A searing Royal Ascot week moves into a fourth day – and the Group One action on course shows no sign of letting up in the Coronation Stakes and Commonwealth Cup.
But the big question on Friday is if the weather will stay on message and, crucially for punters, keep the ground quick or if forecast thunderstorms will drastically alter the terrain.
As the three-year-olds take centre stage in both feature races, uncertainty over conditions is a potential game-changer for all concerned – be it the cream-of-the-crop fillies over a mile in the Coronation or the speed generation in the Commonwealth.
Aidan O’Brien supplies two Classic winners at the top of the market in the former – Mother Earth, superior on Newmarket’s good to firm ground in the 1000 Guineas but then only second in the French equivalent in more testing environs, and the supplemented Empress Josephine who came out narrowly on top in the mud at the Curragh.
Among their principal opposition, the ground is perhaps an imponderable for home hopes Primo Bacio and Alcohol Free – but at bigger odds, Fev Rover’s contrasting fortunes in the English and Irish Guineas indicates a definite preference for a sound surface.
Many of the Commonwealth speedsters’ connections will doubtless curse the rain if it comes in great quantity – although hot favourite Campanelle, bidding to double her Royal Ascot tally after last year’s Queen Mary Stakes victory, did also win on the Group One Prix Morny in the soft at Deauville.
The juvenile fillies kick off the quality as the card opens with the Albany Stakes – and after the three-year-old middle-distance colts have also done battle in the King Edward VII, handicap conundrums abound in the final three races.
For punters, the weather warning applies throughout – to make sure they are not on shaky ground.
The key to the Coronation?
It is four years since Aidan O’Brien last won the Coronation Stakes, with Winter. He has given himself an outstanding chance again this year, though, by supplementing Irish 1,000 Guineas heroine Empress Josephine to join stablemate and Newmarket Classic winner Mother Earth. There will be plenty second-guessing what that could mean – as it did, in different circumstances, when Ballydoyle’s potential six-strong Derby team was pared down, to no avail, to just Bolshoi Ballet. O’Brien is covering two bases this time – but his sons Joseph and Donnacha may yet outdo him, respectively with Pretty Gorgeous and Shale. The home defence, meanwhile, appears well-served too with Primo Bacio, Alcohol Free and several others.
Speed queen Campanelle back for more
American challenger Campanelle proved herself for the compelling Royal Ascot combination of trainer Wesley Ward and Frankie Dettori in last year’s Queen Mary Stakes. They conquered France in the Prix Morny too, but could not make it a top-level double at the Breeders’ Cup. She faces a field full of rivals with strong form and major potential – but she and the Ward-Dettori axis will be very hard to desert for many. Ward is famed for his winners here, but has so far had a disappointing week. Perhaps his luck will change.
Alenquer – can we trust the form book?
Alenquer’s Sandown success from subsequent Derby hero Adayar makes him the outstanding candidate in the King Edward VII Stakes. The latter’s impressive Epsom performance was a revelation – but the question facing those trying to assess the likely outcome here is how much Adayar improved in his Classic victory. Alenquer beat him half a length back in April, but the reopposing Yibir was just a further neck back in third. Messages are therefore mixed.
Ascot arrival for Boughey in Albany?
Newmarket trainer George Boughey is making a big name for himself in a breakthrough season, especially with his two-year-old string – three of whom are among the front eight in the betting for the Albany Stakes. It is surely a matter of when, not if, he opens his account at Royal Ascot. As Boughey nears 50 winners for this year, having already progressed exponentially from two in his debut campaign in 2019, any one of Cachet, Hellomydarlin or Epsom winner Oscula could prove the first of many on this famous stage.