Bookmakers bracing themselves as punters prepare acca attack
Bookmakers are being bombarded by a Royal Ascot assault as punters pile into a slew of short-priced favourites rolled up in multiples.
In an echo of the Cheltenham Festival five of next week's eight Group 1 races feature hot-pots that on Monday were trading at 5-4 or less – and four of them are trained by Aidan O'Brien.
The exception is the Richard Fahey-trained Lockinge Stakes winner Ribchester, who was cut to 8-11 yesterday by Coral, William Hill and Ladbrokes after sustained support for the the Queen Anne Stakes which kicks off proceedings.
Coral yesterday cut dual 2,000 Guineas winner Churchill, the first of the O'Brien favourites in action in the St James's Palace Stakes, to 8-13 (from 8-11), while Order Of St George is no bigger than 5-4 for Thursday's Gold Cup, and Caravaggio is a top-priced 11-10 for Friday's Commonwealth Cup.
Should all four oblige, bookmakers will be praying for an upset in the Coronation Stakes, which follows immediately after the Commonwealth Cup, but Winter was so impressive in the 1,000 Guineas and its Irish equivalent that plenty will regard her as the safest bet of all. She is already no bigger than 8-11. On Monday the five-fold was available at just over 24-1 with BetBright.
Coral are among those braced for mounting liabilities and spokesman Dave Stevens said: "Royal Ascot has largely been a punter-friendly meeting in recent years and next week could extend that pattern if the ante-post money is any guide. Ribchester, Churchill and Winter are already odds-on for their respective races, and Order Of St George and Caravaggio have been equally popular.
"Those five, along with the likes of Alpha Centauri [Albany Stakes] and Laugh Aloud [Duke Of Cambridge] are likely to feature on plenty of betting slips next week and, as we’ve seen at the Cheltenham Festival in the last few years, it often pays to keep it simple.
"While turnover is not on a par with the four days at Cheltenham, Royal Ascot is nevertheless the biggest week of the Flat season, and if results go against us over the five days, the 40-1 Derby victory of Wings Of Eagles will be forgotten."
Bookmakers in Ireland arguably have even more to fear. Paddy Power spokesman Paul Binfield said: "The four Irish hotpots Churchill, Order Of St George, Winter and Caravaggio are all bad enough results anyway, especially as an Irish firm, but, at the moment, multiple mayhem involving this quartet and Ribchester is definitely our biggest Royal Ascot fear.
"Punters sometimes laugh and say, ‘it can’t happen’ but it so nearly did at Cheltenham in 2015 until Annie Power became the saviour of the bookmaking industry with her unfortunate last-hurdle tumble.
"The only thing that could be worse at the royal meeting than the multiple misery mentioned above would be if Ryan Moore were to ride six winners on one day which really would have the layers reaching for the white flag."
Conditions look set fair and the going is currently just on the quick side of good, with clerk of the course Chris Stickels very happy with how the track is looking.
Stickels said: "The ground is very nice at the moment and currently a mixture of good and good to firm. We will water this evening and again in the morning in order to maintain conditions as they are, and then we'll monitor the forecasts to see how we proceed through the week."
He added: "It's a fairly settled forecast until next Tuesday and then the picture becomes less clear. It could get warm in the middle of this week. If so, we will water accordingly."
THE BIG FIVE
Queen Anne Stakes, Tuesday
Best price: 10-11
Made all for ran impressive win in soft ground in the Lockinge and ran to a similar level when held up on fast ground behind The Gurkha in last year's Sussex. Lockinge second Lightning Spear, beaten nearly four lengths, is clear second favourite, so this is Ribchester's to lose.
St James Palace Stakes, Tuesday
Best price 8-11
Ruthlessly efficient on fast ground at Newmarket and an equally irresistible force on yielding going at the Curragh, so hard to fault. Guineas runner-up Barney Roy, unbalanced at Newmarket and expected to appreciate the track, is the only viable alternative according to the markets.
Order Of St George
Gold Cup, Thursday
Best price 5-4
Impressed in a massive field when heavily backed 12 months ago and will again arrive with a comfortable win in the Saval Beg under his belt. French challenger Vazirabad, a dual winner of the Dubai Gold Cup, is the only other runner offered at single figures.
Commonwealth Cup, Friday
Best price 11-10
Unbeaten at two, including in Coventry and Phoenix Stakes, and hacked up in a Group 3 on his reappearance. This has long been his first big target and could be very special. Faces two viable alternatives, however, in Pavilion Stakes one-two Blue Point and Harry Angel, both now in Godolphin ownership.
Coronation Stakes, Friday
Best price 8-11
Surprise winner from better fancied stable-mate Rhododendron at Newmarket but confirmed it was no fluke at all with an even better performance at the Curragh. Dabyah, who has not raced since the Fred Darling, and Rhododendron, who is not a certain runner, are the only others at single figures.