Alex Hammond racing blog ahead of King George VI Stakes at Ascot

Last Updated July 26 2018, 13:54Racing
Read all of Alex Hammond's thoughts ahead of the Guineas weekend
Read all of Alex Hammond's thoughts ahead of the Guineas weekend

Alex Hammond looks ahead to the weekend's action with Sam Gold and Culturati among her recommended bets.

What did you make of James Doyle’s ride on Sea Of Class in the Irish Oaks – moment of genius, or a bit too close for comfort?

Like his willing partner, it was class. Doyle is riding with bags of confidence at the moment and it helps to produce results like this. He didn’t have to pick his stick up on the William Haggas-trained filly, it was all done under hands and heels riding, which was nice to see. It was a big step up in class from Listed company and was also her first run over a mile and a half and there should be even more to come from this lightly-raced three-year-old in the future. The filly didn’t run as a juvenile and could stay in training at four. Sea Of Class is a daughter of seven-time Group 1 winner Sea The Stars and like her sire, she could end up in the Arc, a race won by the stallion in 2009. She’s now 14/1 with Sky Bet for Europe’s premier middle-distance Group 1. With over a third of Doyle’s rides winning of late, he is booting in winners at an impressive rate.

Sea Of Class reels in Forever Together to win the Irish Oaks
Sea Of Class reels in Forever Together to win the Irish Oaks

How impressed were you with Stratum at Newbury and is he your Sky Bet Ebor fancy at this stage?

Speaking of improvers, this horse is also on an upward curve and with a month to go until York’s famous staying handicap, he certainly tops my list. He’s now a 6/1 shot with the sponsors for the mile and three quarter contest and whilst that seems short enough, he won very, very comfortably at Newbury on Saturday. Just to give you a little overview of the five-year-old’s form, he began his career with John Gosden for whom he eventually won a maiden on the Flat before being bought for 160,000 guineas by his new connections in the autumn of 2016. He was then sent hurdling by champion Irish jumps trainer Willie Mullins, winning on his hurdles debut at Galway before another couple of runs over timber. He was then sent to Royal Ascot for the two and a half mile Ascot Stakes, a race dominated by Mullins who had the 1-3-4-5, this chap was third. He is entered in the Galway Plate at the beginning of next month as well as the Sky Bet Ebor, and it’s feasible he could run in both. He hasn’t run over a trip shorter than two miles since joining Mullins, but Newbury’s winning jockey Robert Winston doesn’t think it will be an issue. The hood he wore at the weekend has also helped his cause and there’s much to look forward to for his owner Tony Bloom, who has had and continues to have some lovely horses, including Penhill, Librisa Breeze and Melbourne Cup-bound Withhold.

Stratum - favourite for the Sky Bet Ebor
Stratum - favourite for the Sky Bet Ebor

This weekend the King George at Ascot takes top billing – who are your main contenders for top spot?

It’s an interesting race this year with the two at the top of the market hard to split. Cracksman, a current 8/1 shot with Sky Bet, may not run if we don’t get rain and that doesn’t look like it’s happening in the Sahara-like south east any time soon. So, it's Crystal Ocean that is Sky Bet’s current 7/4 favourite with Poet’s Word close behind at 2s; both are trained by Sir Michael Stoute. Crystal Ocean’s only experience of a Group 1 race was last year’s St Leger, where he finished second. Poet’s Word caused the shock of Royal Ascot when he beat a below-par Cracksman and in-form jockey James Doyle keeps the ride. I don’t think it’s entirely a two-horse race though. This is the time of year that the three-year-olds start to take advantage of the weight allowance they get from the older horses and with an 11lb pull, I think Aidan O'Brien’s Kew Gardens could be the one to make the most of that, particularly as he has hit form on his last two starts. He stayed well to win the 1m 6f Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot on good to firm ground, before stepping back up to the highest level and dropping back in trip to win the 1m 4f Grand Prix de Paris. He certainly showed enough pace to take his chance in this race, which looks more winnable this year than it has in the past. He has a bit to find on ratings, but the weight allowance brings him much closer to highest rated, Poet’s Word. Kew Gardens is a 5/1 shot and based on that and his good run of form recently, I’m taking the two protagonists on with the colt who is the likely mount of Ryan Moore.

Kew Gardens - Royal Ascot winner
Kew Gardens - Royal Ascot winner

No shortage of big-field handicaps at Ascot and York so give us a couple to look out for.

I’m interested to see how Sam Gold fares if he runs in the Porsche Handicap at Ascot. You may recall that I fancied him to run a big race in the Britannia Stakes at Royal Ascot, but he finished in the middle of the field. He was gelded a few days after the race and that might just bring him forward again. If that’s the case, the 10/1 on offer with Sky Bet might look generous. I’m slightly concerned that his trainer Roger Varian isn’t firing in the winners with his usual regularity, but he has had a few winners lately, so all is not lost. Vale Of Kent (another 10/1 shot) is a horse that I rate as one of his main dangers, the Mark Johnston trained runner could still be improving.

At York, the Sky Bet Dash looks like another handicap with the opportunity to find a bit of value. Culturati has evidently been hard to train, but it’s interesting that the Godolphin team have persevered with him and his trainer Charlie Appleby is certainly firing on all cylinders at the moment. This horse has a couple of options on Saturday and I’ll be watching him wherever he goes. He is also entered in the 7 furlong handicap sponsored by Sky Bet earlier on in the afternoon and next week’s Stewards' Cup at Goodwood. He missed his entire three year-old season and only ran once at four, he’s now five years old, but he is smart and if he retains that ability he should be a very useful sprinter and one follow if he can stay sound. He’s 8/1 favourite for the Dash, 7/1 for the 7 furlong handicap and 20/1 for the Stewards' Cup.

Sheikh Mohammed pictured with trainer Charlie Appleby
Charlie Appleby is expected to have Culturati ready for his return

Can you provide us with three things you can’t wait to witness at Glorious Goodwood next week?

1. I’m hoping to see a top-class performance from Without Parole in the Sussex Stakes on Wednesday. He will have to do it without regular partner Frankie Dettori though thanks to his ban for careless riding at Newmarket’s July Festival, although the ban has been reduced on appeal from 10 days to six, Dettori returns on Thursday. The St James’s Palace Stakes winner is Sky Bet’s 6/4 favourite. He’s the most likely winner. Maybe Rhododendron could be the each-way value in the race if she lines up (10/1); she also has the option of the Nassau Stakes.

2. Escobar is a horse I’ve been following and he is entered in the Golden Mile Handicap on Friday. David O’Meara’s horse has been knocking on the door this campaign and runs off the same mark as he did at Sandown last time out when he finished a decent second. He’s a 12/1 shot. I’ll have half an eye on Gilgamesh if he lines up in the same race.

3. I hope Dettori is relaxing on an exotic island without wi-fi for the start of Glorious Goodwood, because he is also going to miss the ride on Stradivarius in the Goodwood Cup on Tuesday. The Ascot Gold Cup winner won’t be inconvenienced by the drop back to two miles as this was the race he beat Big Orange in last year. Hopefully he will enjoy his return to the rolling Sussex countryside; he’s 4/6 favourite to make it back to back wins in this Group 1.

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