20th June 2017 ASCOT UPDATE

OVERVIEW

To say we are satisfied with the start we have made to 2017 would be something of an understatement – indeed, we couldn’t be happier as a comparison with our totals at the exact same stage of the season reveals. So far this season we have at the time of writing sent out 27 winners at a strike rate of around 22% – to put that into perspective, our previous best total this century at the same point has been 21 winners which we achieved in 2003 when we ended up with 59 winners. Clearly the potential is there given our good start and very talented team to reach 65 winners, so here’s hoping we can continue the good run ahead of the biggest meeting of the Flat season – Royal Ascot. Before then, though, we’ll look back at events over the past couple of months.

 

SPRING – EARLY SUMMER REVIEW

A good number of horses have made a notable contribution to that 25-winner total since our last update at the start of April. Chief among them, of course, is Decorated Knight who put his Meydan disappointment behind him in the Dubai Turf when landing his second Group 1 win of 2017 (following the Jebel Hatta) in the Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh. The race developed much as would have suited him ideally in that it brought his turn of foot to the fore and he just got the better of several others in the finish in a race that resembled a sprint more than anything else. That second Group 1 win and a Timeform rating of 122 on top of having Galileo as his sire makes him a particularly attractive stallion prospect, and it would be nice to think he can land a third before he retires. His upcoming running plans (and those of some others in this section) are detailed in the Royal Ascot Preview section.   

Not far behind Decorated Knight from a ratings perspective is Second Step who hadn’t been with us all that long when we posted the last quarterly update. He’d rather lost his way when he arrived at Beckhampton, but after he’d been with us for a couple of months he really started to thrive and returned to the track with a really encouraging effort in the John Porter at Newbury. That run was on ground probably as fast as he would appreciate, and on easier ground at Goodwood in the Listed Tapster Stakes he made the most of the 3lb he received from Desert Encounter. Once again conditions weren’t those that will see him to best effect in the respect that the race turned into something of a dash for home, so once he gets into a strongly-run race at a mile and a half, or perhaps further, there must be a chance he could return to the sort of form that saw him win a Group 1 in Berlin back in 2015.

Next best among the older horses in terms of ability and who have won is Blakeney Point. He’ll take his chance at Ascot as he deserves to after some solid efforts this spring. He went for the Chester Cup after his win at Kempton but clearly didn’t stay after which he dropped back to a mile and three quarters at Goodwood only to hit the front sooner than expected and get run out of the places. His ideal trip is still a matter of discussion here at Beckhampton, and hopefully we’ll learn more about that after Ascot. We were tremendously pleased to get a win out of Mr Khalid at Windsor after he’d been off the track for nearly two years. He was a non stayer at Goodwood over a mile and three quarters last time, so will be dropped back in trip next time.

We mentioned in the last update we had some potentially very nice three-year-olds we were looking forward to running and it’s good to report that several of those we had in mind have made their mark. Natavia progressed sufficiently from a very promising Newmarket debut to warrant running in the Oaks, but she was never travelled well in that contest. Prior to that she had broken her maiden with some authority in the Listed Haras De Bouquetot Stakes at Newbury from what looked a strong field of maiden winners, so the aim will be to ty and win a Group race with her at some point. Staying with the fillies, Princess De Lune and Time Chaser both made winning debuts in maidens at Newbury and Kempton respectively. Princess De Lune had been working well towards the end of 2016 as well as this spring and it was no surprise she scored first time out, though the manner of it still took us aback a little as she powered clear in a matter of strides inside the last furlong. She remains a very smart prospect for all she’ll miss Royal Ascot, as will Time Test’s full sister Time Chaser who always looked as though she would win her Kempton debut but ended up only scrambling home. Her work at home has been very good since then, and she followed up in a handicap at Sandown in better style than the narrow winning margin suggests. Our 2016 star Fair Eva ran a very creditable race in what was a stronger-than-usual 1,000 Guineas after which she was found to be suffering from some minor colic. She’ll hopefully be back late in the summer, while Cribbs Causeway looked a different animal ridden from the front at Kempton the other day when getting off the mark and is sure to win another handicap or two when the emphasis is on stamina.   

