Simon Holt free tips: Rhododendron to blossom on day one at Royal Ascot

Simon Holt has selected his best bets for the action at Royal Ascot
Simon Holt has selected his best bets for the action at Royal Ascot

Racing commentator Simon Holt has two strong fancies for day one at Royal Ascot, including Rhododendron in the opening race.

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On the form of her Lockinge Stakes victory, RHODODENDRON has little in hand over Lightning Spear in the Queen Anne Stakes which opens Royal Ascot on Tuesday, but Aidan O'Brien's filly still appeals as the class act in the line-up.

A non-stayer when second to Enable in last year's Oaks, the daughter of Galileo is well suited by strongly-run races at shorter distances as she proved at Newbury where stable-companion Deauville ensured a fast gallop.

The latter, drawn just four stalls away here, will presumably repeat those tactics and this much stiffer straight mile has to be in Rhododendron's favour. She is easily the most established performer in the field with three Group One wins behind her, including a defeat of another smart Ballydoyle filly Hydrangea in the Prix de l'Opera last October, after which she stayed on strongly into second behind Wuheida at the Breeders' Cup.

Value hunters will claim that Lightning Spear, beaten only a short head at Newbury (Deauville fifth, Accidental Agent sixth, Suedois seventh, Limato tenth and Zonderland 11th) is ridiculously over-priced but the bookmakers may have it right bearing in mind the seven-year-old's inconsistencies in the past.

Benbatl and Recoletos could be bigger dangers. The former, winner of the Group Three Hampton Court Stakes here last year, enjoyed a good season at Meydan culminating in a decisive victory in the Dubai Turf. However, on his British performances, the tough Godolphin colt has a bit to find and I am always wary of the Dubai form.

French raider Recoletos is a lovely colt who didn't seem to last home over a mile-and-a-quarter in soft ground behind Cracksman in the Champion Stakes here last October.

Dropped back in trip this season, he has won his first two starts at Saint-Cloud and ParisLongchamp but a near two-length defeat of Almodovar with Trais Fluors (a beaten favourite at Chantilly on Sunday) doesn't look quite good enough, and Olivier Peslier's mount may have to find more.

A possible joker in the pack is Bill Mott's Yoshida, a Grade One winner at Churchill Downs in early May. That form has taken a couple of knocks but, on just his ninth career start, there could be further improvement to come in a race won by the American-trained Tepin two years ago.

With the St James's Palace Stakes looking hard to call given that likely favourite Without Parole could still be anything, and the Kings Stand a 'one-to-watch' bust-up between Battaash and Lady Aurelia, I will keep the powder dry until the closing Wolferton Stakes in which MIRAGE DANCER can improve on his close third place behind Benbatl over the course and distance 12 months ago.

Beaten on two subsequent starts last season on soft ground, the Sir Michael Stoute-trained son of Frankel always looked likely to be a better four-year-old and, after a good comeback second to Barsanti here (1m4f), he justified favouritism by three lengths in a muddling race at Goodwood.

There should be plenty of pace on here with Chain Of Daisies and possibly Big Country likely to go forward and, already a winner at this Listed level, the selection should go very close with the top-class Australian-based rider James McDonald, who has always impressed on these shores, an intriguing booking.

Posted at 1455 BST on 18/06/18.

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