The fourth of five days at Royal Ascot, Friday, has a 'get set for the weekend' vibe about it, and the weather is forecast to be joining in, too. Bring your sun lotion and some shades, then, to enjoy seven more top tier tussles headlined by a brace of Group 1's for three-year-olds only, the Commonwealth Cup and Coronation Stakes. It's the young guns that get us underway, in the...
2.30 Albany Stakes (6f, Group 3, 2yo fillies)
The Albany Stakes, for two-year-old fillies, has run since 2002 when it was a Listed contest. It was promoted to Group 3 status in 2005 and, though it is considered an early opportunity for potential 1000 Guineas types, no filly has yet achieved that double.
Usual challenge with two-year-old races is trying to guess which horses' debut wins were the more meritorious and, on top of that, which might have the most improvement to display this time. In other words, pass the hammer while I attempt to secure this blancmange to the wall.
The market is a guide. Five of the 20 Albany winners were clear favourite and just about broke even. Meditate bids to make it 6 from 21. She's an Aidan O'Brien / Ballydoyle / Ryan Moore unbeaten-in-two filly with a regal pedigree comprised of speed on the sire side (No Nay Never) and stamina on the dam side (Dalakhani mare). And she was a comfortable winner of a 6f G3 last time. She sets the standard.
Saeed bin Suroor, who is having a great week, saddles Mawj, the first of numerous unbeaten-in-one to line up. She's only won a novice, but that was over this distance at Newmarket in a field of ten, and by nearly five lengths. The second has won her sole start since and the third was another three lengths - eight in total - behind the winner. Mawj must be smart.
The Amo Racing-owned Queen Olly has a pure Coolmore pedigree - No Nay Never out of a Galileo mare - and cost €300k as a yearling. Her York debut suggested that expenditure was not completely blown as she strolled clear of a promising group of novices by nearly four lengths. That form hasn't yet worked out but it is still hard to crab the winner.
Fully Wet is the Gosden runner and she won her Goodwood debut; what is noteworthy is that John Gosden has not typically had a terrific debut strike rate, and those that do win on their introduction tend to be pretty smart. Obviously, she's up against any number of other 'pretty smart' types, and the bare form is nothing to get fanatical about.
An early 2yo winner was Powerdress, whose Newmarket five furlong score came in mid-April. She's not been seen since but the form has had a chance to get interrogated, and has fared at least all right. The second and third have won since as have the fifth and eighth. None has taken a good step forward ratings-wise, but she is entitled to improve plenty if she's not a pure five furlong filly: her pedigree is total speed.
Lots of others who are exciting for the future.
The market probably has this right, and Mawj is a much more playable price than Meditate for all that her form is not yet as good as the favourite's. Her debut was a powerhouse performance and if she can move forward even a bit she'll take some beating. She's 4/1 or so.
3.05 Commonwealth Cup (6f, Group 1, 3yo)
One of the newest and, in my opinion, best races at the Royal meeting, the Commonwealth Cup is a six furlong sprint for three-year-olds. It is unique in that it is the only race in the history of the European Pattern to have been inaugurated with Group 1 status. And it has been a cracking addition to the Royal Ascot menu, this year's renewal in no way deviating from that general observation.
A phalanx of fast horses will go to post, headed - in market terms at least - by Perfect Power. Trained by Richard Fahey to win two Group 1's over this trip as a juvenile, he also won when stretched out to seven in the Greenham. That emboldened connections to have a crack at the 2000 Guineas in which he was a patent non-stayer. Nevertheless, he still beat more than half the field and has shown he's trained on, a reservation with some of his rivals.
His ability to get seven furlongs will be an asset over a stiff and fast-run six, and firm ground holds no fears either. He has an excellent chance of another G1 victory. Stall 1 puts him on the rail.
El Caballo has won all six starts since a debut second. They include the 3yo All Weather Championships race and the Group 2 Sandy Lane. He's untested at Group 1 level but is certainly ready for the challenge. Ehraz, meanwhile, is a similar price with some good form at the distance, almost all of it in defeat. He might appreciate a faster run race than he's largely encountered hitherto, but I'm struggling to see his case as clearly as a number of his rivals. He has the widest stall, 20, which may not be ideal.
