Alex Hammond guides us through the action at Royal Ascot next week, picking out her best bets along the way.
Royal Ascot - Day three, Thursday
I said at the start of the blog that the Queen Anne is one of my favourite races of this meeting, well top of my list is the Ascot Gold Cup and that is the day three feature.
As you know, I love my jump racing and I think the Cup races appeal because the protagonists stick around for a few years and we get to know and love them. Like some of the best love affairs our fondness for these stayers develops over time, but a slow burn often makes the bond stronger.
I think Order Of St George falls into that category; he hasn’t always been perfect, but when he’s good he’s very, very good. His price reflects that and we won’t get rich backing him at 7/4, but I think he should take all the beating. He was famously touched off by a short head by Big Orange in this race last year, but with Michael Bell’s stayer currently on the sidelines, he won’t have him to contend with.
He's not just a plodder though as his third place in the 2016 Arc and fourth in last year’s French showpiece demonstrated.
I read that fellow columnist Richard Fahey thinks Sabre is his best chance of a winner this week, so will be having a small investment on him in the opening race, the Norfolk Stakes (10/1 with Sky Bet who are also offering your Money Back as a free bet if your selection finishes 2nd or 3rd).
Elsewhere on the card, the Britannia is another fiercely difficult heritage handicap, but it offers us a bit of value if you can sort out the wheat from the chaff.
The Roger Varian-trained Sam Gold is a horse I’m looking forward to seeing in action and I’ve already backed him each way, he’s a 12/1 shot at the time of writing (Sunday).
This will be just his sixth career start and I was impressed by the manner of his win at Doncaster earlier this month. The race didn’t go entirely to plan, but he was going away at the line in the manner of an improving three-year-old. There is a minor concern about very quick ground for him, which is my one reservation.
Of his rivals, fast ground won’t be a concern for Ostilio. Like Sam Gold, he is trained by someone whose runners I always take a second glance at. He is with former Godolphin racing manager Simon Crisford, who continues to send out plenty of winners and is proving to be a shrewd handler.
Ostilio is also lightly raced and has some notable form this season. His (albeit well beaten) second at Yarmouth to Without Parole is very good form and although he isn’t in his class, he since followed that up with a very easy win at Newmarket a month ago. He was raised 6lb for that by the handicapper, but that doesn’t worry me at all. He’s 18/1 with Sky Bet.
Royal Ascot - Day four, Friday
On to my best bet of the meeting and I can’t wait to see Clemmie in action in the Coronation Stakes. She’s now 7/2 favourite for the one mile Group 1 and battling to be market leader with recent Irish 1000 Guineas winner Alpha Centauri (4/1 with Sky Bet).
Clemmie finished ninth behind her rival at the Curragh that day, but it’s been well documented that she suffered a minor setback in the spring that meant she missed the English Guineas and will have needed her reappearance to put her right. If that’s the case, then I expect she'll give Jessie Harrington’s grey much more of a problem here. She has loads of pace, but I don’t think a mile will be a problem when she’s at her best, which I hope she is on Friday.
The Commonwealth Cup has been a superb addition to the Royal Ascot card and the three-year-old sprinters look an exciting bunch this time round, with this 6f Group 1 looking pretty open.
Invincible Army takes the step up to the highest level for trainer James Tate, who holds him in very high regard. He has loads of pace, but is also a winner over this course and distance and I’d expect the race to suit him well.
Equilateral is an interesting and potentially dangerous opponent as there could be much more to come from Charlie Hills’ young sprinter, but I’m hoping the slightly more experienced horse can win and at 8/1 he looks to offer some value.
Another one worthy of note on the penultimate day is Raa Atoll in the King Edward VII Stakes (the Ascot equivalent of the Derby).
He has been campaigned quietly by master trainer John Gosden, finished 2nd on debut before following that up with wins at Nottingham and Leicester in Novice company. He has shown a likeable attitude and whilst he has to prove he’s up to this sort of class, he wouldn’t be running if his trainer didn’t think he was capable. Some of his rivals have had much tougher run ups to the race and this son of Sea The Stars looks to have much more to offer. He’s 8/1 for the 1m 4f Group 2.
Royal Ascot - Day five, Saturday
Let’s hope at this point we are all quids in! If not I’m really keen on one in the big race of the afternoon, the Group 1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes. Aidan O’Brien runs a fascinating horse in Merchant Navy, a horse I have written about in a previous blog. He has no easy task with Harry Angel in the line-up, but this horse could also be something special. Just to remind you what I wrote a few weeks ago,
"Merchant Navy is an exciting Aussie import who started his career Down Under where he had Group 1 winning form. He's a southern hemisphere foal, so wasn’t born until our autumn/winter in 2014, meaning he won’t turn four until November. He made his debut for Aidan O’Brien at the Curragh at the weekend where he won nicely under Ryan Moore in Group 2 company over six furlongs. O’Brien said he had only 'done five little canters' before he ran on Saturday, which should mean there is plenty of improvement to come."
It makes him an interesting fly in the ointment and with Harry Angel still winless at Ascot, he could shake things up a bit. Merchant Navy is 7/2 with the Clive Cox trained favourite at 5/2.
And finally, the bookies won’t want Crystal Ocean to win the Hardwicke Stakes. No chances are being taken on Sir Michael Stoute’s runner and he’s 6/4 with Sky Bet to win the mile and a half Group 2, but he is unbeaten in two starts so far this season, is still improving and I expect him to make it three here.
He had the option of the higher grade Prince Of Wales’s Stakes, but taking on Cracksman seems unnecessary folly at this stage, so this easier option should give Sir Michael his 76th Royal Ascot winner which will take him one ahead of the late, great Sir Henry Cecil as overall leading trainer at the meeting.
To get the latest Royal Ascot updates, join me on Sky Sports News from 6am and have a great week whatever you are backing.