'He's 11 of 11, which isn't ideal' - John Gosden on Palace Pier's tricky draw
2.30 Royal Ascot
Queen Anne Stakes (Group 1) | 1m | 4yo+ | ITV/Sky
What better way to kick off Royal Ascot than with the best miler in the world, Palace Pier? Officially rated 125, 1lb superior to Hong Kong champion Golden Sixty, the John and Thady Gosden-trained four-year-old will look to back up a thoroughly impressive victory in last month's Group 1 Lockinge Stakes at Newbury in the festival opener.
The seven-time winner's only defeat in eight starts came over this course and distance in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on Champions Day, but a loss of a shoe on bottomless ground was pinned as a viable excuse. Other than that, Palace Pier has proved untouchable.
He readily fended off Pinatubo and Wichita in a hot running of the St James's Palace Stakes last summer and has stamped his authority on the division ever since. Finding holes in his form is as hard as you would imagine. The only negative is his prohibitive price.
The majority of punters will consider Palace Pier a non-betting entity at around 2-5. Each-way value is readily available in the relatively small field, so who will pick up the pieces if Palace Pier disappoints?
His main dangers on ratings are provided by Ballydoyle in the shape of Order Of Australia (120) and Lope Y Fernandez (117). The first-named is the choice of stable jockey Ryan Moore, though that indicates little more than personal preference given the amount of times lesser-fancied Aidan O'Brien-trained runners cause 'shocks'.
Order Of Australia is fresh off a six-month absence since he crossed the globe. His first stop was Keeneland, where he produced a career-best performance to win the Breeders' Cup Mile at 40-1. He then went to Hong Kong, where Golden Sixty was in a league of his own.
Lope Y Fernandez's claims seem more realistic despite him finishing eighth in the Lockinge. Although he has won just once since a stellar juvenile campaign, Lope Y Fernandez has regularly filled the minor places in Group 1s, including when second in the Prix Jean Prat last summer. He finished a length behind his stablemate at the Breeders' Cup but endured a worse trip.
You will be looking at double-figure prices for the rest of the field, which is headed by Lockinge third Top Rank. The unexposed grey has seven lengths to find with Palace Pier on that showing and has never run at Ascot. It's hard to envisage him eroding that deficit and therefore his place claims are questionable.
Accidental Agent, winner of this race in 2018, and Lord Glitters, who was successful 12 months later, bid to regain their crowns at the ages of seven and eight. Their task is put into perspective by the fact no horse older than six has won the Queen Anne in the last 50 years.
Hold-up performers who will pass beaten rivals in the final furlong could be the value play for each-way wagers. Course-and-distance winner Bless Him gave weight and a beating to Group 1 scorer Lord North in 2019 and will be played late. Sir Busker, who has risen up through the handicap ranks, is another worth a second look given form figures of 143 over this course and distance.
Race analysis by Tom Collins
Will the odds-on favourite deliver?
Palace Pier will bid to become the shortest-priced winner of the Queen Anne Stakes since the mighty Frankel opened the royal meeting with a bang back in 2012.
He will not start as short as Frankel at 1-10 but Palace Pier's superiority over his rivals on official ratings is reflected in his price, which was no bigger than 4-9 on the eve of the race.
Since Frankel's remarkable 11-length success, Toronado, Solow, Ribchester and last year's winner Circus Maximus have all been successful market leaders in a race where 21 favourites or joint-favourites have won in the last 75 runnings.
John Gosden, who trains Palace Pier in partnership with his son Thady, has been perfectly satisfied with the preparation of this year's hot favourite.
"We started him off earlier than intended at Sandown as he was so fresh at home and he came through that nicely and followed up at Newbury," said Gosden. "We've been pleased with him since and Frankie has sat on him a couple of times. He's versatile as regards ground, enjoying everything from good to firm through to soft.
"He's drawn 11 of 11 which is not ideal as you always prefer to be in the middle rather than stuck on the wing but hopefully he'll overcome it."
What they say
Eve Johnson Houghton, trainer of Accidental Agent
He needed his first run back and we were pleased just to get the run into him and to see him run well. He's a 66-1 outsider for a reason but he'll outrun his odds and I'm confident he'll run a big race.
David Simcock, trainer of Bless Him
He's got a good record at Ascot but he's still got plenty to make up. If we can pick up some prize-money, it would be a good result.
Aidan O'Brien, trainer of Lope Y Fernandez and Order Of Australia
It's Order Of Australia's first run since Hong Kong in December, but he seems fine and we're very happy with him. We're looking forward to seeing what he can do over a mile this season and the track should suit him. Lope Y Fernandez didn't like the ground in the Lockinge and he'll be much more at home on this sort of surface.
David O'Meara, trainer of Lord Glitters
He's fine but he's not getting any younger and there's the likes of Palace Pier and Top Rank in there. Palace Pier looks like the best miler for a long time but Ascot suits our horse.
Charlie Hills, trainer of Pogo
I think he's a massive price. He couldn't handle the ground at all in the Lockinge, it was too soft for him. He's got some good form at Ascot and could easily run into a place.
Roger Varian, trainer of Prince Eiji
He's in great form and will be suited by the quicker underfoot conditions. Palace Pier looks a tough nut to crack but taking him aside, it's an open contest and I think he'll run a good, solid race.
James Tate, trainer of Top Rank
He's got a progressive profile and is in good form. He's become a lot quicker and lighter on his feet, so we're looking forward to him on the quicker ground. Palace Pier is going to be hard to beat.
Reporting by Lewis Porteous
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