The 2015 Prince of Wales’s Stakes has brought the top middle distance horses from three continents to do battle over a mile and a quarter at Royal Ascot (4.20pm, Wednesday).
This Group 1 race is for horses aged four and over and the field consists of contenders of the minimum age with one exception, the six-year-old Spielberg from Japan.
The most fancied is the relatively local, lightly raced Free Eagle 3/1 from Ireland. His trainer Dermot Weld has made no secret of how highly he regards this son of High Chaparral but the form in the book suggests he is far from unbeatable. In his four starts to date he has scored twice. As a two-year-old he was a very impressive winner of a maiden over a mile at Leopardstown first time out. He beat Aidan O’Brien’s useful Orchestra by over five lengths after being eased.
On the strength of that performance he started as the 2/5 favourite in a Group 3 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Trial over course and distance a month later. He was no match for O’Brien’s then emerging star Australia and was beaten six lengths.
As a three-year-old Free Eagle was entered for the Derby but suffered a setback and began his season in September with an impressive-looking victory in a Group 3 over a mile and a quarter. He was expected to win (sent off the 9/10 favourite) but the value of the form is questionable. He was held up by Pat Smullen and beat a 20/1 shot by seven lengths who was slowly away and accidentally found himself at the rear of the field too.
We last saw Free Eagle at Ascot in October in the Group 1 Champion Stakes finishing third, a length and a half behind Lady Cecil’s Noble Mission on heavy ground. He was receiving 5lb from the winner and Al Kazeem, who was a close second. He was beaten by older horses who won it from the front. So 3/1 seems ungenerous in a field of this quality.
Western Hymn (8/1) finished three lengths behind Free Eagle in the Champion Stakes. This son of High Chaparral won the Group 2 Grand Prix De Maisons-Laffitte last year and was not disgraced in the Derby, finishing sixth. He has won his two outings this season. Both were over this distance in Group 3 contests at Sandown on good to firm. Most recently he got the better of Arab Spring by a head at the end of May. Previously he beat Luca Cumani’s Postponed in the Gordon Richards Stakes with Cannock Chase three lengths behind him in third.
Those efforts have gained him a rating of 117 suggesting that further progression is required for him to score here. His trainer John Gosden took this race with The Fugue last year and is enjoying a purple patch that has helped to fuel Frankie Dettori’s confidence. Western Hymn consequently has to be considered, especially each-way.
Kevin Ryan’s The Grey Gatsby (6/1) took the French Derby and beat Australia by a neck in the Irish Champion Stakes in September last year. He was ridden by Ryan Moore in both. Starting off a mark of 126, he looks the one to beat on ratings but his latest run was disappointing.
This imposing grey son of Mastercraftsman started as the favourite in the Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh in late May but was beaten two lengths by Roger Charlton’s Al Kazeem, finishing fourth. It was his first run since returning from Dubai where he finished second to Freddy Head’s Solow in the Group 1 Dubai Turf over a mile and a furlong.
Any horse is allowed to be a little below par after international travel but have The Grey Gatsby’s 13 runs taken their toll? We will soon find out. He will be partnered by Jamie Spencer on the horse’s first visit to Ascot. The Grey Gatsby is better equipped than most to deal with the preliminaries.
Unfortunately for trainer Kevin Ryan, Ryan Moore has been booked by Sir Michael Stoute (pictured) to partner Cannock Chase (8/1). This four-year-old son of Lemon Drop Kid has had only six starts but has a course and distance win on good to firm to his name. He took the Group 3 Tercentenary Stakes here last year after winning his maiden second time out and following up in a handicap at Newbury.
This season he finished third, beaten three lengths, to Western Hymn at Sandown on his debut in April and half a length behind Gosden’s Maverick Wave in a similar Group 3 contest on perhaps unsuitably soft ground at Chester in early May. His rating of 111 has not changed this season. Stoute’s horses often come on for a run or two but Cannock Chase has plenty to find to succeed here. His price looks to be dictated by the quality of his connections rather than his performance to date.
