COUNTDOWN TO ROYAL ASCOT: focus on 20 horses primed to run well

POMP, PAGEANTRY....AND WINNERS! -- that's what we all want from Royal Ascot, including The Queen, pictured in the royal procession at the meeting last year. (PHOTO BY: horseracingphoto.co.uk)
POMP, PAGEANTRY....AND WINNERS! -- that's what we all want from Royal Ascot, including The Queen, pictured in the royal procession at the meeting last year. (PHOTO BY: horseracingphoto.co.uk)

Epsom is just round the corner. Tattenham Corner, in fact. And the countdown has started to Royal Ascot in mid-June.

It doesn’t get much better than this on the can’t wait-scale of anticipation for racing fans.

Once we’ve digested the surprises that marked the Irish Guineas meeting at The Curragh, all focus in the next few days will turn to the Investec Derby and the Investec Oaks. And my next column will look deep into Gypsy Rose Silverwood’s crystal ball in an attempt to find the winners of the old Classics on the Downs.

But before then, a bit like those who were in a hurry to over-hype the Newmarket Guineas victors, MINDING and GALILEO GOLD, let’s get ahead of ourselves. Let’s try and pinpoint a few horses who might shine in front of Her Majesty at the five-day royal meeting.

The names below aren’t tips. It is not a definitive list. After all, the make-up of the 30 glorious races at Ascot is far from finalised. However, they are animals, aged three or over, who have shown enough in the opening weeks of the season to suggest they go to Ascot with genuine chances of success. Please feel free to e-mail any of your own long-range fancies.

AMAZING RED

Ed Dunlop’s expensive 3yo half-brother to the same yard’s grand old stager Red Cadeaux is fast developing into a smart middle-distance handicapper at least on the evidence of his electric win in a Pontefract maiden.

ASHADIHAN

Taken out of the Irish 1,000 Guineas on Sunday because of the rain-softened ground, Kevin Ryan’s 3yo scopy filly is not to be disrespected even at Group One level. She has speed and class and ran well at Royal Ascot last year.

BARSANTI

Rapidly improving 4yo who has been transformed by a switch to Roger Varian’s Newmarket yard and made a smooth transition from the all-weather to turf in a 12f handicap at York’s May meeting. Wouldn’t be out of place in Group company.

CASTLE HARBOUR

Lovely, lightly-raced 3yo who is so highly thought of by champion trainer John Gosden that he is considering pitching him into the ever-competitive Group Three Jersey Stakes over 7f at the royal meeting after just two runs (and two wins).

CHOREOGRAPHER

Roger Varian’s 3yo was hampered, but not disgraced, when asked a huge question in the Dante on only his second start at York. On the evidence of his earlier maiden win, he will definitely bounce back, especially when upped to 12f.

DARIYAN

Veteran French trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre’s Aga Khan-owned 4yo is hardly an unexposed dark horse. But victory on a return to his best trip of 10f at Saint-Cloud earlier this month should set him up for a tempting tilt at the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes at Ascot.

DONNCHA

Robert Eddery’s 5yo entire has been round the block a few times. But he boasts a better cruising speed and turn of foot than win ratio, which might well improve if he’s let loose on the Royal Hunt Cup, the big 1m handicap of Ascot week.

EARTH DRUMMER

Horses tend to improve after joining David O’Meara, not after leaving him. But this exposed 6yo could be the exception and is on my shortlist for the Royal Hunt Cup after an eyecatching prep performance earlier this month at Ascot, a track he’s shown a liking for.

ELITE ARMY

Looked a serious prospect when landing a big Royal Ascot handicap two seasons ago. Injury intervened, but Godolphin’s 5yo is firing on all cylinders again, judging by his comeback win at the Berkshire course three weeks ago.

FIRNAS

Had he come to hand earlier, this 3yo, who has a pedigree to match his astonishing 1.6m guineas price tag, would have been Godolphin’s runner in the Derby. I have no doubt he will make up for lost time, given the way he won his maiden.

FORGE

Sir Michael Stoute’s form has been a highlight of the new season, and it would ne no rurpise to see this 3yo son of Dubawi on royal duty after a sparkling success in a 7f maiden at Doncaster last month.

LIGHT MUSIC

As she’s owned by The Queen herself, William Haggas is sure to be aiming this filly at Royal Ascot. A smart juvenile with a turn of foot, she acquitted herself well on her seasonal re-appearance at Lingfield.

MANSON

Few will have heard of trainer Dominic Ffrench Davis. That will change if this 3yo half-brother to Jack Hobbs builds on his impressive 2016 debut win at Sandown when he defied top weight and a wide draw to take apart a competitive 1m handicap field.

NEMORALIA

Wild horses will not prevent me from backing Jeremy Noseda’s stable star in the Coronation Stakes. And only very special horses need apply if they wish to take on a class act of a 3yo filly.

RED VERDON

Ed Dunlop’s 3yo middle-distance handicapper has made giant strides on easy ground and artificial surfaces, including at Haydock on Saturday. But he’s bred to be even better the kind of fast ground Royal Ascot often serves up.

TAQDEER

The Tercentenary Stakes over 10f is pencilled in for John Gosden’s well-regarded 3yo who justified all the hype surrounding his reputation when bounding home in a hot handicap at Newmarket’s Guineas meeting.

THE BLACK PRINCESS

Although collared close home in Goodwood’s Oaks trial last week, I was taken by the performance of John Gosden’s talented but inexperienced 3yo filly. Expect a bold showing in the Ribblesdale Stakes on Ascot Gold Cup Day.

THE GURKHA

Thank goodness Aidan O’Brien Gosden has ruled out a crack at the Derby for his exciting son of Galileo. The colt’s victory in the French 2,000 Guineas was the performance of the season so far and more Group One 1m prizes await, starting with the St James’s Palace Stakes.

USHERETTE

There were few clues beforehand to predict the silky-smooth display of this 4yo filly on 1,000 Guineas Day. Except, of course, that she’s trained by French master Andre Fabre, who now has Ascot’s Duke Of Cambridge Stakes on his radar.

WASHINGTON DC

The Commonwealth Cup for 3yo sprinters is again shaping up to be one of the best races of the week. They will all have to go some to match Aidan O’Brien’s classy, fast-ground specialist, who is bouncing.

Taplin’s two-year-olds book is a bargain buy

Racing is full of unsung heroes. Many of them work long, fragmented hours for sometimes scant reward, and they are called stable staff.

Also close to the top of my list is a guy from Preston called Steve Taplin. Not your average racing nut. But one who spends most of his time trawling through the complex pedigrees of yearlings and trekking up and down the country visiting and interviewing trainers.

The upshot is his revered annual book, ‘Steve Taplin’s Two-Year-Olds’, which is now in its 32nd year and is currently landing through the letterboxes of devotees like myself. Honing in on the potential of 1,700 thoroughbreds set to grace our tracks this year, next and in seasons to come, Taplin’s labour of love is a must-buy for all discerning punters and, at £14.99, a bargain buy too.