Given that it is the first day of what is billed as the Festival of British Racing, there could be a rather more, well, festive air about the racing at Ascot this afternoon.
Given that it is the first day of what is billed as the Festival of British Racing, there could be a rather more, well, festive air about the racing at Ascot this afternoon. That the televised segment comprises a sales race, a sprint handicap and a Listed event for fillies and mares, several of whom have seen better days, suggests that by extending what was originally a one-day meeting to three, Ascot has spread things a little too thinly for comfort. Cheltenham, which every now and again considers adding an extra day to the National Hunt Festival, should take note.
There is nothing wrong with the quantity on offer, however, either in terms of runners or prize-money, thanks mainly to the quarter of a million pounds which is up for grabs in the Watership Down Stud Stakes. Twenty-nine two-year-old fillies are scheduled go to post, with various burdens according to how much they cost as yearlings at auction. Six-and-a-half furlongs later, the first one home will win a very generous £129,950.
Huge fields of juvenile fillies, many of whom, judged on racecourse evidence, could just as easily be plying their trade in Pattern races or sellers this time next year, are as dubious a betting medium as you are likely to find (one possible exception being the Find The Lady games run by cockneys with knife scars on the path between Ascot station and the racecourse). The rate at which fillies can improve when the leaves start to turn adds a further tier of uncertainty to what is already a very shaky house of cards.
In the face of such imponderables, one sensible choice would be to side with the proven form of a runner like Lipstick, who has won her last two outings and is clearly one of the best horses in the race. She has a 7lb penalty to carry too, though, and thus must give at least 5lb – and in most cases a stone or more – to 28 lightly raced opponents. It seems unlikely that one or more of them will not exploit the weight they receive.
Inevitably, there are at least a dozen possibilities, but one who looks to have the ability to go on to better things – and has been targeted at this race for some time – is Diana Panagaea (3.10). She quickened well to win at Lingfield first time out, and several of those who finished down the field in that race have run respectably since.
The sprint handicap is another race which will take some solving, although another filly, Torosay Spring, will start at a short price after two recent victories, and should still be improving having raced just four times in all. She has been raised another 6lb for her latest success, though, and offers no value in what is far from being a one-horse race. Trace Clip, who is creeping up the weights without winning, has a solid chance, while horses who drop back into handicap company from Pattern races, such as Patsy's Double, usually merit respect.
At the likely odds, though, FLYING MILLIE (nap 3.45) is the one to back, as she returns to the scene of her success at the Shergar Cup meeting. She has only eight runs behind her, and is perhaps a little unlucky not to be on a four-timer. At 10-1 with Coral and William Hill, she is a sound bet, while Nafisah (next best 2.35) holds strong claims in the Harvest Stakes.
Gossamer is the Tote's 5-4 favourite for the Fillies' Mile at Ascot tomorrow after eight were left in the Group One event at yesterday's final declaration stage. Henry Cecil's Half Glance, the winner of the May Hill Stakes at Doncaster, is a 15-8 chance, followed by Sundari at 13-2, and it is 11-1 bar. The Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, the day's feature, will have 11 runners, after China Visit and Beckett were taken out yesterday.
The warm favourite for next Saturday's Cambridgeshire Handicap will need a new jockey, however, after George Duffield, due to ride Alphaeus for Sir Mark Prescott, was banned for four days for improper riding at Pontefract yesterday. The stewards decided that Duffield used his whip with excessive frequency on Stroke Of Six, who finished second in the nursery.
* The appeal by the Jockey Club's sacked security chief, Roger Buffham, has been dismissed. Buffham was sacked in August following an internal inquiry. The Club stressed that his dismissal was not as a result of operational work but from allegations made following a complaint involving his staff.