Ben Linfoot: On the radar - handicappers to follow at Royal Ascot

Desert Encounter wins at Ascot
Desert Encounter wins at Ascot

Ben Linfoot puts the case forward for a recently-lost race to be revived at Royal Ascot, while he outlines some of the horses on his radar for the handicaps next week.

There are more important petitions being signed at the moment but one demanding that Royal Ascot brought back the Buckingham Palace Stakes would get my backing.

All that lovely seven-furlong handicap form to go on from just about every other Ascot meeting and it’s essentially useless without the Bucky Pally, a race won by horses like Uhoomagoo, Regal Parade, Eton Forever and Louis The Pious in its relatively brief existence (2002-2014).

It fell by the wayside when the Group One Commonwealth Cup was introduced and there are no complaints with the new race. British racing gets a lot of stick, but the introduction of the Commonwealth Cup was an inspired move.

But axing the Buckingham Palace Stakes was a mistake. We’re left with the Wokingham Handicap over six furlongs and then three handicaps over the straight mile, with all the other handicaps over a mile and a half and further (in the case of the Ascot Stakes).

The Buckingham Palace didn’t take anything away from the Wokingham or the mile handicaps when it existed and it’s difficult to see why it was lost in the reshuffle. Would it hurt to have seven races on one of the days?

If that was impossible, for whatever reason, do we really need both the Ascot Stakes and the Queen Alexandra when those races largely attract runners from the same pool of horses?

Ditching the Ascot Stakes and making the Queen Alexandra a handicap would be a sensible option, with the re-introduced Buckingham Palace Stakes slotting into the former contest’s position on day one.

As good as the first day of Royal Ascot is, with three Group One races headlining the card, it’s not always the greatest of betting days. The return of the Buckingham Palace Stakes on day one would help enormously in that regard.

Anyway, that’s enough moaning for one day. There’s just over a week to go until Royal Ascot now, so here are some horses on the radar for the handicaps that will be taking place next week:

Royal Hunt Cup


It’s seventeen years since Sir Michael Stoute won the Royal Hunt Cup, but he potentially has a couple of interesting contenders this time around and both are available at 25/1 at the time of writing.

BALLET CONCERTO is the latest in a very long list of horses that his trainer has improved at the age of four. He didn’t shed his maiden tag until the August of his three-year-old career, but he’s shown steady improvement since then and was far from disgraced in Group Three company at Epsom last time.

The son of Dansili was just getting into contention when he was badly hampered in the Investec Diomed Stakes and he might well have put in a performance right up there with his Spring Mile win at Doncaster had he got a clear run.

That victory on Town Moor at the start of the season showcased his ability to operate over a straight mile, and it came off just a 5lb lower mark than the one he could run off if taking his chance in the Hunt Cup.

A word of warning is the ground. In between his Doncaster win and Epsom run he was slightly disappointing in handicap company at Newmarket, a performance Ryan Moore blamed on the fast conditions.

But, after just eight runs on turf and 10 in total, he could still be progressing fast enough to take a leading role in a race of this nature. The way he was travelling at Epsom gives hope that is the case and he’s very much one to keep an eye on.

If the ground is rattling quick at the Royal meeting then Stoute’s number one hope in the Hunt Cup could well be MUSTASHRY.

He could only manage a midfield position in last year’s Britannia Stakes, but that was on soft ground and he made rapid strides once returned to a quicker surface after that.

A winner of the Woodford Reserve Handicap over the straight mile at Ascot on King George day from a mark of 95, he almost defied a 5lb rise when a slightly unlucky second to Firmament in the Clipper Logistics Stakes at York’s Ebor Festival.

Keen in an eight-runner Listed race at Sandown when last seen in September, he did pretty well to finish a close fourth that day and he too has the profile of a horse that will improve again at the age of four.

It’s a bit disconcerting that we haven’t seen him yet this season, but that also makes him a bit of a forgotten horse. At the very least, he’s worth bearing in mind given how progressive he looked in the second half of last season.

