OAKSEY House in Lambourn was the venue for one of only a handful of Royal Ascot preview evenings and the event was staged to raise money for the Injured Jockeys Fund.
The six-strong panel was expertly marshalled by Channel Four Racing’s Tanya Stevenson and included current and former jockeys Richard Hughes, John Reid and Luke Harvey, trainer Clive Cox and Luke Tarr from sponsors Star Sports.
With five days of racing to get through in one sitting, the panel went a good clip from the outset and the Queen Anne, the very first obstacle, was easily negotiated as all the panelists sided with the locally-trained Canford Cliffs.
“I just can’t see Canford getting beaten,” boasted Hughes. “It would ruin my week if he did!” Harvey added that Hannon’s stable star looked seriously plump in the paddock at Newbury before his reappearance and would strip a different horse come the day.
The panel had found the bet of the meeting in the very first race. Star Sports’ Tarr didn’t seem fazed and was happy to lay a best-priced 5/4 about the selection reminding everyone that the bookies have Goldikova, a 13-time Group One winner, on their side.
As for the King’s Stand, all agreed that Hungarian raider Overdose isn’t the horse he was and Hughes was adamant that Sole Power wouldn’t be suited by Ascot. Cox felt that Star Witness, 4/1 with Star Sports, was definitely the one they all had to beat.
The panel also unanimously agreed that Frankel is a superstar but not a working man’s price at 1/3 in the St James’s Palace. Marco Botti’s Excelebration was seen as the best each-way alternative at around 12/1 by Hughes, while Cox felt that Wootton Bassett would be a danger to all if returning to his best. Tarr said that his firm would be desperate to get Europe’s best miler beaten as they are sure to lay some of the heavy hitters. “I’m not a religious man,” he quipped, “but I’ll be bringing a man of the cloth to the races with me to try and get Frankel beaten!”
Harvey rounded off the first day discussions with news that Barry Hills’ Mezmaar in the Coventry Stakes was his best bet of the week. He told the audience that the two-year-old was as good as the yard have had for many years.
Attention then turned to Wednesday’s action and the panel seemed miffed as to why Aidan O’Brien’s So You Think was a bigger price for the Prince of Wales’s Stakes than Frankel was for the St James’s Palace Palace as he was, “more of a certainty”. There was plenty of interest in at around 10/1 on offer with Star Sports.
The only other piece of Wednesday news was a positive word from Cox on the chances of Shumoos in the Queen Mary. He said he had been seriously impressed with her sole start and thought she would take all the beating.
Stevenson kept her best bet of the week for Ladies’ Day and felt that Motrice was a cracking each-way poke in the Ascot Gold Cup at 16s. Harvey and Hughes didn’t disapprove as they both thought that favourite Fame And Glory has huge stamina doubts and is no value at 5/2.
Hughes added that Duncan was definitely a better horse fresh and doubted that he’d see out the marathon two and a half mile trip. Reid threw French raider Kasbah Bliss into the mix on the grounds that he’d stay every yard and was simply too big at a whopping 14/1.
Saturday’s Golden Jubilee is already in the bag for Delegator according to Reid, even though Tarr was happy to lay him and anyone else 5/1 about a horse he felt was best fresh. Hughes was more sweet on the 10/1 available about Elzaam in the same race and felt he was really progressive and a huge danger to the favourite.
Finally, the Wokingham Handicap, one of the trickiest puzzles of the week to solve, is relatively straightforward according to Hughes. Mick Eastersby’s Hoof It will win apparently and will “end up a Group horse by the end of the season”. The 7/1 available with Star Sports looks somewhat tempting...
STAR SPORTS £50 CHARITY BETS
Richard Hughes Canford Cliffs (Queen Anne Stakes)
Clive Cox Canford Cliffs (Queen Anne Stakes)
Luke Harvey Mezmaar (Coventry Stakes)
Tanya Stevenson Motrice (Ascot Gold Cup)
John Reid Lethal Force (Coventry Stakes)