Royal Ascot 2018: Review
Well, another Royal Ascot has gone, and given it was the first year I attacked it with some sort of vigour, I thought it best to look back and ponder what worked well, and what didn’t. I’ll also flag any horses of interest moving forward, that caught my eye.
The whole purpose of this blog and my approach is to provide both a mix of my own opinion but also plenty of well-researched and often unique information, for you and I to use as a foundation for further research to determine what we may wish to back etc.
For the first time for Royal Ascot, there were 4 pillars to this approach …
- Race In Focus: 6 handicaps across the 5 days that I attacked using 10 year stats/trends/pointers, to help form a shortlist. Included official ‘Festival Tips’ in the Members’ posts.
- Qualifiers against my trainer / jockey / sires stats report
- Trainer Race Pointers: Listing the horses for those trainers that had won that race at least twice in the previous 21 renewals.
- Top Rated Runners: For three of the five days, in the members’ posts, I detailed those horses that were Top Rated in HorseRaceBase/Geegeez Speed/Inform Speed ratings.
Race In Focus
I can’t complain with how this went, leaving the best until last. Within the Free posts I listed, under ‘thoughts’, those horses I had focussed on, using the race stats/trends as a guide, and my own analysis. If you’d have bet 1 point on all those listed across the 6 races, you’d have won +42 points.
Essentially they were my members’ Festival tips. Lagostovegas (10/1) and Baccus (50/1, 59.00 BFSP)ensured a good week, those tips finishing on….
6 races / 18 bets / 2 wins / 3 places (inc wins) / +54.5 points profit.
This week took the Members’ Festival tips to +156 pointsfor 2018 to date.
That excludes winners/profits from Aintree and other free ‘festival’ tips, including the winners of the Irish National (33/1) and Scottish National (40/1). Those all combined, in ‘Festival/Big Races’ are on around +230 points for the year so far. In truth I’d bite your hand off for those results every year, but there’s still 6 months to go on that front. We shall see if I can build on it at the likes of Goodwood, Galway, York, Ayr, etc.
What can I learn from those big handicaps…
It’s in my nature to take on short priced (under 10/1 generally) horses in big field ‘festival’ handicaps, on morning prices, and that attitude paid off come the Wokingham, just.
However, next year and more generally in such races, I will give more respect to those handicappers that bolted up on their previous start and/or those who may potentially still be miles ahead of their marks. It’s often said you need a potential group horse in the making to win a Royal Ascot handicap. The temptation with unexposed impressive LTO winners, and especially those that have gone up 8lb+ , is to assume the handicapper has them. When such horses are near the top of the market it’s probably wise for me to do some more research into what connections may think as to their ability, to look for other indications that they could destroy another handicap field, and to think about staking and the race in that context…
Dash Of Spice… an impressive winner of the Duke of Edinburgh. He’d previously won in even more impressive fashion at Epsom in a decent C2 handicap. The fact he got an easy lead there put me off a tad although it wasn’t the first time that I failed to watch back a replay to confirm just how easily he did it. And his form had been working out well. When you add in his canny in-form connections and the breeding, it would have been prudent to think he could bolt up again. With that view I may have modified my approach to the race. I can’t think I’d have ever tipped him at his morning odds, but maybe room for improvement in judging such value. I may have been more cautious in taking him on, maybe looking for EW value (I usually play win only) and considering a saver at 6s+ to limit any damage.
Agrotera… there were a couple of lessons here really… the main one being to pull my finger out earlier when it comes to my Jamie Spencer micro qualifiers… pre-meeting I’d highlighted his record at the Royal meeting on 3YO handicappers, over 8f. He was 3/8,7p over the last 5 years, complimenting his generally impressive stats at the track in 8F races. (just back them all EW!) He rides the straight 8f here better than anyone else, and that’s due to his usual riding style of settling horses and ensuring they have enough gas to finish of their race. In 20+ runner races here I suspect many simply do too much and he’s usually in the right spot – and on a horse capable of taking advantage. I think those who don’t have commitments to certain jockeys have now clocked just how good he is in these unique conditions.