One of the pace angles is Flaming Rib, co-owned by Michael Owen and trained by Hugo Palmer. He was just behind El Caballo last time having won six of his eleven prior starts. He's very consistent and has been a brilliant horse for connections; it's not impossible that he could find more again.
Michael O'Callaghan has marked himself out as a bit of a sprint king on both sides of the Irish Sea, and he saddles Twilight Jet. Prior to his final 2yo start, this lad had won just one of his eight starts but, since then he's come home in front in both races either side of his winter holiday. His performance in the G3 Lacken Stakes first up this season was particularly impressive; he's another front-runner in a field that is not overloaded with early dash.
Flotus is the out and out pace setter having led in each of his last four runs, winning a Listed and finishing second in the Group 1 Cheveley Park Stakes last term. She's not quite been at the same level in two starts this season so has a little to prove for new owners who paid a million for her in December. If nothing else, she'll be an exciting broodmare prospect in due course.
Christophe Clement, the US-based brother to French trainers' association chairman, Nicolas, sends Slipstream across the pond and has enlisted Joel Rosario, one of the very best Stateside, to do the steering. Unusually for an American sprinter at Royal Ascot, he's typically a hold up type, though he has won from the front also - just not recently. He's won three either side of a non-staying effort in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (mile) and got the better of a smart Wesley horse, Twilight Gleaming, last time. He'll jump from box 18, close to El Caballo but wide enough on the flank.
Go Bears Go booked his ticket with a 'win and you're in' verdict in the Pavilion Stakes, a trial for this, in late April. He's since run only fairly behind El Caballo at Haydock but we know he handles conditions.
One more to mention is Sacred Bridge. Ante post favourite for the 1000 Guineas at one point, she fluffed her lines spectacularly at Newmarket in the Cheveley Park and was again outstayed in the Ballylinch behind Homeless Songs. Dropped back to sprint trips she won a Listed race at Cork last time. If she's not regressed she has back class to give her a shot at a big price. She has stall three.
An exciting race in prospect with draw likely to play a part. The speed horses, Flotus and Twilight Jet, are drawn right in the middle while plenty of fancied runners are berthed on the wings. Not ideal, probably. The one with the best post of the top of the market is probably Flaming Rib and he could be an each way play as a result. I think Perfect Power is probably the best horse in the race, but I worry about the draw, likewise El Caballo and Slipstream could be drawn inconveniently. Sacred Bridge is another for whom a wide post is suboptimal but, at 25/1, I can't resist a little tickle. [Full disclosure: I backed her ante post for the 1000 Guineas so am almost certainly seeking some affirmation - aka throwing good money after bad]
3.40 Duke Of Edinburgh Stakes (1m4f, Class 2 handicap, 3yo+)
A mile and a half handicap for three-year-olds and up, but due to the King George V Handicap being run over the same course and distance for 3yo's only, it's rare to see one in this contest these days; older horses it is, then. We do have the same quirky anti-low draw bias in play: since the track was relaid and Ascot returned from its one year roadshow to York in 2006, all bar one of the 15 winners emerged from a double digit stall. Backing them all would have produced nearly 30 points profit at SP!
The well fancied favourite, Just Fine, is in stall 7; second choice, Trawlerman, is in stall 3; and the well fancied Mashhoor is in stall 1. If the double digit draw theory holds for one more year we'll be on the side of one at a price at least.
Contact is the first on the list. Trained by the Barrons, David and Nicola, they're an unfashionable enough team in the Royal Ascot context but are eminently capable as has been shown with this chap. A good handicapper last term, he has improved 12lb in three runs this season; from a 2022 debut second to Tuesday's Copper Horse Stakes winner, Get Shirty, to a brace of Class 2 handicap wins at this trip, he looks like he has more to give.
