London – You won’t get rich backing odds-on chances, especially at a meeting like Royal Ascot, and, while I am a huge fan of Cracksman, there are enough reasons for taking on the red-hot favourite in today’s Group 1 Prince Of Wales’s Stakes, feature of Day Two.
Granted, Ascot brings out the best in Cracksman, who never went a metre on the undulations of Epsom last time, yet somehow got out of jail to snatch the Coronation Cup out of the fire in the last stride.
However, for me Cracksman is an out-and-out mile and a half (2400m) horse. Admittedly he was awesome when he won the Champion Stakes over 2000m here last October, but the ground was soft that day and when underfoot conditions ride fast, as they will today, he is definitely vulnerable.
HAWKBILL has a kink in him – he turned in a shocker at Epsom – but on his day he is as good as there is, an opinion supported in the way he destroyed a top-class field in the Sheema Classic at Meydan on World Cup Night.
That was 2400m, but he was similarly brilliant when winning the Eclipse at Sandown, and I can’t fathom out why he is twice the price of Poet’s Word, whom he beat fair and square in Dubai.
And, despite a subsequent success against lesser opposition at Sandown, Poet’s Word still has to prove himself at the top table.
Cracksman still hits a flat spot in his races, and, while he might get away with it on fast ground over 2400m, over this shorter trip Hawkbill can take him down and provide Godolphin with another big celebration in what is proving a fantastic 2018 for the boys in blue.
However, John Gosden, who trains Cracksman, might have the answer to the Group 2 Queen’s Vase with STREAM OF STARS.
Aidan O’Brien’s Southern France is favourite here, but made hard work of beating a 25-1 shot in an ordinary race at Navan.
In contrast, Stream Of Stars impressed when winning over the course last month and, according to his trainer, who won this race last year with Stradivarius, he will improve again for going up in distance.
American trainer Wes Ward has taken Royal Ascot by storm in the last decade, and his whole year is planned around these five days.
Ward’s two-year-olds have been electric, and he rates Keenel and winner CHELSEA CLOISTERS “as good as anything I have ever brought over”, so I expect another flying dismount from Frankie Dettori following the opening Queen Mary Stakes.
You’ll need your lucky pin to find the winner of the 30-runner Royal Hunt Cup, a handicap up the straight 1600m, but BLESS HIM won a similar race (Britannia) at the meeting last year, and with his recent prep-race having put him spot on, he’ll be carrying my money, especially as he’ll love the ground.
The closing 29-runner Jersey Stakes is almost as tough, but my Newmarket mole tells me that EXPERT EYE has recently been showing the sort of form on the gallops that preceded his hugely impressive win at Glorious Goodwood last summer.
Expert Eye subsequently proved disappointing, but Sir Michael Stoute, whose first of 75 winners at this meeting came in this very same race with Etienne Gerard in 1977, had a twinkle in his eye when this horse’s name popped up recently, so a resurrection might be on the cards.
Tomorrow’s Gold Cup, first run in 1807, is one of the crown jewels of our sport, being the premier staying race in Britain, and Aidan O’Brien, whose 12 runners since 2006 have resulted in seven wins and three seconds, has the favourite in Order Of St George, the 2016 hero.
Order Of St George was chinned close home 12 months ago after an epic scrap with Big Orange, and, though Ryan Moore was happy with the six-year-old’s dress-rehearsal at Leopardstown, there were signs that maybe he isn’t the force he was.
That, together with the fact that the ground will be plenty fast enough for the favourite, leads me to oppose Order Of St George with Gosden’s STRADIVARIUS, who was imperious in victory in last month’s Yorkshire Cup and has clearly improved plenty with a winter behind him.
If your betting kitty is getting low after the Gold Cup then start praying because the last two races are handicaps loaded with ifs and buts, not least the draw which is so crucial at Ascot.
I’ll take a trio against the field in the 30-runner Britannia – CRACK ON CRACK ON, plus Hugo Palmer’s pair, CURIOSITY and CORROSIVE, the first three from last month’s competitive Silver Bowl at Haydock, while we might be looking to Gosden again for us to save the day in the King George V Handicap, with FIRST ELEVEN only just preferred to stablemate CASSINI.
FAIRYLAND, reported to be Aidan O’Brien’s best two-year-old filly, is a must for the Albany Stakes, which kick-starts day four, and Coolmore can also take the Group 1 Coronation Stakes with CLEMMIE, who is my best bet of the week.
Clemmie was a superstar last year but suffered a hiccup in the spring which caused her to miss the English Guineas, and she was only three-parts ready for her comeback in the Irish equivalent. She has apparently thrived since and can take her revenge on her The Curragh conqueror Alpha Centauri.
The other Group 1 on Friday is the Commonwealth Cup for the three-year-old speed merchants, and Charlie Hills, who excels with sprinters, looks to have unveiled another potential star in EQUILATERAL, who looked the real deal at Doncaster recently.
The highlight of the whole week for me will be Saturday’s Group 1 Diamond Jubilee, and, while I am loathe to oppose Harry’s Angel, the fact is he is 0-4 at Ascot, so I make this between MERCHANT NAVY and Redkirk Warrior, who represent top Australian sprinting form.
Redkirk Warrior narrowly came out on top when the pair clashed in the prestigious Group 1 Newmarket Handicap at Flemington and is now 5kg better off at the weights, but, whereas he only recently arrived in Britain to acclimatise, Merchant Navy joined Aidan O’Brien a couple of months ago and following a pleasing debut victory in the Greenlands at The Curragh carries plenty of stable confidence.