Order Of St George and Big Orange are closely matched on their epic clash in the Gold Cup back in June and the Ballydoyle representative should really turn the tables here with the softer conditions unlikely to suit Big Orange who is at his best on good or faster. Order Of St George has been on the go since April and does have a tendency to sweat in the preliminaries, which he did in this race last year before coming a lacklustre fourth but if everything goes to plan, he really should win this. Stradivarius poses a threat to the favourite if handling conditions after a good third over a slightly inadequate trip in the St Leger, but like Big Orange there is a doubt about the soft ground. Fellow three year old, Desert Skyline, the Doncaster Cup winner, should be on the shortlist but needs to improve to trouble Order Of St George while Duretto, capable of more, could go well @ 11/1 for Andrew Balding and Graham Lee. Lightly campaigned, with possibly this race in mind, Duretto may well improve for the step up to two miles and is an intriguing entry. Another interesting runner is Dartmouth for the Queen, forgiving his below par run in Ireland last time, he had been crying out for two miles and on his first attempt just missed out under a penalty in the Lonsdale Cup at York. He would not be far away given a reproduction of that form and it is not unreasonable to think he will relish this stiff two miles and could rate a bit of value @ 16/1.
Likeliest Winner: Order Of St George
Value Bets: Duretto @ 11/1 and Dartmouth @ 16/1
Tactics will be very interesting here and the Ballydoyle team will not make this easy for Harry Angel as the Irish battalion attempts to undermine the favourite. Given a fully fit and one hundred percent Caravaggio, the British Champions Sprint Stakes could well be a thrilling spectacle. Apart from his seasonal debut, the only horse to ‘lay a glove’ on Harry Angel was Caravaggio in the Commonwealth Cup over course and distance. Aiden O’Brien described Caravaggio as the fastest horse he has ever trained and after Royal Ascot this son of Scat Daddy looked something very special in the sprinting ranks. He then delivered two below par efforts, the July Cup, where he could only muster a running on fourth before an even more sub-standard attempt in the Prix Maurice De Gheest. Citing problems with his feet, Aiden O’Brien gave him a break before re-introducing him at The Curragh where he dealt with a good field comfortably. If back to his best, returning to the course and distance of his greatest success could see him push Harry Angel right to the line.
Harry Angel has improved with every run this season latterly delivering a devastating performance at Haydock on heavy ground, where he left numerous top quality sprinters in his wake. It seems that softer conditions make him an even better proposition so any rain will surely be in his favour and Clive Cox’s three year old is clearly the one to beat. If there are any chinks in his armour they are difficult to find though his three victories this season have come at tracks with a fast six furlongs where this is a much more demanding course, not to mention his three defeats at Ascot. If he reproduces his Haydock form or betters it Harry Angel really should win, if he doesn’t stay the stiff six furlongs or feels the effects of his Sprint Cup win, there could well be a surprise.
Just to add a little spice to the mix, Quiet Reflection, the dual group one winning filly takes her place and could be the value @ 7/1. Having missed most of the summer she made her reappearance at Naas on favoured soft ground producing an impressive performance to defeat solid yardstick Alphabet. Karl Burke’s four year old is arguably better than ever and if soft appears in the going description, has to be considered presuming she does not ‘bounce’ after her exertions last month.
2016 winner The Tin Man saves his best for this course and though firmly put in his place by Harry Angel last time, will be there to pick up any pieces if any of the main protagonists do not run their race. Closely matched with Tasleet, another of the older guard well held by Harry Angel at Haydock, The Tin Man and Tasleet will be doing their best work at the finish though it is hard to envisage either winning this. Another course lover LIbrisa Breeze will be finishing well but place claims are his best outcome with the same applying to Brando if he puts he produces his best.
Likeliest Winner: Harry Angel
Value Bet: Quiet Reflection @ 6/1
Apart from St Leger winner and improving Simple Verse in 2015, in the last ten years no winner of this race has had more than five starts in the current season prior to running in this. The trend goes some way to suggest that fillies and mares that have been trained with this race in mind and lightly campaigned fair better than those that have been on the go all season. That does place a negative against Coronet, Hydrangea, Left Hand and Wild Irish Rose and to be fair all have a bit to find with market leaders. That said, only one winner has been aged five with the other nine winners aged three and four, which casts some doubt over Bateel and Journey!
Bateel has improved markedly since crossing the Channel from David Simcock to Francis-Henri Graffard, improving all year culminating in an impressive display in the Prix Vermeille defeating Journey by two and a half lengths. With patches of heavy rain around the ground is likely to suit the French raider and she rates the one to beat. Fellow French challenger The Juliet Rose could go well @ 16/1. She showed a good attitude at Chantilly last time repelling all challengers and offers some value along with Oaks fourth Horseplay, who will enjoy conditions and stamina laden Alyssa who should force the issue from the front. Defending champion Journey has clearly been trained for this and does handle softer conditions but needs to find a little more to reverse fortunes with Bateel.
Likeliest Winner: Bateel
Value Bet: Horseplay @ 12/1
Long Shot: The Juliet Rose @ 16/1 / Alyssa
The roll of honour for the QEII reads like a who’s who of top class milers with the likes of Frankel, Solow, Minding and George Washington having their names etched into history. Ribchester, apart from the Sussex Stakes, a strange race on bad ground and one he really should have won, would be unbeaten on European soil this season and though not as pleasing on the eye as some past winners, he deserves to take his place alongside them. It is no easy feat winning this race as an older horse though, with only three winners in the last ten years aged over three taking this race and he will have to fend off the younger generation who represent the main challengers.
