Invariably, it is to the front end of the market where punters should be looking in most of the really big Group races at Royal Ascot this week, although I have a feeling the dominance of Ryan Moore may not be as dramatic as some are forecasting, given the apparent rise of Donnacha O'Brien in the Ballydoyle pecking order.
I imagine I will be backing Stradivarius in the Gold Cup, but when it comes to my shorter-priced punts, I prefer to wait until the day itself before reaching any firm judgements.
However, I have been taking a look at the handicaps and picked out a few that have already taken my eye. Let's hope we manage to get one of them home.
There are plenty of killer stats offered up to guide punters over the five days of the meeting but arguably the strongest of them stack up regarding the Ascot Stakes, the only handicap on the first day of action on Tuesday.
Irish runners have won six of the past seven renewals of this race and Willie Mullins has taken four of those six. Mullins has engaged Ryan Moore on three of the winners, so obviously bookies have taken absolutely no chances with the mare, Buildmeupbettercup, who has had Moore booked for some time.
On the bare statistics alone, a top-priced 5/1 could be argued as representing value, but it is hard to find the form to justify anything as short as that, especially as she is drawn very wide.
Oisin Murphy is taking over from a (very good) 10lb-claimer on Kerosin and Denis Hogan's runner arrives here in extremely good form after a win at Navan over two miles. This extended trip looks like a positive to me and Kerosin is perfectly drawn in stall seven. Backing him each-way already looks like being my plan for the opening day.
On Wednesday, I will be backing two in the Royal Hunt Cup. Kynren really does deserve to win a race such as this, such is his consistency at this level. He has been placed in no less than six similar quality contests, though probably the one big blot on his record came in this last year. However, he was drawn wrong and the ground was simply too fast for him on that occasion. Robert Winston is a top-class jockey in a big field on straight tracks and good ground will be ideal for him this year.
Stylehunter ran well in the Britannia last season, for while he probably wasn’t quite ready for it at that stage, he still stayed on well to be sixth. Off the course for a couple of months afterwards before winning at Goodwood on his next start, he was then drawn wrong in the Cambridgeshire, but still finished second home of his group. Robert Havlin was on board for the Goodwood victory and gets back on again here after a sighter at Newmarket last time. Having been gelded in the winter, he will be a stronger proposition in these kind of contests this season and a fast-run, stiff mile looks ideal.
In this year’s Britannia Handicap, I am seeing an Irish victory courtesy of Basic Law, who has won his last three only by narrow margins, but looks like a future Group-class performer over a mile. I am pretty certain that his excellent trainer Ger Lyons has waited for this prestigious event to step him back up in trip, which will definitely suit, as will the strongly-run race which is certain here. Colin Keane still hasn’t had the amount of success I anticipated over in this country, but he is top, top class. I anticipate a good run.
Sinjaari is my pick in the King George V Handicap, but if he doesn’t go close I may have to give up on the year’s London Gold Cup as a source of future winners. He only just failed to win at Newbury, after which it was subsequently revealed he lost a shoe. He is a lightly-raced and progressive type who will improve again for the extra two furlongs.
Friday’s Sandringham Stakes looks very tricky to me and I cannot find a bet at this stage though I will definitely be interested in William Haggas’ selected representatives from among several entries.
I do know, however, that I will be having a few quid on Fujaira Prince in the Duke of Edinburgh Stakes. I think the York handicap in which he was narrowly beaten last time in was a very strong event, not least as a result of it being a qualifier for the £1million Ebor. He was clear of Corgi in second and can confirm form with that one despite a weights pull.
Soldier’s Minute has won two races this year in the style of a Group-class horse, but also run two stinkers. However, he made such an impression when destroying a smart field of handicappers at York last time I am happy to put him high on my shortlist for the Wokingham Stakes.
Keith Dalgleish is big league these days and is in excellent form this season - and even already this week, having sent out four winners at Catterick and Carlisle on Monday afternoon.
Dalgleish still doesn’t get many opportunities to land these big southern prizes, but I am confident Soldier's Minute will have been well prepared for this. He ran badly the only time he went on heavy but conditions could well end up being quicker for the final day of the meeting than the start.