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Homeracing

How to handicap Royal Ascot stakes for juveniles

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

June 11th, 2022

One of the distinguishing features of Royal Ascot is the six stakes devoted to two-year-olds during the annual five-day meeting. Ranging in distance from five to seven furlongs, these races typically attract fields of more than a dozen and often approach 20.

To American bettors generally unfamiliar with English racing, and increasingly used to not having to sift through large fields, attempting to find a winner among a group of green, inexperienced runners being asked to careen down the long Ascot straight sounds like a virtually impossible task.

Let me argue otherwise.

Having provided daily selections for Days 3 and 4 at Royal Ascot since 2011, first at Brisnet.com and now on TwinSpires.com, I've had an opportunity to hone skills for this handicapping puzzle. Two races I proffer an opinion on every year are the Norfolk (G2), a five-furlong event on Day 3 (Thursday), and the six-furlong Albany (G3) for fillies on Day 4 (Friday).

While some of my top selections for these and other Royal Ascot races have unfortunately been lost to the mists of time (thus I can calculate only an incomplete win percentage and ROI), I do retain evidence of publicly endorsing the following winners of the Norfolk and Albany over the past 11 years:

Norfolk

Year

Horse

Closing UK Odds

2019

A'Ali

5-1

2020

The Lir Jet

9-2

2021

Perfect Power

14-1

Albany

Year

Horse

Closing UK Odds

2011

Samitar

16-1

2012

Newfangled

7-4

2013

Kiyoshi

10-1

2015

Illuminate

4-1

2019

Daahyeh

4-1

My approach to handicapping these juvenile features generally involves a three-step process:

1. Checking Brisnet.com pedigree reports

Once the final fields are announced 48 hours out, I immediately run Brisnet.com's Catalog page product (#750) and other reports to get an overview of the family history of the runners involved. In particular, I note horses whose sires and/or dams were precocious enough to earn black type in short races like these early in the season. A winning family history over the Ascot course itself is a plus. I also take note of any horses who might be closely related to others that share these qualities.

2. Video work

Whether using TwinSpires.com's library for full race coverage or condensed footage uploaded to social media services like Twitter, watching replays is essential. For myself, I don't generally need to watch full races. Re-watching the final two or three furlongs of a past race is enough for me to judge whether something about the horse "catches the eye" or not.

Admittedly, this is the most subjective part of the process. It's hard to put into words what I look for or what impresses me, but I know it when I see it. It's basically judging how the horse moves and whether he or she shows enough signs of relative maturity for its age to potentially handle the task at hand. I'll make a mental or short note whether a past victory impresses the eye enough, or whether a troubled trip might have cost the horse a better placing.

3. Consult the ratings

There are several prominent ratings services in Britain that provide opinions on the quality of past races for not only juveniles but for all horses running in the major countries of Europe. While these and their accompanying analyses won't make me reconsider horses I've decided to eliminate after steps 1 and 2, they often help determine my final selection when the choice is down to a handful of prospects or fewer. Unlike speed figures generally, higher ratings don’t necessarily mean the horses are faster or the right play.

There are, of course, other minor factors to consider. For example, surface condition is somewhat intertwined with pedigree and past performance, while past trainer success in the race you're handicapping is always something to keep in mind. However, the three main steps above take precedence over these.

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