Bless can defy age in Hunt Cup

Royal Ascot selections Wednesday 15th June

Things are warming up nicely at Ascot and the second day of the Royal meeting brings one of the betting highlights of the week in the Hunt Cup. I have three selections for the contest including an 8yo bidding to become the oldest winner of the race in recent memory. I’ve also got bets for three other races on the card. We had a breakeven opening day with Nature Strip a 9/4 winner plus each-way places for headline selection Arcadian Sunrise (advised 11/2) and West End Charmer (advised 14/1).

Royal Ascot 3.05: Hafit & Perfect Alibi

The big stamina test for the week for 3yo’s is the Queens Vase and although it has been reduced in distance to 14f these days, the key to this race is still to be able to stay. My two horses look guaranteed to last home.

HAFIT has not won since scoring a debut victory at Newmarket last summer. However he ran well to be third in a Group 3 over 10f as a juvenile and was not beaten for lack of stamina when a beaten favourite at Longchamp last month when stepped up to 12f.

That was a typical muddling small field affair in France and did not suit this galloping type as the race turned into something of a sprint. The fact Godolphin have reached for the cheekpieces today suggest the horse was not putting it all in and he is stepped up even further to 14f today. An inside draw to the almost immediate first bend will help. I prefer his chances to the other Godolphin runner Nahanni on the basis that this is a quick reappearance for that horse after the Derby.

The Queen has a few chances this week and although PERFECT ALIBI might not appear the best of them, I think she has each-way claims given her undoubted stamina. She will need to step up on her form in maiden company and she got off the mark at the third attempt at Newbury over 12f last time.

What I did like that day was her attitude and the fact she was running on strongly through the line. Her dam Daphne ran in this race a few years ago and stayed this 14f trip very well. Perfect Alibi had been a respectable fourth over 10f here last month, but turned the tables comprehensively on Wonderful Times who finished ahead of her here but was well beaten at Newbury. That suggests my selection is improving considerably and connections have been persuaded to have a go today.

Royal Ascot 4.20: Bashkirova

Having only made her racecourse debut at Nottingham in August last year, BASHKIROVA is making up for last time and rewarding the patience of connections and is 4-6 in her career to date. I think she is capable of improving that record further today.

Her only poor run came when failing to stay 10f on soft ground at the end of 2021. However she ran well on her reappearance at Goodwood when finishing fast into second behind Mrs Fitzherbert, and improved dramatically on that to win a Group 3 at Epsom recently, leaving Mrs Fitzherbert well behind in the process.

She seems to act well on fast ground and the allowance she receives from two well fancied rivals can be put to good use today. This is not the strongest of fields for a Group 2 and she should not have to improve dramatically on her Epsom win to feature again.

Royal Ascot 5.00: Bless Him, Etonian & Dark Shift

There has not always been a strong pace and plenty of front-runners in recent editions of the Hunt Cup, but there looks to be so today, so I am sticking with my tried and trusted format of going for horses that can travel and finish off a good pace.

First choice would be BLESS HIM despite the fact there has not been a horse as old as eight that has won the Hunt Cup in living memory. He is already a winner at the Royal meeting over the straight mile having won the Britannia as a 3yo. He has only run once in this race though, finishing ninth in 2018 and actually ran in the Queen Anne last season, finishing less than 8l behind Palace Pier.

He has generally been too highly rated for handicaps in recent seasons, but has dropped sufficiently recently and was quick enough to win over 7f at Newcastle in March. He has been dropped 3lbs for a defeat at York last time, a track that would not favour him and Jamie Spencer is back on board having won the Britannia on him five years ago.

ETONIAN looks a likely wildcard. He looked classy as a juvenile, beating subsequent Guineas and Derby sixth One Ruler comprehensively at Sandown, then following up at the same track in a Group 3. He bombed out on soft ground in the Dewhurst and then on his only appearance as a 3yo over 10f.

However I thought he ran with some promise in a similar race at Newbury in April, considering his twelve month absence and he was a 150/1 shot when down the field in the Group 1 Lockinge last time. It is difficult to measure whether all the old ability is still there, but I think he is worth chancing at huge odds that it is.

A more obvious contender is DARK SHIFT. He has won on both attempts since being stepped up to a mile and quickened up impressively at Nottingham last time. He gets a 5lb penalty for that, but that means he is 2lbs well in for today. A middle draw is ok and provided he handles the very quick ground, there is still mileage in his handicap mark.

Royal Ascot 6.10: Don’t Tell Claire, State Occasion & Haziya

This finale is another mile handicap, but on the round track. Again I am going with three against the field in a competitive hear.

My two English based contenders were first and second home over the straight mile here back in September. DON’T TELL CLAIRE came out on top that day and has a progressive profile in mile handicaps on fast ground. She was put in her place in two subsequent listed races, but she shaped well on her reappearance here last month and will surely have been primed for today – she is also a pound lower in the weights. Her wide draw is not ideal, but Jack Mitchell should still have plenty of time to find a good position for the final bend.

STATE OCCASION was second in that Ascot race last year and has continued to race consistently since. She won her comeback start at Chelmsford over an inadequate 7f last month (getting the race from the stewards), but I expect her to improve again back at a mile where she has done most of her racing. She is well drawn in five and a turning mile is probably her optimum circumstances.

First choice though would be Irish challenger HAZIYA. She has already shown herself to be thoroughly adept at big field handicaps this spring. She won on fast ground at Leopardstown in April before a narrow defeat in a premier handicap at the Curragh. On both occasions she broke well and raced handily, something that should be useful for this round mile to get a good position, especially from her favourable low draw. She is even able to race off the same mark of 86 she had for the Curragh.

Recommended bets:

1pt each-way – Hafit – 3.05 Royal Ascot – 9/1 general (most bookies 1/5 odds 1st 4)

0.5pts each-way – Perfect Alibi – 3.05 Royal Ascot – 14/1 Skybet (1/5 odds 1st 5)

1pt win – Bashkirova – 4.20 Royal Ascot – 110/30 Bet365, Paddy Power

1pt each-way – Bless Him – 5.00 Royal Ascot – 20/1 Bet365, Paddy Power (1/5 odds 1st 7)

0.5pts each-way – Etonian – 5.00 Royal Ascot – 40/1 Bet365 (1/5 odds 1st 7)

1pt each-way – Dark Shift – 5.00 Royal Ascot – 10/1 Bet365, Paddy Power (1/5 odds 1st 7)

1pt each-way – Don’t Tell Claire – 6.10 Royal Ascot – 22/1 Bet365 (1/5 odds 1st 6)

0.5pts each-way – State Occasion – 6.10 Royal Ascot – 12/1 Bet365 (1/5 odds 1st 6)

1pt win – Haziya – 6.10 Royal Ascot – 4/1 general

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