St James Palace 2019 Preview
The St James’ Palace Stakes Preview brought to you by our guest blogger – Edmund Culham.
It is an excellent read and you will do well to find a better blog or article on this race.
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If the Cheltenham Festival is national hunt racing’s Mecca, Royal Ascot, although arriving comparatively early in the season, marks a pinnacle in the flat racing calendar. Five days of scintillating action, with the best from the UK, Ireland, Europe and further afield all gunning for a share of the spoils. While prize money is far higher in many places around the world, the prestige of a Royal Ascot winner leads many to view this as the greatest flat meeting in the world. When Undrafted won the Diamond Jubilee for US trainer Wesley Ward in 2015, the multiple Group 1 and Breeder’s Cup winning trainer was led to proclaim it as, “the biggest race I’ve won.”
With little over a week to go, questions abound. Will Battaash bring his best to trounce his rivals in the King’s Stand? Who will win the battle of the Guineas victors in the St James’s Palace? On Wednesday, will Sea Of Class flow smoothly on return after her long absence? Can anyone topple Stradivarius in his bid for back to back Gold Cups? Can Invincible Army remain invincible this season in Saturday’s Diamond Jubilee?
What follows will be a daily big race preview, bringing you the low down on five top races at the meeting in what promises to be a memorable week of racing action.
Tuesday 18th June 2019 – Will the Phoenix soar again?
St James’s Palace Stakes (Group 1) 1 mile (7f 213y)
The third of three Group 1 races on the opening day sees the 3-year-old colts going head to head in a race that intriguingly brings together the English, Irish, French and German Guineas form. Guineas winners tend to take this route, with eight of the last ten winners having previously lined up in either the English or the Irish version and seven of those having won at least one of those renewals. A roll call of equine perfection including in recent years Frankel, Kingman, Canford Cliffs and Gleneagles, with the last, mentioned being particularly impressive with regard to this contest as a dual Guineas champion who then went on to make it a spectacular three-timer.
Last year’s winner Without Parole bucked the trend somewhat, sidestepping the Guineas when arriving at Ascot on the back of a Sandown Listed win. His St James’s Palace win did however come in a weak renewal, with Newmarket 2000 Guineas winner Saxon Warrior not taking part and surprise winner of the Irish 2000 Guineas Romanised finishing down the field. It would seem high class and typically winning form come to the fore in this race and with that in mind let’s take a look at some of this year’s runners.
Phoenix Of Spain – Generally 6/4*
Ante-post favourite and rightly so after his fine reappearance triumph in the Irish 2000 Guineas. He was visually impressive that day when virtually leading from pillar to post. My eye was drawn to his effort when pressed and asked to quicken in the last two furlongs and then his response, a relentless turn of foot. That forms on paper looks good, with Too Darn Hot last season’s champion 2-year-old and Dante 2nd chasing him home, followed by Newmarket Guineas winner Magna Grecia and 3rd placed Skardu further behind. All those rivals look set to re-oppose here.
Phoenix Of Spain was beaten into 2nd last season in the Champagne and Vertem Futurity Stakes (ex Racing Post Trophy) by Too Darn Hot and Magna Grecia respectively, but it would appear that as a 3-year-old he may now have the measure of those rivals.
Charlie Hills’ colt looks to have the perfect blend of speed and stamina for a mile. He seems uncomplicated, settling well into his races, having won from both the rear and front end of the field. In addition, he has form on both firm and with soft in the going description. Alongside his impressive form, these factors undoubtedly make him the one to beat on Tuesday, and it will take a fair bit of improvement from one of the others to do so. Tough to oppose.
Too Darn Hot – 7/2
One of the most highly regarded 2-year-olds of recent seasons has been something of a disappointment in two runs this term. His Dante performance was forgivable considering he had had a setback previously, was stepping up to 10 furlongs for the first time and faced a strong stayer in eventual winner Telecaster. Dropping back to a mile last time out, his performance at the Curragh was by no means a bad one, but more was probably expected from the 6/4 favourite. He seemed to come with a threatening run at the 2-furlong marker, quickening well and looking for a moment like the winner, only for his run to flatten out towards the finish. A worrying sign, perhaps suggesting that something is still not quite right, although it may be more likely that other colts have just caught up with him this season development wise.
Not one to discount, but worries remain, and I can see him coming up short again.
King Of Comedy – 5/1
King Of Comedy is potentially the most interesting runner in here. John Gosden plots the same course with this horse as last year’s winner Without Parole, who won the same Sandown Listed event before his victory at the Royal meeting. That fact alone entitles him to a degree of respect, especially with Gosden also likely to run Too Darn Hot.
He did look a tricky character at Sandown. Having to be led to the start, he was keen early in the race with Dettori switching him off the rails, then when brought wide in the straight he displayed a high head carriage and didn’t initially look to be going through with his effort. All that said, in the end, he quickened well to comfortably dismiss some decent rivals. Those quirks wouldn’t seem ideal at Ascot though, with the mile course run around a tight bend and the home straight a short one, King Of Comedy will need to be tactically sharper and positioned well ready to pounce off the turn.