Sandringham Handicap


There are no entries for this race until the six-day stage on June 15 but I’ll be keeping a close eye to see if David Elsworth’s TISBUTADREAM is among the possibles.

This daughter of Dream Ahead is in really good form and she’s a half-sister to last year’s Sandringham winner, Persuasive.

A winner of a good fillies’ handicap against her elders at Ascot in the middle of May, she improved on that form when third in the Group Three Princess Elizabeth Stakes at Epsom on Derby day.

That was also against older fillies and she’ll be interesting if taking on her own age group again, back in a handicap.

There will be plenty less exposed fillies than her in the Sandringham, but she’s likely to be a decent price with that in mind and her willing attitude could well take her a long way.

Britannia Stakes


A more obvious one now as SON OF THE STARS is already third favourite at around 11/1 with the bookies that have priced up the Britannia, but he is very much one for the layers to keep on the right side of.

Richard Hannon’s son of Delegator was a huge eyecatcher on his turf debut at Newmarket’s Guineas meeting, as he was keen in the early part of the race and he didn’t handle The Dip well.

Considering that he travelled beautifully into the contest and he finished his race off really strongly once Sean Levey got him organised. A 6lb rise for a head defeat was perfectly acceptable.

That Newmarket race has some recent previous in the Britannia, too, as the first and second on the Rowley Mile in the 2014 renewal, Hors De Combat and Born In China, went on to finish third and first respectively at Royal Ascot.

It could be a key race again as Son Of The Stars’ Newmarket conqueror, Ronald R, could well have Britannia aspirations as well.

It’s the Hannon horse that appeals most, however. The big field and strong gallop you’d expect in a Britannia will suit Son Of The Stars and the stiff mile at Ascot looks perfect for him as well. 

The Hannon yard have gone close in this race a few times in recent years and they look to have another live contender here.

Wokingham Handicap


EDWARD LEWIS could be a huge player in the Wokingham Handicap if he steps back up in trip to six furlongs for David O’Meara.

The ex-John Gosden horse has improved plenty for his switch to the north and he hasn’t reached the limit of his improvement yet judging by his run in the Investec Corporate Banking Dash at Epsom last time.

Going into the race on the back of two victories from four appearances for O’Meara, Edward Lewis was hampered a furlong out but finished strongly to get within a length of the winner, Caspian Prince, at the line.

It can be a dangerous game following fast finishers from the Dash, as it’s such a unique race and he wasn’t the only one closing strongly at the line, but in the context of his overall profile it was a highly encouraging effort.

While he’s only run over the minimum distance for O’Meara, he was solely campaigned over six and seven furlongs when with Gosden and he was improving over six when second a couple of times at Haydock at the end of last season.

He’s shown plenty of speed since switching to O’Meara’s, but he clearly stays six furlongs well and stepping back up to that trip in the Wokingham could well unlock further improvement.

Wolferton Handicap


And finally… a horse where the trainer says ‘Royal Ascot might not be on the agenda’. That’s not ideal when flagging up potential Royal Ascot winners, admittedly, but let’s hope David Simcock has a change of heart as DESERT ENCOUNTER looks an ideal type for the Wolferton Handicap.

A rapid improver over the last couple of seasons, Desert Encounter’s progression has come over a mile and a half and further but he looks well worth a go dropped slightly in trip.

He has taken a keen hold on both of his starts this season, but it didn’t stop him winning the Listed Carey Group Buckhounds Stakes at Ascot on May 13 and he almost got away with it when just going down narrowly to Second Step at Goodwood (also Listed class) last time, too.

A drop to 10 furlongs wouldn’t inconvenience him on that evidence and he’d have a very good chance off a mark of 109 with those recent runs in mind as well. With winning Ascot form in the bag and his proven stamina probably no bad thing either, he would have to come into calculations should he turn up.

He’s not in the Hardwicke and Simcock’s Royal Ascot reservations came after his last win at the track when he was saying he’s better with juice in the ground. 

We might well get juicy Royal Ascot ground yet, though, and if it’s looking likely it would be telling to see Desert Encounter appear among the Wolferton entries early next week.


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