October with another likely runner – Sheikzayedroad – getting the better of him that day.
With Simple Verse and Quest For More also finishing in front of him that day then should these three make the race the layers will know they’ve got three horses that have beaten the favourite on their side. Add in that with just one win from his last 5 races then he’s certainly not ‘bomb-proof’ and when the chips are down might not be seen as the most reliable. Yes, he’s the one to beat and would have had this race as his target all season, but with this year’s renewal having a slightly harder feel to it, then at the price we’d rather be a layer than a backer.
Friday 23rd June:
CARAVAGGIO – The third running of the Commonwealth Cup and with the Aidan O’Brien hot-pot Caravaggio running then we could be set for a one-sided affair. This speedy 3 year-old heads here unbeaten after five straight wins, that included the Coventry Stakes at this meeting 12 months ago. He’s won his last four races by an aggregate of 13 ¼ lengths and for a sprinter that’s massive!
With wins on soft ground and also on good-to-firm then there should be no underfoot issues, plus is another with proven form at this meeting – really, it’s hard to see this one being beaten. Those against this grey speedball will look towards Harry Angel, who won the Group Two Sandy Lane Stakes at Haydock last time out by an impressive 4 ½ lengths. Yes, that’s top form, but I’m not sure he beat a lot that day, while before that he was second to another potential danger to the favourite – Blue Point.
This Godolphin horse won here over course and distance back in May and last season was only 1 ¾ lengths behind Churchill in the Dewhurst Stakes. Of the dangers, he looks the most likely to make the O’Brien horse pull out all the stops, but even that might not be enough from seeing this speedy grey land a sixth straight win!
WINTER – This season’s English and Irish 1,000 Guineas winner has taken the 3 year-old fillies division by storm over the last few months and there should be more to come! Another from the powerful Aidan O’Brien camp and just like their other Guineas winner – Churchill – they have not given-in to temptation to step her up in trip. She landed the English 1,000 Guineas by 2 lengths and the Irish version by 4 ¾, so looks a horse that is still improving.
Yes, this will be her first run at Ascot, but the stiff track looks sure to suit, being that she’s likely to stay further than this mile in time. Ground is fine too with wins on a wide range of surfaces, while in Ryan Moore she’s going to have every assistance from the saddle. Looking at the rest there is not much to worry her in the race, but at this time of the year these 3 year-old fillies can suddenly improve at a rate of knots.
However, if that’s the case finding one that might improve looks hard this year. Therefore, I‘d rather stick with the proven form, while there is also a strong chance we’ve not seen the O’Brien hotpot at her peak too – so the safe call is to stick with another Winter Wonderland here.