Tag Archives: Royal Ascot

Saturday Selections: 7th May 2022

2.20 Ascot: Listed Buckhounds Stakes, 1m 4f

Can you trust Al Aasy? I can’t. No doubt he is – in theory – the best horse in the race. His official rating and 2021 form is testament to this fact. However, it’s undeniable that his sudden form loss toward the end of last season is a major concern.

Possibly dropping down to Listed level on his seasonal reappearance is an ideal pipe opener to build confidence thanks to a relatively easy assignment. If his enthusiasm is back he’ll win this race running backwards.

At the given prices I absolutely must take him on with all the justified doubts, though. In fairness, this field is light in terms real quality. Third Realm has some nice form in the book and ran multiple times to low topspeed ratings of low 90’s, but never beyond TS 92 and all his form comes with cut in the ground.

The only other one who has ran to topspeed ratings of note is Stowell. He’s an obvious choice at given prices. By no means a sexy individual, one who’s more a grinder than flashy accelerator, but one who offers still some upside as a 4-year-old.

Stowell has match fitness on his side after a solid seasonal reappearance at Newbury last month. He’s a course and distance winner and ran with a lot of credit when third in the Queen’s Vase as Royal Ascot. He ran to TS 94 that day, it’s the second best on offer in this field the favourite aside.

I think he’s fast enough for the 1m 4f trip, especially on Listed level against this sort of opposition – if the potential class act Al Aasy isn’t anywhere near as good as he used to be.

This lad strikes me as a rock solid horse and he’s a overpriced in this field today.

10pts win – Stowell @ 4/1

………..

5.15 Ascot: Class 4 Handicap, 6f

I said after his latest disappointing performance at Wolverhampton to keep faith for the day he returns to turf. – so I’ll stick to my word and continue to have financial interest in Chief Little Hawk.

The gelding messed up at Wolver three weeks ago, though, left the impression that he has more to give if things fall right – once again. But Wolverhampton was never going to be the right track for him. Straight 6 furlongs at Ascot on turf should suit a lot better.

Chief Little Hawk was a big eye-catcher for me at Southwell on his penultimate run. As mentioned then, the way he finished in the closing stages from the back of the field in a race dominated by the two pace setters wasn’t what you normally would see from a 40/1 shot.

He wasn’t even hard ridden in the final stages of the race, yet was the third fastest finisher from two furlongs out, according to sectionals – underlying the visual impression.

Since moving yards away from Aiden O’Brien over to Jamie Osborne Chief Little Hawk has rarely been fancied in the betting. He was long odds most of the time, and still managed to finish 4th, only 1.5 lengths beaten as a 50/1 outsider, in a class 2 Handicap at Newmarket of a mark of 94 last August.

He has fallen significantly in the ratings in the meantime. He is now down to an official rating of 80 and runs in a class 4 Handicap on turf for the first time. Given Chief Little Hawk ran to topspeed 83+ on three occasions in the past, I feel he could be really well handicapped.

Obviously this is a massive field, stall 20 is a question mark and the jockey form is poor. But he’s a price I am prepared to run the risk.

10pts win – Chief Little Hawk @ 9.5/1

Video Game: Frankie Dettori Racing

The Grand National takes place this Saturday. On the eve of the National ITV will run the “Virtual Grand National”.

An obscure event it may be, yet in 2020 – when the VGN replaced the real race due to Covid – it was watched by about 5 million people.

Now in its seventh iteration, the VGN has grown in popularity over time. One of the reasons for the increased popularity are the increasingly realistic animations.

Earlier this week the Virtual Grand National Twitter account previewed some of the CGI powered animations and received praise for the realistic nature of their animations.

Alongside it where many comments of people asking to leverage these graphics for a horse racing video game.

Over the years there have been a number of racing games available. The Japanese G1 series comes to mind in particular. This tweet also reminded me of my favourite horse racing game – which, believe it or not, the kid inside me still plays from time to time – which seems to be relatively unknown, or certainly forgotten whenever there’s a discussion on video games in a horse racing context.

