Royal Ascot: The Groundwork - Saturday

Short-cut the form study! Kevin Blake has done the hard work for you and presents his cheat-sheet for Saturday's races at Royal Ascot.

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 Saturday's races:

14.25: Coronation Stakes (Group 1) - 1m - 3yo fillies

Pace: Cloak Of Spirits (6) produced a career-best effort when switched to front running in the 1000 Guineas and looks likely to make the running again. Love Locket (3) produced her best effort yet when helping push the pace last time and seems likely to be ridden forwardly again. Run Wild (1) is yet another that produced a career-best effort when making most of the running over a mile-and-a-quarter last time. Alpine Star (2) has raced handily in all of her starts to date. Quadrilateral (4) was ridden more prominently than usual in the 1000 Guineas, though that seemed to be more a product of her getting fired up rather than intent from her rider and a return to more restrained tactics seems likely. 

With three strong candidates to potentially make the running, it would be a surprise if this wasn’t run at least at an average pace and quite possibly an even stronger one than that. This will be a help to Quadrilateral (4) who is likely to be ridden more quietly than in the 1000 Guineas after racing too freely in a prominent position.

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

All of the British and Irish-based trainers with runners in this field find themselves on the right side of the average in terms of trainer form, though Jessica Harrington (Alpine Star) and Richard Hannon (Cloak Of Spirits) are only just on the right side of the average.


15.00: St James’s Palace Stakes (Group 1) - 1m - 3yo

Pace: Wichita (7) seems best suited by racing prominently and he disputed the lead when disputing the lead in a Group 3 at Newmarket last September. Royal Dornach (5) seemed suited by racing prominently last season and while he was ridden much quieter on his seasonal return in the 2000 Guineas, a return to more positive tactics in this race wouldn’t surprise. Arizona (1) is tactically versatile having run well when making the running, racing prominently and being ridden with a bit more patience in the past. Pinatubo (2) seems happiest chasing up the leading bunch. Palace Pier (6) made all to win at a much lower level on his penultimate start, but was ridden with more patience on his latest outing and seems unlikely to get involved in setting the early pace in this.

What makes this race fascinating from a tactical perspective is that all of the potential pace pushers are trained in Ballydoyle. This raises the possibility that they will be able to run the race whichever way they wish to best suit their main contender Wichita. The connections of Pinatubo (2) would likely have been hoping that he was drawn slightly wider than he is, as could be in danger of getting boxed up on the inside from his low draw.

Trainer Form: Most of these are prominent on the trainer’s list, though Richard Hannon (Threat) is only just on the right side of the average and Clive Cox (Positive) is pretty much bang on the average.


16.40: Queen Alexandra Stakes (Conditions Race) - 2m 6f - 4yo+

Pace: Adrrastos (10) has made much of the running when gaining all seven of his wins over jumps and might well try to push the pace on what is his first start under Flat rules. Nate The Great (8) usually races prominently and can occasionally make the running, albeit over shorter trips than this. Mekong (2) occasionally made the running earlier in his career, but a tendency to miss the break has seen him ridden with more patience in more recent starts. The Grand Visir (9) can race prominently, but was ridden with patience when winning the Ascot Stakes at this meeting last year. Monsieur Co (5) often races prominently over jumps. Its'afreebee (11) can occasionally make the running over jumps and on the Flat, but is generally ridden with more patience. 

With very little solid pace on paper and given that most of those at the front end of the market tend to be best when ridden some patience, this has the potential to be a bit of a mess in pace terms. Not exactly the ideal medium on which to try to finish the Royal meeting on a winning note!

Trainer Form: What is most notable here is that Andrew Balding (Nate The Great) is the only trainer of a runner here that resides on the right side of the average in form terms. Alan King (Who Dares Wins), Hughie Morrison (Fun Mac) and Gary Moore (Imphal) are on the wrong side of the average, while Jamie Osborne (Mekong) and Ian Williams (The Grand Visir) is right down the bottom of the list. 

Royal Ascot: The Groundwork - Saturday

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