His form does tie in well. He beat Phoenix Of Spain when they met in a maiden last July. Of the horses he beat last time out, the Stoute runner Sangarius has form that ties in with Too Darn Hot having finished some 8 lengths behind him in the Dewhurst last season. King Of Comedy comfortably dispatched Stoute’s charge at Sandown, suggesting that there is not too much between the Gosden runners. Indeed, given what we have seen of Too Darn Hot so far this season, I would be tempted to favour King Of Comedy of the Gosden duo.
Magna Grecia – 7/1
Impressive at Newmarket in the Guineas, where he showed good pace and stamina up the rail to record victory. It surprised me that he wasn’t considered a Derby candidate on the back of that performance as he looked a strong stayer.
His subsequent Irish 2000 Guineas performance was desperately underwhelming. He looked to run at full throttle for most of the race, with Ryan Moore urging him forward from an early stage. The going was quick at the Curragh that day and he may have found the pace of the race too much. From watching this colt’s knee action, it does look like he appreciates some give in the ground and his form would back that up as he has only been beaten when firm has been present in the going description.
On that evidence, and with the potential of rain this week leading up to the Royal meeting I can see him recording an improved performance if getting an easier surface. Doubts do remain about his speed over this easy mile trip though and that would be enough to pass him over for win purposes.
Skardu – 8/1
Craven Stakes winner, before very solid runs in both the English and Irish 2000 Guineas. He has looked to be sluggish in certain parts of his races, something that has perhaps caught him out at a crucial stage. At Newmarket, he stayed on late, while at the Curragh he was up with the pace but struggled to quicken in the last furlong. That suggests a mile at Ascot may be on the short side for him.
He potentially faces four rivals who have beaten him in his last two runs, which also suggests he needs to take his form to another level in order to triumph.
Madhmoon – 14/1
A staying on 4th in the 2000 Guineas (Newmarket) before going down an unlucky but gallant 2nd at Epsom in the Derby. His resolute staying performance on the Downs, where he looked better the farther he went, is likely to have surprised many, including myself. That does leave connections with a conundrum as to the best trip for the colt though, with a trip of over a mile looking preferable. With some of the best form on display, were he to line up he would be a threat to all, but he may find this too sharp a test over an easy mile at Ascot. He is entered in the Irish Derby and I would imagine that is more likely to be his next assignment.
Shaman – 12/1
French raider who was runner up behind the impressive Persian King in the equivalent of the French 2000 Guineas at Longchamp. Interesting, the run before he had beaten subsequent French Prix Du Jockey Club winner Sottsass by nearly 3 lengths, with the form picture being further clouded by Persian King finishing behind Sottsass at Chantilly. Weighing up that form is difficult, but Aidan O’Brien’s Epsom Derby Listed trial winner Cape Of Good Hope finished 4th at Chantilly, beaten only five lengths. That doesn’t add much lustre to the result considering he was probably fifth in the pecking order of O’Brien runners for the Epsom classic.
He looks a nice long striding type, but more of a grinder than anything else and may find a few too good.
San Donato – 16/1
Finished just behind Shaman at Longchamp when stepping up to a mile for the first time. The son of Lope De Vega showed an impressive turn of foot that day, coming from midfield and rapidly closing on the front two runners Shaman and Persian King. He couldn’t quite sustain the effort on heavy ground but at the finish was only beaten just over a length.
One of the few runners to have experience of Ascot, albeit having finished 7th in the Chesham last year. A further look back at his form, mostly over 6 furlongs, suggests he is a steadily improving type, with the eye drawn to a short head victory over Kevin Ryan’s Hello Youmzain at Haydock in September. That horse is currently joint second favourite for the Commonwealth Cup and notably downed the much-touted Calyx on his last appearance.
Rodger Varian’s runner has plenty of speed and should stay the mile trip at Ascot, with much of his best form coming with some cut in the ground, which is likely on the opening day. Longchamp was his reappearance run and his first at a mile, so with that in mind, I would take him to reverse places with Shaman. He looks to offer good value each way and I can see him running into a place.
Fox Champion – 20/1
Three wins this term, the latest coming in the Group 2 German 2000 Guineas, where he led from the start. Richard Hannon’s colt seems to like to race prominently and he is likely to face more competition on the front end at Ascot. His win in Cologne is not strong form, but he is progressive and may have more to come at the trip having only completed the step up to a mile last time out.
Advertise – 33/1
A weapon over 6 furlongs last season, notching Group 2 and 1 victories. Stepped up to a mile in the Guineas at Newmarket on reappearance and was disappointing. A single flop is forgivable, but the suspicion is he won’t be able to maintain the gallop over a mile like some of these.
*All prices accurate at the time of writing
An interesting contest with all Guineas form lines converging. It may pay to look to the more lightly raced types so far this season, or at least those who have more potential to come on again from their previous runs. If that is indeed the case with Phoenix Of Spain then he should be seriously hard to beat here. He looks to be such a relaxed, good moving colt who is flexible in his run style and has a turn of foot to match anything in the race. John Gosden’s King Of Comedy must be respected, and if well placed during the race particularly when they quicken off the turn, will be a threat to all. San Donato looks an improving type who certainly has the pace to be involved, while I can see Too Darn Hot running another good race but continuing his trend this season of flattering to deceive.
1 – Phoenix Of Spain
2 – King Of Comedy
3 – San Donato
4 – Too Darn Hot
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