Well, Agrotera was 14s in places the day before her race. Sadly I didn’t clock until the morning of racing, when she’d been tipped up everywhere and hammered in to 6s. Her owner-breeder aims to produce horses that are much better than handicappers, and it didn’t take a genius to work out that off 88, this one could be thrown in. Sadly I didn’t get 14s, and that still irks me a tad, given my Spencer angle! As it turned out I gave myself a further bloody nose by taking her on and being far too confident on my picks. An EW approach wouldn’t have helped on this occasion given my pokes in the race could still be running! When a Royal Ascot handicapper is so short, and half the price of everything else, clearly it pays to take note, and to think more carefully about how to play the race- rather than just hoping they don’t show up on the day, and some of the mud you have thrown elsewhere, sticks. Of the bigger priced winners…
Ostillo… ah, well this one didn’t hit any of my stats/trends/pointers and such were the number of runners I decided to solely focus on those. That was clearly an error but he was another well-bred unexposed handicapper that bolted up on his previous start. This one however was widely available at 16/1 in the morning. On his run two starts back at Yarmouth he’d chased a certain Without Parole home, who’d won a Group 1 on Day 1 of the meeting. When you add in the booking of SDS, I can see why he was the fancy of many. On this occasion I was blinkered by my stats, but that can happen and it’s always about getting the balance right. Looking at ‘collateral’ form as the meeting progresses, isn’t a bad ‘way in’ to finding potential bets throughout the rest of the week. I have done that on the odd occasion at Cheltenham, and should focus more on that aspect here too.
Settle For Bay…I’ll mention this Irish raider who was another handicap winner to dot up, this time in The Royal Hunt Cup. I deserve a slap on the wrist for this one as I’m pretty sure I hardly looked at him at all. I may not have tipped him even if I had done my job properly, but you have to give yourself a chance- cutting corners rarely works. I vividly remember looking at him and thinking ‘urgh, he has Dundalk form, I’ll move on’. That was the depth of my analysis. Poor. I failed to note his ‘could be anything’ profile for the turf, how easily he’d dotted up in those Dundalk races, and how well he’d run on his last start at Leopardstown. That turned out to be a ‘hot race’ having produced plenty of winners since, and it was also his first start in 3 months or so, and he’d stayed on well, suggesting a step up to 8f here may be ideal. The final piece of the jigsaw was the trainer and jockey. David Marnane had won the Wokingham here in 2012, and is now 3/14,4p +55 in all Ascot handicaps, 3/9,3p at the Royal meeting. The booking of Billy Lee should have alerted me also, given he’d never ridden the horse before and on closer inspection appears to be the go-to Irish jockey for smaller yards when hoping to win an Ascot handicap. He’s now 2/5,4p on his handicap rides at the meeting…the placed stats impressive given they are all 20+ runner handicaps. I’ll be playing closer attention to any of his handicap mounts here in the years ahead. With any luck he may add to that tally in the next few years, and I’d better make sure I’m on.
Come the Wokingham I’d learnt my lesson to a point, as I was scared of the Gosden jolly. However, he was so short he had to be taken on. I went for the EW approach in the hope of coming away with a profit if I could find a placed horse, in the event of the fav bolting up as expected. Luckily my monster priced poke got the better of him at the death, but had he not, the EW return would have softened the blow- to a point! There are a few things for me to take away above, in the context that such is the demanding nature of these handicaps you will always miss something, but you can always do better.
Albeit, it doesn’t get much better than tipping/backing a 50/1 winner in a Festival race, and I’ve been lucky enough to do so 3 times now on this blog, (twice on free posts) twice in the Albert Bartlett since 2014 and now Bacchus. You do have to enjoy them as while I don’t tip that many at those odds (can’t be more than 10 in that time) they are hard to find! This time it all worked out well- he appeared on my stats/trends shortlist and I could make a decent case for him, at the odds.
Trainer/jockey/sire stats Report
To a point this approach served it’s purpose – the aim is never to follow the angles systematically (bar Jamie Spencer!!) but rather provide starting points. However, I was still a tad disappointed with how they performed.
