Today, we have an article from David Dunning, pro horseracing analyst, giving us his thoughts on the pick of the runners in each one of the races on Day 1 of Royal Ascot:
Royal Ascot Day One Preview
The opening day of Royal Ascot gets under way with three successive Group 1 races, the Queen Anne Stakes, the King’s Stand Stakes and the feature race of the day, the St. James’s Palace Stakes. The supporting card features two major juvenile races, the Group 2 Coventry Stakes and the Listed Windsor Castle Stakes and, in complete contrast, the Ascot Stakes, a handicap for older horses, run over 2 miles 4 furlongs.
Graham Motion’s 5-year-old Animal Kingdom has been all the rage for the Queen Anne Stakes (2.30) in the weeks leading up to the Royal Meeting and is short as 4/6 in the ante post lists. The winner of the Kentucky Derby in 2011, Animal Kingdom returned from injury to finish second to Wise Dan – the highest rated horse in North America, according to Timeform – in the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Santa Anita last November and, although beaten on his reappearance at Gulfstream Park in February, comfortably won the Dubai World Cup, over 1 mile 2 furlongs, at Meydan the following month.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that his sole win on turf came in an optional claiming race, with just three runners, at Gulfstream Park last February and he has an absence of 80 days to overcome. The Maryland trainer admitted in a recent interview that Animal Kingdom faces a “huge challenge” but, in the absence of any realistic alternative, the Queen Anne Stakes is probably a race to leave alone.
The second race of the day, the King’s Stand Stakes (3.05), also features a hot favourite in the form of Mike De Kock’s 8-year-old Shea Shea. The son of National Emblem has already beaten Sole Power twice over 5 furlongs at Meydan this season and, on a line through Edward Lynam’s 6-year-old, also appears to have little to fear from Reckless Abandon. He also has an absence of 80 days to overcome but, like Animal Kingdom, is hard to oppose.
The third and final Group 1 race on the opening day, the St. James’s Palace Stakes (3.45), appears to be a three-horse race between Dawn Approach, Magician and Toronado. Dawn Approach was a surprise entry after finishing last in the Derby 17 days ago, but became outright favourite after it emerged that Magician had sustained minor bruising last Thursday. Dawn Approach is probably better judged on his performance in the 2,000 Guineas on the Rowley Mile course at Newmarket in May, when he drew clear inside the final furlong to win by 5 lengths.
Nevertheless, Van Der Neer, who finished third at Newmarket, finished a lot further behind Magician in the Irish 2,000 Guineas so, at odds of 5/2, Aidan O’Brien’s charge looks fair value. The Galileo colt was impressive in his own right when powering clear to win the Irish 2,000 Guineas by 3½ lengths and was declared “100 per cent sound” by Aidan O’Brien at Navan on Friday. Magician is rated just 3lb inferior to Dawn Approach, according to official British Horseracing Authority (BHA) ratings, and may be the one to take advantage if the favourite isn’t at his very best.
Toronado was well fancied for the 2,000 Guineas after impressively winning the Craven Stakes at Newmarket in April, but could only finish fourth, beaten 7½ lengths, behind Dawn Approach. However, his connections believe that he may have suffered a displaced palate during the race and he will wear a tongue-tie as he attempts to bounce back from his Newmarket disappointment.
Ballydoyle trainer Aidan O’Brien has won the Group 2 Coventry Stakes (4.25) six times since 1999, so his entries are always worth a second look. This year he has three, Sir John Hawkins, Stubbs and War Command. At the time of writing, jockey bookings are yet to be confirmed for the O’Brien trio, but Stubbs is the shortest in the ante post market at 3/1, with Sir John Hawkins at 13/2 and War Command at 10/1. Stubbs, a colt by Danehill Dancer out of a Dalakhani mare, comfortably won the Listed Alfred Nobel Rochestown Stakes at Naas earlier this month and, although it’s difficult to assess what he achieved in doing so, he’s clearly smart. It’s also interesting to note that Richard Hannon’s stable jockey, Richard Hughes, prefers the once-raced maiden winner Championship to the impressive Listed winner Thunder Strike and the hint may be worth taking.
Eight of the last 10 winners of the Ascot Stakes (5.00), including the last three, were saddled by trainers traditionally associated with National Hunt racing. Very few Flat races are run over such extreme distances so, unsurprisingly, David Pipe’s 10-year-old Junior, who won this race in 2010, is the only distance winner in the field. Nicky Henderson’s 7-year-old Lieutenant Miller has won over 2 miles 4 furlongs over hurdles and could go well, despite stepping up in class after an absence of 53 days. Others to consider include Jonjo O’Neill’s 5-year-old Well Sharp, raised 10lb for winning a lower grade handicap over 2 miles at York, and Aidan O’Brien’s 5-year-old Justification, who finished a staying on seventh, beaten 4½ lengths, in the Chester Cup over 2 miles 2½ furlongs last month.
The final race of the day, the Listed Windsor Castle Stakes (5.35), is about as impenetrable as it comes from a betting perspective, with a maximum field of 28 unexposed 2-year-olds facing the starter. Remarkably, Richard Hannon, who’s saddled 15 2-year-old winners at Ascot during the last five seasons, has never won the Windsor Castle Stakes. His unbeaten colt Anticipated, the choice of Richard Hughes from four Hannon entries, should have plenty of improvement to come and is a token selection in a race full of imponderables.
Ascot 2.30 Animal Kingdom to win
Ascot 3.05 Shea Shea to win
Ascot 3.45 Magician to win (if absent, Dawn Approach to win)
Ascot 4.25 Championship to win
Ascot 5.00 Justification to win
Ascot 5.35 Anticipated to win