Royal Ascot begins on Tuesday with three Group Ones on the opening day to really kick start the week. In fact, there are a total of eight Group Ones to savour throughout the week with leading equine talent such as Cracksman, Lady Aurelia and Order Of St George all set to grace Royal Ascot.
These Group Ones are fantastic but for many punters, it’s the ultra-competitive handicaps that really get their pulses racing. Everybody likes to get that sense of satisfaction of picking a handicap winner, you are looking for that “edge” in the race or a particular angle. I have looked at three handicaps during the week and picked my handicap hopefuls.
Ascot Stakes – Light Pillar
Eight of the last ten renewals of the Ascot Stakes have been won by predominantly national hunt trainers. Willie Mullins has an enviable record having won three of the last six contests. There are numerous unknowns in a race of this nature, with many of the runners reverting back to the flat having been purchased to go jump racing by current connections.
Melbourne Cup-winning trainer Joseph O’Brien saddles one of the more interesting runners in Light Pillar. The daughter of Galileo began her racing career in France and showed some very smart form for Andre Fabre contesting a Listed and Group Three race before joining O’Brien jnr.
She has looked progressive in two starts in Ireland, winning ion debut and only succumbing to Law Girl on her most recent start. It looks like she will really appreciate the step up in trip and we already know that Joseph O’Brien knows what it takes to win a competitive staying handicap.
The current odds of 14/1 offered by RaceBets look pretty big considering the untapped potential the filly possess.
Royal Hunt Cup – Settle For Bay
The Royal Hunt Cup is an ultra-competitive 1-mile handicap run on the Wednesday of Royal Ascot. Four-year-olds have a great record in the race with the last three renewals going their way.
Thankfully my nap of the week Settle For Bay falls into this age bracket and this is not the only positive. The son of Rio De La Plata was hugely progressive last year winning four on the bounce and in the process going from a mark of 59 to 99.
David Marnane’s charge ran very well on seasonal debut at Leopardstown last month when finishing a staying on fourth under hands and hells after running very free in the early stages of a competitive 7-furlong race.
Settle For Bay has shown a winning attitude, it looks like he is on an upward curve, he will be racing off a lovely weight and for those of you unfamiliar with David Marnane, he is trained by one of the shrewdest in the business when it comes to winning big English handicaps.
Marnane has had limited runners in England but has already landed some of Brittan’s biggest handicaps, he has previously plundered the Portland twice(Santo Padre 2009 & Nocturnal Affair 2011), Victoria Cup (Dandy Boy 2010) and the Wokingham (Dandy Boy 2012).
Everything points to Settle For Bay running a massive race and I for one will be shouting him home from the rooftops!
Wokingham – Danzeno
Some might raise an eyebrow at the thoughts of Danzeno winning the Wokingham, he is a seven-year-old who has already run seven times this year and is winless since July last year. However, that win was over 5f at Ascot off a mark of 104.
Danzeno has saved some of his best runs for Ascot which included a placed effort in the Group One Champion Sprint Stakes in 2015 along with a fifth placing in last year’s Wokingham behind Out Do. Mick Appleby’s inmate is now two pounds lower than when contesting the race last year and following an encouraging third-place finish at York on his most recent start.
In such a competitive handicap Danzeno’s experience at Group One level should stand to him and if he can get a favourable draw (Last four winners drawn 21 or higher) on Saturday he looks sure to run a big race.