William Haggas has Candleford in stall 18. Last seen 219 days ago when beating Coltrane - Tuesday's Ascot Stakes winner - three lengths in a Class 2 all-weather handicap, a literal interpretation of that would put him squarely in the mix. He has turf form, too, having been third in the Old Rowley Cup at Newmarket last October, and was second over this course and distance before that (subsequently disqualified because the jockey weighed in light). Haggas has a 24% hit rate with horses off a 60+ day layoff so I'd not be unduly concerned by that.
Ever Present is a six-year-old, which is normally older than ideal (though a seven-year-old won in 2020), but in his case he has had only four starts in flat races having formerly been a bumper horse. Switched to a Leopardstown maiden last June he won by six lengths over 1m7f, and followed up in a conditions race over the same track and trip. He beat all bar one in a small field on his handicap debut before making no mistake in a huge field in the Premier 'Petingo' Handicap on Irish Champions' Weekend last September. He's not been seen since, 279 days, though again the trainer's ability mitigates any ring rusty reservations.
And, because his trainer(s), Mark (and Charlie) Johnston, has won this four times, State Of Bliss is another to look at more closely. He's a course and distance winner, in the Shergar Cup last summer, and will love the hurly burly of a race like this. He looks exposed but has shown that these conditions are his optimum.
The top trainer, though, is Hughie Morrison, who has won the Duke Of Edinburgh Stakes four times - including last year - from just eight runners, and had another one placed. He saddles the poorly drawn Stay Well, who it should be assumed will do just that. It is noteworthy that Morrison elected to run this one from the options he had available. Stay Well has two mile and a half wins to his name from four such races but has been campaigned at shorter in a brace of outings since the second of his twelve furlong victories. He looks a good old Hughie plot perhaps undone by trap two.
Lots more with chances granted a smooth passage, which many will not be. I'm taking three darts here: 11/1 Candleford, whose form is strong if he's fit and ready; 14/1 Ever Present, who is unexposed for one his age; and 25/1 in a place Stay Well, because Hughie.
4.20 Coronation Stakes (1m, Group 1, 3yo fillies)
The Coronation Stakes was incepted in 1840 to commemorate the ascension to the throne of Queen Victoria in 1838. It brings the form lines of 1000 Guineas fillies from across Europe together for the first time and establishes the natural order among that cohort in the same way the St James's Palace Stakes does for the colts.
This year's renewal is a fascinating international smash up between UK, Ireland, France, and the USA, and features the 1000 Guineas winner (and French 1000 runner up), Cachet; the French 1000 Guineas winner, Mangoustine; the Fillies' Mile winner and runner up, Inspiral and Prosperous Voyage; Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner, Pizza Bianca; and an unbeaten dark horse from America in Spendarella. Throw in two further juvenile Group 1 or 2 winners with scope for further progression in Discoveries and Sandrine, and, "phew, what a scorcher!" as the soaraway currant bun might have it.
Despite the depth in the field, Inspiral, absent since early October last year, is a clear favourite. She was untouchable as a two-year-old, with daylight verdicts in a Newmarket maiden, Sandown Listed and Doncaster Group 2 en route to running away with the Fillies' Mile back at Newmarket. Prosperous Voyage was second in that race with Cachet third, and those two reversed placings in the 1000 Guineas to give the Newmarket juvenile form a rock solid look, more so with sixth placed Concert Hall taking bronze in the Irish 1000 Guineas.
Cachet has since just failed to repel another big field in the Poule d'Essai des Pouliches, the French 1000 Guineas, where Mangoustine ran her down in the closing metres (they don't do imperial across la Manche). It is quite hard to know why Mangoustine, a progressive filly and winner of all bar her comeback prep this season of five starts is twice the price of Cachet.
Ralph Beckett's Prosperous Voyage has only won one of her seven races and yet she has legit claims to be in the top five three-year-old filly milers: as well as that close up and closing second in the 1000 Guineas, she filled the same position in the Fillies' Mile and the May Hill Stakes, both times behind Inspiral. She has been prominent or on the lead each time, and I wonder how things might play out here with Cachet also looking highly likely to push the pace.
