The biggest week in the Flat racing calendar is almost upon us and it will be good to see crowds return to Royal Ascot this week after the meeting was run behind closed doors last year.
There are plenty of favourites chalked up at short odds over the five days – including Palace Pier and Battaash on the opening day – and if I was pushed to choose a banker for the week, it would have to be John Gosden’s impressive Lockinge winner in the Queen Anne.
The ground is set to be good, good to firm in places on Tuesday after watering began on the track over a week ago, and the going is likely to be no worse than good all week, despite some showers forecast from Thursday.
Ed Walker – who has been operating at a strike-rate of almost 30 per cent in the past fortnight – has one Royal Ascot winner next to his name, but I am hoping he ends the week with at least three as I believe he has a couple of potential stars on his hands this season who will both be in action at Ascot this week.
Best of luck with your bets, and hopefully the four below will do the business.
Race: St James’s Palace Stakes
When: 4.20pm, Tuesday.
General odds: 10-1 (each-way).
Watch how Chindit fared in the QIPCO 2000 Guineas
Six horses that ran in the QIPCO 2000 Guineas take each other on again here, and it is Chindit who looks the one to side with at 10-1 following his eye-catching fifth in the Newmarket Classic.
Richard Hannon has always held his Wootton Bassett colt in high regard, and I am taking the view that he didn’t handle the undulations that well at Newmarket as he appeared to become unbalanced in the dip and only started to stay on strongly when he hit the rising ground.
He was also slightly hampered by Thunder Moon and the fading Battleground as the tempo began to quicken, and was ultimately left with too much to do.
His run in the Guineas was a big step up on his workmanlike success in the Greenham Stakes on his seasonal debut, but that was another effort that signalled he needs a mile, and I expect connections left plenty to work on ahead of that contest.
His only blemish last season came in the Dewhurst where he found the ground too soft, and he looked a Group One performer in the making on his first three starts which included victories in the Champagne Stakes, and a Listed contest at Ascot.
A return to this track can only be a positive, and Richard Hannon said in a recent stable tour that Chindit will be ridden closer to the pace in this contest which he won with Barney Roy – who was also beaten in the Guineas – in 2017.
Horse: ASTRO KING
Race: Royal Hunt Cup
When: 5.00pm, Wednesday.
General odds: 14-1 (each-way).
The form of Astro King’s seasonal debut success at Nottingham has worked out well with the second, who is the ante-post favourite for this contest, third and fourth all successful on their next starts, and he was unlucky not to record another victory when a fast-finishing third in the Thirsk Hunt Cup last time out.
However, that may have been a blessing in disguise as he was nudged up 3lb following that run and, at the time of writing, only needs three to come out to get a run here.
He would have been raised another couple of pounds at least had he got his head in front in Thirsk’s most valuable race where he was left with plenty to do. He was also forced to make his challenge out wide and did well to finish as close as he did in the circumstances.
The likelihood of a strong pace at Ascot will suit, as will the ground, and hopefully the draw is favourable to him.
Although another career-best effort is required, this improving son of Kingman has shown a good attitude and is sure to have more to offer on just his seventh start for Sir Michael Stoute, who has some good chances this week. Ryan Moore is also likely to be on board.
Horse: PRIMO BACIO
Race: Coronation Stakes
When: 4.20pm, Friday.
General odds: 9-2.
Watch: Angus McNae analyses Primo Bacio's victory at York in May
It was hard not to be impressed with Primo Bacio’s victory in a Listed contest at York last time out, and the sectional times show that performance was as good as it looked visually.
Having raced exuberantly in last, Ed Walker’s filly showed a blistering turn of foot to put the race to bed in a matter of strides, and certainly looked a Group One performer in the making.
Admittedly, the race was run at a steady pace and a couple of the other leading players in that contest ran below-par. However, as Angus McNae explained in The Verdict (above), the sectionals she clocked in the closing stages were hugely impressive and she was only pushed out under hands and heels.
Given her early keenness on the Knavesmire, a stronger pace at Ascot should help her settle better and she proved last time that she relishes a mile, a trip she looked in need of when charging home to finish fifth over seven furlongs at Newbury on her seasonal debut.
The daughter of Irish 2,000 Guineas winner Awtaad has improved enormously in a short space of time – she was rated 77 in December last year – and Walker says his exciting prospect has “really blossomed into a good filly”.
I will be shocked if she is not up to this grade, despite the fact QIPCO 1,000 Guineas winner Mother Earth and last year's Fillies' Mile winner Pretty Gorgeous will be among her opposition, and good ground will be in her favour.
Race: Diamond Jubilee Stakes
When: 4.20pm, Saturday.
General odds: 11-4.
Analysis: Starman's Duke Of York success is put under the microscope in The Verdict
Starman looked the new sprinting superstar when defeating the 109-rated Dakota Gold at York on just his third start last season before disappointing in the Qipco British Champions Sprint next time out.
Connections were quick to blame the soft ground on that occasion and the four-year-old confirmed his early promise when defeating Nahaarr, who had the benefit of race fitness, in the Duke Of York on his seasonal return.
It looked a strong renewal of the Group Two contest, with July Cup winner Oxted among the rivals he beat, and the selection looked in need of the run beforehand.
Walker has also described his four-year-old as a “massive and really imposing horse”, so it is wise to think he will take another big step forward at Royal Ascot with that run under his belt.
With the likes of Glen Shiel, Dream Of Dreams and Glass Slippers set to be among his opposition in the Diamond Jubilee, Starman will face the toughest challenge of his career on Saturday.
However, I have no doubt that he is of the same calibre as them based upon the evidence we have seen so far and to achieve what he has in five starts suggests he is a future star in the making.
Select any odd to add a bet