The game I’m talking about is the legendary Frankie Dettori Racing, or also widely known as Melbourne Cup Challenge on the other side of the globe. Back in the day – we’re talking 2006 – this game was available for PC and the PS2 and it portrayed the world of horse racing rather well. Mainly because it had official licenses for many of the worlds most popular racecourses.

Personally I don’t know anyone who played it. Although I for one wasted plenty of hours, days and also many nights on the addictive career mode which is the core piece of the game.

In the career mode you can play up to ten consecutive years. You would start with a small budget to buy your first horse. You then build from there to create an empire of luxuries stables with your own breeding operation and racing the offspring of your past stable stars in the major races of the internal flat racing calendar: the Epsom Derby, Arc De Triomphe or Dubai World Cup.

There is a pretty accurate racing calendar where you have to register your horse – pending their eligibility – and then it’s up to you steering them around the “realistically modelled” racetracks.

Realistic to the point of what was graphically possibly at that time. Although, even for 2006 the graphics weren’t exactly a strong point of the game. Yet, the racetracks looked like they do in rea-life, actually. The Curragh looks like the Curragh. Epsom like Epsom. And Nad Al Sheba like the actual Nad Al Sheba. Including the dirt surface. That was impressive for the time and I haven’t seen in any of the other racing games to date.

A neat little feature is that at the start of the game you could decide whether you want your career aligned to the European or Australian season. Based on this choice the game would include more racecourses and races of one or the other region.

As for the gameplay itself: it’s a steep learning curve at the beginning. Once you figure it out the racing becomes much easier. Still, on the highest difficulty level you have to get your tactics and moves spot on. The game feels rather realistic in that sense. Particularly around the tight, ever turning Australian tracks winning from the back of the field with a hold-up horse is challenging but makes for a thrilling and rewarding experience if successful.

I feel that is exactly what makes the game special. Yes, the graphics are rather poor, outdated and the gameplay is not overly sophisticated. But at the same time you can really get a feeling for how it feels like to be Jamie Spencer – sharing in the frustration or elation to ride like him: sit in last position, trailing a fast pace and either finding a gap to go through, producing a late turn of foot and get up on the line… or getting stuck in traffic, losing the race there and then.

When you get it right it feels like dancing on water!

With that in mind it’s fair to say Frankie Dettori Racing isn’t a pure arcade game. You have to get your tactics right and you have to know your horse, ride it how it wants to be ridden – some from the front, other middle of the pack, others from behind. Some have a turn of foot. Others purely grind it out. There are those that respond to the whip. Yet some won’t find anything off the bit.

External factors like the going, course layout, size of the field and draw all play a vital role too. And you need to adapt how to ride the race. Much like in the real world.

In the career mode you can influence some of the preferences horses have later in the game once you got your breeding operation up and running. It’s certainly the most rewarding part. Unfortunately, and that is a real bummer, you don’t have enough time to really reap the benefits of breeding long-term. Simply because the game stops after ten seasons. There is no way to prolong it. A real shame.

Of course this game isn’t a simulation either. But it strikes a great balance between realism and arcade. Something I personally always missed in the G1 series.

For anyone interested in giving the gem of a horse racing video game a try: I believe you’ll find it somewhere for free on the internet to download. Otherwise I’m sure on Ebay or similar you’ll find a cheap copy for PS2.

But be warned: it can be highly addictive. Day and night fly by as you attempt to win this elusive Hong Kong Cup. Or as you try to get the get the first offspring you bred yourself, but turned out not as good as hoped, nonetheless some blacktype.

Sussex Stakes 2021

The rematch between Snow Lantern and Alcohol Free: who can prevail in their third encounter? We’ll find out in the 2021 edition of the Sussex Stakes at picturesque Goodwood this afternoon.

