Royal Ascot 2020 | Handicappers Blog

24 Jun 20

North lords it over rivals in Prince of Wales’s Stakes

Lord North completed his journey from high-class handicapper to Group 1 winner with a convincing success in Wednesday’s Prince of Wales’s Stakes in a race where the figures stack up quite nicely, writes Dominic Gardiner-Hill

The rain came twenty-four hours too late for runner-up Addeybb and it was no great surprise to see him run a little below his current mark of 122, but the relativity between Barney Roy (pre-race 116) in third and Bangkok (114) in fifth gives a solid foundation on which to base the level of the race, suggesting that Lord North improved 8 lb on his pre-race figure of 116 to a new mark of 124.

That doesn’t quite match the 127 performances of the previous two winners, Crystal Ocean and Poet’s Word, but betters what the likes of Highland Reel (122, 2017), My Dream Boat (120, 2016) and Free Eagle (123, 2015) achieved, whilst matching the winning efforts of The Fugue (2014), Al Kazeem (2013) and So You Think (2012).

Lord North and James Doyle winning The Prince Of Wales’s Stakes

Such was the authority of his success and his current rate of improvement, I for one will be disappointed if he doesn’t step up again in the future.

In what was a memorable Royal meeting for John Gosden, Palace Pier took himself to the top of the three-year-old mile category with success in Saturday’s St James’s Palace Stakes. Again, this is a race that looks relatively easy to rate at present with Pinatubo (second) and Wichita (third) running very close to their 2000 Guineas form. On that occasion I had Wichita running to 118 and Pinatubo 116. In the St James’s Palace I have both running to 118, which means Palace Pier improved from 109 to 120 in winning his fourth race from as many starts.

That level is at the top end of recent St James’s Palace winners with 120 being bettered only by Galileo Gold’s 121 (2016) in the previous five renewals, and first 3 performances of 120/118/118 being the best since that same contest’s 121/118/117 during the same period.

Whilst he has run with a good deal of credit in both the 2000 Guineas and the St James’s Palace, it is clear Pinatubo is not showing the same level of form or dominance he displayed as a 2yo. As a result, I have dropped him to a new mark of 120 this week.

The success of Alpine Star thirty-five minutes earlier in the Coronation Stakes is possibly more difficult to rate with the same confidence. Without any doubt she deserves to be considered the best three-year-old filly over a mile in Europe at present, having beat Quadrilateral and Cloak of Spirits further on Saturday than Love did in the 1000 Guineas, but at what level is slightly harder to decide.

I have pencilled in a performance of 119 for Jessie Harrington’s filly but she could easily be at least 2 lb higher using any of the next four horses home as a guide. My doubts stem from the fact that runner-up Sharing had travelled from her native America for the race, whilst Alpine Star was also by far the freshest filly in the line-up as all of the other GB/Irish-trained fillies had run within the previous 13 days – not ideal for Group 1 fillies. My colleague in Ireland, Garry O’Gorman, also has doubts at this stage and has published at 117.

Hopefully time will tell us how good she is.

Circus Maximus was one of last season’s leading three-year-old milers and he carried on where he left off with a hard fought victory in the Queen Anne. I had doubts over the apparent improved form (113) shown by Marie’s Diamond when winning at Newmarket previously but he proved it to be no fluke by finishing third here with a heap of 113/114 horses just behind him. As such, I have him reproducing his 113 and have Circus Maximus running to 120, with the progressive filly Terebellum running her best race yet (116) in splitting them.

The handicaps at Royal Ascot are always fiercely competitive and the results last week were largely satisfactory – with one exception!! I am always a little nervous about the Britannia handicap every year as it brings together a group of relatively unexposed three-year-olds and you never quite know what is lurking in the field. This year it was Khaloosy who sauntered home from a horse already due to go up 7 lb from the mark he ran off – as a result I have raised Roger Varian’s colt 17 lb to a new mark of 111 and he must surely head into Pattern race company now?

