The prospect of really deep ground at Royal Ascot this week may have subsided somewhat, but the forecast for thundery showers at times means that umbrellas are still likely to be the fashion accessory of choice for many, rather than sunglasses and hand fans.
It certainly seems likely that the meeting will at least start on ground on the easy side of good, and, looking at it from a punting perspective, we’ve picked out five horses who should have no problem in the prevailing conditions.
Admittedly, Stormy Antarctic has plenty to find on bare form, but there is potential for one to sneak into the frame at a big price in what is an open renewal of the Queen Anne, and Ed Walker’s charge appeals as just the sort, having already finished fourth (beaten only a length and a half) at 40/1 in last year’s QEII over C&D, when the going was good to soft on the Timeform scale.
If anything, he is better when there is even more dig in the ground than that, and there is no doubting that he arrives here in top form.
He has back-to-back wins in pattern company to his name, notably when landing a soft-ground Group 2 in Italy last time out.
Battaash is the banker for many people on the opening day of the meeting.
While he does have some questions to answer on the back of his defeat in this race 12 months ago, the potential for ease underfoot is not one of them.
Indeed, the two best performances of his career to date – namely wins in the King George Stakes (soft) at Goodwood and Prix de l’Abbaye (good to soft) at Chantilly, both in 2017 – came when there was give in the ground.
None of his rivals here will be able to live with him if he reproduces that sort of form, which is far superior to what he achieved when chasing home Blue Point last year.
A pin will be the tool of choice for many trying to find the winner of the Hunt Cup, but, if the ground is on the soft side, you could do worse than side with Mitchum Swagger, who has developed a reputation for being a bit of a mudlark over the years.
Admittedly, he has to concede weight to the majority of his rivals here, but it was a similar story when he was third from 1lb higher in this race – on good to soft ground – in 2016, and with the promising Thore Hammer Hansen also claiming 5lb, it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise to see him hit the frame at a big price once again.
The ground was firm when No Nay Never recorded his Royal Ascot success in the 2013 Norfolk Stakes, but the early signs are that his progeny handle soft ground well, with Ten Sovereigns the pick of the bunch judged on his unbeaten juvenile campaign.
His three wins that season, included the Round Tower Stakes staged on good to soft ground at the Curragh, and the way he shaped when fifth on his reappearance in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket suggests that the drop back to six furlongs will be in his favour here.
His dam had winning form to her name on soft ground, too, and with further improvement on the cards, he looks a worthy favourite for the Ballydoyle team that won this race with Caravaggio in 2017.
Space Blues – Jersey Stakes, 3.05pm Saturday
Dubawi is another sire whose progeny have excelled with a bit of ease underfoot, and he looks likely to be typically well represented at this year’s meeting, with the siblings Too Darn Hot (St James’s Palace) and Lah Ti Dar (Hardwicke) two of his more high-profile runners during the week.
Perhaps his best chance of a winner, though, would appear to be Space Blues in Saturday’s Jersey Stakes. A winner of a soft-ground maiden at Nottingham on his sole two-year-old outing, he has resumed his progress since dropping back to seven furlongs on his last two starts, notably winning a listed race with a bit in hand at Epsom last time.
The suspicion remains that we are only just scratching the surface of his potential and a big run looks on the cards here, before he goes on to even bigger and better things.