Obviously this isn’t a two-horse race. The reigning 2000 Guineas- and St James’s Palace Stakes champ Poetic Flare is here too and is considered the short-priced favourite for the Sussex Stakes. Given his tremendously impressive CV there is every reason for him to be a key player today.

It was impossible not to be impressed by what he did at Royal Ascot. Some doubts where creeping in after two lower performances in the Irish & French Guineas, albeit he was beaten by exceptional opposition. Poetic Flare was back to his very best slaughtering a strong field in the St James’s Palace Stakes.

However, what is clear now is the fact that Poetic Flare enjoys fast ground and probably needs it to be seen at his best. He’ll handle anything soft but is not at his brilliant best in those type of conditions.

He will have to be at his very best today, I reckon. That is because the aforementioned Snow Lantern and Alcohol Free are improving all the time and can close the gap on Official Ratings with the help of ground they handle a lot better than Poetic Flare.

The evidence is in the book: Alcohol Free was a superb winner of the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot in heavy conditions. She has been on an upward curve ever since the start of this season, kicking off her campaign with success in the the Fred Darling Stakes, after that she wasn’t disgraced as fifth in the 1000 Guineas, and then her big day came at Royal Ascot where she beat smart rivals like Guineas winner Mother Earth and Snow Lantern.

She followed up with another strong performance in the Falmouth Stakes at Newmarket three weeks ago, where she went down only in the dying stride to Mother Earth and the fast finishing Snow Lantern.

Snow Lantern was arguably the unlucky one in the Coronation Stakes. Her path blocked at a crucial stage, she stayed on in eye-catching fashion. For a moment or two it seemed to be the same story at Newmarket, only this time she got out in time and ran down the leaders in a dramatic finish.

She is still lightly raced with only a handful of runs under her belt while improving with every run as the season progresses. This is crucial now that she goes against older horses as this time of the year is where the WFA allowance can be a major advantage.

There is little between Snow Lantern and Alcohol Free on any conceivable measure and both fillies continue to improve. It could come down to tactics: Alcohol Free is less complicated in the way she can be ridden. Snow Lantern needs to be ridden patiently and we saw this can be a problem. Thankfully Goodwood lends itself to hold-up tactics.

I firmly believe the three-year-olds have the advantage in the Sussex Stakes this year. The two fillies have prime chances, thanks to their progressive profile and their ability to handle softish ground really well. Poetic Flare, on the other hand, albeit not quite as good with cut in the ground, remains a formidable challenger.

The older horses are less exciting. Aiden O’Brien’s Lope Y Fernandez – although a runner-up performance in the Queen Anne Stakes rates fine form – and  Order Of Australia, the choice of Ryan Moore, appear exposed enough and may not be capable of giving weight away to superb younger rivals.

Tilsit has less mileage on the clock and is progressing nicely. He was a good winner of the Summer Mile when last seen. At the same time he locks just below top level and the fact he hasn’t run to a topspeed rating beyond 84 supports this notion.

Conclusion:
I find it hard to separate the two three-year-old fillies. They are incredibly closely matched on form and ratings. What tilts the scale toward Snow Lantern – certainly for me – is that she is progressing all the time with every run at the right time of the year. Goodwood will suit her perfectly, and simply from a price point of view she is a bigger and therefore highly attractive price at about 6/1 on the exchanges.

Preview: Royal Ascot Gold Cup 2020

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Three-in-a-row for Stradivarius? The defending champion bids for hat-trick glory in the Gold Cup this afternoon. But he’s facing a stiff test in an intriguing contest that will need him to be at his very best.

In short: Stradivarius looks vulnerable. It’s no rocket science to see why that is. Even though he looked as good as ever at Newmarket a fortnight ago when chasing home  Ghaiyyath in the Coronation Cup, the reality is that this was a much tougher race than John Gosden would have liked.

He was clearly ridden with a bigger day in mind in the closing stages, but that doesn’t distract from the fact that he ran some incredibly strong sectionals in the middle part of the race. Those must have hurt and could easily have left a mark as well.

