Preview: Royal Ascot – Queen Anne Stakes

Able Friend - Photo: www.summerhill.co.za
Able Friend – Photo: http://www.summerhill.co.za

Royal Ascot is looming large – my favourite race meeting! It kicks off with the Queen Anne Stakes – my favourite race in the world! Races over one mile always fascinated me. It’s no surprise – my all-time hero is a miler: the almighty Paco Boy. He himself won the Queen Anne back in 2009 in breathtaking style; Richard Hughes sitting off the pace, Paco hard held on the the bridle, produced a devastating turn of foot when finally unleashed. Good, old memories….

The 2015 renewal shapes as a race for the ages. It reminds me a bit of 2010, when wonder mare Goldikova got the better of Paco Boy in a dramatic finish. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see a similarly tight result this time again. Five years later Goldikova’s trainer Freddy Head has another chance to win the big one – this time with Solow, a five year old gelding.

Solow, unbeaten in his last six starts, couldn’t be in better form. He won the Dubai Turf and Prix D’ispahan this year, both times in sensational fashion. It took him a while to win his first Group 1, but he improved dramatically over the last number of month to develop rapidly into a global superstar.

Currently trading 6/4, he is well fancied to land the odds in the Queen Anne. Is he a good thing? He probably is. Although if you want to to find some negative aspects you don’t need to dig too deep.

It’s the very nature of the race which may or rather may not quite suit him. The mile trip on fast ground against top level opposition is a new test for Solow. His recent top performances came over slightly further and he has never raced on anything faster than good. That does not have to be a problem,  but my suspicion is he’ll need certainly a quick pace which ensures the emphasis is more on stamina than on raw speed in order to be seen to full effect here.

Whether we get a good pace or not is hard to say. The race could well turn into a tactical affair. This would potentially count against Solow. Not because he hasn’t a turn of foot or the class, but because he meets a rival who is very likely to possess even more speed, a rival who’s likely to enjoy exactly those kind of conditions: Able Friend.

The joint leader in the World’s Best Racehorse Rankings (on turf), he has bagged four Group 1’s in his unbeaten run of six. He’s thought to be the best miler in the world at the moment – and it is easy to see why: Regular jockey Joao Moreira, merely a passenger on most occasions, usually can start to salute the crowd at Sha Tin from half a furlong out, so authoritative is the manner of Able Friend’s victories.

Arguably his most impressive success came in the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup this January this year, when beating a classy field hard on the bridle, despite meeting some in-running trouble.

Able Friend will encounter unusual conditions at Ascot. Not so much the ground, which will suit perfectly – but a straight, stiff mile is completely alien to him. How is he going to cope with it? That’s the big question. He probably won’t mind whatever pace they go. They often go a good clip in Hong Kong’s top class races. He loves to come from the back in a strongly run race, but equally is able to unleash a deadly turn of foot if they crawl.

If Joao Moreira is able to settle the big horse early on and conserve energy for when it really matters, I feel Able Friend could  have too much speed for Solow. Though, this is not a match-race. On can’t rule out recent Lockinge Stakes winner Night Of Thunder.

The 2014 Guineas heroine, found it subsequently tough to win last season, but bounced back to his best when landing the Lockinge Stakes in dramatic fashion. This represents good form, but might not be good enough to beat the big guns. Stable mate Toormore also bounced back to form in the Lockinge. He stayed on to finish second just beaten by a neck that day.

Andre Fabre’s mare Esoterique is a Group 1 winner in France. Quick ground counts against her, so does the overall look of her form. The trio Here Comes When, Cougar Mountain and Glory Awaits would need to find some dramatic improvement to trouble the better fancied horses in this field.

Verdict: This is a fantastic renewal – we’ll going to see two true superstars going head to head. No doubt, the Queen Anne Stakes evolves around the French Solow and Hong Kong’s Able Friend. It’s a duel to savour!

That says Night Of Thunder is a really good horse in his very own right and I could see him adopting positive tactics which might be an advantage in a potentially tactical affair – nonetheless, he lacks the class of the other two. To see anyone else involved would be a shock.

I already hinted that I have a slight preference for Able Friend in the likely fast conditions over a mile – as long as he is able to cope with the Ascot straight mile. But certainly there isn’t much between him and Solow. I have them both in and around 7/4 but the betting has Solow as the clear favourite. So it’s rather easy for me to select Able Friend since his price looks a bit over the top.

Able Friend @ 9/4 Paddy Power – 10pts Win

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