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Six horses to track following Royal Ascot

Jonathan Vine 27 Jun 2018
Expert Eye powering to victory in the Jersey Stakes.

Our expert reflects on Royal Ascot and highlights six horses punters need to track during the rest of the flat racing season.

In spite of a few strange results and some favourites failing to fire, this year’s Royal Ascot will be remembered as one of the most emotional and exciting meetings in recent years. Not only did Eve Johnson Houghton and Jessica Harrington saddle their first Royal winner, but Sir Michael Stoute surpassed the great Sir Henry Cecil to become the winning-most trainer in Ascot history.

Aside from the trainers, there were several equine stars who produced excellent performances on the hallowed Ascot turf. Here are five horses who particularly caught the eye and another horse our expert wants to keep a close eye on.

Calyx – Winner of the Coventry Stakes

After clocking a fantastic time during his maiden victory, much was expected of John Gosden’s colt when he entered the Coventry Stakes. Calyx was backed into favouritism before the off, but found himself in the slower group on the stand’s side rail. 

Frankie decided to make a lone move for home at the two pole, leaving his rivals reeling in his slipstream. Advertise and Ballydoyle talking horse, Sergei Prokofiev broke out of the far group to try and bridge the gap, but there was nothing they could do to deny Calyx victory.

Gosden stated after the race that Calyx will be kept on ice until the Prix Morny, which takes place at Deauville in August. “Johnny G” won that Group One with Shalaa three years ago and its highly likely Calyx will improve again following that superb Ascot victory.

Robert Havlin riding Calyx (right) to victory on debut at Newmarket.

Expert Eye – Winner of the Jersey Stakes

If someone had said to you after Expert Eye powered to victory in the Vintage Stakes last season that he would carry odds of 8/1 into the Jersey Stakes the following summer, you would have called him an idiot. Yet, after a run of three disappointing defeats, that was the situation we found ourselves in last week.

Experts around the country – who hadn’t tipped Expert Eye to win – will have been kicking themselves all the way home for Berkshire, after watching Sir Michael Stoute’s star trounce the opposition and return to winning ways with an almighty bang.

There’s no better trainer in the business at helping older horses improve and it’s highly logical to suggest there is much more to come from Expert Eye. A return to Goodwood could be next, where he’s likely to enter the Group Two Lennox Stakes, having made such a strong impression over seven furlongs this season.

Sun Maiden – Third in the Ribblesdale Stakes

Magic Wand swooped past the penalty-carrying Wild Illusion coming down the home straight at Ascot and Aidan O’Brien celebrated another Royal victory in the Ribblesdale. Charlie Appleby’s Oaks runner-up stayed on well for second, with Sun Maiden finishing quickly to claim the third and final place.

Many were expecting Sun Maiden to blow up on the big stage, despite a stunning 12 length victory on her pre-Ascot prep-run. Sir Michael Stoute will have been a little worried in the early stages as James Doyle’s mount took a keen hold, but the Frankel filly recovered her composure well and did her best work in the closing quarter of the contest.

Stoute decided to bypass the Epsom Oaks in favour of a tilt at the Ribblesdale. After proving she could handle the limelight, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Sun Maiden carry a fairly short price into the Irish Oaks later in July.

Agrotera powering to victory in the Sandringham Stakes Handicap.

Agrotera – Winner of the Sandringham Stakes

The gamble on Agrotera during Friday morning was one of the biggest market moves of the entire Festival. Ed Walker’s filly – who carries the same colours as Gold Cup winner Stradivarius – was backed off the boards in the build-up to the Sandringham, coming in from 12/1 to 11/2 favouritism.

Jamie Spencer, an expert on the straight mile at Ascot, waited near the rear of the field for much of the race. After spying a gap, Spencer and Agrotera weaved a path through the 28-strong field, before scorching to a powerful victory which had punters around the country popping open the bubbly.

A step up in grade is inevitable after such a taking performance. The handicapper has slapped Agrotera with a fresh rating of 98, which makes an appearance in something like the Listed Valiant Stakes a possible next assignment – while the Group One Sun Chariot Stakes at Newmarket looks a realistic end-of-season target.

Dreamfield – Second in the Wokingham

Like Agrotera the day before, Dreamfield was pummelled in the betting before his Royal Ascot outing. John Gosden’s lightly-raced colt eventually carried the shortest price into the Wokingham for the best part of a century, with many expected the Godolphin flag-bearer to extend his unbeaten career record.

As the pace quickened, James Doyle found himself stranded alone in the centre of the track. Never the less, Dreamfield bustled his way to the front, but the efforts of making his own pace eventually caught up with the favourite and he was nabbed on the line by Brian Ellison’s Bacchus.

Gosden claimed before the race that Dreamfield would have to be a Group One horse to justify that sort of price and his charge almost delivered a performance worthy of those sentiments. Dreamfield still holds entry into the Darley July Cup and, following that narrow defeat, his price in that historic Group One has shortened significantly.

Dreamfield (front, second right, blue w. white cap) is denied in the Wokingham by Bacchus (second right, pink and purple)

Never Back Down

In the build-up to Royal Ascot, the race I was most looking forward to was the Commonwealth Cup. The ante-post betting was stacked with quality three-year-old and a titanic tussle was expected. What transpired was, undoubtedly, the most underwhelming race of the entire season.

Eqtidaar eventually got the win, beating Sands Of Mali into second. Emblazoned finished third ahead of 50/1 shot Stone Of Destiny, with the likes of Sioux Nation, Invincible Army and Equilateral barely gaining a mention throughout the race.

Until that point, Eqtidaar had won just one of his four stars, with that victory coming in a Class Five maiden. On his previous start, the Commonwealth winner – and fourth placed Stone Of Destiny – finished a long way adrift of Never Back Down, who cruised to victory in the Listed Shalaa Carnarvon Stakes carrying a 25/1 price-tag.

Either Never Back Down – who’s scheduled to appear at Newcastle on Saturday – is a very good horse who’s been underestimated, or the 2018 renewal of the Commonwealth Cup was the worst in the race’s short history.

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Six horses to track following Royal Ascot

Our expert reflects on Royal Ascot and highlights six horses punters need to track during the rest of the flat racing season.

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