There are some small but select fields running at Ascot this afternoon, for their opening day of the 2018 Flat season and the six-race Sagaro Stakes card kicks off at 2.00pm, with a four runner 2yo Conditions Stakes over five furlongs, worth £14,000 in prize money.
The long-odds on favourite here isn’t after today’s prize money however, as Aidan O’Brien’s THE IRISH ROVER could well be having a sighter for a more valuable target at Royal Ascot next month. The journey over from Ballydoyle is not without risk for an early juvenile, but the medium to longer term rewards will be worth it if the horse enjoys the experience and takes to the track.
This colt shaped well in a quality little race at Dundalk three weeks ago, running up to an RPR of 80 and a Topspeed figure of 72, which sets a fair standard here and he’s sure to improve for that experience. First season Sire – No Nay Never – won the Norfolk Stakes at Royal Ascot five years ago and his promising (and well-named, I must add!) son is hard to oppose in the opener.
In the 2.35pm EBF Fillies’ Condition Stakes, Charlie Appleby’s DATHANNA will be another warm order in the betting to score for her in-form stable. With only three horses to beat, her profile stands out like a sore thumb and this 7f outing is an ideal start to the season for this 101 rated and potential very useful daughter of Dubawi. Richard Hannon’s Red Starlight is the chief threat and will handle the ground first time out, but has a small mountain to climb on bare form.
At 3.10pm the feature race of the day takes place, when the Group 3 Sagaro Stakes over a few yards shy of two miles will see a select field of six thoroughly decent stayers heading to post.
This is a really tricky little race and one could argue it’s one for smaller stakes and a watching brief in general, but perhaps DESERT SKYLINE might run better than his odds (7/1 at BetBright) suggest for David Elsworth and Silvestre De Sousa. The 2017 Doncaster Cup winner is penalised here giving 4-5lb to his rivals, but with good reason. His three runs between August and September last year represent very sound form for this grade although he’s underperformed twice at Ascot now, there were fair excuses for both efforts. Cheekpieces are left off too, which isn’t really a concern, to me at least, because he’s done plenty of winning and running without them. Desert Skyline was making use of 3yo allowances last term though, so he will need to step things up a gear if he’s to remain a true Cup horse in 2018.
Raheen House and Irish raider Torcedor are the more established horses to beat, with a due nod to Montaly and the evergreen Clever Cookie also in attendance.
Time To Study could be up to this level and is the “New Kid on the Block” so to speak, but he’ll need to take a significant step forward to score — is Ryan Moore the man to get it out him? We’ll soon see, but I’ll stick with a small win punt on the aforementioned Elsworth trained runner under the Champion jockey at healthier odds.
That man Ryan Moore is responsible for the hot jolly in the following Group 3 Pavilion Stakes at 3.45pm and his mount INVINCIBLE ARMY will go off shorter than current odds of 6/4 if he does manage to get on a roll today; which is entirely possible of course. Either way, trainer James Tate’s 3yo is a really likeable performer – tough and consistent being his modus operandi – and I reckon he’ll take all the beating. Several of these would prefer better ground, so perhaps Dean Ivory’s Eirene will be the main challenger to the market leader.
In the penultimate contest of the day at 4.20pm, Accidental Agent and VICTORY BOND appear to have this Listed contest over a mile between them. The latter named William Haggas trained runner is improving at the right time and has been in terrific form over 10f on the All-Weather of late though and just gets the nod over Eve Johnson Houghton’s charge. The drop in trip and the ground will be fine for the 5yo by Medicean and he’s the really interesting one for me on this return to the turf. Ryan Moore takes the ride.
The closing Apprentice Handicap at 4.55pm is a fiendishly competitive 20-runner race, nearly enough to make a man go cross-eyed in terms of assessing the Matrix of form on offer! But if apprentice jockeys are a key focus of the contest, then Lewis Edmunds is the young man in form. He has fired in 3 winners from his 8 rides in the past week, so perhaps top weight and big price outsider APEX KING is worth a couple of quid each-way under a confident pilot. The Ed Dunlop trained horse is very much out of form, but was a Listed winner here as a juvenile two years ago and cheek-pieces replace blinkers, for this admittedly tough examination. He is a big price perhaps rightly so, but you’d just never know.
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