The arrival of summer means longer evenings, much better weather (hopefully!) , T shirts, shades and shorts but most important of all for racing fans the magic buzz of Royal Ascot.
Hard to believe but the Royal meeting is just weeks away, so it's time to start building that ante-post portfolio, and one that stands out each way is SOUTHERN FRANCE in the Ascot Gold Cup. Aidan O'Brien farms this race like nobody else, seven times the trophy has made it's way to Ballydoyle. The famous Yeats four-in-a-row got the ball rolling in spectacular style, and Fame And Glory, Leading Light and Order Of St. George have all followed in his hoofprints.
And it was in the Yeats Stakes at Navan last year that Southern France first showed his potential as a stayer, with Aidan saying that day that they expected him to be even better this year as a four year old. Incidentally the Yeats Stakes this year has been won a few weeks back by another Ballydoyle colt Western Australia who will take all the beating in the Queens Vase.
Last season Southern France was second in the Queens Vase to yet another O'Brien horse Kew Gardens, who looks the one to beat in the Coronation Cup this week. In his first outing this season Southern France ran in in the Vintage Crop Stakes - at Navan again, O'Brien certainly likes that Meath circuit for his stayers - but was a somewhat disappointing - though close up - third to Master Of Reality.
The soft ground that day would not have suited and it was no surprise that he showed big improvement next time in the Yorkshire Cup when a close second to Stradivarius. No question defending champ Stradivarius will set a high standard in the Gold Cup at Ascot again, but makes little appeal at 13/8 (best) at present while Southern France, who has more scope for improvement, is 11/1. No prizes for seeing the value there.
With O'Brien's incredible record in the race Southern France makes big appeal. Should the rains come then possibly Capri might be a better fit but he flopped badly in two outings this season and his only victory last term was a narrow success in a weak Group 3 at Naas. He's probably best swerved no matter what the underfoot conditions. But the younger and more progressive Southern France is worth supporting.
Selection - Ascot Gold Cup
SOUTHERN FRANCE 0.5 point each way 11/1 William Hill or Bet365