Spendarella is a third front-running option, the American raider having shared the lead at least in her last two of three career starts. It's very difficult to gauge the level of her performances, though we know she, like Inspiral, has been a daylight (i.e. by more than a length) winner of each race she's contested, up to Grade 2 level. Trained by British ex-pat Graham Motion, who brought Sharing, in the same Eclipse Thoroughbreds silks, over to finish second in the 2020 renewal of this, connections have a handle on what's needed to go close and as such she is respected.
While Spendarella doesn't have the same level of form in the book as Sharing did, fellow long-hauler, Pizza Bianca, does. She showed an excellent turn of foot to win the race Sharing won, the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, and she did it on fast ground and on a track, Del Mar's inner turf, that makes Ascot's turning course look like the vast expanses of the Serengeti. Moreover, who was in fourth that day? None other than Cachet, who must be an absolute dream to train and, especially, own. Cachet led there, as she tends to do, and Pizza Bianca needed a charmed run to get to the front. Here's what that looked like:
That's pretty cool, huh? I think it was down to Nathan Horrocks and his team to put that content together, and it really adds another dimension post-race.
In any case, we can see that Pizza Bianca had a ground-saving trip on the rail for the most part and that when the splits came she was fast enough to go through them. That alone makes her a runner in the Coronation for her celebrity chef owner, Bobby Flay, and French ex-pat trainer, Christophe Clement. Her form this year has been at a lower level in two starts, second to the sometimes very useful Consumer Spending (trained by Chad Brown) and then an easy winner of a conditions race; this has been the plan.
And still the good ones come. Discoveries was a highly touted juvenile, winning the G1 Moyglare Stud Stakes on Irish Champions' Weekend before a flat effort in midfield in the 1000 Guineas. She was notably weak that day, having been strong in ante post lists through the winter, so perhaps she just needed the run there. Freshened up since, if she's trained on - and she has yet to prove that, though market confidence suggests she has - she is yet another contender. She's still to win over a mile but her pedigree implies it ought not to be beyond her reach.
David Probert, sponsored by geegeez, rides Sandrine, a Group 2-winning filly at two, as well as a Royal Ascot winner (G3 Albany) and a staying on fifth in the 1000 Guineas. It is possible she was merely passing more serious non-stayers that day at Newmarket, but she showed she's trained on and retains her class; this turning track might help her get home, too, and it would be a fairy story for her rider if he could register the first domestic Group 1 of his career on the Royal stage. He has a squeak.
But wait, where's the Ballydoyle runner? We have to go down to the ninth in the current betting lists to locate Tenebrism. A winner twice at two over sprint distances - notably in the Group 1 Cheveley Park Stakes over six furlongs - she was behind Cachet, Prosperous Voyage, Sandrine et al when only eighth in the 1000 Guineas. Her pedigree - by Caravaggio out of a Pivotal mare whose family have all run no further than a mile - suggests this is a stretch.
Mrs Tabor and Mrs Magnier take on their 'other halves' here, too, with Grande Dame, trained by John and Thady. She's only raced twice, winning on Ascot trials day in April and running a close second in a York fillies' race in May. She's going to be a better filly than she's shown to date but this is a deep race and she needs to step forward more than a stone on ratings even if the rest don't improve; that seems unlikely.
It's a proper Bobby Dazzler of a Coronation Stakes, undoubtedly one of the races of the week for me. Tactics and luck in running add to the puzzle, with the likely pace horses (Spendarella, Cachet, Prosperous Voyage) drawn 8, 9, and 12 - and with Mangoustine in 1 capable of pushing on, too. That quartet are expected to be prominent if not leading and may be joined by Discoveries (also wide in stall 10) and, if they're not outpaced/outclassed, Honey Girl (11) and Rolling The Dice (3). Meanwhile, searching for a run at the business end will be Inspiral (5), Sandrine (6), and Pizza Bianca (7). The cleanest trip may win the races.
