The two-and-a-half-mile Ascot Stakes is responsible for £100,000 of the more than £2 million in prize money that is offered on day one of Royal Ascot 2022, and the race is a cracker.
As usual in staying handicaps here there is a healthy mixture of battle-hardened gallopers, improving types and National Hunt horses all vying for the £51,000 first prize.
County Waterford trainer John Queally moved quickly to ensure he had the services of top apprentice Harry Davies for this race, claiming five, and his Arcadian Sunrise has been well backed.
The eight-year-old’s very best hurdles form was achieved as recently as last July, while on the Flat he’s won at York and was fourth last time in the Chester Cup.
His Flat racing trajectory is an upward one and he won’t be crying off late on in this contest which is a major factor.
Bring On The Night
It’s very hard to handicap Bring On The Night, but when Willie Mullins sends a horse to a major Flat handicap and books Ryan Moore, you have to be predicting a performance towards the top end of the horse’s apparent capabilities.
In this case Bring On The Night was a purchase from Andre Fabre’s yard in France over the winter. As good as Fabre is, we should remain confident about Mullins’ ability to improve horses at this sort of trip.
On his hurdles form, especially his fourth to Constitution Hill in the Supreme Novices’ at Cheltenham, he’d look pretty well handicapped off 93.
On what he actually achieved on the Flat in France however that looks to overestimate him. Meeting half way, he makes the shortlist but is arguably not worthy of his short price in the market.
It’s not always the apparent handicap blot who wins a race like this. There’s a lot to be said in fact for finishing placed alongside the likes of Nicholas T, Moliwood, Earlofthecotswolds and in the Chester Cup which has been the case with Andrew Balding’s Coltrane.
His Chester Cup run in fact was a neck second to Cleveland, who runs in the other big handicap today, and that is excellent form.
As always though, when they keep going up in the weights without winning you are taking a risk, though one horse in the race may be able to make light of such a factor.
The horse going up in the weights without winning, perhaps until now, is Marshall Plan. John & Thady Gosden’s runner remains a colt and an improving one at that.
The son of Golden Horn clearly has a future and we reckon a lot more was expected when he was narrowly beaten at Newcastle on Finals Day back in April.
Marshall Plan’s only win was on his second start and he has gone on to be runner-up five times since then, but it could be this extreme trip that unlocks more from him.
In terms of his handicap mark, he is better off than many think. He should have been given a mark of around 103 for the Newcastle run with the prospect of improvement to come, so coming in off 97 seems lenient.
Along with Bring On The Night, much of the attention and plenty of the money will be on Pied Piper for National Hunt trainer Gordon Elliott.
His hurdles form stacks up in the context of him being rated 96 now on the Flat, but since May 2021 he has improved over both codes only very steadily but may need to have lots of weight in hand to win a race like this.
Rock Eagle is a big price but there’s little wrong with his profile for this event.
Hugely consistent for Ralph Beckett, he may be a seven-year-old now but he’s only had 14 runs and it may be that as yet we haven’t seen the very best of him in staying handicaps.
In many ways, this race revolves around Bring On The Night. If Willie Mullins has got the sort of improvement out of the hurdler that we expect, he may be very well in.
That is always a possibility with such horses, but it’ll need to be the trip as well as Mullins’ magic that drags him up the ranks as what he did on the level in France is frankly not good enough to justify his current handicap mark.
MARSHALL PLAN however is a solid Flat racing proposition, is perhaps incorrectly handicapped and can reach the level required to win this race.