Racing: Nicer to sweep aside select few gathered for Coronation

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THE FEATURE race of Royal Ascot's second day is a tangled mess of unreliable form-lines and unfulfilled promise. The Royal Hunt Cup will take some solving, too.

It may be a six-runner race, level weights for three-year-old fillies, but the Coronation Stakes has enough uncertainties to suffocate the unwary. Elizabeth Bay might be better than her dismal run when favourite for the 1,000 Guineas; Zarani Sidi Anna could be revived by a visor; Nicer looked good in the Irish 1,000 Guineas but the second home was a maiden; Niche might want it faster; Sumoto beat Sayyedati at Ascot last June but has not run since; you get the picture.

Nevertheless, this being Ascot, plenty of optimistic souls will be striding into the ring with four-figure sums. Their best chance of leaving with a five-figure one is to back Nicer (3.45) - the Irish form may be shaky, but her previous defeat of the 1,000 Guineas third, Ajfan, looks solid.

Solid form is often a positive deterrent in the Royal Hunt Cup, a race which generates plots of such longevity that they are handed on in the trainer's will. It is, of course, clearly stated in the Rules of Racing that all horses in all circumstances must run on their merits, and no reputable trainer would set out to lose a few races, just to ensure his horse got into the Hunt Cup with a winning weight. But if it takes a little time to discover that he needs a mile rather than five furlongs, or a straight track rather than a switchback, well, that's racing.

Honesty and hard work do sometimes get their reward, however, and Forever Diamonds (4.20) could be the one today, though there is not the slightest whiff of conspiracy about him. His six runs this season have shown him to be tough, consistent and fairly weighted, and his price may be inflated as his stable-mate, Gymcrak Premiere, is the likely favourite. That one, though, is drawn 30, and while he may win the contest on the far side, Forever Diamonds, starting from 11, can win the race that matters.

The winner of the Queen Mary Stakes has plenty to live up to - Marling and Lyric Fantasy have succeeded in the last two years. Velvet Moon (next best 3.05) appears to be the only filly in this year's field capable of matching them, while another filly, Miss Pin Up (5.30) should beat the colts in the Bessborough.

Henry Cecil believed Saint Keyne, who contests the Queen's Vase, to be his best chance for a Royal Ascot winner. He thought that Tenby was his best chance of winning the Derby, though, and John Dunlop's progressive stayer KASSAB (nap 4.55) will take some beating.