Starborough fair odds for an upset

ROYAL ASCOT: The opening day features a meeting of the milers to turn the heads of those more concerned with millinery
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Depending on your point of view, it is either a great strength or a source of enormous irritation that the sights and sounds of Royal Ascot's opening day are strikingly similar to those depicted in the famous scene in My Fair Lady. True, the gents and gels will not be dancing in formation on the lawn, and you can be absolutely certain that, unlike Rex Harrison, no one will manage to slip into the Royal enclosure wearing a tweed jacket, but in most other respects, the emphasis will be on keeping up appearances, making sure that everyone knows their place, being seen in the right hat and after that, perhaps, watching the odd race or two.

That it is matters other than racing which preoccupy many racegoers at this meeting is demonstrated by the fact that a few Grandstand tickets remain unsold for this afternoon's card, even though most regular punters would agree that in terms of the quality of competition, it is the finest of the week.

The St James's Palace Stakes, the feature race of the day, pulls together the form from the French, Irish, English and Italian 2,000 Guineas, and it's winner will surely be the best miler in Europe. The supporting acts include Bosra Sham, one of the most popular Flat horses in training, a horde of promising juveniles in the Coventry Stakes, some of the best milers around in the Queen Anne, and two handicaps of staggering size and complexity. Racegoers in the Royal enclosure generally refrain from cheering, but there may well be something among today's attractions which will raise excitement even there.

The danger for punters, of course, is that it is difficult to resist a bet at every opportunity, though if your betting is going to get compulsive, it might as well be here, where the markets are so strong that, as with the Cheltenham Festival in March, top-class performers are available at unusually large prices. The downside, however, is that an eight-runner event like the St James's Palace Stakes includes five, perhaps six, perfectly credible winners, so you could back four of them and still emerge empty- handed.

One apparent odds-on chance, though, is that today's most valuable prize will be leaving the country, since Daylami, Alain du Royer-Dupre's French 2,000 Guineas winner, and Desert King, who took the Irish equivalent for Aidan O'Brien's Ballydoyle yard, will be jostling each other for favouritism at around 2-1. A win for either would be an important milestone for their respective trainers, since du Royer-Dupre has yet to saddle a winner of any sort in England, while O'Brien is seeking his first success at the Royal meeting. But it may prove premature to write off the milers' Classic which is the original and, generally, the best.

The form of Entrepreneur in the Newmarket 2,000 Guineas has certainly struggled to stand in recent weeks, and the winner's disappointing run in the Derby was yet another blow, but one horse who ran well on the Rowley Mile and has won since - in Group One company, too - is Starborough (next best 3.45). David Loder's colt was fourth behind Entrepreneur, just a short-head behind Poteen, who is among his rivals this afternoon. Given that so little distance separated them there, and that Poteen's stamina might just be stretched by today's very stiff mile, it is a surprise to find the latter colt at around 100-30 this morning, while Starborough is available at 8-1. He deserves to be backed at those odds, and the fact that today's field is eight-strong makes an each-way bet an option for the naturally cautious.

Favourites can be a risky proposition at this meeting, but it is hard to see any of Bosra Sham's (3.05) rivals causing an upset in the Prince of Wales's Stakes. London News, the much-travelled South African challenger, will be the choice of some simply because of his novelty value, but there is no reason to think that his best form would place him within half a stone of Henry Cecil's filly.

Cecil saddles the favourite, Ali-Royal, in the Queen Anne Stakes, but a far more rewarding choice could be Amrak Ajeeb (2.30), who is ideally suited by waiting tactics in a fast-run mile, which is all but guaranteed with Gothenberg in the field.

Diligence (4.20) will also be at decent odds to give Paul Cole his third Coventry Stakes in seven years, while Generous Libra (4.55), another from David Loder's yard, can upset the favourite, Kennemara Star, in the Britannia (with Kaiser Kache drawn high, the far side is the place to look for vital early pace). In punting terms, though, the best may be saved until last, since TOTEM DANCER (nap 5.30) is about to encounter the test of stamina which she has long demanded.