Royal Ascot odds: the intelligent punter's guide
Forget the hats and frocks, and concentrate on the horses worth a flutter over five days of flat racing
While some at Royal Ascot will be focusing on the fashion aspects, and which celebrities have been spotted in the Royal Enclosure, we've got just one concern: how to beat the bookmakers.
The first rule is to "go short" in the top Group races - ie to focus on the horses prominent in the betting - but bet more adventurously and look for outsiders in the handicaps. In the seven Group One races last year, there was just one winner at double-figure odds - and the average starting price of the winners was 5.5-1. By contrast, the eight handicaps included winners at 33-1 and 25-1, with an average SP of 17.5.
Previous Royal Ascot form is also key. Royal Ascot is the Olympics of flat racing, so that horses that have won or been placed at previous royal meetings have shown that they've got the class to compete at this level - as well as being able to act on the track. Last year ten of the 24 non-two-year-old races were won by horses that had either won, or finished in the first four, in previous years at Royal Ascot.
Trainer form in particular races at Royal Ascot is another important factor. Certain trainers have eye-catching records in particular races. Mark Johnston, for instance, has won Friday's Queen Vase six times and Thursday's King George V Handicap five times, while Sir Michael Stoute, who has trained more winners (68 to be precise) at Royal Ascot than any current trainer, has a great record in Saturday's Hardwicke Stakes.
Ireland's Jim Bolger doesn't bring over too many runners, but he's had winners in each of the past three years. James Fanshawe's runners in the big handicaps are always worthy of close consideration as he has a good strike rate.
Now let's take a look at the big races on a day-by day-basis…
2.30 pm. The Queen Anne Stakes.
Although not a good race for outsiders - you have to go back to 1995 to find a winner of this 1m Group One event who went off at odds bigger than 12-1 - neither is it a great race for favourites: only two have obliged since the turn of the Millennium and one of those was the legendary Frankel, who won at odds of 1–10 in 2012.
Ten of the last 15 winners have had SPs between 100-30 and 15-2, so pay close attention to horses within that price range. Four- year-olds have the edge, accounting for 20 of the past 25 winners.
Course winner Toronado, only beaten by a short head in a photo-finish behind Dawn Approach in last year's St James's Palace Stakes, is a worthy favourite, but he's currently odds-on. If you're looking for something a bit longer, Verrazano, whose trainer Aidan O'Brien has won the race three times in the last eight years, and French raider Anodin, who has been supplemented, look the best alternatives.
3.45 pm. King's Stand Stakes.
Sole Power, a close-up third in 2012, and winner last year, will be favoured by the drying conditions and, with no rain forecast, he looks the most reliable option. Seven of the last 11 winners of this Group One five-furlong event have been trained in countries other than Britain and Ireland, and South African raider Shea Shea, who finished a close second to Sole Power last year, looks the main danger.
4.25 pm. St James's Palace Stakes.
Favourites or joint-favourites have won ten of the last 15 runnings of this one-mile Group One for three-year-olds. Guineas form is usually a very good guide, with seven of the last nine winners having won either the English, Irish or French Guineas. There are two Guineas winners in this year's field: Irish Guineas winner Kingman and English Guineas winner Night of Thunder, who are very closely matched on form and it could pay to wait to see who starts favourite before placing your bet. (At the time of writing, Kingman was evens and Night of Thunder 9-4.).
5.0 pm. Ascot Stakes.
Trainers who specialise in the jumps have won this long-distance handicap ten times since the turn of the Millennium - including last year's renewal. This is also a terrible race for favourites, with only one obliging since 1992. So the formula is to look for horses from jumping yards who don't lead the market. Lieutenant Miller, trained by Nicky Henderson, was third last year and should go well again with Ryan Moore booked, while Irish raiders Domination and Sardinia are other each-way possibles.
3.05 pm. Queen Mary Stakes.
It's important to focus on runners that have won or come second on their last run. As long as they fit those criteria, don't be deterred by backing horses each-way at double-figure odds or from "smaller" stables. Three times in the last seven years this five-furlong Group Two race has been won by a filly starting at odds of 20-1 or bigger and in 2013 a last-time-out winner came third at odds of 66-1.
3.45 pm. The Prince of Wales Stakes.
Favourites and short-priced horses do well in this 1m 2f Group One race and outsiders less so: since the turn of the Millennium, the highest priced winner has been only 8-1.
Pay close attention to French-trained runners: raiders from across the Channel have won the race three times in the last seven years. You also need to focus on previous Group One winners as 13 of the last 14 winners had already won at the very highest level.
Treve, the winner of last year's Arc de Triomphe and three other Group Ones in France, looks a worthy favourite and can bounce back from her defeat to subsequent Coronation Cup winner Cirrus Des Aigles (her first loss in six races). The Fugue was third in this last year on her first run for seven months, but might improve on that placing this time as she's already had an outing in late March.