French raiders have a decent record in this race and Ectot (11/2) is fancied to join their number. This son of Hurricane Run was bought by Sheikh Joann prior to his run in the Arc de Triomphe last year. He had won his previous six starts in France including a Group 1 over a mile and a Group 2 over a mile and a half but bombed on the day. He started as the second favourite but was very keen early on and ended up finishing 10 lengths behind Treve with just three horses behind him. We haven’t seen him since.
His trainer Elie Lellouche has only had one UK runner in the past five seasons. It was Planteur who finished fourth in this race in 2011. Lellouche’s strike rate at home is unimpressive but Ectot has won six of his eight starts.
It will be Ectot’s first encounter of quick ground but, if he takes after his sire it will help rather than hinder his chances. His rating of 117 puts him right in the picture but returning from an absence of eight months to the hubbub of Royal Ascot is a concern – especially as it is his first race outside France. His regular pilot, Gregory Benoist will partner him.
A horse more used to travelling is the Australia based Criterion (10/1). In April he got the better of Ed Dunlop’s Red Cadeaux in a Group 1 at Randwick over a mile and a quarter on soft ground at home. Previously he finished second, beaten two lengths in a Group 1 contest over the same distance on good to firm at Sha Tin (Hong Kong).
This robust colt has 27 starts under his belt and a number of Group 1 wins but all of them are on soft or heavy. He has come to the northern hemisphere only to find ground that is quicker than he would like. He has been based at Gosden’s yard and, having had a temperature initially is now reported to be thriving. He is competitively rated at 120 but difficult to fancy here.
The six-year-old Japanese raider, Spielberg (10/1), shares a rating with Criterion but is also hard to follow with confidence. No Japanese horse has won at Royal Ascot and, although this son of Deep Impact has a Group 1 win over this distance in Japan to his name, this is his first experience of Europe. Connections think he is the best horse over the distance in Japan and will handle the course. He will be encountering much stronger opposition here.
Another foreign raider but with a much shorter distance to travel is Gailo Chop (11/1). Based in France this son of Deportivo seems to have more stamina than his breeding suggests. He was last seen finishing second by a length and a half to Solow (the favourite for the Queen Anne Stakes) in a Group 1 over nine and a half furlongs at Longchamp in late May. Cirrus Des Aigles was four lengths behind him. Last season he won two Group 3 contests at the same course over slightly further on good ground.
Trained by Antoine de Watrigant, Gailo Chop was beaten by four and a half lengths by Mr Speaker at Belmont Park in the USA in a Grade 1 at July last year on good ground. This horse has ability and may offer value as his trainer is relatively unknown.
The field is completed by David Simcock’s Corsican, owned and bred by Fitri Hay. This son of Galileo has won his past three starts. Two of them were in handicaps and he is now dipping his toe into much deeper water. We last saw him beating Educate in a listed race at Goodwood in late May. He shares the lowest rating here of 111 with Cannock Chase and has to progress massively to feature here.
Prince of Wales’s Stakes Betting Tips Conclusion
The favourite Free Eagle holds little appeal at 3/1, especially as this race is usually won by seasoned campaigners rather than unexposed types. It is no accident that the last two winners have been five-year-olds. No horse of that age lines up here and the six-year-old Japanese challenger, Spielberg is untested in a field of this quality.
Gailo Chop (11/1) has more experience than Free Eagle and a Group 2 to his name but his trainer’s profile is a concern. THE GREY GATSBY is only four but has the race experience of a more mature horse. He has the form in the book and may thrive in the buzz of Royal Ascot, especially as he is racing over his optimum distance. He is rated 6lb higher than the field and The Grey Gatsby has to be our Prince of Wales’s Stakes betting tip each-way at best odds of 6/1 with Ladbrokes, Betfair Sportsbook, Coral or Boylesports.