On reflection, I think Cachet and Spendarella are likely to take them along, with Inspiral sure to make a bold bid if fit enough and if getting a run. Those two if's make 2/1 skinny enough and the horse I think is over-priced is Pizza Bianca. Non Wesley Ward-trained US turf horses tend to be under-rated when they come to Ascot but they've a good record: as well as Sharing, Tepin won the Queen Anne in 2016, and Artos was 4th in the Queen Mary last year from just a handful of runners. This filly has the race smarts to negotiate a passage on a tight turf track, and the finishing speed to take advantage of it. It will be her first time going right-handed but at 16/1 she's worth a go in a brilliant, and open, renewal.
The French 1000 Guineas winner, Mangoustine, is also worth a second look. She'll probably be behind the speed and in front of the late finishers so she may at least get first run on those closers, something she did when scoring at Longchamp last time. 10/1 looks too big.
5.00 Sandringham Stakes (1m, Class 2 handicap, 3yo fillies)
This was historically a race for the top of the market, fillies returned at single figure odds winning seven of the eight renewals between 2009 and 2016; but since then there have been two 33/1 winners and a 20/1. Hmm. Probably just ignore the market and go with what you fancy then... This is a straight track mile rather than the preceding fillies' mile run on the round course, so luck in running is less of a factor while stamina for the trip is a fundamental prerequisite.
Although most of the last 14 winners were unexposed in handicaps - half were making their 'cap bow, another two were second start in a handicap - it is those with more experience that have the best strike rate, and they tend to be a better price as slightly less sexy plays. Focusing on a minority subset of winners means what follows probably won't identify the first past the post, but if it does we'll be rewarded for our nonconformist perspective.
It will come as little surprise that, of the five more exposed winners since 2008, they all finished first (four) or second (one) last time. Looking solely at last time winners to have raced in two or more handicaps, four of the 18 rocking up in the Sandringham won it. And perhaps it could be called the sand-ringham, because three of those four were all-weather winners, an observation made elsewhere by cleverer people than me who contend that the straight track has a sandy composition not dissimilar to those golden surfaced racecourses. Such matters are way beyond my compass, but in the land of the blind and all that...
Long and short, there are four horses that fit this (tenuous) bill: Golden Spice, Gatecrasher Girl, Washraa, and Tamarama.
Golden Spice has won four of her last six, leading each time, and has two verdicts apiece on turf and all-weather with the turf wins on straight tracks. However, all wins were over seven furlongs and in single figure field sizes.
William Knight trains Gatecrasher Girl, a filly who has won all three of her starts this year, all at a mile. The fact she tends to get up close home has perhaps made it hard for the handicapper to assess her ability and she is still on an upward curve. She won over a straight mile at Doncaster last time so there are no reservations on that score.
Owen Burrows, for whom life has been more challenging since the reorganisation following Sheikh Hamdan's passing, has a chance to once more advertise his abilities, courtesy of Washraa. She's had five races, four on the all-weather, and two wins, on both her handicap spins, one turf and one all-weather. On both occasions, she was doing the good work very late on and is another who could be a step ahead of the 'capper. She'll naturally need to be.
And Tamarama rounds out my quartet of 'hopeful no-hopers'. David Probert gets the leg up on Charlie Hills' bid for a second (at least, writing before Thursday's card) handicap winner of the week after Dark Shift bagged the Royal Hunt Cup on Wednesday. Tamarama has won two of seven - the most recent two - and was previously placed in an all-weather maiden on her only attempt off the lawns. She tends to race forwardly and has done her winning in small fields so she has a bit to prove in these conditions; but she'll stay, and connections are very much respected.
Of course, there are battalions of others with chances, most of them at shorter prices. But in what is a very tough heat to deconstruct, I'm speculating wildly for sticky bun stakes; and I'm siding each way with 22/1 Gatecrasher Girl and 22/1 Washraa. Get six or more places. I'll probably have tiny bets on the other two, Golden Spice and Tamarama, as well.
