Royal Ascot

Royal Ascot always starts with a bang these days and Ribchester will be one of the hottest favourites of the week in the opening Queen Anne Stakes, one of three Group 1s on the first day.
Richard Fahey's colt took his form to a new level when winning the Lockinge by three-and-three-quarter lengths from Lightning Spear, but that was on soft ground which he really likes and conditions will be much faster on Tuesday.

Ribchester certainly has no problems with faster ground, but Lightning Spear will relish the surface and, given his two best performances have come at Ascot, he can be expected to get much closer this time. He was only a length behind Ribchester in the QEII Stakes here last October when racing on the wrong side of the track and, given the lack of competition, he's verging on a free bet each-way.

In the King's Stand Stakes I'm finding it hard to believe Marsha isn't a much stronger favourite as the form she showed when winning at Newmarket under a big penalty would have been good enough to have won the last four runnings. She's top class and will love the way the race is run.

The St James's Palace Stakes looks a straight match between Churchill and Barney and the former, who beat the latter in the Qipco 2,000 Guineas, is expected to come out on top again.

The big race on day two is the Prince of Wales's Stakes, but there are plenty in the market who look unlikely to run for one reason or another and the standout value is surely Decorated Knight, who won the Tattersalls Gold Cup last time at the Curragh.

That might have been a substandard affair for a Group 1 but Decorated Knight won easily on softish ground he's not supposed to like. He will love the faster conditions and looks the main danger to likely favourite Ulysses.

On Thursday the Gold Cup takes centre stage and it doesn't take a genius to work out Order Of St George will take the world of beating if he's in the same form as he was when he stormed home last year. However, he does seem to have the odd quirk and the fact he has been beaten three times at odds-on in his last five starts hardly makes him the safest betting proposition.

Royal Ascot

I think he'll probably win but last season's Cesarewitch winner, Sweet Selection, gets my vote each-way. Very few horses truly stay the 2m4f trip, but Sweet Selection will get every yard and she seems to have improved again as she won the Sagaro Stakes on her return this term. She has plenty of courage to go with her stamina and she'll fend off most of the opposition.

When we see the final line-up for the Ribblesdale Stakes it is likely to be lacking a star, so it may be worth taking a chance on the lightly raced Tansholpan for Roger Varian. She was third in the Cheshire Oaks to subsequent Oaks winner Enable and Alluringly and was conceding them race fitness. Although beaten by some way, she was still green and she'll have learned a lot from that.

Arguably the race of the meeting is Friday's Commonwealth Cup, which features a clash between three potentially top-class sprinters, and whoever wins will be fancied to dominate the division when taking on the older brigade.

Royal Ascot

Caravaggio is most people's idea of the winner and I wouldn't really argue with that but the prices surely make Blue Point the each-way bet. He beat Harry Angel fair and square over course and distance in April and while the latter has improved again since, there shouldn't be much between them. Harry Angel has some temperament issues, too, but there are none with Blue Point, who surely can't finish out of the frame as the front three look head and shoulders above the rest.

Another value bet on Friday could be Salouen in the King Edward VII Stakes. Because he was a big price for the Derby at Epsom it seems to have gone largely unnoticed how much of a bad run he got there and how well he was going at the time. He was motoring up the straight and I doubt he would have been far away. At double-figure odds he's hard to resist.

On to Saturday, when the Diamond Jubilee is the feature. This looks very open but The Tin Man was eye-catching on his return at York last month and should be cherry ripe this time. For some reason he didn't run his race in this contest last year, but scorched home in the Champions Sprint over course and distance last October, so has no problems with the track.

Royal Ascot

In the Hardwicke Stakes, Frontiersman can make up for his unlucky defeat in the Coronation Cup last time. In fairness the bad luck was self-inflicted as he clearly didn't handle the track and every time his jockey tried to pick up his whip he had to put it back down again. The fact he still made a huge amount of ground from the rear in a race the winner (Highland Reel, who could reoppose) controlled from the front suggests he is a proper Group 1 horse.

The Wokingham is the big handicap and Fastnet Tempest is the one to beat should go here instead of running in the Hunt Cup. He's got bags of pace and the stamina to win over further than 6f should not be underestimated in this contest.

Paul Kealy, betting editor at