AIDAN O’BRIEN has been top trainer at the royal fixture for the past three seasons and what better way to kick-off his formidable 2018 challenge than by winning the opening race of the week with RHODODENDRON (2.30).
Rhododendron scraped home from Lightning Spear in the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury when finding herself isolated in the middle of the track and a stiff mile seems her best trip. She was tried over a variety of distances last season and after chasing home stablemate Winter in the Qipco 1000 Guineas, Rhododendron was no match for Enable in the Investec Oaks. She should go very close on her first visit to Ascot.
Wesley Ward’s filly LADY AURELIA (3.40) is back to defend her unbeaten record at Royal Ascot, having mopped up the King’s Stand Stakes last year on the back of a seven lengths romp in the Queen Mary Stakes as a juvenile.
Lady Aurelia was particularly strong at the finish 12 months ago and her showdown with home hero Battaash promises to be one of the highlights of the week. Battaash scraped home on his return at Haydock when uneasy in the market but he brought the curtain down on a sensational 2017 by thumping Nunthorpe heroine Marsha four lengths in the Prix de l’Abbaye.
ROMANISED (4.20) fulfilled his juvenile promise with a surprise, but fully merited, triumph in the Irish 2000 Guineas. He had more than two lengths in hand of U S Navy Flag and clearly appreciated the good to firm ground at the Curragh.
Romanised was noted running on into seventh spot in last year’s Coventry Stakes and his subsequent second to Masar in the Solario Stakes at Sandown on a slower surface is looking better than ever. The St James’s Palace Stakes is one crackerjack of a contest with John Gosden’s unbeaten Without Parole and Qipco 2000 Guineas runner-up Tip Two Win adding plenty of lustre to the line-up.
The Irish have won five of the last six renewals of the 2m 4f Ascot Stakes, with Willie Mullins saddling three of them (Simenon, Clondaw Warrior and Thomas Hobson). He has a fistful of runners to deliver a bunch of fives on the bookies this year and market vibes will be incredibly important.
The one to attract significant early support was STRATUM (5.00), the mount of Robert Winston.
Formerly with John Gosden, the five-year-old hasn’t had much racing for Mullins, mopping up a maiden hurdle at Galway last September. Significantly, Stratum is own by Tony Bloom, the pro-gambler who landed a mighty touch in last autumn’s Cesarewitch with Withhold. Stall 11 away from the rail should prove ideal as there is often carnage on the inside when the pacesetters hit the wall and stop suddenly before the home turn.
Having backed MIRAGE DANCER (5.35) last week for the Wolferton Handicap, I’m less than happy with his rails draw but will need to bite the bullet.
Sir Michael Stoute’s colt, a son of Frankel, brings some rock-solid form to the meeting having run third to Benbatl in last year’s Hampton Court Stakes. He thumped Euginio at Goodwood and ran very smart Barsanti close here over the longer 1m 4f trip. Mirage Dancer will love the ground and hopefully his rider will be positive from the gate, especially with no stamina issues.
Big danger Laraaib is lightly raced and progressive, while I’ll be having a few quid each-way on outsider Scarlet Dragon, sixth last year when posted wide up the straight.
The big two-year-old sprint is the Coventry Stakes and if high numbers are favoured then BURJ (3.05) could outrun his odds for Saeed bin Suroor. The colt gave weight and a six lengths thrashing to subsequent winner Aussie View at Wolverhampton 13 days ago and John Gosden’s fancied Calyx is berthed alongside. Favourite Sergei Prokofiev is drawn on the other side in stall four and this juvenile event can be something of a lottery.
- Ascot 2.30 – Rhododendron (3-1, McBookie, William Hill)
- Ascot 3.05 – Burj ew (20-1, bet365)
- Ascot 3.40 – Lady Aurelia (2-1, bet365)
- Ascot 4.20 – Romanised (6-1, bet365)
- Ascot 5.00 – Stratum (6-1, William Hill)
- Ascot 5.35 – Mirage Dancer (7-1, Black Type)
Johnb's Tuesday Tips
- Thirsk 1:40 – War Tigress 7-2 NB
- Thirsk 3:55 – Madrinho 7-2 skybet NAP
- Beverley 6:30 – Pesci 4-1
Johnb's Royal Ascot Tips
- 2:30 – YOSHIDA 14-1 eachway 1/5 odds 4 places
- 3:05 – INDIGO BALANCE 14-1 eachway 1/5 odds 4 places
- 3:05 – NINETYTHREETWENTY 33-1 eachway 1/5 odds 4 places
- 3:40 – BATTAASH 11-4
- 4:20 – WITHOUT PAROLE 11-4
- 5:00 – LAGOSTOVEGAS 11-1 eachway 1/5 odds 5 places
- 5:35 – BIG COUNTRY 18-1 eachway 1/5 odds 4 places