5.00 pm. Royal Hunt Cup.
High draws are usually a big advantage in this one-mile cavalry charge, though last year Belgian Bill became the first horse with a single-figure draw to win this race at Ascot since 2001.Favourites have a poor record, with just one win since 1996 when Yeast rose for the occasion.
Four of the last six winners have been between 16-1 and 33-1 in the betting, but there have been no winners bigger than 33-1 since 1990. So while it makes good sense to look for an outsider - preferably with some course form in the book - don't go for a complete no-hoper.
4.25 pm. Ascot Gold Cup.
This looks the most intriguing race of the meeting. Last year's winner, Estimate, who is owned by The Queen, returns, and while this dual Royal Ascot winner is likely to go well again in a race in which multiple winners have been a feature, this year's renewal looks tougher.
The current favourite is last year's Queen's Vase winner Leading Light, whose trainer Aidan O'Brien has won the race five times in the last eight years.The Michael Owen-owned Brown Panther, who won at the meeting in 2011, and Prix du Cadran winner Altano, who was fifth last year when his jockey gave him too much to do, are others worth considering.
Simenon, who won twice at the royal meeting in 2012, and who was second in the race last year, could represent the best each-way value.
4.25 pm. Coronation Stakes.
Favourites or joint favourites have a good record in this Group One one-mile race for three-year-old fillies, with eight wins since 2000. In that period we've only seen one winner in double-figure odds, so it makes sense to stick to the market leaders.
Winners of the 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket used to have an awful record in this, with no wins between 1979 and 2003, but that has changed in recent years with four 1000 Guineas winners following up in the past 11 years, including Sky Lantern last year. Also, seven of the last 11 winners had finished in the first six in the Guineas.
This year's 1000 Guineas is represented by the winner Miss France (although she may not run having finished fifth at Chantilly on Sunday), the second, Lightning Thunder, and the fifth, Euro Charline. And while Rizeena could only finish seventh at Newmarket she did win at the royal meeting last year.
5.00 pm. Queen's Vase.
Trainer Mark Johnston has a great record in this with six wins since 2001 and had two horses entered at the five-day stage, Alex My Boy and Hartnell. Sir Michael Stoute and Aidan O'Brien also have a good record; indeed, you have to go back to 2004 to find a winner of this race not trained by either Johnston, Stoute or O'Brien.
This is not a race for big-priced winners: favourites have won five of the past six runnings and not since 2001 have we had a double-figure winner. So the percentage call is to back the favourite - and Mark Johnston's runner(s) - each-way.
3.05 pm. Duke of Edinburgh Handicap.
Three trainers - Sir Michael Stoute, Hughie Morrison and Mark Johnston - are responsible for six of the last nine and ten of the last 16 winners of this 1m 4f handicap, so give their runners serious consideration. This is not a great race for favourites - just two have won since 1990. The percentage call is to look for a runner between 8-1 and 16-1 in the betting - they have provided ten of the last 14 winners.
3.45 pm. Hardwicke Stakes.
Trainer Sir Michael Stoute has won this 1m 4f Group Two race four times in the last eight years and seven times overall and has already said he thinks that his runner Telescope, who looks likely to get his favoured fast ground, has "a good chance" in this year's renewal.
His other entry, Hillstar, can't be ruled out either, as he was an impressive winner of another Group Two race run over the same trip at Ascot last year. This has proved a good race for favourites in recent years, with four obliging in the last six years.
4.25 pm. Diamond Jubilee Stakes.
Last year we drew attention to the fact that five of the last seven winners of this Group One six-furlong event had been drawn either 11 or 15. Lo and behold, a horse in stall 15 won again, at nice odds of 11-1.
The draw of the last eight winners now reads (most recent first): 15, 15, 3, 21, 11, 15, 11, 15 - so the advice again is to back each-way the horses drawn in stalls 11 and 15. If we take the 1-6 shot Black Caviar, winner in 2012, out of the equation, the average SP of the winner in the last nine years has been 15.3-1. So don't be put off backing a horse that isn't among the market leaders.
5.00 pm. Wokingham Handicap.
The best advice for this six-furlong event is to wait and see how the draw works out for Wednesday's Royal Hunt Cup. Usually high numbers prevail in the Royal Hunt, and when that happens, go for horses drawn 15 or lower in the Wokingham. But if low numbers come to the fore in the earlier race, go high in the Wokingham. That's because by the time the Wokingham comes along the draw bias is usually reversed.
The winning draw numbers of horses in the two races in the last six years, starting from 2013 and working backwards, illustrate the point. (Hunt Cup number first: 6 & 22; 33 & 15; 24 & 11; 7 &26; 25 &4; 26 & 1.) Another important factor is that the last 12 winners had all won over six furlongs or further, so avoid horses that have only won over five furlongs and are stepping up in distance.