Royal Ascot dark horses | Five to follow this week on Sky Sports Racing

Sky Sports Racing’s Elliot David returns with five horses flying under the radar at Royal Ascot, all live on Sky Sports Racing from June 18-22.


Queen Anne Stakes (Tuesday)

Royal Ascot’s curtain raiser saw a ‘shock’ 33-1 victor in Triple Time last year and we could see another in what looks an open and tactical renewal of the Queen Anne. John Gosden’s confirmation that Inspiral is heading to the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes only serves to blur the picture further and the key to this may lie in the tactics.

In Lockinge winner Audience, last year’s QEII winner Big Rock, the globetrotting Brave Emperor and the seemingly rejuvenated Royal Scotsman there looks to be plenty of potential pace on offer. The foremost trio know only one way of running and a good gallop therefore looks guaranteed which ought to bring plenty into it. Among those will of course be Lockinge runner-up Charyn who would be a deserved favourite given his excellent form in 2024.

However, at six-times the price of the Varian runner, I’d be interested in Francis-Henri Graffard’s Dolayli who could be well suited to the higher tempo of British racing. Following a five-length demolition of two-time Group 1 winner Junko in March, he’s been unsuited by two slowly run and tactical Group contests on slow turf. Given the ample pace angles in here to give him a good tow into the contest, I’d expect Mickael Barzalona to sit back and ride him to be delivered late on.

Dam Dolniya enjoyed some quicker ground while half-brother Dilawar is a quick ground Group 3 winner. Things seem to point towards Tuesday’s conditions being right up his street with relatively little further rain forecast after Saturday.


Queen Mary Stakes (Wednesday)

You’d be hard-pressed to find a year where Wesley Ward-trained two-year-olds weren’t the talk of the town in the juvenile division. However, this year as the Wathnan Racing battalion converge on Ascot. we’re seeing Ward’s team relatively under the radar, at least by their standards, and you’re able to sneak some potential ‘value’ as a result.

Like Acapulco (2015) and Lady Aurelia (2016), this filly started out on dirt before making the switch to turf. Her Keeneland win on April 18 looked nothing more than a glorified workout and she’s reportedly stepped forward dramatically for the switch to turf and is “much better on grass”.

Since Ward’s Jealous Again added to Strike The Tiger’s Windsor Castle win in the 2009 renewal, this race has been kind to the US raiders. A further four winners have followed, three trained by Ward, and they just seem to have the knack for this one.

Given the current odds, likely double that of a typical Ward trainee in this contest, I’d say she offers some decent value among a field in which in my view, there is no standout home contender.

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Francis-Henri Graffard assesses his Royal Ascot chances with Katherine Ford


King George V Stakes (Thursday)

Thursday’s Royal parade could have that little bit of added excitement!

Anyone for another Desert Hero? The Royals will be hoping so as the familiar Haggas & Marquand pairing are set to combine once more with a son of Fastnet Rock in Gilded Water. The gelding got off the mark at the third attempt at Chepstow on May 31, coinciding with going beyond the mile for the first time and a further stretch out to 1m4f looks sure to suit. His Chepstow win saw him stretch clear of some well-bred sorts in a time that was over 4 seconds quicker than division two of the race, clocking an 11.22s penultimate furlong and confirming his clear liking for the additional two furlongs.

Out of Fiery Sunset, he’s a half-brother to another smart former Royal-owned horse in Circle Of Fire, who shipped to Australia to become a Group 1 winner following his fourth in last year’s Queen’s Vase. Gilded Water is bred for stamina and the comparisons with Desert Hero are there to see.

Like the Hero, he will be trying the trip for the first time…a statistic applicable to nine of the last 10 winners of this race and arrives at Ascot on a similar handicap mark to that of his stablemate (92 vs 94). Each of those last 10 winners of the race had a rating between 88 and 95, a distinct window that has pointed the way in this race.


King Edward VII Stakes (Friday)

This was probably the eyecatcher of the Prix du Jockey Club on June 2 as he ran on for a never nearer fifth in the now familiar Stempniak colours formerly worn by Arc hero Ace Impact.

Having walked out of the gates, he found himself in rear and two lengths off his nearest rival for much of the contest. Entering the false straight into the home turn, he remained camped in rear before switching to the outside under William Buick to mount a notable and sustained late run. Though he was unable to pick up winner Look De Vega, who was well positioned throughout, he certainly underlined his talent.

He brings that Group 1 form into a race that lacks anything of that calibre towards the top of the market, with the principals priced more on reputation and potential than the form book. Hopefully they set a good gallop, allowing Mondo Man to be ridden similarly to Chantilly with a waiting ride likely to be suited to Ascot’s round course.


Palace of Holyroodhouse Stakes (Friday)

I think Richard Fahey, whose yard is in the midst of a fine period of form, has been eyeing this race for a recent recruit in Dark Vintage.

The son of Dark Angel came over from America for the 2024 season, where he showed a liking for quick ground which included a narrow defeat in Santa Anita’s Listed Speakeasy Stakes. The winner, John Sadler’s Slider, has gone on to run well at Group 1 & 2 level which would suggest the form is very respectable. I’d take note of the presence of blinkers for each of those four Stateside runs, I’ll come back to that!

Two runs in Britain saw a quiet stable debut at Sandown, ridden in rear and never really involved on the speedy 5f course at the Esher track, before a considerably better effort in York’s Listed Westow Stakes. In King Charles III favourite Big Evs he faced up to a rival he was unlikely to beat but was far from disgraced with a 2 ¾ length third. Once again he raced in rear and though he was clearly outpaced when things heated up in the closing stages he ran on very nicely under a forgiving ride from Oisin Orr. That was a step forward on his Sandown run and coincided with the application of a first-time visor.

Having evidently appreciated the return of some headgear, I can’t help but feel this change to a stiffer 5f track is going to be right up his street. His half-brother Kerdos was beaten a neck in this race last year and I’m hoping he can go one better.

Source : Sky Sports