Saturday’s card features the first of several big seven furlong handicaps at Ascot during the Flat season – the Totescoop6 Victoria Cup.
This race tends to attract a lot of course specialists and regulars, such as last year’s Wokingham Handicap winner Outback Traveller and Squats, who was third in the Challenge Cup here in October, one of many excellent placed efforts he has put in at Ascot.
The interesting thing with these top handicaps is seeing the established benchmark form as illustrated by the aforementioned runners up against that of less exposed, usually younger runners. In this case Remarkable is of particular interest alongside Fastnet Tempest, who was a close up third in the Spring Cup at Newbury last month (one mile).
In reality, and of course the point of these top handicaps, most of the 27 field have some sort of chance. The Guest family-owned horses should never be discounted here as they are regular sponsors and are always keen to be represented on the track. So Bossy Guest on the back of a very encouraging run in fifth in the Spring Cup is definitely one to look out for.
The Victoria Cup will produce some Royal Ascot clues, although they may not always be obvious - Outback Traveller was 13th in this last year before winning the Wokingham.
The more direct Royal Ascot trial on the card is the Carey Group Buckhounds Stakes, which often provides a guide to the Group Two Hardwicke and indeed the King George V Handicap at the Royal Meeting. All three races are run over the mile-and-a-half course and distance and last year Elite Army won the Buckhounds and the King George V Handicap.
The Buckhounds looks a strong renewal this year, with four or five horses likely to be very closely matched at the top of the market including Baydar, who shot through the ranks last season before a disappointing final run at Newmarket, which was attributed to a long and hard season. Josephine Gordon, last year’s champion apprentice, was rewarded with a coveted position at Hugo Palmer’s yard and this will be one of her most high profile opportunities to date. We will of course see more of her career progression through the summer, not least at the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup where she will be riding alongside Australian Melbourne Cup-winning rider Michelle Payne and Ascot regular and perennial Woodbine top rider, Emma-Jayne Wilson.
The Prince of Wales has a runner in the shape of Carntop, who was a creditable fifth in the King Edward VII Stakes over course and distance at Royal Ascot last year.