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SPORTS STORY

Posh frocks and prizes

Yes, time to get your gladrags on again, as Royal Ascot comes around again. Angus Loughran will be mixing it with the hoity toity – and gives you the benefit of his insight here

Over £4 million of prize money on offer, 17 Group races, high society, glamour and fashion – it can only be Royal Ascot.

The five-day extravaganza of flat racing is undoubtedly the only place to be in June and us punters are literally spoilt for choice. With so many world-class horses lining up it can be difficult to know where to start but with a bit of research and discipline hopefully your pockets will still be lined by close of play on June 19.

Those of you lucky enough to be attending Day 1 will be treated to three back-to-back Group 1s, as well as some very competitive action later in the day. But we start with the Queen Anne Stakes, where the world’s top milers take their chance for a purse of £250,000. Its upgrading to Group 1 status in 2003 has attracted some superb horses in recent years, none more so than Paco Boy in 2009, who gave veteran trainer Richard Hannon his first-ever win in the race. From a training perspective it’s always worth following any Godolphin runner closely – Saeed bin Suroor is the most successful handler in the races history with seven wins, all of them coming within the last 14 years.

The speedsters get their turn next with the five-furlong King’s Stand Stakes and this is a truly international affair. We haven’t had a single English-trained winner since it became part of the Global Sprint Challenge in 2005, with three of the last four hailing from Australia. Consequently, it is always worth following any exciting prospects from overseas that take their chance. Another trend worth noting is that eight of the last 11 winners were under the age of six.

Elsewhere on Day 1, Aidan O’Brien will be looking to continue his phenomenal recent record in the St James’s Palace Stakes. Ballydoyle have won the last three successive renewals and six of the last 10, with superb horses such as Giant’s Causeway (2000), Rock of Gibraltar (2002) and Henrythenavigator (2008) all obliging.

The highlight of Day 2 is the Prince of Wales’ Stakes, which is run over 1m 2f and has seen some top-class winners in recent years. Since being promoted to Group 1 in 2000, we have been treated to the likes of Fantastic Light, Azamour, Ouija Board and Duke of Marmalade winning here and there is no doubt that proven class is absolutely key for your selections. It is generally dominated by four- and five-year-olds though the former have the edge with 19 winners in the last 30 years. The two-year-old fillies also get their turn with the Group 2 Queen Anne Stakes – and it looked to have produced a real star last year when Jealous Again was a very impressive five-length winner from the States.

The Ascot Gold Cup will be poorer for the absence of the great Yeats, who made history by becoming the first horse ever to win this race for four consecutive years. Prior to his era, younger stayers had been prominent – only one other horse (Drum Taps, 1993) has won over the age of six in the post-war era. Frankie Dettori was on board that day and the little Italian also has a sensational record in the preceding Group 2 Ribblesdale Stakes – his victory on Flying Cloud last year made him the most successful jockey in the race’s history, with five victories, so pay close attention to his mount.

Friday’s Coronation Stakes sees the top three-year-old fillies renew rivalries, usually from the 1000 Guineas earlier in the season. Last year Ghanaati became the first horse since Attraction (2004) to win both in the same season – it was also Barry Hills’ second victory in the last five years. Also watch out for any Henry Cecil runner in the King Edward VII Stakes – he has saddled eight winners in his illustrious career and one more would draw him level as the all-time top trainer – matching a feat set back in 1904.

It’s back to the sprinters on the final day with the Group 1 Golden Jubilee Stakes taking centre stage. While being an international field like the King’s Stand, we have seen some British success in recent years with Michael Bell’s Art Connoisseur taking the honours in 2009. In fact, it is normally worth branching out your selections here as three of the last four winners were priced 20/1 or bigger!

The other highlight of the day is the Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes, which is the same distance (1m 4f) as the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes the following month. John Gosden took the honours with Bronze Cannon last year but it is usually worth following Sir Michael Stoute – he has won this on five occasions since 1986, including in 2006 and 2007 with Maraahel.

So as you can see, there is a quite staggering amount of top-quality racing over the five days – and we haven’t even touched on the handicaps, many of which provide the biggest betting turnover of the entire flat season. Good luck with your punting.

ANDY NEWTON’S ASCOT GOLD CUP TRENDS

In recent years this race has been a token contest for Royal Ascot punters with the all-conquering Yeats landing the spoils in the last four renewals, while in the last five runnings the prize had gone the way of the favourite four times. However, with Aidan O’Brien’s record breaker now strutting his stuff at Coolmore Stud this has left the stayers’ division wide open, which should set us up for one of the most competitive Gold Cups in years.

So when looking back at past races what are the key trends to note? We already know that the market leaders have fared well; winning five of the last 10 runnings, but only Royal Rebel’s win in 2002 has seen a double-figure priced winner – it could, therefore, pay to keep those at the head of the market on your side.

Aidan O’Brien has landed the last four runnings, so anything he sends over has to be respected as he looks for a horse to fill the Yeats void, while other handlers to note are Mark Johnston, who took this in 1995, 2001 and 2002; and Saeed bin Suroor who’s scooped the prize in 1996, 1998, 2000 and 2004. Other worthy trainer stats are: that Sir Michael Stoute, who at the time of writing trains leading fancy Ask, is yet to win the race; while former champion trainer Henry Cecil has won the Gold Cup five times, albeit his last being way back in 1987.

When looking at the jockeys you could do a lot worse than just back whichever horses Johnny Murtagh (five wins) and Frankie Dettori (four wins) are riding – the pair have won 50% of the last 18 runnings between them.

The age of your fancy seems to play it’s part too with eight of the last 10 winners falling into the four-, five- or six-year-old bracket, while, since 1949, only three horses have won aged seven or older – and Yeats was two of those!

Finally, and arguably the most significant trend, is to note what kind of form your fancy is in. In the last 10 years 60% of winners came to the Berkshire track off the back of winning runs, and the most notable trial has been the Group Two Henry II Stakes, run at Sandown on 27 May – with four recent winners taking in that race before going onto Gold Cup glory. Good luck!

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