Backers of odds-on favourites could be on good terms with themselves if Mogul (15.00 GMT) and Battaash (15.35 GMT) do the business on the first day of Royal Ascot on Tuesday.
One of the positives of how racing has adapted to the COVID-19 crisis is the introduction of 72-hour declarations. This innovation allows courses to plan on the basis of a definite number of runners and personnel, while trainers can prepare and employ jockeys with good notice. A byproduct for punters is more time to assess the form knowing the final fields. Barring injuries and unsuitable going, there should be no late withdrawals to change the shape of the betting markets.
The horses declared to run on the first day of the meeting had been announced by midday in the UK on Saturday. Weights for the handicaps and the fields in the Group races were in the public domain more than three full days before the action begins. Mogul (King Edward VII Stakes) and Battaash (King’s Stand Stakes) are the shortest-priced favourites on the first day and the double pays about +175 with BetOnline. On form and ratings, that is a price with some value.
The King Edward VII Stakes is a Group 2 race for horses aged three over the best part of one-and-a-half miles. It is known as the Royal Ascot Derby because of the race conditions. In a normal year it can be a consolation race for horses that have found the Epsom Derby too tough, but in 2020 it is a trial for the Epsom Classic. Mogul is a best-priced +800 for the English Derby on July 4 and +300 for the Irish equivalent which is run seven days earlier. Those odds disappear if Mogul impresses at Ascot.
The race has attracted a small but select field of six runners. On Official Ratings and Racing Post Ratings (RPRs), Mogul has a few pounds in hand over the rest of the field. The Aidan O’Brien and Ryan Moore partnership won the race last season with Japan, which was one of the trainer’s best colts. The betting markets suggest Mogul is O’Brien’s best Derby prospect and, in theory, the horse could run in both the English and Irish versions. A decisive win at Ascot on Tuesday will set that ball rolling.
Battaash has the ability to complete the double in the King’s Stand Stakes, which is a Group 1 race over five furlongs for horses aged three and older. Battaash has a best RPR of 129, while the second favourite, Glass Slippers, has only run to a mark of 117. In theory, the favourite should be a -300.03 shot, so the best current price looks a steal. Even so, there are valid reasons to oppose Battaash, which has not won at Ascot in three starts and was well beaten by Glass Slippers at Longchamp last October.
However, Battaash has come up against the now-retired champion sprinter Blue Point at Ascot twice and was a green juvenile when running at the track for the first time. There was clearly something amiss when Battaash was the odds-on favourite in France in the autumn having begun his campaign in May. Glass Slippers has now had 12 starts, so any significant improvement is unlikely. Liberty Beach cannot beat Battaash on the ratings and the rest of the field are not good enough at this level.
In racing it can be unwise to disregard the blindingly obvious. All the evidence points to decisive wins for Mogul and Battaash. Racing and form are not exact sciences, but combining these two horses at the best part of +200 is one standout bet that cannot be ignored.