John Gosden has been having a quiet time by his own lofty standards but it will be a surprise if he does not get off to a flyer at Royal Ascot on Tuesday with triple Group One winner Palace Pier difficult to oppose in the opening Queen Anne Stakes.
Gosden now trains in tandem with son, Thady, and last month the pair had to settle for 11 winners. That is the lowest tally sent out from Clarehaven for that particular month since 2010.
And this month they go into Ascot with a haul of seven June winners, suggesting they have no chance of matching last year’s bumper tally of 43, albeit the circumstances were different then after racing had been halted in the spring because of the pandemic.
In a Zoom call last week, Gosden admitted his crop of three-year-olds were far from a vintage crop, although it would be folly to underestimate his unbeaten Mostahdaf in an open St James’s Palace Stakes.
Nothing particularly appeals to me at the prices in that mile showpiece, and I’ll also be sitting out the Queen Anne for punting purposes with the favourite about 4-9. However, four contests on day one make some appeal from a betting perspective.
Just keep in mind that it’s a marathon, not a sprint, and that the ground may not be quite as quick as you would expect for day one. There has been extensive watering at the track during the hot spell and goodish ground is forecast.
3.05 Royal Ascot: Berkshire Shadow each-way at 18-1 with Sky Bet (who offer six places)
My initial instinct was to swerve the best juvenile race of the week as here are plenty of promising youngsters to ponder – a dozen of them winning last time out.
But I’d kick myself if Berkshire Shadow won without me suggesting having a penny on him because it’s difficult to fathom how he can be as big as 20-1 after his taking debut win over 5f at Newbury when he won despite completely fluffing the start (he had been in the stalls a fair while and just seemed to fall asleep) and handing his rivals a significant head start.
Watch how Berkshire Shadow won on his debut
The fourth home, Gisburn, boosted the form when a runaway winner next time and is much shorter in the betting. He clearly improved a chunk last time, but there’s nothing to suggest Berkshire Shadow will not make a similar jump forward. Had he jumped on terms last time, he would have hammered the opposition and there’s little doubt 6f and further is going to suit him.
A draw on the flank in 17 away from most of the fancied horses looks the biggest stumbling block, although the latest Going Stick reading from Ascot on Monday morning suggests that the ground is quicker on the stands’ side (8.6) than in the centre or far side (both 8.4), so perhaps it will not be the disadvantage some might perceive. Recent winners Calyx (22 of 23) and War Command (15 of 16) won from high draws so Oisin Murphy should not lose too much sleep.
Wesley Ward-trained youngsters at the meeting always demand a second look, especially when the going is quick, and his Kaufymaker commands respect, but she is priced up defensively. A bigger threat may be Dhabab, an expensive breeze-up buy who impressed when winning on his debut at Leicester. Available at 12-1 when final declarations were revealed, he has since been cut to a best price of 7-1.
3.40 Royal Ascot: Winter Power at 9-2 with bet365 and William Hill
To back Battaash or not to back Battaash, that is the question. If the champ is at his imperious best then he will probably retain his King’s Stand Stakes title but the seven-year-old suffered a mishap during the winter that required surgery and, despite positive bulletins from his yard, he has not scared away the opposition with the biggest field for four years lining up.
Last year, only two horses rated 110 or higher opposed him but this time there are six and Liberty Beach, who go to within about two lengths of him 12 months ago, is not among that sextet. Battaash is 2-1, a tempting price for a horse who officially rated between 6lb and 31lb better than his rivals, but on this occasion he’s not for me.
The last three-year-old to win was Lady Aurelia in 2017. She was a brilliant filly who took full advantage of the age/sex allowances and I fancy Winter Power, trained by Tim Easterby, has what it takes to emulate her.
She ended juvenile campaign firmly on up and the opposition barely saw which way she went at York on her return, when she had a penalty to carry for her win in the Cornwallis and had apparently done little at home beforehand.
Easterby was full of praise for Winter Power after her York success
Winter Power looked every inch a top-notch sprinter on the Knavesmire when the sectionals revealed she clocked the fastest first furlong plus the fastest final furlong. That is an unusual feat in any top sprint, and she was not too shabby during the middle section of the race, either. Battaash faces a serious assignment trying to concede 10lb to her.
5pm Royal Ascot: Untold Story each-way at 16-1 and Elysian Flame at 14-1, both with Sky Bet (seven places)
Willie Mullins has won half of the past eight renewals he’s been able to have runners in (last year Irish runners were barred from the Ascot handicaps because of the pandemic) and clearly taking on his runners this time – M C Muldoon and Rayapour – comes with a wealth warning. However, they head the market and I’d prefer to have an each-way pop at two much bigger-priced contenders with Sky Bet, who are offering seven places.
Elysian Flame is all about stamina and, equipped with cheekpieces from the first time on the Flat, impressed when fending off hotpot Almighwar on his return at Newbury, when the pair pulled six lengths clear. A 5lb rise for that win was the least he could expect.
He was a leading fancy for the consolation Chester Cup last time but lost all chance when almost brought down at the start and left trailing in a slow-run race. In the circumstances, he ran well to be a sympathetically handed fifth.
Elysian Flame acts well on soft ground but it was good at Newbury, when he probably put up a personal best, and a niggle about underfoot conditions is offset by the fact he’s chalked up at 20-1 from a handy low draw with the excellent Ben Curtis on board for the first time.
Untold Story has untapped potential and, having shown plenty of ability in four starts at up to 1m4f, now tackles a trip far more in keeping with his pedigree. He’s closely related to Winning Story and Gold Star, both 100-plus rated stayers, and Oisin Murphy should be able to get a handy position from his favourable draw in stall 1.
6.10 Royal Ascot: Sleeping Lion each-way at 12-1 with Sky Bet (who offer six places)
That man Mullins has another leading player here in the lightly raced Saldier, who has only a 4lb penalty to shoulder for his easy win at Listowel last week and looks well-in relative to his form over jumps. However, all his career wins have been achieved on ground that, at the very least, is on the soft side and usually his races have been well spread.
Sleeping Lion has been placed on his three previous visits to Ascot and again looks a fair bet to at least hit the frame. He's a general 14-1 with most firms, but 12-1 with Sky Bet who go six places.
He didn’t do much wrong during his time with James Fanshawe but impressed when winning on his first start for Roger Charlton at Kempton in April and clearly a change of scenery has done him no harm. Watch the closing stages above.
The six-year-old chestnut travelled all over his rivals at Kempton but had to show willing attitude to peg back Postilio after that horse got first run on him. The runner-up did not let the form down when runner-up in the Chester Cup consolation race next time after not getting the rub of the green.
Sleeping Lion looks to have been put by for this meeting since then and, while a 7lb rise heightens his task, the manner of his win last time means it is warranted. Global Storm and Throne Hall were also on my shortlist.
How To Bet £20 on day one of Royal Ascot
3.05 Royal Ascot: Berkshire Shadow £1.50 each-way at 18-1 with Sky Bet (who offer six places)
3.40 Royal Ascot: Winter Power £7 win at 9-2 with bet365 and William Hill
5pm Royal Ascot: Untold Story £1.50 each-way at 16-1 and Elysian Flame £1.50 each-way at 14-1, both with Sky Bet (seven places)
6.10 Royal Ascot: Sleeping Lion £2 each-way at 12-1 with Sky Bet (who offer six places)Get a FREE Racing TV Sports Jacket! Click here for more details.
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