The trainer/jockey angles overall were… 7/67, 24p, -29
The Scatt Daddy qualifiers: 0/8,4p…one of those places was a 33/1 shot that nearly won.
Jamie Spencer was a highlight, as was the Charlie Appleby angles which were 2/7,4p, +8 on the week. Adam Kirby hit the board 3 times from his 6 qualifiers, without winning – but decent enough. In fact, all of the angles bar the Aidan O’Brien angle performed with credit… his stats for my angle were 1/22,6p, -17.
In truth I failed to read AOB right all week, which given I mainly focussed on those qualifiers may explain why! 🙂 I’ll endeavour to do more work on his runners next year.
Trainer Race Pointers
In terms of my stats ‘starting points’, this approach was arguably star of the show. For the first 4 days I listed runners for those trainers that had won said race at least twice in the research period of HorseRaceBase (21 years or so) As we know, trainers are creatures of habit, and it’s no different with big Festival races.
For the first four days, such qualifiers were… 7/55,17p, +15.5 points
Finding 7 winners of the 24 races covered was decent enough, and it’s certainly something I will do again next year, given the number of winners and placed horses such a simple approach threw up. I’ll try that approach for Goodwood and Galway also, and see how we get on.
Top Rated Runners
In the members’ posts I experimented with detailing the top rated runners for each race against the three ratings sets that I use. These had mixed results over the three days that I experimented, but still found a handful of winners and placed horses… backing every horse once (even if it qualified 2 or 3 times)… 6/48,11p, -2.
As expected, maybe this demonstrates just how competitive the week is. Top rated ratings qualifiers, for any ratings set, would often be in the 25-35% win SR zone I think. Although clearly this is a small sample. It was a useful guide though… I do remember Dash of Spice being clear top rated on two ratings sets.
Through The Card
These starting points culminated in me trying to go ‘through the card’ each day. In truth it was an abysmal effort, losing 19 points over the four days I attempted it. That’s in the context of the same approach winning +33 points at York on the Saturday before. But, it wasn’t good enough… there were some close finishes and decent priced placed horses, so it wasn’t all bad. But in general, I struggled all week to read the top of the market and indeed to pick the right stats selections to go with. In part that was down to the time I put into each race, which wasn’t very much at all. If I am to do that again at Royal Ascot I will try and put more time into it. The ‘race in focus’ was exactly that, probably on average 1.5-2h per race, from start to finish, and as such it’s no surprise they did ok. The harder you work, the luckier you get.
A few horses it may be worth keeping onside…
It paid to be handy enough in this race, certainly the winner was always in the front four and given how the pace maker stayed in 2nd, you’d say SDS almost got the fractions spot on. In relative terms this looks to have turned into a sprint of sorts and it may pay to keep onside some of those who came from further back…
Chelka – was fancied here for Mullins, the choice of Moore. He was having his first start in a while, was keen enough, got shuffled back, but still ran with credit. I think this run could be marked up and is worth keeping an eye on.
Stratum – he ran as if he has a decent race or two in him. He is lightly raced and unexposed in both spheres, especially handicap hurdles. He was towards the rear through this and had to make his challenge wide up the straight. He was in the wrong spot when they kicked on the front end, but ran on well. A stronger pace would have suited him I suspect.
Whiskey Sour– well I tipped him at The Cheltenham Festival and he does travel ever so well through his races but can struggle to find much off the bridle. He was bang there a couple of furlongs out but has just kept going the one pace, and over this trip on the flat it may have stretched his stamina. Or the ground was too lively. He definitely has a decent handicap hurdle in him somewhere.
The Royal Hunt Cup
To my eyes the far side group looked disadvantaged here, with possibly a track and pace bias. I’m not sure anything was beating the winner but maybe some of those runs can be marked up…
The likes of Bless Himand Circus Coutureran well I thought, from that side,
Flaming Spear– ran a massive race here for me, given it was his first start in over 250 days, his first start for the yard and he raced keenly. When you consider he may have also been on the wrong side given how the race panned out, he must be one to track. Lightly raced, he could have a decent 1m handicap in him somewhere, maybe back to York in August.