Switching to the boys, there is little between our best three-year-olds Atty Persse and Silent Echo on Timeform ratings, though it’s fair to say that Atty Persse is much the better known on account of his Frankel connection as well as his debut win last year after which he was bought by Godolphin. He’s long since worked like a horse that needed at least a mile and he only just got away with that trip at Sandown on his reappearance in the Esher Cup after a very troubled run. He bypassed one of the Derby trials to go to Haydock for what turned out to be a hot handicap and ended up getting too far back in a very steadily-run mile-and-a-quarter even. He’ll be seen out at Ascot. Silent Echo is unbeaten in two runs this season. He made his debut last summer when he was sent off a short price but he came back lame and had the rest of the year off. In view of his work at home it was no surprise he put up a useful performance on his reappearance at Lingfield before stepping up considerably on that at Haydock where he beat the well-handicapped Chessman in good style. He’s probably got away lightly with a 4lb rise for that win and has a promising future at a higher level in time.

Interestingly the horse that Silent Echo beat on his reappearance, Time’s Arrow, had been beaten nearly three times as far by Casimiro when he made a winning debut over the same course and distance the week previously. He was fourth subsequently at Chester on very soft ground and he will be a different prospect back under fast conditions.

We have several more promising middle-distance handicappers among the colts, and though Eynhallow andStone The Crows haveprobably achieved more than recent handicap winners Pow Wow and Solar Cross, or Kempton maiden winner Petitioner, whichever of them turns out to be the best of the quintet come the end of the year is anyone’s guess. Eynhallow had shown in glimpses at home that he had a fair bit more ability than his racecourse appearances last year had shown and gelding him over the winter almost certainly helped him. He can be quite lazy, so his Goodwood handicap win came as a nice surprise and the manner in which he ran the leaders down from a long way back suggested that even after a rise in the weights he is going to remain competitive in more strongly-run races than the one he has finished third in since. His pedigree suggests he’ll stay a fair bit further than a mile and a quarter, whereas Stone The Crows is another that will stay further than the trips he has raced over so far. He’s a big, fine colt with a long stride and the manner in which he travelled through his latest Haydock handicap suggested that, although he didn’t win it, finishing second, he is on a particularly good mark. If anything, he’s still a bit weak, so it might not be until next year that he comes into his own but he’ll still be aimed at some decent handicaps this autumn. Solar Cross and Pow Wow have won three mile and a half handicaps between them, and will stay further, not least Pow Wow whose pedigree is chock full of stamina, while Petitioner is another bound for mile and a half handicaps after his steely Kempton maiden win. 

Other three-year-olds that have contributed to our winning total this spring are Esprit De Corps, who scored at Bath over an extended five furlongs but who probably wants a step up to seven furlongs from now on, and Comrade Conrad whose form has improved since springing something of a surprise on his debut at Windsor but still needs to progress a little more to overcome his current mark. That said, he’s still only lightly raced, so has every chance of doing so.

We have only recently let a few of the two-year-olds out onto the racecourse, but the victory of Klosters at Chepstow augurs well for the remainder of what is quite a sizeable team, several of whom are very much autumn prospects.

 

ROYAL ASCOT PREVIEW

As we mentioned at the start we have had a wonderful beginning to 2017, but we’d swap a couple of those winners for one at Royal Ascot which as ever promises to be extremely competitive. Time Test was our last winner at the Royal meeting in 2015 in the Tercentenary Stakes; before that we had Al Kazeem win the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes in 2013, Fifteen Love win the Britannia Handicap in 2008, Deportivo win the Balmoral Handicap and Three Valleys win the Coventry in 2003 and Harmonic Way win in the Cork and Orrery in 2001.   

