The 2019 meeting starts with a very competitive renewal of the traditional curtain raiser, the Queen Anne Stakes.
While the line-up might lack an obvious type it does contain Classic winners in the shape of Romanised, Olmedo and Laurens as well as winners of the Lockinge (Mustashry), Jersey (Le Brivido) and St James Palace (Barney Roy) besides the 2018 Queen Anne winner Accidental Agent.
The reigning champion ran very well when third behind Mustashry and Laurens in the Lockinge (when Romanised was fourth) and along with Laurens might close the gap on Mustashry given they lacked a prior run unlike the winner, but a career-best timefigure of 116 means he once again needs to find the same sort of improvement he made last year.
The Lockinge, which the late-developing Mustashry took with authority in a race-leading timefigure of 124, looks the key piece of form. Next best on time with figures of 123 and 121 respectively are Barney Roy and Romanised, while current market leader Le Brivido posted a 117 timefigure in the 2017 Jersey. He caught the eye of many with his fast finish in the Lockinge but all the same it’s slightly surprising to see him disputing favouritism and a tendency to hang in both starts this year is rather off putting. Olmedo is a strong traveller who gives the impression this big-field scenario will suit him better than the small fields he is usually up against in France.
There have been an unusually high number of juveniles recording 95+ timefigures on their racecourse debuts this year and one of them, Guildsman, has shown up in the Coventry Stakes. His 102 timefigure when winning at Goodwood clearly entitles him to respect but soft underfoot conditions that day and an eleven-day turnaround don’t make him an appealing prospect in a large field of similarly lightly-raced and potentially smart youngsters. Leading Irish raider Arizona (103) has greater experience as well as the benefit of a more relaxed preparation and would be our preferred choice, but his odds look short enough.
To our eyes the best bet on the opening day comes in the King’s Stand where Battaash can be backed at 9/4. On several bits of form over the past three seasons he is fully entitled to be regarded as the outstanding older horse in Europe and he has posted a timefigure of 130 on more than one occasion, including on his reappearance in the Temple Stakes at Haydock on his first run after undergoing further wind surgery.
His detractors might point to an uncanny knack of underperforming on the big occasion and a Harry Angel-like aversion to the winner’s enclosure at Ascot, but a four-length win in the Prix de l’Abbaye at Chantilly in 2017 (the longest winning distance in the race since Lochsong scored by the five lengths in 1994) shows nothing in the sprint division can match him on his day. Indeed, he ought to have won this race in 2018 had he not gone off like a scalded cat. The beneficiary on that occasion, Blue Point, is back again and has looked as good as ever in an unbeaten stint in Dubai this year, but a top-form Baattash would win this with a bit to spare.
With 2000 Guineas winner Magna Grecia absent from the St James Place Stakes, the horse who heads the market is the winner of the Irish equivalent, Phoenix Of Spain. He was one of the best two-year-olds around last year, finishing second to Magna Grecia and Too Darn Hot on different occasions, and he exacted revenge on both at the Curragh when winning by three lengths. However, a timefigure of 116 under a front-running ride that saw rider Jamie Spencer hug the inside rail and a couple of rank outsiders close up doesn’t suggest Phoenix of Spain is invincible.
Runner-up Too Darn Hot has similar claims on the clock (best timefigure also 116) and might be ready to turn the tables with his with his trainer John Gosden reportedly much happier with him now. Most of the other opposition have come up short and can’t be fancied, but the one horse that has the potential to improve past both is Too Darn Hot’s stablemate King Of Comedy.
He has had a near-identical preparation to Gosden’s 2018 St James Palace winner Without Parole who won a novice at Yarmouth and the Heron Stakes at Sandown. More importantly, with a 114 timefigure he has run almost as nearly as fast as Phoenix of Spain and Too Darn Hot have done and the level of form he showed in the Heron was higher than Without Parole achieved, and came with a 2lb upgrade. With very little to find against a field lacking an outstanding candidate, he looks worth backing each-way at 6-1 to win a race his sire Kingman also won in 2014.
Back Battaash at 9/4 in the King’s Stand Stakes
Back King of Comedy each-way at 6/1 in the St James Palace Stakes