Royal Ascot 2016

Ante-post expert Gary Nutting has selections and analysis online for three Group contests plus two of the week's hottest handicaps.

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Royal Ascot 2016 Long Range Forecast

Published 07/06, 10/06 - all selections online

The weather forecasters are likely to have a big say in the outcome of my Royal Ascot long-range predictions as it’s a generally unsettled outlook but hard to know how much rain will hit the Berkshire area.

Depending on which forecast you look at, the ground for the opening day of the meeting could be anything from good to firm through to soft - and it’s also unclear as to whether there will be significant precipitation during the rest of the week.

After studying various charts I’ve decided to base my early selections on good or softer ground, starting with ENDLESS DRAMA in the Queen Anne Stakes.

Ger Lyons’s 4yo would have to be considered a doubtful participant on really quick ground, but if the rain does arrive in time he represents decent value at the double-figure odds currently available.

Endless Drama ran a blinder to finish third in the Lockinge on his first run since chasing home Gleneagles in last year’s Irish 2000 Guineas and, given his size and scope, can be expected to step forward from that granted suitable underfoot conditions.

I’d fancy him to emerge best from those that ran at Newbury, with the possible exception of the winner Belardo if it came up really soft, and at their respective odds it’s a no-brainer value wise between him and Roger Varian’s colt.

MAX DYNAMITE appears less ground-dependant as he has quality form on a variety of surfaces and the bookies may regret pushing him out in the Ascot Gold Cup betting after his odds-on defeat in the Henry II Stakes at Sandown last month.

Willie Mullins, who has such a good record in staying races on the Flat, was probably being tongue-in-cheek when offering the view his 6yo “might have blown up” - a more likely explanation is the small field and farcical pace, which clearly didn’t play to his strengths.

Seconds in the Melbourne Cup and Northumberland Plate - as well as the Galway Hurdle - mark him out as a big-field specialist, while the manner in which he beat dual Sagaro winner Mizzou in the Lonsdale Cup at York last summer suggests he can make an impact at Group 1 level, especially as the longer trip ought to suit.

Sir Michael Stoute is responsible for the top three in the Hardwicke Stakes market - Exosphere, Cannock Chase and Dartmouth all should be respected but certainly not feared - yet I like the look of ELITE ARMY.

The Godolphin-owned 5yo looked nailed on for Group honours when putting up an extraordinary performance in the King George V Handicap two seasons ago, winning despite pulling hard throughout.

Injury prevented him running in the St Leger, for which he had been well-backed ante-post, and it struck again last spring when he ran too badly to be true on his return to action in a Listed race at Newbury.

However, he got back on track when scoring in similar grade after another long lay-off at Ascot last month, making him 2-2 over course and distance, and as he was quite free again I’d expect him to step up considerably with the freshness out of him.

Now’s the time to catch him while he’s fit and firing, particularly as a more competitive race should bring out the best in him. He’s clearly effective on quick ground, but is also proven in softer and rain would have the added bonus of bringing his stamina into play (bred to appreciate further and entered in Irish St Leger).

AZRAFF looked a reformed character with headgear left off at Newbury last time and is worth backing to follow up in the Royal Hunt Cup.

Tried in cheekpieces then blinkers, he’s also missing other equipment having been gelded over the winter - all of which suggests he may now be in a position to firmly recapture his best form.

Pitched into Group company after winning a couple of handicaps as a juvenile, Marco Botti’s 4yo made an encouraging start to last season, finishing second in a decent race at the Guineas meeting and fourth to Time Test in the London Gold Cup.

Those were both over ten furlongs but the way he quickened after being held up off a moderate pace at Newbury confirmed that a mile is probably his best trip and he promises to do even better granted a stronger gallop.

That was the handicap in which Gm Hopkins finished an arguably unlucky second 12 months earlier and as he went on to land the Hunt Cup, the portents are good for Azraff.

The selection had shown he was on the way back with a second at Chelmsford previously and his timely return to form means that off a 4lb higher rating, he needs only three defectors above him to get in the race.

In receipt of weight from most, if not all his rivals, and with a versatile ground profile (in the unlikely event of extremes), he appeals as a solid bet ahead of final declarations and the draw.

You’re not an ante-post punter worth your salt if you don’t also try to unravel the Wokingham Stakes in advance, and I’m keen on GEORGE DRYDEN as a value pick.

Ann Duffield’s 4yo has also been gelded since last season when his Portland fourth against older rivals marked him out as a sprint handicapper to follow this term.

Runner-up Harry Hurricane, one of only two other 3yos in the Doncaster line-up that day, has since won a hot handicap at York’s Dante meeting, while George Dryden himself took a step forward when an unlucky second at Ripon on his reappearance.

He failed to build on that when starting joint second favourite in a big field at York last time but blew his chance at the start in a race that, typical for the track, favoured those on or near the front end.

To be beaten little more than seven lengths after being on the back foot from the word go represents a fair effort in the circumstances and augurs well for his prospects on Ascot’s straight course, which is much kinder to those coming from off the pace.

And like the Hunt Cup selection, he’s got smart form on either side of good ground so shouldn’t be overly affected by what the weather might do.

Gary's Recommended Royal Ascot Bets:

QUEEN ANNE STAKES (Tuesday 14 June)

1pt each-way ENDLESS DRAMA (14-1 Coral, BoyleSports, 12-1 bet365, Ladbrokes, Skybet, William Hill)

ASCOT GOLD CUP (Thursday 16 June)

1pt each-way MAX DYNAMITE (12-1 Coral, Stan James, 11-1 Betway, 10-1 general)

HARDWICKE STAKES (Saturday 18 June)

1pt each-way ELITE ARMY (12-1 Winner 10-1 Betfred, Boylesports, Totesport, William Hill)

ROYAL HUNT CUP (Wednesday 15 June)

1pt each-way AZRAFF (16-1 general)

WOKINGHAM STAKES (Saturday 18 June)

1pt each-way GEORGE DRYDEN (33-1 general)

Gary provides regular ante-post updates on Twitter. His username is @horsetraderinfo