Personally, Royal Ascot week is one approached with a degree of trepidation. The large fields thundering down the straight course has something to do with it, but it is more trying to persuade the brain to cope with small periods of manic activity during long days spent dressed up like a penguin.
Those who know me well appreciate that sartorial elegance neither comes easily, nor is carried off effectively.
It dates back to my shirt persistently hanging out at school (I have a long back, sir!) but also the fact that my clothes allowance was instead spent on travelling to and betting at race meetings so looking sharp was hardly high on my list of priorities.
One of the best bets of the Royal Meeting each year is a buy on the spread for the number of times I will misplace my hat and get chastised by the fashion police for its absence as I try and hotfoot through the small part of the Royal Enclosure necessary for the swiftest path to the commentary box.
It should be made clear that I have no problem with those for whom fashion is very much a part of a day at the races as they add colour and style to the occasion, but punting has always taught me to know my limitations and style is definitely one of them!
However, on the track there is much to enjoy. Up until this point in the season there have been six UK Group Ones, yet this week that number will more than double.
It is the final chance for the pecking order of the Classic generation to be established before they mix it with their elders in the likes of the Eclipse, King George and Sussex Stakes, as well as the first real opportunity to assess the overall worth of the juvenile crop.
As such, it is a meeting where observation rather than punting like a demon is very much my order of the day but, amidst the whole mass of facts and data that accompany the Royal Meeting, there were a couple that caught my eye and may be fun to keep an eye on.
The first concerns Aidan O’Brien’s jockey arrangements. A fair bit has been penned about this- with Donnacha’s height almost certainly meaning, like Joseph, he has potentially only a short career span as a rider - and whether Ryan Moore actually has the clear hand to pick and choose that his number one status suggests.
Whatever the truth of the overall situation, one thing that historically clear. At the Royal Meeting, Ryan Moore is definitely Coolmore’s numero uno.
Moore has won the leading rider of the week prize no less than eight times in the past nine years, whilst it may be surprising to find that, from 30 rides, Donnacha has yet to partner a Royal Ascot winner.
None of those 30 rides (17 for Aidan and 10 for brother Joseph) has gone off at less than 4-1, yet during that same three-year period Moore has ridden 14 winners for Aidan alone from a total of 63 rides, 30 of which have started 4-1 or less.
The message is clear therefore, that when it comes to Royal Ascot, Moore is top dog.
Secondly, the wait for a second victory from a lady rider continues. The successes at major National Hunt meetings from female riders have become so commonplace that mentioning gender is irrelevant jumping, yet it is now over thirty years since Gay Kelleway partnered Sprowston Boy to win the Queen Alexandra to become the first, and still only lady rider to score at the Royal Meeting.
Opportunities remain limited and several agents will no doubt use the lure of Royal Ascot for many high-profile riders to try and gain a full book at the away meetings where there is clearly a far greater chance of success.
In the past 20 years, only six female riders have had more the five rides at the Royal Meeting:
Hayley Turner: 0/35, 3 places, Expected Winners based on market price (ExW) 1.30.
Josephine Gordon: 0/12, 2 places , ExW 0.58.
Amy Ryan: 0/10, 0 places, ExW 0.17.
Cathy Gannon: 0/9, 1 place ExW 0.15.
Kirsty Milczarek: 0/8, 1 place, ExW 0.17.
Alex Greaves: (1998 onwards) 0/7, 0 places, ExW 0.19.
Even allowing for the fact that most of their rides have gone off long prices, the sum of the Expected Winners from the above group of rides is 2.56 from a sample size of 81 rides. Still small enough to be a statistical quirk, but disappointing all the same.
Having witnessed day in and day out the riding skills of the likes of Nicola Currie and Hollie Doyle to name but a couple, it would be fitting if this long-standing run of outs could be ended this week.
Seven furlongs on soft ground holds no fears for Bee Machine, who has also got form under today’s 7lb-claimer Zak Wheatley. Declan Carroll’s stable very much operates in bursts and are certainly in the middle of a purple patch at present with seven winners from 18 runners so far this month (Actual/Expected 2.78 vs Par 1.00).
Ideally berthed in stall two this looks his best opportunity so far this season to get a race run to suit tactically. Phoenix of Spain probably caught most of his rivals on the hop last time with the change of tactics, but won’t get such a soft time of things this time around. Perfectly drawn to get a good trail in and the cover he needs to settle things could play out ideally for Too Darn Hot here.
Watch Too Darn Hot chase home Phoenix of Spain. Will the placings be reversed?
5.00 Ascot – Gunnery (16/1 general)
Had been off for over 1000 days prior to a return over hurdles recently but he was a classy performer in his youth, finishing seventh in the Queens Vase for Peter Chapple-Hyam when partnered by today’s rider Jamie Spencer. If he holds together physically he looks very well treated on that old form off a mark of 92 and is worth a throw at the stumps.
6.50 Brighton – Diamond Lady (4/1 with Bet365)
Two-from-two at the track this season, a further rise in the weights may not stop her as she has form off higher a couple of seasons ago. Her pilot Hector Crouch also rides the track well with no less than 25 of his 147 winners coming at Brighton (A/E 1.32).