Ahead of this year’s Royal Ascot, we asked our horse racing traders for a few insights ahead of the festival. With 36 races – the most in the meeting’s history – it’s going to be a very busy time, although as Director of Racing Mark Howarth points out, it hasn’t been quite as busy in the build-up as in previous years.

With a bumper 36 contests and horse racing taking centre stage in the UK sporting calendar, we’re expecting to see a lot of business when interest reaches fever pitch on Tuesday.

Biggest Ante Post losers this year?

Frankie Dettori’s rides are always popular because he is the real star attraction. His mounts are backed blind in every race and that leaves us traders in quite uncomfortable positions! He cost us a small fortune last year when he rode four winners in a row on the Thursday and after Stradivarius’ win in the Gold Cup we were really in a tough position.

The one horse, not ridden by Frankie, that has been very popular in the build-up is Pierre Lapin in the Commonwealth Cup. He’s was impressive on both his starts last season and if we were to remain unbeaten in Friday’s contest it would prove a very expensive result indeed.

More handicaps – does that make things any better/worse for bookies?

The easy answer, given the competitive nature of the big-field handicap, would be that it makes things better for the bookies, but with an increasing tendency for punters to latch on to ‘handicap good things’ this is not necessarily the case.

Many of the horses in these handicaps will be having their first runs of the season and therefore could be lurking on very competitive marks meaning they may open up at bigger prices than they should be. However, those facts aren’t often lost on punters and if there is a ‘plot job’ in a big-field handicap the weight of money usually shows us who they are.

Should we expect some big price winners?

With less form to go on this year and while there do seem to have been more bigger-priced winners in the early stages of the season than usual, their prices are perhaps being exaggerated with the lack of on-course bookmakers. Before a horse went off at, for example, 16/1 it might now be a 25/1 chance. Certain trainers, such as John Gosden and Aidan O’Brien, are always going to be popular and this might guide the market, particularly in the big-field handicaps.

Some short-priced favourites, like Japan in the Princes Of Wales’s and Stradivarius in the Gold Cup, look worthy of their place at the head of the market, but there will be plenty of races, particularly involving two-year-olds, when it could be 4 or 5/1 the field. In those contests, given the unexposed nature of many of the runners, it’s much more likely that we’ll see horses winning that go off at double-figure odds. 

Which day do William Hill usually do worst/best on?

 It’s always one of the busiest weeks of the calendar and given there are even more races this year, we’re expecting it to be as busy as ever. Traditionally Tuesday is a tough trading day with a number of generous offers on the card and punters hoping to get off to a flyer. As we know it’s a marathon not a sprint and come the end of the week, we always hope to try and claw a bit back by the Saturday.

In 2019, Thursday was a very bad day with Frankie’s amazing four-timer, but had Turgenev won the Britannia then it would have been disastrous. If he had won that race, we would have been looking at something few had seen in the trading room.

How difficult is it going to be to price the two-year-old races this year?

It’s going to be tricky. There are a whole host of well-regarded and once raced winners, so reputation will play a part to some extent. We will put the prices out and let the punters guide us.

Two-year-old races are particularly tough because as well as being stacked full of horses with plenty of untapped potential, there are also Wesley Ward’s American runners who we don’t know too much about. Combining both those factors means it can be a minefield.

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