Raising Sand–I tipped him in this and he somewhat fell out of the stalls and relinquished any chance he had. Connections were confident pre-race but from there Spencer had to play even more of a waiting game. He ran on well enough on the far side, doing his best work late, but he’d left himself with too much to do. This horse will be going close in a decent handicap no doubt, probably back over the Ascot 8f. He’d have placed but for that tardy start I think.
Ostilio – odd to focus on the winner but this could be a very smart horse in the making. I’m not sure I’d want to oppose him on his next few starts, certainly not with a win only wager on something else. To effectively make all over this CD, with so many runners is impressive in itself. Given where he started, and the ground covered to make the rail, it was even better. And, to top it off, he never really settled through the whole race (in part why SDS came to the rail I think, clever riding) and certainly not the first 3f. I expected him to fall in a hole, but he kept battling and won this well. Surely, he can only get better with racing.
King George V Stakes
The eventual winner here was always front rank, 3rdor 4ththroughout the race with his two stablemates setting the tempo. Again, I suspect there were plenty who settled further back who may have been poorly positioned in the dash for home. The sectional boys and girls would be able to say whether that’s a correct assumption.
Downdraft– I’d best mention him given he was Kevin Blake’s bet of the week, which was some signal given he’d tipped two decent priced winners in the days before. Given he helps Joseph O’Brien with race planning, when he says this one is well handicapped and has a nice race in him, I’d like to think he’s being honest. He was certainly too far back here and had to sweep around the field to make his challenge. He ran on ok up the middle of the track before those exertions took their toll. One to note.
Bailey’s Excelerate– jockey bookings in this race suggested he was low down on Johnston’s list of hopefuls here but I thought he ran well. He was on the front end but never really settled, but only gave way after the 1f poll. I suspect he used up more energy than ideal and he didn’t get an easy time of it on the front end either. Maybe this was a level beyond him, or his stamina gave out here. When he next settles, I suspect he may make all somewhere.
Occupy – I thought this one outran his odds, running in snatches but coming back onto the bridle as they turned for home, travelling well. He’s failed to pick up I think but ran well in 5th. He looked a bit green/awkward at times. This was only the fourth run of his life and first go at the trip. One to watch, maybe back at Newmarket somewhere.
Making Miracles– his jockey would have been hoping for miracles as they turned for home no doubt, having got quite far back and being outpaced for a time. Once switched wide he has stayed on very well here, and was doing all his best work late. He ran as if 1m6f would be within range.
Duke of Edinburgh Stakes
I tipped both the Appleby horses in this, Walton Street and Eynhollow, and will keep a track of them. They both ran well enough here I thought and are lightly raced/have shown some ability already. Walton Street looked to be in the right spot but raced freely enough to my eye, and could be better NTO.
I’d like to think we will see plenty more from the front four in this, who were a fair distance away from the rest of the bunch come the line- certainly for a 6f handicap. Bacchus / Dreamfield / Major Jumbo / Tis Marvellousall look to have more pots in them. We shall see if one or more can win one the numerous C2 6f/7f Handicaps in the coming months.
As a general point… as the week progressed it was a case of the same connections coming to the fore, much like as happens at Cheltenham.
Trainers: O’Brien / Gosden/ Appleby / Stoute / Johnston… and in the staying races, Mullins and Elliot.
Jockeys: Dettori/ Moore/ Doyle / Buick / Spencer / Atzeni / SDS
I suspect in the next 5 years you could do a lot worse than focussing on horses trained or ridden by those above, as a ‘starting point/way in’. Clearly, I’m not saying anything ground breaking here, but given one or more (trainer+jockey) of those names won 22 or the 30 races, it’s worth emphasising.
It was also noticeable how well horses from ‘in form’ trainers performed. By that I mean the trainer ‘in form’ pointers that Geegeez use within their excellent racecards. It was noticeable how many horses ran well from yards in red hot form, in races where that was only the case for 2-4 trainers. That’s only an aside but is something I will focus more on at the big meetings/races.
Right, I think that’s it for this year’s review. With any luck there is something above of interest for you to ponder/apply/think about in relation to your own punting or indeed to note moving forwards.
As always, any questions or thoughts, do post away,