Day one of Royal Ascot 2019 is an absolute belter on paper and while the real quality will be seen earlier in the day with Group 1 races the Queen Anne Stakes, King’s Stand and St James’s Palace Stakes all taking place, the main betting event is this hugely competitive 20-runner affair over the marathon trip of 2½ miles.
National Hunt trainers have dominated the event in recent times and once again they hold the whip hand this year with jumps handlers from both sides of the Irish sea bringing top candidates. Here are the best six as we see it:
A strong ante-post favourite and it’s easy to see why; a Willie Mullins-trained runner who was previously regarded as a Group-race filly for Mick Channon.
There’s no doubt she has many qualities and will be hard to keep out of the first four under
Ryan Moore, but her most recent form over obstacles leaves plenty to be desired and she’s drawn out in stall 19 which may not be any help either.
Coeur De Lion
As the Chester Plate winner this horse brings in just about the best recent flat form to the race, however he seemed to really relish the heavy ground that day and won’t get quite the same conditions this time around.
He was sixth in this race last time on faster ground in all fairness having been second on the Roodeye beforehand, but having jumped up to a mark of 93 now he looks a tad vulnerable for Alan King and it may be that he’s fighting for what is admittedly strong place money.
On his best career form he’d be extremely well-handicapped for this and so that needs to be considered carefully, especially since he’s improved in chunks in each race since his lowest point in last season’s Cesarewitch and can come forward again from his solid fifth in the Chester Cup.
Hughie Morrison’s 8-year-old must hold a fantastic chance at what will hopefully prove to be backable each-way odds, his rider PJ McDonald largely underrated and set to have a very good Royal Ascot.
Denis Hogan has taken a different route to most of today’s trainers in that instead of laying this horse out for the big day he has kept him busy.
Having already had seven runs in the calendar year, he finally came good at Navan last time out when winning a handicap off a mark of 89 over two miles and while this test is different again he remains in very good form and could pose a threat under top quality jock Oisin Murphy, assuming he’s allowed to take up his mounts.
The Ascot Stakes has long been the domain of jumps trainers with Gordon Elliott no stranger to it, but for soon to be defunct outfit Gigginstown Stud Royal Ascot is new territory.
They could make the day very much worthwhile with this horse, a high-class hurdler and chaser who has close form this year with the likes of Kalashnikov and La Bague Au Roi.
He reached his flat handicap mark of 96 way before he became the horse he is now and could have plenty in hand in this contest, his inside draw not being a bad thing and his age (6) being just about ideal. Big chance.
Noel Meade’s runner is a hard one to fully assess but there’s no doubt he has a strong place chance and cannot be overlooked.
He hasn’t been in the best of form since late last year but this change of scenery and circumstance could just reinvigorate him, making him look reasonably treated off a mark of 99 under top rider Colin Keane.
Recent winners Coeur De Lion and Kerosin can continue to go well while Fun Mac could take a big step forward from the Chester Cup.
Buildmeupbuttercup has been strongly touted and may yet be the one, but from this draw and at a skinny price he is certainly avoidable and we may find that there’s better value in Gordon Elliott’s MENGLI KHAN.
The Grade One novice winner has only run 22 times in his life and will get better yet, certainly we can see a performance on the flat at a level far above where he was when last seen in October 2016 and so he could yet prove to be a handicap blot making him worth chancing.