Royal Ascot: The Groundwork - Friday

Short-cut the form study! Kevin Blake has done the hard work for you and presents his cheat-sheet for three races on Friday.

The process behind finding the winner of a race can be as long or as short as one wishes to make it. It can be as simple as eeny, meeny, miny, moe or as complicated as an hours-long dive into every conceivable variable in search of relevant information. 

For me, it tends to veer more towards the latter than the former. The process is ever evolving, but for the last number of years it has started with a process that I refer to as groundwork. This involves attempting to establish what the shape of the race is likely to be in terms of the pace and draw. This is absolutely crucial information, as having a feel for how the race is likely to pan out gives ones a much better idea of what type of horse is likely to be favoured by the run of the race. It can be particularly valuable in the case of handicaps, as given that ability is theoretically balanced out by the weights, those that get the run of the race regularly overperform and vice versa.

To give a simple example, there might be a hold-up horse in a race that you think is well handicapped. However, if the groundwork for the race reveals that the early pace is likely to be steady making it difficult for hold-up horses, that should have a major impact on how you view that horse’s chance.

Another important element of groundwork is assessing trainer form. This is even more relevant than usual at the minute given the unique situation that the Covid-19 crisis has put is in, as many horses will run at Royal Ascot having not been seen on the track for many months. How their stable mates have been faring in recent days can give a guide as to which trainers have their horses in above or below-average form. Trainer form tends to be assessed using some very blunt instruments such as strike rates, but I use the average of the percentage of rivals beaten squared. This is sourced using Proform and represents a more powerful measure of what we are seeking to assess.

In common with any other sort of pre-race analysis, estimating the pace of a race, the impact of the draw or trainer based on past evidence doesn’t always work out as hoped. Horses can end up being ridden differently than anticipated either by design or not, draw analysis can be turned on its head by jockeys taking unexpected routes and trainer form can swing around in a relatively short period of time. Even considering that, I have found that the groundwork process to be the best starting point in the search for winners.

So, with that in mind, I am going to show my groundwork for a selected group of races to for all five days of Royal Ascot. I’ll put in the hard yards so that you don’t have to and with a bit of luck, it will prove to be a help to you in the search of winners.

Here's my groundwork for Royal Ascot on Friday:

15.00: Hardwicke Stakes (Group 2) - 1m 4f - 4yo+

Pace: Elarqam (7) likes to race at least prominently and can occasionally make the running, as he did when running well on his seasonal reappearance at Haydock last time. This is his first run over a mile-and-a-half and he can take a strong grip at times, so his connections will have a tricky tactical decision to make in terms of how they choose to ride him. Communique (10) has often raced prominently or made the running and while he hasn’t been ridden quite as forwardly in his last few starts, a return to more positive tactics is a possibility here. Anthony Van Dyck (6) stays this trip well and looks likely to race prominently. 

Not for the first time this week, the lack of at least one pacemaker sets alarm bells sounding in warning of a potential steadily-run race. This would be far from ideal for Anthony Van Dyck, a thorough stayer at the trip that would be helped by an emphasis being placed on stamina. It will also make for a fascinating tactical conundrum for the connections of Elarqam. Should they seek to cover him up in an effort to help him settle over the longest trip he has ever tackled, or should they let him stride on in the hope that he relaxes in front? Given that he settled notably well by his standards when making the running on his seasonal reappearance at Haydock, the latter option might well make most appeal to them. 

That Elarqam is drawn more towards the outside of the field promises to be an asset to Jim Crowley, as he won’t be under time pressure to commit to a position from out there and will be able to assess how his rivals are being ridden in the opening furlong or so before slotting into a committed position.

Trainer Form: I have included the full table of trainer stats for those that have runners on Friday’s card and have had at least 10 runners since the return of racing up until the time of writing on Tuesday morning. You can view it at the bottom of this article.

Most of the trainers involved here are towards the upper end of the table. The exceptions are Mark Johnston (Elarqam) who comes in at just above the average level, while Michael Bell (Eagles By Day) and particularly David Simcock (Desert Encounter and Spanish Mission) are well below the average.


15.35: Commonwealth Cup (Group 1) - 6f - 3yo colts & fillies

Pace: Aberama Gold (2) has made most of the running in his last three starts. Royal Lytham (5) made the running in the Phoenix Stakes last year and helped force the pace in the Irish 2,000 Guineas last time, so he could well be forward back over this shorter trip. Mums Tipple (4) made all to win his first two starts and while he was ridden much more quietly over a mile in the 2000 Guineas, a return to more positive tactics back over this shorter trip could well be forthcoming. Golden Horde (10) likes to race prominently and has made the running in the past. Kimari(11) made the running in her early starts last year including in the Queen Mary at this meeting, but she has been ridden with more patience in recent starts. 

While it seemed as though the stands side was the place to be on day one at Royal Ascot, it is interesting to note that almost all of the potential pace pushers on paper are drawn low here. There will be plenty of racing between the time of writing on Wednesday morning and when this race takes place which will provide evidence as to what if any track bias is at play, but the pace setup promises to favour those that are drawn around that pace in low stalls. These include leading contenders Lope Y Fernandez (1), Pierre Lapin (6) and Millisle (8).

Trainer Form: Many of the trainers involved here are towards the upper end of the table. The exceptions are Jessica Harrington (Millisle) who comes in at just above the average level, Richard Hannon (Mums Tipple), Clive Cox (Golden Horde) and Karl Burke (Dubai Station) all come in slightly under the average, while Richard Fahey (Ventura Rebel), Keith Dalgleish (Aberama Gold) and George Baker (Les Hogues) are well below the average.


16.40: Duke of Edinburgh Handicap - 1m 4f - 3yo+

Pace: West End Charmer (3) is a regular front runner. Le Don De Vie (10) and Dolphin Vista (21) usually race prominently and can make the running. El Misk (15) habitually races prominently. Medal Winner (17) raced prominently when winning last time. Dal Horrisgle (8) made all to win twice last year, but has been ridden more quietly in recent starts.

Draw: As was mentioned earlier in the week, the draw statistics for the races over a mile-and-a-half at Ascot are amongst the most notable anywhere in the country. There was a touch of commentator’s curse about Hukum winning the King George V Handicap from stall four on Wednesday, but the conclusions from the long-term analysis of the draw over this course and distance remain the same. 

As can be seen in the below stats for handicaps over that course and distance since 2006, high numbers perform notably well and very low numbers perform notably worse than would normally be expected from low draws on a round track. Thus, the draw is a negative for Deja(2), West End Charmer (3) and Durston (4), all of whom are trading at single-figure prices at the time of writing.

There isn’t as much pace on paper as one would usually expect in a race like this, with only one regular front runner in the field. That front runner is West End Charmer (3) and while his draw isn’t ideal, if he is allowed dictate a below-average pace in front it can only increase his chance and make it more difficult for those that are ridden with more patience. Looking for one that is drawn in the upper half of the field and is likely to race prominently would be a solid starting point for this race.

Trainer Form: The trainers of most of the shorter-priced runners are currently residing at the upper end of the trainer’s table. One that isn’t is Hughie Morrison (Le Don De Vie), who finds himself below the middle line. It is also a concern for the chances of the well-fancied Durston and Universal Order that their trainer David Simcock has yet to have a winner since the return of racing and is towards the bottom of the list in terms of trainer form.

Royal Ascot: The Groundwork - Friday

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