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.
Watch every race of Royal Ascot 2020 live on Sky Sports Racing (Sky 415 | Virgin 535) from Tuesday 16th June to Saturday 20th June.
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 stablemates 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 share my groundwork for a selected group of races to on attheraces.com 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 are my thought's on Tuesday's races.
Pace: Marie's Diamond (15) is a regular front runner that produced a career-best effort under such tactics on his most recent start at Newbury. He looks the likeliest leader. Mustashry (5) switched to front running for the first time in his career when dropped to seven furlongs for the Challenge Stakes at Newmarket on his final start last season and produced a winning effort that was right up there with the best performances of his career. That result might well encourage his connections to send him forward back over a mile here.
Circus Maximus (4) generally starts on even terms and looks sure to be at least prominent. He can make the running, but has been seen to best effect when racing prominently. Roseman (12) has made all to win at a lesser level, but has tended to be ridden prominently at a higher level. Turjomaan (3) made all to win two novice events last season, but missed the kick when upped in class for a Group 3 at Glorious Goodwood. A free-going sort, it seems more likely than not that his connections won’t want to ride him forcefully on his return to action in this stronger race.
Draw: The stalls are in the centre of the straight track. Every renewal of this race since 2012 on a variety of ground conditions have seen the field come up the middle of the track and that seems most likely here.
That the two main candidates to make the running, Marie’s Diamond (15) and Mustashry (5) are drawn quite wide apart raises the possibility of two groups forming down the middle of the track, but most likely that will merge to form an arrowhead of sorts. Between those two and a pair of strong chasers in Circus Maximus (4) and Roseman (12), the pace should be at least average, giving horses of every run style a fair chance.
Given the shape of pace and draw, those that are likely to be ridden with a bit more restraint that are drawn towards the middle such as Accidental Agent (7), Skardu (6) and Terebellum (8) may find themselves needing luck in traffic when the race heats up.
Trainer Form: Amongst those that have had a sample of at least eight runners since the return of racing at the time of writing, Marcus Tregoning (Mohaather), John Gosden (Terebellum), Paul & Oliver Cole (Duke Of Hazzard), Andrew Balding (Fox Chairman), Roger Varian (Turjomaan), Sir Michael Stoute (Mustashry), William Haggas (Skardu) and Aidan O’Brien (Circus Maximus) are all at the very top end of the trainer form list at the time of writing, with Gosden being placed the highest and the rest following him in the order as above. Mark Johnston (Marie's Diamond) is inside the top third. Eve Johnson Houghton (Accidental Agent) is on the right side of halfway. In terms of the negatives, Richard Fahey (Space Traveller) and David O’Meara (Escobar) are just about on the wrong side of halfway down the list and David Simcock (Bless Him) is towards the very bottom of it.
Pace: Hit The Bid (2) likes to race forwardly and has helped push the pace in his last two starts, albeit at Group 3 level. Glass Slippers (4) produced a career-best effort when switched to front running to make most to win in the Prix de l’Abbaye at Longchamp last October. Battaash (10) has made all to win in the past, but has tended to sit prominently in the first half of his races in more recent times. Kurious (7) helped push the pace when producing a career-best effort at Sandown on her latest start last year. Shades Of Blue (1) had tended to race prominently for much of last season, but she missed the kick both on her final start of last season and on her seasonal reappearance earlier this month. However, first-time blinkers could well make her sharper and a return to more forceful tactics shouldn’t be ruled out.
For all his reputation as trailblazing and merciless speedster, Battaash (10) hasn’t been tending to make the early running in recent times. Indeed, he didn’t make the early running in any of his starts last season. More often than not he is a shade slowly away, though this has perhaps been more pronounced by the remarkable regularity with which he has been drawn on a wing, that is in the innermost or outermost stall, which are statistically more likely to produce slow starters. Seven of his 10 career wins have been gained from such a stall.
In common with the Queen Anne, every renewal of the King’s Stand since 2012 has seen the field race down the middle of the track and there is no obvious reason to think that will be any different this week.
It has seemed to suit Battaash to have something fast enough to give him a tow in the first half of his races, but whether there is something fast enough to play that role for him here is open to question. Given this is Battaash’s first run of the season and he is likely to be particularly fresh, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him end up making his own running. Whether he is making the running or sitting close to the pace, the key to victory for Battaash will be Jim Crowley’s ability to get him to relax as best he can. Battaash is an out-and-out five-furlong specialist that has proved vulnerable up the finishing climb at Ascot in years past. Crowley will need to do everything he can to conserve as much energy as possible in the first two-thirds of the race. If Battaash ends up making his own running, it will arguably make him more vulnerable, as one can be sure that his opposition will look to attack him a long way from home in an effort to diminish his stamina reserves. Such circumstances could well play into the hands of those that stalk the pace and look to strike late.
