Ante-Post Focus

Gary Nutting's final Ascot selection runs in Saturday's St James’s Palace Stakes.

Published 15/06

We are in unchartered territory with Guineas horses turning out at Royal Ascot just two weeks later, and that may enable PALACE PIER to defy official ratings in the St James’s Palace Stakes.

John Gosden has ‘previous’ in this race, his most recent winner Without Parole having arrived with a mark of 109 after three unbeaten runs culminating in a Listed success. Palace Pier has the same rating and a similar profile, albeit his three-race unbeaten record was completed in a Class 2 handicap at Newcastle on Guineas day. The colt, whose sire Kingman won the 2014 St James’s Palace, was hugely impressive in beating well-regarded Acquitted, and it looks significant that Gosden is ready to pitch him straight into Group 1 company.

Quite prominent in the Guineas market before being taken out of the race prior to five-day declarations, Palace Pier clearly has a big reputation having gone off a short-priced favourite for all of his starts. A 600,000 guineas yearling, he’s closely related to Group 2 winners and had a far easier time of things on his recent reappearance compared to Wichita and Pinatubo in a strongly-run Guineas. Those two obviously achieved significantly more in filling the places behind Kameko at Newmarket, but this quick turnaround will test their recovery powers and Palace Pier has enough potential to bridge the gap.

French racing’s earlier release from lockdown enabled me to get more acquainted with the form over there than is usually the case and one horse who really impressed in the first week back was WOODED.

Francis-Henri Graffard has gone to great lengths to circumvent logistical problems posed by coronavirus restrictions to have three Ascot runners and says the Commonwealth Cup contender represents his best chance of success.

Watch every race of Royal Ascot 2020 live on Sky Sports Racing (Sky 415 | Virgin 535) from Tuesday 16th June to Saturday 20th June.

The strong-travelling colt did all his racing last year over seven furlongs, beaten a whisker elevated to Group 3 company at Longchamp on good ground after winning a Deauville maiden in softer conditions on his second start.

He signed off his two-year-old campaign with another good run, finishing third to a couple of Charlie Appleby-trained Godolphin horses on very testing ground at Saint-Cloud in October.

Graffard took the view during the winter that a drop to six furlongs might suit the son of Wootton Bassett better and that looked a great call judged by the manner of his reappearance romp in a Group 3 at Chantilly.

Wooded was never out of third gear, clocked a smart time in the process and was immediately nominated for this by his trainer, who has been able to give him an uninterrupted preparation through the spring.

A big, powerful colt with plenty of scope, he should be fine on quicker ground if the rain stays away (times suggested it was faster at Chantilly than the official good to soft) and carries a fair bit of confidence from the stable that won last year’s Coronation Stakes with Watch Me.

Published 13/6 

It was interesting to read Ryan Moore describe FIRST RECEIVER as ‘a straightforward colt’ after his recent hack-up at Kempton - a performance that marks him out as a leading contender for the Hampton Court Stakes.

The Queen’s son of New Approach hails from a family on the dam’s side that has loads of talent but its share of quirks, so who knows what he might achieve if he has indeed inherited the former and not the latter.

One of his immediate relatives is Phantom Gold, who showed positive and negative traits, though when she was good she was very good - witness her victories in the Ribblesdale at this meeting, plus the Geoffrey Freer and St Simon at Newbury.

Watch every race of Royal Ascot 2020 live on Sky Sports Racing (Sky 415 | Virgin 535) from Tuesday 16th June to Saturday 20th June.

That sort of pedigree suggests Sir Michael Stoute’s colt may ultimately be suited by 1m4f, but the dam Touchline is by speed influence Exceed and Excel so this step up to 1m2f looks spot on at this stage of his career.

First Receiver’s debut third at Newmarket last summer is strong maiden form (won by Al Madhar) and he again shaped well returning from a four-month absence when second in a backend novice event at Kempton.

He put that course experience to good use on his reappearance early last week over a mile, sauntering home by seven lengths and clocking a useful time in the process.

Juan Elcano deserves to be favourite on his 2000 Guineas fifth to Kameko but the big question is whether he can back that up just 11 days later.

Already advised on 9/6

It’s already business as usual in this most unusual of seasons with Aidan O’Brien winning one Guineas and going close in the other at Newmarket over the weekend.

The impressive Love turned round the Fillies’ Mile form with Quadrilateral in the 1000, while Wichita did the same with Dewhurst winner Pinatubo in the 2000 - albeit Kameko pounced late to spoil the Ballydoyle party.

The show quickly moves on to Royal Ascot where O’Brien has already stated clear running plans for three Group 1 races - the Queen Anne, Prince Of Wales’s and Gold Cup.

His principal contenders are all by Galileo, the sire of Love, and it could pay to mix them up in doubles and trebles - or a trixie - in the absence of any published entries ahead of six-day declarations starting to appear tomorrow.

First up is CIRCUS MAXIMUS, who looks a solid one to kickstart the bet given he was a dual Group 1 winner over a mile last year, including at this meeting in the St James’s Palace.

He began the season as a potential Derby horse by winning the Dee Stakes at Chester and ran creditably at Epsom to finish sixth to stablemate Anthony Van Dyck.

In the circumstances it was some effort to win here just 17 days later dropping back to a mile for the first time since the autumn of his two-year-old campaign.

The first-time blinkers he wore that day were retained for the rest of the year and it will be interesting to see if O’Brien sticks with the headgear, especially on this return from a seven-month absence.

Either way it looks significant that he has been kept in training rather than heading off to the stallion sheds, with the trainer clearly of the view that further top-flight success awaits.

Although the St James’s Palace was run on the round course, this straight-track event could suit him even better with O’Brien saying in his recent ATR stable tour: “He enjoys a strong tempo and a mile seems to suit him best.”

JAPAN is a warm favourite for the Prince Of Wales’s and while I wouldn’t normally tip a short price ante-post I’m prepared to make an exception for the purposes of this particular bet.

There will be each-way value to be had elsewhere provided there are at least eight runners, but the Juddmonte International winner sets a high standard on that form having inched out last year’s winner of this race, Crystal Ocean.

Third in the Derby, fourth in the Arc and winner of the King Edward VII here plus the Grand Prix de Paris, this is a good starting point before the step back up in trip for a colt who showed at York he’s got the necessary pace for 1m2f.

Like the first two selections, Gold Cup second favourite KEW GARDENS also boasts winning form at this meeting and sufficient ground versatility to make him a serious contender whatever the weather does in the next week or so.

He’s set for a fascinating rematch with Stradivarius, who is bidding for a hat-trick in the race, having just got the better of him in the Long Distance Cup on this course on Champions Day last autumn.

John Gosden’s six-year-old is odds-on with some firms to reverse that form over the extra half-mile, but did appear to have quite a hard race at Newmarket on Friday attempting a first 1m4f Group 1 success in the Coronation Cup won by trailblazing Ghayyaith.

And even if that race hasn’t left its mark he still faces a formidable rival in Kew Gardens, who matched his year-older rival by winning a Queens Vase here and bettered him by adding a St Leger (Stradivarius third in his year).

The last four furlongs will be unchartered territory for the O’Brien horse but he wasn’t stopping over two miles here on softish ground and probably deserves to be tighter in the betting with the favourite.

Ante-Post Focus

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