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Ross Millar’s top tips for the two-year-old races at Royal Ascot

By Ross Millar@rosscojmill
Wed 16 Jun 2021

Our Juvenile Watch columnist, Ross Millar, provides a comprehensive guide to the first three races for two-year-olds at the Royal Meeting. Look out for Part Two later this week.

Royal Ascot has arrived and, not a moment too soon, so has summer. I’ll endeavour to throw some light on each of the juvenile races across the five days and hopefully find a winner or two.

This is a week where those with a two-year old runner will either end with dreams still alive or hopes dashed. Up until now, it’s been all about potential.

In many instances these young horses will be having only their second experience on a racecourse. As a consequence many of the markets will be shaped, in part, by how connections have performed previously at the meeting. My advice would not give disproportionate weight to this factor and to judge each runner on its own merits.

THE WESLEY WARD FACTOR

 Ward has become a regular winner at Royal Ascot (Racingfotos)
Ward has become a regular winner at Royal Ascot (Racingfotos)

The presence of Wesley Ward's juvenile runners at the meeting adds a layer of complexity when trying to identify the winners. If, like me, you are not a student of US form it’s almost impossible to accurately assess his challengers.

He has six two-year olds scheduled to run across the week and given his exceptional record – he has had eight Royal Ascot two-year old winners since 2009 – anything he runs has to be taken seriously. Interestingly, all of those winners have come over the minimum trip of five furlongs.

Ruthin, who contests the Windsor Castle Stakes on Wednesday, looks his most likely winner. She has a similar profile to his Queen Mary winner from last year, Campanelle, in that she is European-bred and also has the same owners.

In addition, she will also have the same man on board in Frankie Dettori, who has the best strike rate of current jockeys when it comes to Royal Ascot two-year old winners at just over 18%.

THE COVENTRY STAKES

Watch a full replay of Ebro River's win at Sandown

My favourite two-year-old race of the week. A win will leave connections dreaming of the Classics next year and a lucrative future stallion career, that is unless Kaufymaker becomes the first filly in over 100 years to win this.

It looks to be a wide-open and competitive affair but Dhabab, from the John and Thady Gosden yard, has been all the rage in the early betting exchanges, shortening from 12-1 to 5-1 since the final decs were revealed. It's a big step up from a Leicester maiden to a Royal Ascot Group Two and the form is yet to be tested. In any case, Tolstoy would look to be the stable’s No 1 on jockey bookings but the form of his win at Yarmouth has taken a few knocks.

Gisburn is a horse who has featured in this column and he clearly has an abundance of ability. However, I can’t shake off a niggling concern that having hung both times he might head to the chute towards the paddock as opposed to the winning post.

The Acropolis runs for Coolmore and was flagged up in last week’s column as performance of the week, Aidan O’Brien has had an excellent start to the season with his two-year olds so its notable that he is the chosen representative. That last run was only a week ago, though, and a quick turnaround might compromise his chance.

Ebro River, for Hugo Palmer, is another that falls into the ‘talented but quirky’ category but as I’ve mentioned previously I’m a huge fan of his and am excited to see him upped in trip. Ordinarily, being drawn on the wing might not be seen as advantageous in a juvenile contest but having a rail to run against might make life easier for James Doyle. His win in the National Stakes was a performance that hinted at more to come and the 12-1 on offer looks fair.

Berkshire Shadow hasn’t been seen since on track since his impressive debut win at Newbury two months ago. Given that he was very slowly away from the stalls on that occasion I would have liked to have seen him gain more experience, but he’s another who looks sure to be suited by this step up to six furlongs.

Berkshire Shadow won at Newbury despite fluffing the start

Vintage Clarets has had three runs for Richard Fahey and I expect that experience to stand him in good stead in this large field. He’s won his past two and impressed me last time at Ayr where he beat Love De Vega (a horse I rate) by a comfortable two lengths and gave him 4lb.

Ross’s Verdict:

I’ve been a fan of Ebro River since his debut run at Newmarket and I won’t abandon him now. I hope James Doyle can deliver him late, fast and straight. Of those at a bigger price, Berkshire Shadow is interesting but his lack of experience is a concern. At an even bigger price Vintage Clarets has no such concerns with regards to experience and he would be my big price backup.

THE QUEEN MARY STAKES (Wednesday)

As well as Ward’s Twilight Gleaming, the US is also represented by Artos with Frankie Dettori booked. She shares her sire, Kodiac, with last year’s winner, Campanelle.