While it was positive to see Stradivarius ran so well on his seasonal return over a trip possibly a little bit too sharp against top-class rivals, it also increases the opportunity, particularly with the rather short turnaround time, of having done too much that day with too little recovery time since then.

The pace in this renewal of the Gold Cup is another question mark. One can assume there’s a good deal of early speed here with quite a few potential horses keen to keep the pace honest. The excellent Kevin Blake makes some useful points in his assessment of the race on that part.

Stradivarius usually quickens at the end of a staying contest when tracking a moderate pace comfortably throughout. Will he be able to do the same in a strongly run contest over the Gold Cup distance?

With that in mind it’s obvious to me that Stradivarius is poor value at his odds-on price. This brings me to the questions who’s the rival that’s going to deny him the hat-trick victory?

The obvious option is Technician. Martyn Meade’s progressive colt enjoyed a particularly fruitful 2019: a listed-, Group 3- and Group 2 success, ultimately rounded up by the cherry on the cake, the Group 1 Prix Royal-Oak.

He thrives in the mud, hence connections will be delighted with all the rain that has arrived at Ascot. Will it be quite soft enough, though? Possibly. He’s certainly a fair price with the going change in mind.

A former Melbourne Cup winner has to be respected. And to this day Cross Counter‘s Flemington victory rates as one of the most pleasing ones I have ever experiences from a punting experience.

He wasn’t too far beaten in last years Gold Cup and subsequently in the Goodwood Cup, nonetheless was beaten fair and square both times by Stradivarius. A disappointing effort in the Irish St. Leger, followed by a another strong performance in the Melbourne Cup, shows he can be a little bit inconsistent.

Cross Counter was a hot favourite in Riyadh earlier this year, before another bid for the Dubai Gold Cup was on the agenda. It’s hard to know which Cross Counter we get today. He will need to be back to his best to land a blow, though.

Even though able to perform well with cut in the ground, his very best comes on a fast surface. Therefore I feel Nayef Road will struggle today, although his comeback at Newcastle was quite excellent.

Cross Counter stable mate Moonlight Spirit is the one that intrigues me most. Gelded over the winter and surprisingly bullish comments by Charlie Appleby (who’s usually rather reserved in the assessment of his horses) are clearly noteworthy.

But also the form of this generally low mileage 4-year-old points upwards. At the end of last season he won a Group 3 at Longchamp over 1m 7f in taking style before going down to Technician in the Prix Royal-Oak, albeit only in the final 100 yards of the race, after leading for a long time.

Soft ground won’t be a worry today, given those last runs, although the fact it won’t be quite as deep as those times at Longchamp is probably of benefit. The stamina question is out there in the open. We’ll have to find out today. His pedigree offers hope and the fact he clearly stayed long distances with plenty of juice on the ground already, offers even more hope.

At given prices, with potentially more to comer over the longer trips, I feel Moonlight Spirit is a little bit overpriced in an open enough contest.

Selection:
10pts win – Moonlight Spirit @ 11.5/1 SM

Preview: Royal Ascot 2020 – Tuesday

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No crowds, no hats, no queen arriving in her carriage at the scene – it’s gonna be a different Royal Ascot to what we’re accustomed to. But then you could say that about nearly everything these days.

Historically I’ve been burnt badly at the Royal meeting. I can’t remember the last time I left the week with the tiniest of profits. I’ll keep a low profile this week, that’s for sure, and instead enjoy the sport for the most part. I can’t help myself, though, and have two selections for day one:

1.50 – Group 1, Queen Anne Stakes, 1 mile

A rather wide open affair where I can make a case for half a dozen in the field which means some of the bigger prices are certainly attractive. Nonetheless I narrowed it down to less than a handful of prime candidates.

The obvious one is Circus Maximus: he has every chance to be an even better four-year-old after a prolific 2019 season. He’s been consistently running well, including when landing the St. James’s Palace Stakes twelve months ago.