Gold Cup hat-trick for Stradivarius

Star stayer Stradivarius was simply majestic in landing his third Gold Cup in a row, matching the achievement of Sagaro who also landed a hat-trick of wins in the race in the mid-seventies, writes Matthew Tester

Stradivarius had always given the impression that he only pulls out what is needed to win. Before this year’s Gold Cup he had won twelve Group races and eleven them had been by less than two lengths. Indeed, his two previous Gold Cup wins had been gained by a length or less. On soft ground that was thought not to be ideal, we were just hoping that nothing went wrong. But something went gloriously right as Stradivarius truly stamped his superiority this time around with a ten-length success.

Stradivarius and Frankie Dettori after winning The Gold Cup

Frankie had two long looks behind when rounding the bend into the straight, just making sure that nothing was going to catch them napping. Stradivarius strode up to the leader Nayef Road, strode clear of Nayef Road and that was the only horse at the finish who was within eighteen lengths of Stradivarius. It was a WOW moment that lit up this new season. 

Nayef Road had finished third in last year’s St Leger and had already shown his well-being at the start of this campaign with a career-best performance when winning the Sagaro Stakes earlier in the month. Eight lengths behind him was Cross Counter, a solid 118 performer at his best. The other five beaten horses were each rated between 110 and 116 before the race. There is no reason to think that Nayef Road has run anything other than a blinder.

Stradivarius now gets a rating of 125. To put that in perspective, the World Thoroughbred Rankings have Yeats at a peak of 122 during a career in which he won an unprecedented four Gold Cups. Fingers crossed that Stradivarius returns to the Royal Meeting in similar form in 2021 when he bids to match that feat.

Third time lucky for Battaash

Battaash’s convincing success in the King’s Stand was the headline performance from the three Group 1 sprints at the meeting, writes Chris Nash

Battaash didn’t have anything of Blue Point’s calibre to worry about in this year’s King’s Stand (runner-up to that rival in both 2018 and 2019) and he confirmed his status as the leading 5f horse around at present in winning by two and a quarter lengths. He pinged out of the stalls, was immediately hard on the bridle and proceeded to make all. Battaash won well and was much the best on the day without having to be at his dazzling best.

Battaash and Jim Crowley winning The King’s Stand Stakes

I have him running a figure of 120+, which is a little below his career high of 126 achieved in the Nunthorpe last year. That figure is backed up by the race standards and is also supported by the placed horses – Equilateral (112), Liberty Beach (109) and Tis Marvellous (109). He will almost certainly head to Goodwood next to attempt to win the King George Stakes for the fourth consecutive year. He will have to carry a penalty in that Group 2 contest but the speed favouring track suits him perfectly. 

The 6f Commonwealth Cup for three-year-olds was won by Golden Horde, who passed the post one and a half lengths clear of the American-trained Kimari, with a further two and a half lengths back to Ventura Rebel in third. The margins between them at the line would suggest that the winner could be smart and I have rated it a career best for him at 118. That has Kimari running to 111, which is also a personal best for her, and Ventura Rebel at 107. The latter has run to that level previously and helps support my assessment of the race, as do historical standards which suggest a figure of 118-119 for the winner.

Golden Horde is lightly raced and showing progressive form, and may well be tasked with taking on the older sprinters in the July Cup next time out.

In that race he may meet several of the protagonists from the Diamond Jubilee Stakes. In a tight finish, Hello Youmzain hung on by a head to beat Dream of Dreams, with Sceptical just a neck further back in third. The first three arrived at Royal Ascot rated 118, 117 and 116 and would appear to have run to the pound with each other. Further confirmation of that was provided by the next two home, Khaadem and Speak In Colours, who were rated 114 and 110 respectively and have run very close to those figures as well. Rarely does form work out with such close alignment to the pre-race ratings. 

Hello Youmzain won the Sprint Cup at Haydock last year and that will likely be a target again this time around, but connections suggested that he may well take his chance in the July Cup first.