Royal Ascot Preview – Day ONE

I tried to come up with a cool name for this series, but the “Meydan Maiden” was apparently the limit of my creativity.

Good evening! Tomorrow is the first day of Royal Ascot, and I’m happy to share my views and opinions on the meet with you all. I picked a few winners – heavy, heavy emphasis on few – at Dubai, so put your money on the words in this post at your OWN risk. I am not liable for you losing your train fare money. Sorry in advance if you have to walk home.

Anyway, we’ll crack into the races with a look at the absolutely fantastic race that is the Queen Anne Stakes.

(By the way: only talking about the group stakes because if I did the others, I’d be waxing poetic about horses I know nothing about.)

QUEEN ANNE

There’s a lot of cool stories in this race, mainly Toronado, who is returning after displacing a palate and running poorly in the Juddmonte International last summer. That was when he stepped up to a longer distance; before that, he contested miles, with a thrilling Sussex victory over Dawn Approach the highlight of his year so far. Is Toronado the class of this field? Absolutely. Am I confident on his chances off the extended rest? Not quite. He did well off a September to April layoff last year, when he won the Craven Stakes by four lengths, but this layoff is even more extended…August to June. He’s a nice horse but certainly vulnerable. There’s value to be had in this field. Many of my friends and acquaintances may turn their noses up at Verrazano, despite his eye-catching third in the Lockinge last out. That sort of performance for the first time with a new trainer and off turf? I was impressed by “Big V,” who excelled at middle distances on dirt here in the States. Some might think he’s not good enough to compete with this field; I disagree. This has been the goal all along for Verrazano, and O’Brien will have him cranked for a terrific run.

Soft Falling Rain comes in from a second-place performance in the Godolphin Mile in March, a race he won in 2013. He was beaten that day by Variety Club, who turned around to put in a big effort to win the Champions Mile in Hong Kong. That effort certainly flattered Soft Falling Rain, but will we see the horse that won seven straight, or the horse that floundered against Olympic Glory last October. Soft Falling Rain is a horse that I have not been able to figure out, and I probably never will. Still, watch him. He’s a classy horse. Tullius seems a horse on the improve – his second to Olympic Glory in the Lockinge last out was probably the best race of his career. Will he bounce off that effort? Out of 17 starts, he’s finished on the board in 13, so he’s fairly consistent. A small each-way bet wouldn’t go amiss here regarding Tullius. (Like I said, I’m not responsible for your wallet vomiting money.) Anodin is worth a little look, though I think he may be a little outclassed here. Take a look at 8-year-old Mull of Killough‘s resume – he’s been everywhere! Unlike our friend Cirrus des Aigles, though, I think age may be catching up to the veteran globetrotter.

My verdict: Taking a chance with VERRAZANO here. Gotta cheer for the home team, even though he’s not technically an American horse anymore. TOORMORE is a deserving favorite – we’ll see how sharply he comes off that layoff. Keep your eyes peeled for TULLIUS…he might be the surprise.

COVENTRY

First thought – yikes! This will not be as easy as the Queen Anne. War Envoy is favored, although he’s coming out of a third-place finish to Kool Kompany, whom I’ve heard a lot of buzz about. I’m almost tempted to take Kool Kompany and run with it, but where’s the fun in that? Let’s get my head pounding with some race analysis. Portamento is a name I’ve heard before…oh yeah, he’s Octave’s baby by Shamardal! His win at Goodwood was pretty nice; he’s got class in his blood and he should show it here, as well. Adaay and Kodi Bear, who finished 1-2 at Newbury in May,are both by a sire I’ve actually never heard of…Kodiac. Sire of Elleval it looks like, a horse who had a win at Meydan this year. ANYWAY. I have it on good authority that Adaay is a nice pick here. He’s got form under him. Mind of Madness, a horse he defeated first out, was a winner over Portamento in April. Anyway, back to Kool Kompany, he’s won thrice this year, and I’ve heard a lot of support for him. KK (that is eerily one letter away from hate mail appearing in my inbox later) could very well be the next two year old star. Al Shaqab racing, who saddles Toronado, sends out The Wow Signal with Frankie Dettori aboard. He won big in his debut at…Ayr. Ayr is in Scotland, no? Yes, Google tells me it is. So The Wow Signal shouldn’t be discounted; he’s got good connections going for him. Haven’t heard a lot of buzz on him, though. Red hot Ryan Moore gets a leg up on Justice Good – that’s great, right? Ryan Moore has really been riding terrific lately.

Help guys! What do I do?! Two year old races, especially early in the year, are nutso nutso nutso. At Saratoga it’s easy – just think Pletcher. Here? That’s not gonna work.

My (shaky) verdict: I can’t jinx Joe de Souza’s pick, AYAADY, though if you want to do so, go right on ahead! Joe wins more money than I do. KOOL KOMPANY is certainly not to be ignored, but my shout here will be PORTAMENTO, who I’m hoping lives up to his stellar bloodlines. Fingers crossed!

KING’S STAND

Here’s another big, competitive field! I love these sprint races at Royal Ascot – always so exciting. To me, the class of the field are the horses coming in from Meydan – Shea Shea, Ahtoug, Sole Power, and Medicean Man. Their form towers over the rest. Shea Shea is certainly one of the best sprinters in the world. His performance in the Al Quoz Sprint was better than it might look on paper; he broke slowly and closed well to get third from the tail of the field. He put in a great performance against Sole Power last year, and I honestly think he can get the better of his rival this year. I’ve always been an Ahtoug fan. He’s consistent as hell, and put in some great performances at Meydan this year, even if he only won once. He may not be good enough to get the victory here, but he’s been knocking on the door for a long time, and would definitely be worth an each-way bet. Medicean Man is a lovely horse, but a step below the three mentioned above, methinks.

So who’s left? I know that my pal Jim has praised Hot Streak, who is currently favored in the betting. He’s got a lovely sprinty pedigree on him; Iffraaj out of a Housebuster mare. He’s a three year old, so younger than most of these, and was third to Sole Power two back at Newmarket. Though I don’t believe he should be favored versus his older rivals, he’s certainly worth a look due to the confidence surrounding him. I suppose? Many are scratching their heads at the support for him. Steps has been successful in handicap competition, but can he run with this group? Coolmore sends out Guerre, a War Front youngster with Ryan Moore aboard. With only three starts under his belt, he has a lot to prove against this seasoned field. Pearl Secret is back again after finishing third in this race last year.

My verdict: My loyalty to AHTOUG cannot be swayed. SHEA SHEA looks tough, but tomorrow might be my choice’s day. Add in SOLE POWER and there’s my trifecta. I think the Meydan group will rule here.

ST. JAMES’S PALACE

A small but power-packed field has lined up for the last group stakes of the day, the St. James’s Palace. Several runners from the Newmarket 2000 Guineas have lined up here, including Kingman, who romped to victory in the Irish 2000 Guineas in his next start. Oh, my, that race was impressive! Juddmonte may well have themselves another champion on their hands, but it won’t be as easy for him here. Toormore is back for revenge. His undefeated record was snapped in the Guineas at Newmarket, won by Night of Thunder, who is here as well. And let’s not forget Coolmore’s War Command, a winner at Royal Ascot last year. And then there’s Outstrip, whose odds are seriously inflated over what they should be, even after a poor performance in the Guineas.

My verdict: It’s extremely hard for me to look past KINGMAN. His win in Ireland was incredibly powerful. Though this is a nice field, I feel like he has the star power to give them a good lickin’. Don’t count out TOORMORE, though, and remember that WAR COMMAND has a particularly impressive win over this course.

There you have it. Happy racing!

 

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