He’s clearly the one to beat, although I continue to have a niggling doubt that there are days where h’s finding one or two horses too fast over the mile trip – let’s not forget he was once thought to have a decent shot at the Derby, given his pedigree.

Memories of Terebellum’s impressive Dahlia victory are still fresh. A lightly raced and progressive four-year-old, she should have enough ability to be competitive over a mile, but her price is way too short for me to get involved.

Completely overlooked appears Mustashry, though. Judged on his career-best Lockinge Stakes success from last year he would be the horse they all have to chase home, actually. A topspeed rating of 108 is a standout in this field.

Whether he can run to that sort of level again remains to be seen and his fitness has to be trusted. He ran better than the bare forms suggest in his subsequent defeats last year, before finishing his 2019 campaign on a high note thanks to a fine Group 2 success.

Mustashry is a consistent horse, albeit the oldest in the race, conditions and racing style should be a good fit in this renewal of the Queen Anne. He is certainly overpriced.

Selection:
10pts win – Mustashry  @ 14/1

………

3.00 – Group 2, King Edward VII Stakes, 1m 4f

We will find out if the hype around Mogul is real. Currently as short as 11/2 in the Derby market, he appears to be team Ballydoyle’s prime chance for the Epsom Classic. 

Mogul steps up to the 1m 4f trip for the first time, having raced entirely over a mile as a juvenile. Given his breeding he can be expected to improve significantly for the new distance. On the other hand he has to show significant improvement because he was no more than a fine juvenile, particularly by Aiden O’Brien standards.

He had four runs last year, the highlight a Group 2 success at Newmarket. However, Mogul’s best performance only awarded him a lowly 84 tospeed rating. That doesn’t sound like odds-on favourite to me.

His stable mate Arthur’s Kingdom can’t be underestimated as improvement is likely to come for the new trip as well. Papa Power and Pyledriver have shown good form on the All-Weather and it will be interesting to see how much more there is to come.

Undoubtedly the most intriguing horse in this lineup is Mohican Heights. After a successful debut at Leopardstown in May last year he changed hands for £520k.

Since then he won the Listed Stonehenge Stakes at Salisbury finishing really strongly to win by 2 lengths, when having recent Kempton Classic Trial winner Berlin Tango behind in third (who beat Pyledriver fair and square at Kempton.

Word is Mohican Heights has wintered well, progressed physically – which he had to – and with loads of improvement to be expected from stepping up in trip, given his pedigree – which makes it all the more remarkable that as a late may foal he was able to win on debut a hot Spring maiden over 7 furlongs – he has a prime chance in this race.

Selection:
10pts win – Mohican Heights @ 9/2

…….

What else is there to see on the opening Day of Royal Ascot? No further bets for me, but that doesn’t detract from the interest in some fascinating contests.

The King’s Stand Stakes is the obvious to mention. Battaash looks nearly impossible to beat in this. There is no Blue Point this time. He wasn’t quite his brilliant best when a beaten runner-up by that rival in this very race the last two years.

Truth told: Battaash can only beat himself here. A good Battaash is still well ahead of anyone else in this field. He is so much faster. That’s the question of the day: will he finally taste success at the Royal meeting?

The Ribblesdale Stakes is a slightly underwhelming event. Make no mistake, Frankly Darling is exciting on the back of her performance at Newcastle. But there is not much else here, is there?

Although, intrigue is added by the addition of Miss Yoda, who won a rather poor Lingfield Oaks Trial, and steps down in trip. With a good run here she can enhance her credentials.

The one from Team AOB I’m most interested in is Ennistymon. She won a maiden only a week ago, needed every inch of the ten furlongs and looks set to show much more for the additional distance.

I leave you here with the 2019 Nunthorpe Stakes: wetting the appetite, with what was Battaash’s best performance, awarding him a 123 tospeed rating!

