Racing: Punters miss riches from Wragg

Royal Ascot: A day of long shots ends with a royal victory for the favourite in the Duke of Edinburgh Handicap
OUTSIDERS WINNING big races are not what the majority of punters want to see, so Ascot yesterday was not the place to be if you are one of those who troop blindly towards the favourites. If you wrote down the odds of the first four winners on the second day of the Royal meeting, you would have a telephone number in Kuala Lumpur (possibly the local branch of Gamblers Anonymous). But just because these horses start unfancied, it does not mean that they are unworthy winners, and Balisada's success in the Coronation Stakes is an obvious example.

In fact, though she set off at 16-1, Balisada was not entirely without support in a contest rich with two Guineas winners. William Hill offered 40-1 yesterday morning, while Victor Chandler's on-course operation laid a bet of pounds 2,000 each-way at 33-1. But even so, the voices in the grandstand all seemed to be shouting for one of her eight rivals, as a closely-packed field raced into the final quarter of a mile.

One filly after another tried to strike a final blow, and Presumed, Wannabe Grand and Golden Silca all looked possible winners. Until, that is, Michael Roberts asked Balisada to quicken, and she picked them all off in a few strides. The final margin was less than two lengths, with Golden Silca in second place and Valentine Waltz dead-heating with Wannabe Grand for third. In terms of authority, however, she was one of the easiest winners of the meeting.

It was a doubly commendable performance in that the pace through the early stages was poor, which normally counts against a runner trying to quicken from the rear of the field. Not Balisada, though, who is unlikely to start at double-figure odds again for some time to come.

For Geoff Wragg, this was a second big-priced winner in the Coronation Stakes in the space of three years, following Rebecca Sharp's success at 25-1 two seasons ago. "She was going to be my Guineas filly," the trainer said, "but she bumped her near-hind earlier in the year and I had to stop with her. It was probably a blessing in disguise, and she was only three- parts fit when she ran at Goodwood [when second in a Listed event four weeks ago], and I knew she was bound to improve."

Whether Balisada will now improve again should become clear in the Falmouth Stakes at Newmarket's July meeting, although on yesterday's form she will not need to.

If Balisada's victory was easy, that of Showboat in the Royal Hunt Cup was risibly so. Thirty-two runners went to post for one of the most competitive handicaps of the season, but for a second or two after Showboat crossed the line, it seemed as if only one had come back. He had six lengths to spare over Plan-B and last year's winner, Refuse To Lose, which in a race like the Hunt Cup is a little like winning the Derby by 30.

Showboat runs in the colours of Dick Hollingsworth, one of the old-time owner-breeders for whom Ascot successes were a matter of course until people like Robert Sangster and the Maktoum brothers appeared over the horizon. "I am very pleased for the owner," Barry Hills, Showboat's trainer, said. "I have known him since 1952 when I was apprenticed to George Colling, who trained three fillies to win the Park Hill Stakes for him. I was worried about his draw on the far side, but the pace seemed to be over there and he loved the fast ground. I don't suppose the handicapper will be too kind to him now so we may go for a Listed or Group race.''

The day started badly for backers when Lots Of Magic, a 33-1 chance, bounced out and led all the way to beat Enrique, the hot favourite, in the Jersey Stakes. Someone had pounds 80,000 on Enrique with Chandler yesterday morning at odds of 15-8, and the same firm then laid an even pounds 100,000 about Rowaasi in the Queen Mary Stakes, which also stayed firmly in the satchel. Shining Hour, at 20-1, was the winner there, for Peter Chapple- Hyam and Robert Sangster.

The crowd had to wait until the final race for a winning favourite, and among them was one racegoer who often makes an early dash for the exit. The Queen decided to stay for the getting-out stakes yesterday, though, and saw Blueprint carry her colours to their first success at this meeting since 1995. The monarch was in the winner's enclosure to welcome her horse back, though whether there was a Tote ticket burning a hole in the bottom of her handbag, we shall probably never know.

Wood's 14-1 Hunt Cup nap

Greg Wood was on the mark at Royal Ascot yesterday when his nap SHOWBOAT (SP 14-1, Tote 21-1) won the Hunt Cup