Fran Berry's Notebook: Latest column and weekend tips from the former jockey

Fran Berry thinks Thrave can go well this weekend
Fran Berry thinks Thrave can go well this weekend

Fran Berry previews the pick of the weekend's action and looks ahead to Royal Ascot including a fascinating Prince Of Wales's Stakes.

Difficult situation for Doyle

We're fast approaching five of the best days in the British Flat calendar with Royal Ascot kicking off on Tuesday.

Wednesday's Prince Of Wales's Stakes promises to be one of the races of the week with Sea Of Class, Magical, Waldgeist, Crystal Ocean and Masar all possible at this stage.

With William Buick - regular rider of Masar, as well as Crystal Ocean to a lesser extent - unfortunately on the sidelines that leaves James Doyle in an unfortunate position of potentially missing out on the ride on Sea Of Class.

From a jockey's perspective James will be hoping he can have the best of both worlds and maybe Masar, who hasn't been seen for over a year, goes the slightly more conservative route and runs in the Hardwicke Stakes.

It's obviously out of his hands and if the Derby winner runs in the Prince Of Wales's then it's just unfortunate that he'll be clashing with one his main rides outside of the Godolphin partnership.

But ultimately, that's what jockeys get a retainer for, to compensate for such situations, and I'm sure James will be thoroughly professional over the whole situation.

If Frankie Dettori is available then maybe he’d be the one to get the ride on Sea Of Class. I'd expect Oisin Murphy's agent has been on the phone to William Haggas, too, to make himself available but it's one to watch with interest and it really boils down to where Masar runs.

Dettori could also be offered Crystal Ocean but there's a chance Jim Crowley could ride him too so it's not like that's a dearth of top-class jockeys to go around.

As for Sea Of Class winning the Prince Of Wales's Stakes first time out, I wouldn't be 100 per cent sure that Ascot will play to her strengths. Her very best form has come over a mile and a half or on courses with a long straight and, tactically, 10 furlongs around Ascot will just pose something new to her.

Crystal Ocean will be up with the pace and you could see Magical kicking on under Ryan Moore turning in so it's going to be a serious race and it'll take something special from Sea Of Class to reel them in on her first run of the season.

Magical eases down to score at the Curragh
Magical eases down to score at the Curragh

Don't get bogged down by going

It's officially soft all over at Ascot currently but I wouldn't let that put you off backing fast-ground horses too much, especially later in the week.

The forecast is largely dry now with the chance of the odd shower but it could be into the mid-20s again by Tuesday and I've ridden as Ascot where it's been good to soft one day and almost good to firm by the end of the week.

I just wouldn't be reading too much into it at this stage anyway and the straight course dries exceptionally well.

Leopardstown replay a must watch

Before moving onto this weekend's feature races it's well worth flagging up a race from Thursday evening at Leopardstown as I feel it will throw up a few winners.

Ger Lyons trained the winner, Justifier, who was a first winner for first-season sire Free Eagle and he's obviously got plenty of ability but the third was a real eyecatcher for Aidan O'Brien.

He's a typically well-bred son of Galileo with a long-range Derby entry and he kept on very nicely into third having messed around a bit before the race and not got away from the stalls too well.

I wouldn't rule out Ivaquestion winning somewhere next time too after his promising run in fourth and it's basically a race I'll be keeping a close eye on with a view to future winners. (You can see the replay for yourself right here on the result page)

Ebor spot on the line at York

First things first at York where it's charity day and Abi Stock features among 11 amateurs riding in the Ernest Cooper Macmillan Ride of their Lives contest.

Sky Bet have backed Abi and we met here there at the May meeting, where Pat Smullen offered her a few helpful hints, so best of luck to her. She’s done a massive job fundraising ahead of the race and we’ll definitely be cheering her on.

The feature race of the whole day in the Sky Bet Race To The Ebor Grand Cup Stakes (Listed) and we're probably looking at one or two horses who could end up being near the top of the weights for the £1million Sky Bet Ebor itself.

It'll be interesting to see how many of these end up in the big one but Saturday's race carries 'win and you're in' status and getting qualified now is a great incentive to help tailor the rest of the campaign towards August.

Mekong is the obvious starting point and he made a good comeback run behind Dee Ex Bee who is a genuine Gold Cup contender. It was his first run back and he was progressive last year while Sir Michael Stoute continues to get these older horses to progress with time.

He travelled well over two miles at Sandown and dropping back in trip may play more to his strengths, being a son of Frankel. He'll definitely handle the ground though and that could be a big factor.

He's a worthy favourite but Raheen House looks interesting on his first run for the yard. It's an interesting switch from Brian Meehan's to William Haggas and this could be his ideal trip.

Mark Johnston has a couple of tough horses in there and I know they rate Austrian School very highly still, while I'd be tempted to give Buzz a positive mention. He could run well at a much bigger price as while he's up against it strictly on the official figures, he was progressive in soft ground handicaps last term and his comeback effort wasn't as bad as it first looks on paper. He can surprise a few people.

Elsewhere on the card, Golden Apollo is back on a fair mark and will have conditions to suit in the JCB Handicap over seven furlongs. He was fifth in the same race on good to firm ground last year and his record at York overall is excellent.

The track didn't play to his strengths at Ripon and he could bounce back here for Tim Easterby.

The Pavers Foundation Catherine Memorial Sprint Handicap is about as tricky as they come but I'd weigh in with Richard Fahey's Cosmic Law at what should be a fair price. He has a nice middle draw and his first start of the season offered plenty of encouragement.

The Randox Health Handicap is a valuable prize at Sandown and there's a few familiar faces lining up including Greenside and History Writer. The latter is clearly capable on his day but just doesn't get any respite from the assessor and may struggle to contain the likes of Thrave.

Henry Candy's horse started his career well and won a nice maiden at Newmarket but he only managed two starts last season. He's had two progressive runs this year, though, and looks to have a decent draw here in stall five. The stiff finish should suit him and he's relatively unexposed in this field so should have plenty more to offer.


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