Trainer Form: Charlie Hills (Battaash) and Aidan O’Brien (Sergei Prokofiev) are all at the very top end of the trainer form list at the time of writing on Sunday morning. Robert Cowell (Rocket Action), John Quinn (Liberty Beach), Kevin Ryan (Glass Slippers) and Richard Hannon (Well Done Fox) are just about three-quarters way up the list. Clive Cox (Shades Of Blue and Tis Marvellous) is only slightly better than mid-division, while Henry Candy (Kurious) is only just inside the bottom third of the list.
Pace: Miss O Connor (8) has made much of the running in her three starts for her current connections and looks the likeliest leader. Magic Lily (1) often races prominently and stays this trip well, so she seems very likely to be close to the pace. Agincourt (6) made the running once last season, but more typically raced prominently. Invitational (9) made the running a couple of times last season, but most recently won at Wolverhampton when racing prominently and is unproven over a mile, so it seems unlikely that she will look to make the running. Jubiloso (11) made all to win at a lower level last season, but disappointed when making the running on her final start last season and seems unlikely to push forward here.
With just one clear candidate to make the running in Miss O Connor (8), there is a possibility that she could get an easy lead. She won when setting back steady and solid fractions in front last year, but if she sets steady fractions on this occasion, it will make life difficult for those that are ridden with more restraint such as the ante-post favourite Nazeef (5).
The field came down the middle of the racecourse in all bar one renewal of the Duke Of Cambridge Stakes since 2012 and there is no obvious reason to think that will be any different this week.
Trainer Form: John Gosden (Nazeef), Roger Varian (Invitational), Sir Michael Stoute (Jubiloso and Queen Power), Charlie Appleby (Magic Lily) and William Haggas (Miss O Connor) are all at the very top end of the trainer form list at the time of writing. Richard Hannon (Posted) and Tom Dascombe (Iconic Choice) are just about three-quarters way up the list. In terms of the negatives, Amanda Perrett (Lavender's Blue) is on the wrong side of halfway down the list.
Pace: Charlie D (7) has become a regular front runner of late and looks likely to push forward. Summer Moon (14) is a regular front runner. Mancini (12) tends to race prominently or make the running. Rochester House (20) likes to race prominently and can occasionally make the running. Land Of Oz (1) ran well when switching to front-running tactics on his seasonal reappearance and he might well push forward again. Fair Mountain (10) had been racing prominently over hurdles when last seen in 2018 and had occasionally made the running on the Flat when trained in Germany prior to that. Diocletian (19) is inconsistent in his run style, but occasionally makes the running and did so in a similar race to this (Chester Cup) last year.
All told, there looks to be enough good candidates to push forward to make sure this is run at least at an average pace, if not brisker, which will be a help to those that are ridden with more restraint.
Draw: The draw for this race is a very interesting subject. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that low draws would be favoured in a race of this length with so much turning to be done. However, that isn’t necessarily the case when dealing with the round track at Ascot. While it isn’t as pronounced over two-and-a-half miles as at shorter trips, higher draws very much fight their corner over this course and distance. In the last 21 renewals of Ascot Stakes, there have been 232 runners drawn 11 or lower and 240 drawn 12 or higher. The latter group produced eight of the 21 winners and 42 of the 84 that finished in the first four home. Thus, don’t be at all discouraged if your fancy has a high draw.
Trainer Form: Amongst those that have had a sample of at least eight runners since the return of racing at the time of writing, Andrew Balding (Diocletian) is towards the very top end of the in-form list. Sir Mark Prescott (Land Of Oz) and Ralph Beckett (Moon King and Cliffs Of Dooneen) are both in the top 10%. Mark Johnston (Summer Moon) and Tom Dascombe (Charlie D) are just about three-quarters way up the list. Alan King (Coeur De Lion) is on the right side of halfway. In terms of the negatives, Gary Moore (Quloob) is on the wrong side of halfway, Ian Williams (Blue Laureate and Mancini) is in the bottom 10% and David Simcock (Smart Champion) is towards the very bottom of it.