Artos was an impressive winner last time but previously trailed in a long way behind Ruthin. I can’t see her being good enough for this.

Aidan O’Brien is represented by Yet, who was an impressive winner of a Dundalk all-weather maiden. The genius of her trainer is beyond doubt but it would surely be a huge training performance if she could step up to Group Two level from that low-grade introduction.

Nymphadora shone at York

If you like the chances of Yet then you must surely consider Orinoco River, who was only beaten a neck in the race at Dundalk and yet is available at twice the price.

Nymphadora was impressive when losing her maiden tag in the Listed Marygate Fillies Stakes at York, where she beat a well-regarded field. She travelled best and stayed on strongly. Connections had the option of also stepping up in trip for the Albany later in the week so it’s a positive sign that they come to this instead.

Mas Poder was hampered at a crucial time in the York race and finished in an eye-catching manner. Kevin Ryan must think plenty of her to put her in at Listed level on her debut and she is bound to improve for that experience. She is entitled to get closer to Nymphadora this time.

Quick Suzy has shown improved form when upped to six furlongs so this drop back in trip is not certain to help her. The form of her maiden win has also not received any notable boosts.

Oisin Murphy is a jockey booking of note for Desert Dreamer, who has won both of her starts to date. Winning under a penalty is not always easy and the form of that second win has been boosted with General Panic, who finished third, winning on her next start. However, she too is dropping back a furlong in trip and that makes life tougher for her.

Jason Watson told us more about Nymphadora

George Boughey and Ammo Racing have combined to great effect already this season and have Beautiful Sunshine in this. She has improved for each of her three runs and took her form to another level on soft ground at Sandown. Her dam also showed her best form on deep ground so this return to a faster surface might halt her progression.

Eve Lodge has to show improved form to win this but she won in taking style last time. Charlie Fellowes believes she has improved a lot since her win and I think that makes her an interesting outsider.

Of those at bigger prices, I thought Jazzy Princess was worthy of a mention. She looked totally lost for a huge chunk of her debut but did some good late work. She would have to improve a huge amount but her pedigree is very speedy and her connections do well at this meeting.

Ross’s Verdict:

Nymphadora looked very professional last time and looks to have a nice blend of speed and stamina. Mas Poder might well get closer to her this time but I think Nymphadora, available at 10-1, won with a bit in hand and she can confirm her superiority. Eve Lodge would be the back-up selection at a big price but will need luck in running.

THE WINDSOR CASTLE STAKES (Wednesday)

Dig Too has plenty of experience and that could be very important in this massive 28-runner field. His win at Newmarket came on good to firm ground so the quick ground here will suit.

If you use Secret Strength as a yardstick he looks to have the beating of Boonie from the Kevin Ryan yard. The form of the latter’s win at Beverley has also been let down.

Dig Too won on quick going at Newmarket

Amalfi Coast looks to be priced up on the reputation of his connections rather than what he’s achieved on the track. He scraped home last time over six furlongs and that form doesn’t look strong. He is now fitted with a tongue strap.

Armor lacks experience but looked impressive when winning on debut at Doncaster when the ground was good to firm. That looks to be strong form with both the next pair home subsequently winning.

But for his last run at Sandown, Chipotle would be much shorter in price. Many will assume he failed to cope with the step up in grade last time, when he contested the Listed National Stakes, but I would be more inclined to put it down to the soft ground and stiff track not suiting him. I think he’s capable of putting in a much-improved performance back on a quicker surface.

Tipperary Sunset has won both of his starts but the form of his debut win hasn’t worked out and last time, when winning at Beverley, it was soft ground, where it looked to me like it was stamina not speed that won him the race. He might just lack the raw pace required for this.

Flaming Rib was an impressive winner on his second start at Nottingham before slightly disappointing at Epsom. I’d be inclined to put that down to him not truly staying the six-furlong trip on that occasion and think reverting to five furlongs is a good move from trainer Tom Dascombe.

Spring Is Sprung would be a hugely popular winner for The Queen. He has a very speedy pedigree and demonstrated a smart turn of foot when winning at Windsor on his second start. He needs to improve but that is not out of question.

Ross’s Verdict:

Ruthin might well be hard to beat in receipt of the 5lb fillies allowance, but given the guesswork involved with her she’s not a viable selection. Armor looked full of promise on his debut and the quick ground here will suit the 12-1 chance. He gets the nod, while Chipotle can also go well at a big price.

WEDNESDAY on racingtv.com: Ross gives his verdict on the remaining two-year-old races at the meeting.

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