OPTIMISM HIGH AMONG NORTHERN POWERHOUSES
Optimism is sky high in the North as some of the country’s most powerful stables put the finishing touches to their preparations for five days of mouth-watering action at Royal Ascot – live on Sky Sports Racing.
Mark Johnston, Kevin Ryan, Karl Burke, Tim Easterby and David O’Meara have enjoyed their share of glory at the Royal Meeting over the years and all have strong contenders once again, some of them included in my shortlist of 10 to follow.
Watch every race of Royal Ascot 2020 live on Sky Sports Racing (Sky 415 | Virgin 535) from Tuesday 16th June to Saturday 20th June.
Commonwealth Cup or Palace of Holyroodhouse Handicap
Tim Easterby’s speedy three-year-old - an impressive winner at York as a juvenile - tuned up for the Royal Meeting with a blistering display over 6f on the Tapeta at Newcastle, proving he can be just as effective over that trip as he is over 5f.
However, Silvestre De Sousa was adamant the King Power colt should revert to the minimum trip in the new handicap on Friday, given his abundant natural speed, but options remain open, with Easterby still tempted to pitch him into the Group 1 instead.
He is clearly up to Pattern class but the opportunity to exploit a mark of 97 in a handicap could yet prove irresistible.
King’s Stand Stakes
You couldn’t fail to be seriously impressed by the manner of her victory in last autumn’s Group 1 Prix de l’Abbaye and Kevin Ryan reports his star filly in fine fettle ahead of the King’s Stand Stakes - an obvious starting point for what promises to be another productive campaign.
Glass Slippers improved from run to run last season and Ryan understandably expects further progression. Successful over 6f, she promises to be ideally suited by this stiff five for a yard that excels with its sprinters and supporters will be quick to point out that’s she had likely favourite Battaash well beaten in Paris.
Buckingham Palace Handicap
Nigel Tinkler’s six-year-old carried plenty of condition into his ‘prep’ run in a Newcastle handicap at the beginning of the month but travelled sweetly before taking an expected blow in the closing stages.
He has a remarkable record at Ascot, having been placed in a Victoria Cup and an International Handicap - beaten narrowly on both occasions. This powerful gelding is effective on fast ground and also handles some cut, so underfoot conditions won’t be a concern come the opening day.
Diamond Jubilee Stakes
Everything points to a big run from the Group 1 Sprint Cup winner, who hails from the same Hambleton yard as King’s Stand contender Glass Slippers. Kevin Ryan reports that he has done well physically over the winter, filling his imposing frame, and regular work jockey Kevin Stott has been delighted with his homework.
He will need to settle better than when he blew out in the Champions Sprint over course and distance in October but this son of Kodiac has low mileage and is clearly ground versatile.
Second to Threat in a strong renewal of last season’s Group 2 Gimcrack Stakes, this son of Dandy Man missed his intended return in a Listed race at Haydock on June 7th due to rain softened ground. His trainer Karl Burke has been itching to step him up to 7f so this looks an ideal assignment.
Going to Ascot fresh doesn’t concern the Leyburn handler who has been happy with his homework. It’s worth noting he was considered only 80 per cent fit when he dominated a Fast-Track Qualifier on the All-Weather in February and the stamina on the distaff side of his pedigree suggests that this trip could prove his optimum.
Queen Mary Stakes or Albany Stakes
Not only did this daughter of Kodiac show a smart turn of foot over 5f at Newcastle on June 2nd, but she also saw out the stiff trip in convincing fashion. That makes her an ideal fit for the fillies’ Group 2 - a race her trainer Mark Johnston won last year with Raffle Prize.
Pelekai - out of a smart dam who stayed 7f - had been pleasing jockey Joe Fanning ahead of her debut and the benefit of that dress rehearsal can’t be under-estimated. She could also step up in trip in the Albany.
Silver Royal Hunt Cup Handicap
After being elevated a whopping 13lb in the ratings for a 1m win at Newcastle over the winter, Keith Dalgleish’s gelding returned to the Tapeta to post a career best over a trip short of his optimum earlier this month.
In chasing home two smart types, including likely Buckingham Palace favourite Daarik, Red Bond looks competitive off an unchanged mark and promises to relish this stiff mile. Although he has only run once on turf before, he posted a solid effort on good ground at Doncaster so should be equipped to run another big race at potentially rewarding odds.
Windsor Castle Stakes
This son of Brazen Beau looks well bought at 10,000 Guineas on the evidence of his 5f win at Wolverhampton and could be a real dark horse in the Windsor Castle Stakes - his intended target as long as the ground is on the quick side.
Although the opposition appeared modest, he stood out in the preliminaries and travelled professionally behind the pacesetters once David Nolan had got him settled.
A forward-going sort, he was never travelling stronger than when he crossed the line with ears pricked and deserves to take his chance.
His third in last autumn’s Cesarewitch underlined his credentials as a potential Pattern prospect this year and Tuesday’s marathon test looks an ideal opportunity for him to confirm himself a progressive young stayer.
The son of Sea The Moon can be forgiven his rather lifeless effort at Newbury last back-end in a race that probably came too soon after his Newmarket exertions. He has been gelded over the winter and like most Johnston inmates, shouldn’t be found wanting for fitness.
Juveniles from Mark Johnston’s Middleham powerful yard can be relied upon to know their job on debut and this flashy colt was no exception when he made a winning start at Newcastle. Joe Fanning was bullish about his suitability for the Group 2 in his post-race interview and I share his enthusiasm.
The son of Night Of Thunder travelled economically before putting his rivals to the sword and could easily emulate the stable’s 2015 winner Buratino.