5.35 King Edward VII Stakes (1m4f, Group 2, 3yo colts & geldings)
A disappointing turnout for the 'Ascot Derby', both in quality and quantity terms. Of the six to line up, only one - the exposed looking Changingoftheguard - has a rating higher than 102. Trying to polish a, well, you get the gist, Changingoftheguard is a worthy 110 and was a creditable fifth in the Derby having previously won the Chester Vase.
In opposition, there are at least some improvers, the pick of which might be Ottoman Fleet, the only one in the line up yet to receive an official mark. He followed up a debut second at Newbury that has worked out well (third placed Lionel won the Listed Cocked Hat Stakes next time) with a 'just about' verdict in the Listed Fairway Stakes at Newmarket. That was ten furlongs and he seemed to need further - he's by Sea The Stars out of a Motivator mare - and gets a quarter mile more runway to work with this time.
Lysander doesn't look quite the same level: a debut 3rd on heavy was followed by an eight length stroll in a Newcastle novice over 1m2f. None of the six runs from horses out of that race have registered even a placed effort so the form is dubious. More materially, Lysander was beaten by Lionel in the previously referenced Cocked Hat Stakes, notwithstanding that it was a narrow defeat. He might relish the extra furlong here though that's not been totally obvious either on run style or pedigree: he's by New Approach out of a Shamardal mare. To be totally fair, there is stamina in the dam's family including dam Darting herself who was moderate but won over 1m4f.
Grand Alliance looked a promising horse when bidding for a hat-trick in the Blue Riband Trial at Epsom. Only half a length behind Nahanni, that was a creditable performance, and the Derby obviously didn't go to plan: he was beaten a long way. But if we lob that G1 effort his profile retains an ascendant hue though he has plenty to find on the ratings.
Dark Moon Rising, a Night Of Thunder colt, steps up to a mile and a half for the first time having been comprehensively thumped by Desert Crown in the Dante at York. That in turn was a first attempt at beyond a mile so he's got to find some stamina from somewhere.
Completing the line up is Savvy Victory, trained by Sean Woods. He's already been separately duffed up by Changingoftheguard and Ottoman Fleet and appears to be outclassed.
In terms of how the race will be run, Changingoftheguard is the obvious pace horse: he tends to go forward and is proven at the trip. Dark Moon Rising also goes forward often but, with stamina not assured, he might be more patiently ridden (and he might not, obvs). Lysander is expected to track the pace with the other three biding their time and hoping not to be caught out of their ground. I can see Ryan Moore looking to dominate from the get go, gradually winding up the tempo and hoping to draw the sting from his rivals; he would look susceptible in that scenario, however, and perhaps the virtually-guaranteed-to-improve Ottoman Fleet at 9/4 is the answer to a fairly uninspiring affair.
6.10 Palace Of Holyroodhouse Stakes (5f, Class 2 handicap, 3yo)
The Friday nightcap is a great time to go to the bar. Thirty-odd three-year-old sprinters, many of them making their handicap debut. This is perhaps the ultimate guessers' race at the meeting, and your guess is as good as - very likely better than - mine.
My three guesses then: Shamlaan is quick and wins quite often, usually in smaller fields. Importantly, he's 20/1. And I've always loved the very fast two-year-old, now three of course, Navello. He's dropped a few pounds in the handicap and can go a bit. He, too, is 20/1. And then there's the Wesley Ward wunner, Wuthin - sorry, Ruthin. She was seventh in the Windsor Castle last year, either side of Keeneland scores and, what makes this part of the guessy play, is that Wes has a handicap winner at the meeting from just three attempts (Con Te Partiro in the 2017 Sandringham - I backed her, so probably another bias in play here). She's 10/1 in a place.
Good luck if you're betting this race, or indeed any of the races on Friday. And I hope you've enjoyed my gallops through the form for the four week days of Royal Ascot. As ever, 'Heath' day, as it once was, is time for me to reacquaint with the family - they seem like nice people, so why not? - so the best of British (or Irish or French or Australian or American) to you with your weekend wagering. Win or lose, it's been a fantastic week's sport. Thanks for following some of it here on geegeez.