Reilly: Handicapping the 2021 King's Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot
Defending champion Battaash is the best horse in Tuesday’s King’s Stand S. (G1) at Royal Ascot, but is he going to deliver his best effort? If not, the five-furlong dash suddenly looks open, offering a handicapping conundrum along with a potential for a bigger profit if you’re right.
I’ve managed to get Battaash consistently wrong in this race – whether siding with him or taking a shot against – so chances are my instinct is off again. Yet returning from a layoff as a seven-year-old, having undergone surgery to repair a small fracture in a sesamoid, while trying to become the joint-oldest winner of this race since World War II, leaves a smidgeon of room to wonder.
Also, given his past tendency to get overexcited in the preliminaries, Battaash probably enjoyed last year’s spectatorless racing more than anyone. Will having 12,000 fans back on the course cause him to revert to old behavior, or has he mellowed with age?
All of those might be red herrings that lead me astray, but I feel obliged to take a stab in another direction.
Top selection: #8 Oxted (6-1)
Given his high cruising speed when striking in last year’s July Cup (G1), where he beat the winners of the Diamond Jubilee (G1) and Commonwealth Cup (G1), Oxted appeals as the type to appreciate the drop to five furlongs.
In his only prior try at a distance shorter than six, Mayson gelding captured Doncaster’s about 5 1/2-furlong Portland H. under 130 pounds in 2019. Oxted then took the rise to Group company in stride, capping 2020 with an excellent fifth in the British Champions Sprint (G1) at Ascot, where he was in front before succumbing late in the sixth furlong.
Although Oxted enters on the back of a three-race losing skid, one was on dirt on the Saudi Cup undercard, another was a close call perhaps due to a tactical miscue, and the most recent was a third in the Duke of York S. (G2) to the favorite for Saturday’s Diamond Jubilee S. (G1). In other words, Oxted isn’t in poor form per se; he’s doing well enough to suggest that the cutback could be exactly what he needs.
Also key is renewing his successful partnership with young Cieren Fallon, who hasn’t been aboard since Saudi. Still unexposed in this sprint division, the Roger Teal trainee projects a good trip just off the speed before finishing well over this stiff course.
Second choice: #2 Battaash (9-5)
The speed machine was simply a class apart here last year, after succumbing only to Godolphin’s maestro Blue Point in 2018-19. Trainer Charlie Hills believes that Battaash is sending all the right signals at home, and if that carries over to raceday, the outcome is a foregone conclusion.
Third: #12 Liberty Beach (7-1)
Third to Battaash a year ago as a sophomore filly, Liberty Beach figures to do at least as well with added maturity. She was beaten only a half-length for it all in the Prix de l’Abbaye (G1), racing in between the winning Wooded and next-out Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) queen Glass Slippers. Liberty Beach resumed with a front-winning win in a noted prep, the Temple S. (G2). Her John Quinn stablemate, Keep Busy, shouldn’t be overlooked either since she’ll improve from her ring-rusty fifth in the Temple.
Fourth: #16 Winter Power (9-2)
With her potentially freakish talent on display in the Westow S. at York last out, Winter Power has now won three straight versus males. Trainer Tim Easterby has a twinkle in his eye speaking of her, and as a three-year-old filly, she’ll get a 10-pound weight concession from the older males. The one caveat for me is that Winter Power is liable to get embroiled with Wesley Ward’s Maven early. If she’s the next sprint superstar, she’ll have to withstand that American speed and then hold off the stalkers.
Exotics Player: #3 Extravagant Kid (10-1)
While this is a tougher challenge than the Al Quoz Sprint (G1), Extravagant Kid’s admirable consistency and proven international class point to another fine performance. His close fourth to Glass Slippers in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, despite traveling wide from post 14, is further evidence. Brendan Walsh’s eight-year-old might find a Royal Ascot win a bit beyond him, but a placing is logical.
Bomb potential: #1 Arecibo (30-1)
Arecibo, a well-bred son of Invincible Spirit, is in the form of his life since switching to two-time King’s Stand winner Robert Cowell. The veteran handicapper is 2-for-3 for new connections, bookending a pair of Newmarket scores with a troubled sixth in the Palace House S. (G3). Judging by how he made light of 140 pounds last out, his closing style in a race filled with speed, and the addition of Jamie Spencer, whose penchant for late flourishes fits him to a tee, Arecibo is a live longshot.