Ascot is a venue that surely holds fond memories for Newmarket trainer Richard Spencer. The track was the scene of his first Group success as a trainer, when Rajasinghe took the 2017 Coventry Stakes at the Royal Meeting.
Four years on, the Newmarket handler is readying a battalion of seven Rebel Racing horses to travel down to Berkshire for the Tote May Weekend at Ascot.
Looking ahead to the two-day card, Richard spoke to Tote to give us his thoughts on his Friday and Saturday runners.
British Stallion Studs EBF Maiden Fillies' Stakes - Friday 13:55
“Obviously it’s her first outing. It’s one that she’ll come on for. It’s vital that on their first day at school that they behave and enjoy it, and they’ll then progress through the year. The ground is a bit of an unknown; some of the family has won with a bit of ease, and she’s going to want 6f in time, but a stiff 5f at Ascot is a good starting point. We’re not going there pinning our hopes on her winning, but she’ll run a nice race.
“There’s one that has previous experience of James Tate’s, who we are drawn next to. Hopefully it will be a nice introduction for her. Being drawn next to one that has had experience, you’d like to think they would be to the fore in the race and we will be able to jump and use them to get a bit of a lead off.
“It’s an open race with some nicely bred horses, and whatever goes on the ground is likely to be there at the finish.”
tote+ Exclusively At tote.co.uk Handicap - Friday 15:00
“His debut run in Deauville was good and then he won nicely at Lingfield before being unlucky in his Listed race back there, getting halted in his run a little bit.
“We don’t know what he’s going to be like on the softer ground, his pedigree suggests that he should be able to cope with it, but until we race on it, we won’t know. I think it’s going to be one of those races which is a fact finding mission with his first run on turf and over a stiff, straight seven. I think in the future we’re going to be looking to run him over a mile. He’s French bred, so I think we’ll be looking to go back there with him, once it becomes a bit easier to get over there, to try and pick up some prize money with the French premiums this summer.
“He hasn’t done anything wrong so far this year, and we’re hopeful we can find out more about him on Friday. Our apprentice Angus Villiers, who I think people are going to be hearing a lot more about this season and in years to come, is riding him which is a plus, but it’s a competitive race”
tote+ Biggest Dividends Handicap - Friday 15:30
“We have had him a long time, and is a bit of an old favourite for most of us here, especially me as he usually wins a nice race every year. We were unlucky at Ayr, he came from a long way back to finish sixth. He likes a bit of juice in the ground, that’ll definitely be in his favour.
“He does normally come on for his first race, not for any fitness reason, he’s just a funny character. With these sprinters you have to catch them in form, and hopefully he can run a solid race. We’re hopeful of a nice race, but I can’t say I fancy him massively going into his first start, because every year we do it and then he takes the run to bring him on.
Tote+ Pays More At Tote.Co.UK Buckhounds Stakes - Saturday 14:30
“He was very fresh and gassy on his first start at Newbury with Kieran [Shoemark]. We probably just about got away with the ground that day, it was just about as fast as we wanted to run him on. I thought he did very well considering and did well to stick on to finish fourth and hopefully that’s taken the freshness out of him.
“I didn’t expect there to be 12 runners lining up on Saturday to be honest. It’s a competitive race and on ratings he’s going to have to take a step forward. We’ve got plans for the future, and this is just a stepping stone towards them. I know this is a Listed race, but it’s probably an above average renewal. There are horses here that have shown a very good level of form, and there are others that will probably improve throughout this year.
“He won round Ascot when it was down as soft, but it was more or less heavy, which I don’t think he wants. I wouldn’t be worried about the ease in the ground, and not all of these are going to go on it. I think he’s taken a step forward, hopefully he can run a solid race. It was a good race on his seasonal debut at Newbury and I’m looking forward to him being a horse we can have a lot of fun with in years to come.”
tote+ Victoria Cup - Saturday 15:40
“This horse is all about confidence, so I think that win at Ascot last week would have done him a massive bonus. I thought Angus [Villiers] gave him a lovely ride, we’ve been put up 2lbs for it and we’ve managed to get into the Victoria Cup with him.
“The ground is obviously going to draw out a bit of stamina in these horses and we come here dropping back from a mile to 7f. He’s getting a bit older and possibly a bit slower, and in some ways a mile is probably his trip, but with the forecast weather and the ground conditions his stamina will be brought out over the stiff seven.
“People have commented that he doesn’t handle Ascot in the past, but there have been so many things that have gone wrong for him before or during the races that have counted against him, so there’s always been a reason for his below par runs.
“The handicapper has been lenient enough to get him down to a mark where he can get his head in front, so hopefully we can take a step in the right direction and put a few nice runs together going forward.
“The kid on board, Angus Villiers is going to be a massive help to us, he’s a very good and natural rider. People are probably getting bored of hearing me say it but he’s probably one of the best kids I’ve seen ride for a long time and I think he could be Champion Apprentice this year.”
Skontonovoski & Louis Treize
tote+ Pays You More Handicap - Saturday 16:50
“Angus got given the choice of the two, and that doesn’t put paid to Skontonovski’s chances because he’s chosen Louis Treize.
“Louis ran well at Thirsk last time, he was drawn on the wrong side and the ground was probably just on the quicker side for him. They dropped him 3lb for running in that race, but he didn’t get beaten far. We’ve brought him back to sprint trips which seems to have helped and the ground and course should be fine for him on Saturday.
“Skontonovski has Hollie Doyle riding. He probably wants a bit of ease in the ground as well, so he’s not written off at all. It’s one of these competitive handicaps with 20 runners where you could make a case for most of them. The two of ours will be there running on their merits, and it would be nice to have a one-two!”