That list gives a good indication of the quality that is needed to be in with a winning chance at the biggest Flat meeting of the year and our best hopes this week are probably Decorated Knight in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes and Quest For More in the Gold Cup. Decorated Knight needs to improve again on form but on the positive side the race looks to us to be a little bit top heavy with horses that have form at a mile and a half and if there’s one thing that Decorated Knight will bring to the table it’s top-class mile-and-a-quarter speed. It would be great if he finished in the first three, but if the race develops as it did at Leopardstown in the Tattersalls Gold Cup he could spring a surprise given the short straight will play very much to his strengths. Quest For More missed the Gold Cup last year and a poor scope after he finished well held in the Henry II at Sandown on his first start since coming back from Dubai raised the prospect of his missing it again, but he’s been fine since and is well on target. He really comes to himself from June onwards and is one of the few horses in the race that has demonstrated a consistently high level of ability at a distance very few horses on the Flat stay properly. As such, that probably makes our choice of tactics fairly easy and if he’s on song it will take a top-class one to beat him. We just have an inkling that the Hardwicke may cut up as a race with some of the Stoute and O’Brien horses heading elsewhere, and there is just a chance Second Step will take his chance.

Going through the remaining horses in alphabetical order, Atty Persse looks set for the King George V Handicap. He’s got such a raking stride and is so laid back that anything less than a really well-run race isn’t going to see him to anything like best effect, so hopefully he’ll get that and the faster the ground the better. The step up to a mile and a half will pose him no problems whatsoever and if we had it in the back of our minds to go for a Derby Trial he should be competitive off a mark of 93. Ayrad is an intended runner in the Wolferton Handicap. He hasn’t run yet this year but is well for all that that and just needs to get out and have a run before we send him for the Listed Fred Archer Stakes at Newmarket. Blakeney Point is pencilled in for the Duke Of Edinburgh Handicap. We say pencilled in as he’s right on the cusp of the rating level usually required to guarantee a place in the starting line-up, but he’s had to drop back in trip as he’s too speedy to be contesting races such as the Chester Cup. His late summer target is the Ebor Handicap. Maths Prize will be an interesting runner in the Britannia Handicap. He ended last season on the up but we maybe made a mistake running him at a mile and a quarter on his reappearance at Newbury and he ended up being too keen and not getting home. His work at home has always been smart, smart enough even to consider dropping him back to seven furlongs, so the straight mile at Ascot promises to be ideal. He could be the one of ours next week that slips under the public radar if he gets in. Projection is what is known as a ‘Saturday’ horse and typically in view of his owners has the Wokingham (on Saturday) as his target. He’s been seen out once only this year when racing too keenly at Newmarket but he’s been trained all along with this race in mind. Second Step is also likely to run in the Hardwicke on Saturday. It shouldn’t be forgotten that he’s a Group 1 winner at this trip and he’ll go there with every chance and the stronger the gallop the better. Last but not least, Yuften will be running in the Hunt Cup. The Buckingham Palace Stakes would have been the ideal race for him had it still existed given as he could probably run equally well in the Hunt Cup as the Wokingham, but his success over straight mile there last autumn convinced us that it will be better to stick at a mile than risk the relatively unknown territory of six furlongs.

Eagle-eyed readers will notice that neither Natavia nor Princess De Lune appear among that list. There are no current plans for Natavia who is being given a bit of time off after her Oaks run, while Princess De Lune is being targeted at the Coral Distaff on Eclipse Day. Races haven’t been easy to find for her seeing as she wasn’t allotted a handicap rating for a while and we weren’t keen on taking on the colts, but this looks the perfect opportunity and might not be that competitive given its place in the Calendar. Time Chaser may have another run in a handicap next time or step up to listed level, though we don’t have a particular race in mind right now. Stone The Crows is likely to go for the Bibury Cup at Salisbury after which we might consider a tilt at the Melrose.