The male Classic generation have not lived up to expectations, yes they of group one ability, but in terms of a real superstar, it is safe to say we have been left a little underwhelmed. Churchill promised so much and after winning both the English and Irish Guineas in good style almost becoming the champion we annually crave for. Things did not go to plan at Ascot, where he produced a lacklustre performance before a fair second in the Juddmonte, which gave the impression his St James Palace run was a minor blip while at the same time proving that he was mortal and not unbeatable. The fact Churchill was not quite the superstar he promised to be was confounded in the Irish Champion stakes where he travelled well but never really picked up finishing a slightly sorry seventh. A drop back to a mile could suit though he will not too much rain but is starting to cut a figure of a once precocious type that has not really gone on through his three year old season.
With some doubts over Churchill the classic generation’s best chance of taking this looks to be in the form of the progressive Beat The Bank and Andre Fabre’s Al Wukair. Boasting a fantastic record, winning every one of his starts bar one, a below par effort in the Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot, Beat The Bank has improved with every run culminating in a recent five length victory over Sir John Lavery in the Joel Stakes at Newmarket. That performance was of group one standard and his upward curve potentially puts him on a par with Ribchester and not without a chance of deposing him as Europe’s top miler. Al Wukair, third to Churchill in the English 2000 Guineas has had a light campaign having suffered from a twisted ankle earlier in the season. He made heavy weather when winning the Jacques Le Marois, just getting up form Inns Court and does not look the easiest of rides. That said he is talented and it would be no surprise to see master trainer Andre Fabre, who applies cheekpieces for the first time, tease out a little more improvement from this three year old.
Likeliest Winner: Ribchester
Value Bets: Beat The Bank @ 9/2 and Al Wukair @ 13/2
With the defection of top class ten furlong horse Ulysses, Cracksman is currently installed as the 2/1 favourite, based more on potential and what connections feel his is capable of rather than actual form. Placed in both the English and Irish Derbies Cracksman has not yet tasted victory at the top table but was visually impressive in his Great Voltigeur win at York before a facile win in France latest. Cracksman does have a tendency to hit a flat spot in his races, something he can ill afford to do at ten furlongs and would probably be best suited by testing conditions, putting an emphasis on stamina rather than speed. Two questions hang over this son of Frankel: Does he have the class to win this? Is he effective at ten furlongs? The answer to the first question is increasingly, yes. There seems to have been improvement between his Irish Derby run and Voltiguer run at York and with John Gosden alluding to 2018 as to when we will see him at his best, there is clearly more to come. The doubt seeps in when attempting to answer the second question. On his only start at ten furlongs Cracksman only just got up to beat the ill-fated Permian at Epsom, the more rain the better and though he may just find things happening too quickly, there is no doubt he will be finishing the race strongly.
Barney Roy has already achieved a high level of form, second in a Guineas and an Eclipse before a third in the Juddmonte International but the frustration with this free-going sort is his reluctance to settle. Clearly he would improve a few pounds if relaxing on the bridle, saving that extra energy to utilise his ample ability at the end of races. If that scenario was to play out, where he settled in behind runners before being produced two furlongs out then we could see an explosive performance, but to take a chance on that occurring involves a fair leap of faith.
Even with the absence of Ulysses Sir Michael Stoute’s still has a contender in Poet’s Word, who, in a similar vein to Ulysses, has done nothing but improve this season beginning the year by winning a handicap at Chelmsford in April. Just run out of things by Decorated Knight in the Irish version of this race, if more improvement is forthcoming then the 13/2 could be a bit of value about this four year old. Trends add more weight to Poet’s Word’s claims with seven of the last ten winners of the Champion Stakes having being four or five years old.
The Ballydoyle representatives look a little weak, the top class Highland Reel is at his best on a firmer surface and will likely struggle on this ground while Cliffs Of Moher has been disappointing since his second in the Derby. Finally French Guineas and Derby winner Brametot is worth a second look in the market. Forgiving his penultimate run where he missed the break at Deauville, Jean-Claude Rouget’s three year old travelled well in the Arc last time before not quite staying the mile and a half. Back to ten furlongs will see this son of Rajsaman in a much better light and he could be delivered as a late threat up the Ascot straight, though he does need to break on terms and find a little more improvement to worry the principals. Desert Encounter will look to pick off rivals in a similar fashion to his Eclipse third and could place at 25/1.
Likeliest Winner: ?
Value Bets: Poets’ Word @ 13/2 and Brametot @ 6/1
A big prize on offer for the winner of the Balmoral Handicap and as expected, some progressive types line up. Top of the list has to be Roger Varian’s Zabeel Prince, an impressive winner of what looked a fairly competitive York handicap and he looks group class already. If taking to the stiff finish here at Ascot he will take some beating. As we alluded to a fortnight ago before Lord Glitters went close over seven furlongs at this course, David O’Meara’s French imports are to be seriously respected. With form up to ten furlongs and the way he finished over seven behind Accidental Agent, Lord Glitters will not let Zabeel Prince have things all his own way. Accidental Agent deserves a mention but the penalty makes life difficult and to win this would need a seriously good performance. Another progressive type is The Grape Escape, given time by trainer Richard Hannon he has been unbeaten since returning in September and could be the value @ 10/1. Former Royal Hunt Cup winner GM Hopkins could well have one last big race in him while Speculative Bid made a satisfying comeback after two years off and if that run has brought him on could go well at 16/1. Firmament likes it at Ascot but really should have won more races while reserve, Century Dream, would be a serious contender if one or two come out.
Likeliest Winner: Zabeel Prince
Value Bet: The Grape Escape @ 9/1
Long Shot: Speculative Bid @ 16/1
Quickened Clear’s Best Bets:
Bateel – 2.40 Ascot – 2pt win @ 5/2
Poet’s Word – 3.50 Ascot – 1pt win @ 13/2