Striking value in Nicholls' Spirit
The curtain comes down on Royal Ascot this afternoon, with two high-class sprints to the fore on a card that will feature no less than 114 runners.
While the Group One Golden Jubilee Stakes provides the quality, the Wokingham is a more intriguing challenge from a punter's perspective.
With Prime Exhibit set to defect, first reserve Striking Spirit is now the last of 28 in the six-furlong handicap. Genki, fourth to Hawkeyethenoo on his reappearance last month, has come in for good support in recent days and will probably start favourite.
Roger Charlton's six-year-old failed to make an impact when drawn low in the same race 12 months ago and, while he may have better prospects from the far side today, others appeal more.
Damien, representing the in-form Hills team, has each-way credentials at up to 25/1, as does the 18/1 shot Kaldoun Kingdom.
The latter has won his last three handicaps, and ran a fine race when upped in class and dropped in trip at Beverley last time. Back in a handicap now over his favoured six furlongs, Kaldoun Kingdom has a live chance of regaining the winning thread off just a three-pound higher mark than when last victorious at Doncaster in March.
That said, preference is for the horse that barely made the cut, Striking Spirit. Dandy Nicholls' Oasis Dream colt is also having his second crack at the valuable handicap, having displayed plenty promise on its first attempt.
On that occasion a year ago, Striking Spirit made the running on the far side. Ultimately, he was unable to maintain his effort to the line, tiring to finish seventh. The five-year-old subsequently won at York, and he has recorded three solid efforts this year, twice finishing second at Musselburgh, either side of a fourth at Newbury.
His most recent effort at the Scottish track, when just run out of it over five, came off today's mark of 94, which is a pound lower than the mark he ran off last year. With all three of Striking Spirit's wins, including one at Ascot, coming over six, it may be that Nicholls has had his eye on this repeat bid for a while. At 25/1, he is overpriced.
Last year's Wokingham hero High Standing goes in search of his first win at the top level in the Golden Jubilee. William Haggas' improving five-year-old cannot be discounted, but this is a cracking sprint and will require a bit more than he has shown.
Main Aim may represent a bit of each-way value at 16/1 on the back of his recent Haydock win from Doncaster Rover. However, that result simply served to reaffirm the promise of Showcasing, today's favourite, priced at around 6/1.
John Gosden's three-year-old accounted for those two when second to Prime Defender on his seasonal debut at York. Prime Defender is again among the opposition today and is actually three pounds better off with Showcasing, but Gosden's charge, at half Prime Defender's age, has the scope to improve past him.
In the final race on the card, the Queen Alexandra Stakes, Willie Mullins saddles last year's dual Flat winner Deutschland. With the conditions of the race against him, Deutschland is opposed with Munsef, the highest rated off 107.
A progressive horse that finished last season by going down by just six lengths in the Melbourne Cup, Munsef shaped encouragingly enough when placed on his only two starts this term. He returns to the type of extreme distance that brings out the best in him now, so ought to go close under Jamie Spencer.
Also today, City Dancer could thwart Charles O'Brien's hat-trick-seeking Bewitched in the Listed fillies' sprint at Ayr. An unlucky sixth at Epsom, Dandy Nicholls' four-year-old might have been found an easier target than this to get back on track. Nonetheless, she looks to be going in the right direction.
Best bet: Munsef