Paul Nicholls won his first Summer Plate at Market Rasen last Saturday in fine style with the very progressive 7yo, Alcala. The grey travelled really well throughout and looked the most likely winner a long way from home. There was only a neck in it at the post, but I feel that jockey, Sam Twiston-Davies had a bit to spare, and there could be more to come from this likeable grey. Bringing home the bacon at the rewarding odds of 9/1 he certainly left followers of The Oddsguru blog on good terms with themselves, so here's hoping we can keep the momentum going in Saturday's Ascot showpiece.
First run in 1951 as a Group1 open to all ages, the Classic generation, with twenty nine wins on the scoresheet have historically had the best of the argument, but it has to be said that with only four victories since the turn of the new millennium, their record hasn't been nearly so impressive. Sir Michael Stoute and Saeed bin Suroor share the training honours with five victories apiece closely pursued by the Master of Ballydoyle, Aidan O'Brien, with four.
Sir Michael's best chance of taking the outright lead lies with recent Eclipse winner,
(and Oddsguru's selection) Ulysses. Typical of the slow maturing type that Maestro Stoute excels with, Ulysses, who had been a tad disappointing as a 3yo, showed that the penny was beginning to drop when winning the Group3 Sir Gordon Richard Stakes over Sandown's demanding 10f on his reappearance in April, and confirmed that he was indeed on an upward track eight weeks later, when finishing third in the 10f Group1 Prince of Wales Stakes to Highland Reel and Decorated Knight, beaten 1 1/4L and a Shd. Probably needing the race after his two months break, he took a very strong hold, and mounted his challenge too early in the straight, giving the winner a target to aim at, but seventeen days later looked much more the finished article when winning the 10f Group1 Eclipse Stakes. Always travelling well, he again came with his run a little too early and had to hold off the late challenge of 2000gns runner up Barney Roy, who clearly improved for the step up in trip. Ulysses won Goodwood's 12f Gordon Stakes as a 3yo and as a son of Galileo out of the Oaks Heroine, Light Shift, Saturday's trip could prove ideal. A concern would be testing conditions. Although he has performed on easy ground in the past, connections are hoping the rain stays away.
The Ballydoyle operation is represented by one of the toughest and most genuine animals on the planet, the 5yo Highland Reel, and by his year younger full brother, Idaho. The former, yet another son of the great Galileo is attempting to become only the third horse to win back to back runnings of the contest, and boasting six Group1 victories on three continents, must have serious prospects of bringing off the double. However he does like to hear his hooves rattle so with so much rain about a waiting brief is advised.
His younger sibling, the 4yo Idaho, was certainly not winning out of turn when taking Royal Ascot's Group2 Hardwicke Stakes last time out. He was an unlucky loser of last year's St Leger, unseating Seamie Heffernan when coming down the straight on the bridle, and again the fates were against him when making his seasonal debut in the Coronation Cup at the Derby meeting in June, where due to some cock up in the flying arrangements, he only got to the course an hour before the race. Third in Last year's Derby, and second in the Irish equivalent, this beautifully bred animal may only now, as a 4yo be beginning to realise his full potential, and as he seems to handle most ground is one for the short list.
John Gosden, a two times winner of the race, is represented by dual Oaks winner, Enable, and 5yo Jack Hobbs. The former, a daughter of Nathaniel, has looked a real class act when winning both the English and Irish Oaks. She won at Epsom by 5L from O'Briens Rhododendron, and was equally impressive at The Curragh, winning by 5 1/2L from Rain Goddess. It has to be a concern that it is only two weeks since her stunning Curragh victory, but very much in her favour is the fourteen pounds she will be receiving from most of her older rivals.
Second to Golden Horn in the 2015 Epsom Derby, and winner of the same year's Irish Derby, Jack Hobbs has had his problems since, but looked to have put them behind him when winning at Meydan on his reappearance in March, (yielding ground) but then was a major disappointment at Royal Ascot. He was sent off the 2/1 fav for the Prince of Wales Stakes but finished last of the eight runners behind Highland Reel. The fast ground and very hot day were blamed for the poor performance. However the horse has continued to attract plenty of support in the market, and with nothing faster than good ground likely at the weekend, is worth considering.
David Simcock would love to see the heavens open over the Berkshire track as his 5yo Desert Encounter revels in soft ground. The son of Halling is a little short of the required standard but he did run a decent race last time to finish third, 3 /12L behind Ulysses in the Eclipse, and as we all know, heavy ground is a great leveller.
Selection : Idaho
E.W. : Ulysses