Patrons and fans viewing Ascot on Friday are in for a Royal treat as a fifth group contest was added to the program this year. With that extra race to look over, I’ve chosen to be a little more pithy in my observations on the primary features as noted below.
1ST RACE, ALBANY STAKES (G3) is discussed at the TwinSpires.com blog.
2ND RACE, KING EDWARD VII STAKES (G2)
1. There’s not much in the way of value with #4 CRYSTAL OCEAN (5-2), but the Sir Michael Stoute trainee is relatively less exposed than most of his main rivals that took a swing and missed badly in the Epsom Derby (G1) earlier this month. Narrowly missing in his debut at Newbury last fall, he was back in April to comfortably win over a mile and a quarter at Nottingham against next-out winner Okool. His stakes debut, in the Dante (G2) at York, was another step forward as he rallied for third, beaten 1 3/4 lengths by #9 PERMIAN. No surprise connections did not succumb to the British version of “Derby Fever” off that effort. They won the King Edward VII in 2013 with Crystal Ocean’s half-brother Hillstar, himself a future Grade 1 winner in the Canadian International. A son of Sea the Stars, who sired last year’s winner Across the Stars, Crystal Ocean has every right to improve here.
2. #2 BEST SOLUTION (8-1) was more or less my top Derby selection, but raced far closer to a hot pace than ideal and had little left in the tank passing Tattenham Corner. Looking back at the replay and realizing he was pretty much through early in the stretch, it’s amazing he was only beaten 6 1/2 lengths into eighth place. As I wrote at Derby time, he was arguably the most visually impressive of the prep winners, and with a better trip he’s seemingly capable of bouncing back to his best form. However, if the pace is fairly honest here I wouldn’t expect him to be far off of it, which might potentially blunt his effectiveness late. This is still a classier bunch than he faced at Lingfield.
3. #9 PERMIAN (6-1) was well backed in the Derby off the Dante win as well his narrow loss to Cracksman in Epsom’s Derby Trial two starts earlier, but offered little and finished 10th beaten eight lengths. He’s arguably overachieved this term, at least based on the level of company he kept at two, but shapes up as a danger to hit the frame with a return to his pre-Epsom form.
#1 BEST OF DAYS (10-1) is a wild card here. A head short of going three-for-three at two, he gamely captured the one-mile Royal Lodge (G2) to end the season and now reappears in this demanding 12-furlong race first up. The class is seemingly there, but will he be ready to go this far after such a long spell? #7 INTERN (15-1), like Crystal Ocean, has just three starts behind him and thus has more upside than most of these. He was a solid second his seasonal return in the Sandown Classic Trial (G3), a head behind Cunco. The very experienced #11 SALOUEN (8-1) placed in the Prix Jean Luc-Lagardere (G1) and Racing Post Trophy (G1) at two and met with some trouble in the straight of the Derby.
3RD RACE, COMMONWEALTH CUP (G1)
1. There are 12 entered, but only four logical win candidates, in this six-furlong sprint for three-year-olds. The undefeated #3 CARAVAGGIO (1-1) will take the bulk of the support as he sets out to become a repeat Royal winner a year after taking the Coventry (G2) in fine style. Another decisive score in the Phoenix (G1) followed, which capped the son of Scat Daddy’s juvenile campaign. With plenty of classic ammo on the Coolmore bench, the decision to keep this colt doing what he does best — sprinting — rather than stretching him out seemed all the wiser after a facile tune-up in the Lacken Stakes (G3) at Naas. It will be fascinating to see how well this special horse does against the best older dashers on the continent later this season, but for now all indicators suggest he’ll be a tough one to crack in this spot.
2. #1 BLUE POINT (9-2) has terrific credentials, having taken the Gimcrack (G2) at York last summer and the course-and-distance Pavilion (G3) in his return to action May 3. In between were two credible efforts, albeit losses, in the Middle Park (G1) and Dewhurst (G1), both at Newmarket. To these untrained eyes, it appeared the Godolphin-owned colt wasn’t entirely comfortable racing on that course, famous for its dips, etc. Of course, facing Churchill anywhere, as he did in the Dewhurst, was another factor working against him. Back at six furlongs for the Pavilion, he out-finished the progressive #4 HARRY ANGEL, who figures to get even more play here, by 1 1/2 lengths.
3. #4 HARRY ANGEL (5-2) is now in the Godolphin camp himself, and most consider him the primary challenger to CARAVAGGIO following a course-sizzling performance in the Sandy Lane (G2) at Haydock late last month. That course-record run was a major step up from the aforementioned try in the Pavilion, which itself was a progressive move from his brief two-year-old campaign of two starts, the highlight of which was a maiden-breaking win in the Mill Reef (G2). Both losses have come at Ascot, the only apparent knock against him….well, that and having to try and be the first to topple CARAVAGGIO.
The consensus fourth choice is #2 BOUND FOR NOWHERE, who Wesley Ward sends from the U.S. following a six-length score on the Turfway Park Polytrack and a 4 1/4-length turf allowance romp at Keeneland. Has reportedly worked well with star stablemate Lady Aurelia, who blitzed her elders in the King’s Stand (G1) earlier this week, but my gut tells me he’ll find at least a couple of the above too tough on this major class hike.
4TH RACE, CORONATION STAKES (G1)
1. #4 PRECIEUSE (8-1) found the step up from six furlongs to one mile highly suitable in the French 1000 Guineas (G1) last time. Previously a mainstay in sprints against males (she had finished second to the colt Fas in the Prix Sigy [G3]), the extra ground and return to her own division resulted in a 28-1 upset over Deauville’s straight mile with a winning late kick in the final furlong. With favored French trainees having taken the Jersey (G3) and Duke of Cambridge (G2) on Wednesday, I’m willing to continue to give a long look to invaders from across the Channel, even against a hot favorite like the one here. Indeed, French raiders have won the past two editions of this race, and this filly figures to offer a bettable price while sporting the notable colors of American Peter Brant for the first time.
2. Of #7 WINTER (1-2) not much else needs to be said. A 9-1 upset winner of the 1000 Guineas (G1) when yard mate and favored runner-up Rhododendron didn’t have the clearest of runs, she had an easier time taking the Irish version of the classic as an odds-on choice late last month against a so-so field. Ostensibly having scared away all but six rivals away from this race, she’ll be one of the shortest priced winners of the week if she runs to expectations. As you can see, I’m willing to take a shot against her turning the treble, but win or lose she’s a filly to be reckoned with the rest of this season and beyond.
3. #1 DABYAH (5-1) missed an intended start in the French 1000 for John Gosden and was immediately pointed for this race. Following a solid juvenile campaign that produced two wins and a close third in the Prix Marcel Boussac (G1), she came back as good as ever in the Fred Darling (G3) at Newbury on April 22. With her only loss having been at a mile and with a tendency to make all, it will be interesting to see whether she can hang on, especially if #2 HYDRAGEA (20-1) goes out to provide WINTER with some pace.
American representative #3 LA CORONEL (20-1) adds interest to the proceedings and has been highly capable since reverting to the turf last fall. She didn’t have a favorable trip in the Breeders’ Cup, her only other exposure to a world-class field, and improvement will be needed to upend the above classic winners in their nominal backyard. #5 ROLY POLY (20-1), another from Team Coolmore, can be along for a minor slice.
5TH RACE, QUEEN’S VASE (G2) is discussed at the TwinSpires.com blog.