royal ascot reflections from Stephen Harris

The 2021 Royal meeting took place with a maximum crowd of twelve thousand which, although still subdued in the huge Grandstand, was a big improvement on last year’s behind closed doors meeting (due to the ongoing effects of the global pandemic). The weather throughout the week before was fantastic (and stayed sunny for the first two days), meaning the ground was on the faster side of good. However, with showers arriving on Wednesday night, the ground did ease slightly for the final two days. 

10 reflections on the week at Royal Ascot

Perfect ground conditions to start the five days

Clerk of the course Chris Stickels set the right balance by producing good, fast racing ground and an excellent covering of turf for the opening of Royal Ascot. There was something of a track bias with both rails on each side proving the place to be. Those runners coming up the middle were rather disadvantaged which is slightly unsatisfactory from a punting point-of-view as the races are decided based on track position rather than on merit. Overnight on Thursday, the rain really did arrive, and conditions quickly turned testing for the final two days of the meeting – something which the bookmakers certainly welcomed (with all the declarations made on fast ground).

Palace Pier ‘the best horse in the world’

Palace Pier’ landed the Group 1, Queen Anne Stakes on Tuesday, and John Gosden’s four-year-old took his career record to 8 wins from 9 starts (after two impressive wins already this season). Punters, who hammered him from 4/9 in the morning down to 2/7f  by the off, barely had a minute’s worry. In the end he was driven out to beat inferior rivals by Dettori and was only workmanlike as he typically idled in front. Moving forward he is going to be hard to beat in all the top races over the summer months.

Berkshire Shadow storms up the rail in the Coventry

Berkshire Shadow’ impressively wins the Coventry for Andrew Balding, in what was the best two-year-old race of the week. Given a brilliant ride by Oisin Murphy from off the pace (the only one to come right up against the stands rail on the faster strip), quickening smartly to land a late gamble from 201/ into 11/1. He may have been flattered by both a pace collapse up front and racing on the best strip of ground but does have scope to do better as his stamina is drawn out over the next few months.

Oxted lands the King’s Stand for Roger Teal

This was one of the most memorable results of the entire five days, with the relatively small trainer Roger Teal landing this valuable Group 1 prize with his stable star. The race saw a cut-throat battle up front, with the heavily backed 6/4f ‘Battaash’ rather ruined by the pace duel from halfway, leaving the winner to storm clear inside the final furlong under a well-judged ride from Cieren Fallon. He had been backed from around 9/1 in the morning down to a rock solid 4/1 second favourite by the off and was ultimately an impressive winner to the joy of those punters who joined the plunge.

‘Poetic Flare’ routs rivals for the St. James’ Palace

With £350,000 on offer to the  winner, this was one of the highest quality and most competitive races of the week. However, Jim Bolger’s battle hardened 3-y-o put them all to the sword with a devastating turn of foot two furlongs out as he came home alone. He has now had a remarkable five runs in the last two months, winning the 2000 Guineas in Britain and just touched off in Ireland in their equivalent. The way he has been aggressively campaigned is a terrific advert for the training skills of the popular veteran trainer Jim Bolger. 

Frankie Dettori still going strong aged 50

Dettori rode his rivals to sleep on ‘Indie Angel’ at the Duke of Cambridge on Wednesday, where again track bias came hugely into play by coming over to the stand side. Amazingly, Frankie Dettori was the only jockey to realise this on the largely unconsidered 22/1 chance Indie Angel. This is frustrating for punters, for whom the bias was plain to see from the second race on day one. It was incredible that jockeys continued to plough a furrow down the middle of the track which looked the worst place to be over the first three days of the meeting (either rail was a big advantage until the rain arrived on Friday and the ground turned heavy). The veteran rider was at his absolute best on board ‘Campanelle’ on Friday, just denied in a photo with ‘Dragon Symbol’ after a thrilling battle, but subsequently awarded the Commonwealth Cup in the stewards enquiry.

‘Love’ lands a substandard Prince of Wales

Usually the feature race on Wednesday, but this year a small field and a disappointing turn-out rather downgrading the valuable Group 1 prize. ‘Love’ was sent off a fairly uneasy 11/10 favourite, thought to need the run by Aidan O’Brien, before making all the running under Ryan Moore. She is likely to be kept busy this season over the summer months in all the top Group 1 races, and her terrific attitude for pressure will stand her in good stead (for all the bare form of this muddling prize is definitely sub-standard).

The Hunt Cup goes to a low drawn runner

This cavalry charge looked to concentrate on those drawn high, but for the first time one of the low draw runners stayed over on the far rail and stormed home, with ‘Real World’ springing an 18/1 surprise (and providing something of a result for bookmakers). He looks a handicapper well ahead of the game and is likely to improve into a Group performer over the next few months. 

Gold Cup winner ‘Subjectivist’ spoils the Stradivarius party

50-y-o veteran jockey Joe Fanning rode his rivals to sleep in the Gold Cup on board Mark Johnston’s ‘Subjectivist’, kicking clear before the home turn to land a very impressive success. Those punters who had taken 10/11f about the three-time champion ‘Stradivarius’ rarely had much hope, as Frankie Dettori found all the trouble going up the inside under a negative ride. He might now be past his best aged 7, and there is no doubt thфтфat a new superstar in this division has been found.

Diamond Jubilee winner ‘Dream of Dreams’ on revels in the soft ground

The heavy rain on Thursday night and through the day on Friday changed the complexion of the meeting completely, with soft/heavy ground suddenly on the agenda and plenty of runners failing to handle it. Our Beth.bet Nap of the meeting ‘Starman’ was understandably a NR in the morning on Saturday, and that left ‘Dream of Dreams’ to land the punters’ cash under an inspired ride from Ryan Moore. He had finished second in this race in 2019 and 2020, so this was due reward for his brilliant efforts at Royal Ascot in the past.

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