There will be pageantry, history and some great racing, to name but three – but this year’s marquee occasion throws something of a curve ball by commencing on a soft surface following some unseasonal weather in recent weeks.
Timeform has described the ground as softer than good on the opening day of Royal Ascot only once this century, in 2016, but conditions will need to dry out rapidly for that not to be the case again on Tuesday.
This will affect all the races, of course, but it will turn the Ascot Stakes Handicap into the kind of test that some of the 20 declared runners will find beyond them. Two and a half miles on the level is a challenge at the best of times, but, in addition to softish ground, there is a good likelihood of a stamina-sapping pace.
That was not the case 12 months ago, when the race finishing speed was 112%, but several in this year’s field tend to get on with things and the Timeform predicted pace is “strong”.
That is the wider context: what do some of the race trends in the past decade tell us?
As usual, higher figures for “place impact value” (frequency with which horses from a category have made the first four compared to chance) and for % of rivals beaten are what to look out for. Incidentally, a dead-heat for fourth in 2010 is why some of the place figures are odd.
There are particularly positive results for horses high up on Timeform weight-adjusted figures and for last-time winners, and moderately positive ones for four-year-olds, horses starting at 13 (equivalent to 12/1) or less at Betfair SP, and those returning after an absence of 15 to 28 days inclusive.
There was also a slight bias against horses carrying more than 9 st 7 lb (46.9% RB), in favour of those drawn in stalls 5 to 8 (58.6%) and against those drawn 1 to 4 (44.2%), and in favour of horses with a win already in the season under review (56.1%), none of which is shown above.
The Ascot Stakes is contested by lots of horses who have been in action recently over jumps, so it is worth considering the chance they would have in this based on their current Timeform ratings in that sphere.
I threw all of this, and a bit more besides, into the melting pot and priced up the race blind (a discipline that all serious punters should try at least occasionally). I had Coeur de Lion just about favourite (he is third-favourite at the time of writing) and Fun Mac quite a bit shorter than with the bookmakers also.
Coeur de Lion is bang in form and suited by soft ground and a marathon trip, as he showed by winning at Chester last time. That was not a strong race, all told, but he strung out his rivals and yet got raised only 5 lb. He finished sixth in this race off 91 last year (goes off 93 here) but ended up with too much to do in what has already been identified as a tactical race.
Fun Mac is arguably the best-handicapped of all, as you do not need to go back all that far to find him running well in good staying handicaps off quite a bit higher than the 91 he goes off now.
He has become a bit disappointing recently, but has tumbled in the weights and was fifth of 15 in the latest Chester Cup. He was second in this in 2015 and went for the Gold Cup and the Queen Alexandra at this meeting since.
Fun Mac may not win often, but he is a big price for one who has been there, done that, and at least tried on the t-shirt.
Due to its composition, the Ascot Stakes is a mathematically good race for an each-way bet, and that’s before you get onto the possibility of securing enhanced place terms.
The win book at early odds was 129% (you would need to stake a total of £129 in proportion to each horse’s odds to ensure a return of £100 whatever the result), but the per-place book, assuming a quarter the odds and four places, was just 101%.
The recommendation in this instance is to back both Coeur de Lion and Fun Mac in that market .
1 pt e/w Coeur de Lion at 8/1 and 0.5 pt e/w Fun Mac at 16/1, a quarter the win odds first four places