 

Favourite Horse: Paco Boy

Favourite Horse: over the next weeks I’ll write a series of articles about horses I hold dear to my heart. Let’s start with my all time favourite! 

2008 was the year that my interest in horse racing became serious. In my memories these are the good old days – a time when betting on horses was neither financially rewarding nor sought out to be, although it was a great time of learning something new about the sport every single day.

What coincided with this time, and it probably was one of the main reasons why I became so fascinated by horse racing, was the emergence of a number of legendary horses. To this day I do become a little bit emotional if I hear their names, to be honest.

Possibly not quite in the league of legends, yet the horse I well and truly fell in love with, was in his early days very much doubted whether he could become what he ultimately became: a top class miler. He showed plenty of speed and a dazzling turn of foot but may well be short of the required stamina?

It was exactly this incredible change of gear – the moment when a motionless Richard Hughes pressed the button, when the response was instantaneous – something that was visually so impressive and outlandish, certainly not observed in any other sport I have ever watched – that made me fall in love with Paco Boy.

Paco Boy was a promising juvenile, however he took his career to new heights in his classic year, particularly in the summer and autumn months.

He landed a number of graded races and finished the season with an exciting first Group 1 victory in the Prix de la Foret at Longchamp. It’s a shame Paco Boy didn’t get the chance to run in the 2000 Guineas that year, but at that stage he was still an immature horse with question marks over this stamina.

A year older and wiser, after a disappointing reappearance in Dubai, Paco Boy then proved his class thanks superb victory in the Queen Anne Stakes, when an ice cool Richard Hughes showed his trademark patience, delivering Paco Boy late in the race to produce his own trademark turn of foot.

The partnership of Richard Hughes with a horse like Paco Boy, who needed to be ridden with patience and confidence and delivered late, turned out to be an irresistible combination. It didn’t always go to plan – on the days where it did it turned out to be as spectacular as racing can be.

To this day for me personally the most spectacular, visually exciting and explosive demonstration of an instant acceleration and manifestation of pure class is the one Paco Boy produced in the 2010 Lockinge Stakes:

Richard Hughes completely motionless, with two furlongs to go still sitting behind all his rivals, ever so slightly edging closer while calmly steering Paco Boy through an opening gap; approaching the final furlong marker and everything else around him is hard at work – “Paco Boy is laughing at them”, screams an astonished Richard Hoiles in the original track commentary!

Once asked to win the race Paco Boy puts it to bed in a matter of strides. Mind, this is a Group 1 race!

Extended footage can be found here – including a few shots of an emotional Richard Hannon, who shed a few tears that day and also is quoted saying “I’ve got pictures of him all over the house”!

A career spanning over four seasons – 24 races, 11 victories, 9 in pattern class, three Group Ones, including the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot.

On the rating front: Paco Boy ran twelve times to a Tospeed Rating of 100 or higher (six times >110). That is an incredible level of consistency for successive seasons. Not many horses are capable of achieving this. In his prime on fast ground when tracking a decent pace Paco Boy was nearly unbeatable.

Yes, one could potentially point out: “what did he beat?”. The form of is Queen Anne and Lockinge Stakes victories didn’t work out all that great in hindsight. Nonetheless he beat and fought it out with the best of the best among the milers of that era and made some really good horses look rather ordinary.

Ultimately, when do you ever see a horse in a Group 1 contest cantering all over his rivals, hard on the bridle, approaching the final furlong marker? It’s a rare feat and something special.

And not to forget: he chased the almighty mare that is Goldikova on more than one occasion home. I maintain to this day he was the better horse in the 2010 Queen Anne Stakes and Richard Hughes, on that day, left it simply a little bit too late (as a matter of fact Paco Boy recorded a higher Topspeed rating than Goldikova that day).

Put simply: Paco Boy was the most exciting horse I have ever followed as a fan of the sport. He was my first real “love” in the world of horse racing. Although he is closely followed by possibly the greatest racehorse of all time. More on that in the next part of this series.