Since 1970, no less than eight horses have won the race on two or more occasions in succession, something which perhaps isn't too much of a shock given the unique demands of the race. Stradivarius is one of the shortest-priced horses of the entire week to retain his crown, and his claims are hard to dispute; considering that he arrives here having won at the last two Royal meetings and in each of his last six starts (a run which has included this race, two Yorkshire Cups, a Goodwood Cup and a Long Distance Cup) and he finds strongly-run or steadily-run races all coming alike. However, while his credentials are strong, they certainly aren't watertight, as three of those six successes came by under a length, and he was largely defeating the same set of inferior horses last term.
In contrast, the opposition that faces him here looks much sterner, and heading it up are the leading French stayer Called To The Bar, and two very smart four-year-olds, the Melbourne Cup winner Cross Counter and last year's Derby runner-up Dee Ex Bee -who are both unbeaten at two miles and promise to improve for the step up in trip. Dee Ex Bee has taken his form to a new level this year, winning the Sagaro Stakes and the Henry II Stakes under attacking rides, and he is partnered by arguably the best jockey over staying trips on the Flat, Silvestre de Sousa. More interesting, however, not least because he had Dee Ex Bee four and a half lengths back in second when an authoritative winner of the Gordon Stakes at Goodwood last summer, is Cross Counter. Two runs later he became the first British-trained winner of the Melbourne Cup, doing well to haul back some prominently-ridden rivals despite a wide passage, and he made a winning reappearance in the Dubai Gold Cup in March. With a timefigure of 124, Cross Counter's figure is slightly higher on the clock than Stradivarius (122) and Dee Ex Bee (119), and he looks an enticing bet at the prices.
The opening race on the card, the Norfolk Stakes, looks a tough race to call. The favourite at the time of writing, Sunday Sovereign, has won his last two races impressively by a combined total of ten lengths and had subsequent Coventry winner Arizona behind in the first of them, but those races were on soft ground and Tuesday's results suggest the ground is riding fast. £135,000 Breeze-Up purchase and Ripon second A'Ali can boast a marginally better timefigure, but we'll pass over this race and head to the Ribblesdale Stakes for our second bet.
Aidan O'Brien and Ryan Moore have teamed up to win this race three times in the last five years, including with a horse last year who had previously finished in the frame in the Oaks (Magic Wand), and Fleeting brings a very similar profile to the table this year. She was a 25/1 chance at Epsom after a dismal reappearance in the 1,000 Guineas, but it shouldn't be forgotten that she won the May Hill Stakes at Doncaster towards the end of last season in a timefigure of 108, and having finished third in the Oaks from a less-than-promising position turning for home, she sets a decent standard here. Fleeting certainly ticks more boxes than the current favourite for the race, Queen Power, who undoubtedly showed a smart turn of foot when winning a Listed race at Newbury last month (25lb upgrade over her timefigure of 53) but she isn't bred to relish any further than a mile and a quarter. As such, the market should be the other way around in our opinion.
Little stands out elsewhere on the card. As odd as it seems, the draw is usually more important in the card-ending King George V Stakes over a mile and a half than it is in the Britannia Stakes over a mile, with low numbers historically disadvantaged. Given the horse with the best credentials on the clock, Questionare, has been drawn in stall 5 of 20, we'll leave that race alone, as we will the Britannia where - Motafaawit is the best on time but has never raced against more than six rivals. A high draw will also probably be an advantage in the Hampton Court, which should aid Roseman, but he only makes lukewarm appeal.
Back Cross Counter in the Ascot Gold Cup
Back Fleeting in the Ribblesdale Stakes