Royal Ascot concludes Saturday with two Group events and a typically contentious undercard. If you haven’t seen the detailed betting guide, available free at TwinSpires.com, it’s still valuable on Day Five, particularly for the trainer/jockey trends and the stats on the 29-runner Wokingham Handicap.
After managing to put the winner underneath (!) in every single one of my Tuesday and Wednesday featured selections here, I’ve made modest amends on the TwinSpires blog thanks to Le Brivido in the Jersey (G3), Atty Persse in the King George V, and Caravaggio topping a sweetly formful Commonwealth Cup (G1).
So with that caveat lector out of the way, let’s hope that Saturday’s top selections do a better job of justifying their placement.
The 1ST Race, the Chesham for juveniles over seven furlongs, is discussed over on TwinSpires, but I’ve been eagerly awaiting #16 SEPTEMBER (even-money) all week! Awful price on a lovely prospect.
I’ll also offer a tepid comment for the 2ND Race, the Wolferton Handicap, regarding #3 ELBERETH (8-1).
Now to the selections for the Saturday features:
3RD RACE, THE HARDWICKE (G2)
#14 WINGS OF DESIRE (5-1) hasn’t been seen since last summer, but the John Gosden trainee put up arguably the best performance of his brief career when chasing Highland Reel home in the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth (G1) at this track and trip. Succumbing to that world-class elder by a little more than a length, the Pivotal colt had Dartmouth, future Canadian International (G1) hero Erupt, Western Hymn and Second Step in his wake. Wings of Desire won’t have to duplicate that exact effort to win this, so he may be fit enough to strike right off the bench. He got ready in a hurry last year, with only two months between his first “half-speed” work as an unraced sophomore in mid-March to his Dante (G2) victory that propelled him into the Derby (G1). Soft ground held him to a fourth-place finish at Epsom, and he won’t want the projected showers to materialize on Saturday either. If the going remains on the good-to-firm side, Wings of Desire can avenge full brother Eagle Top’s second-place effort in the 2015 Hardwicke.
#6 DARTMOUTH (2-1) enters as the defending champion for Sir Michael Stoute, who’s only won this 10 times. Last year, The Queen’s colorbearer outdueled a less-than-fit Highland Reel on a rain-affected course. Although no slouch in quicker conditions too (see his second in the Canadian International), Dartmouth would have an edge if there’s any rain, particularly on top of ground that’s been watered all week to prevent it from getting too firm. The well-bred son of Dubawi tuned up in a similar way as he did in 2016. Then he was cutting back in trip off a score in the 13 1/2-furlong Ormonde (G3) at Chester, and now he’s coming off a victory in the 14-furlong Yorkshire Cup (G2).
#7 IDAHO (6-1), a younger full brother to Highland Reel, is eligible to improve with maturity as he did. Runner-up in the 2016 Irish Derby (G1) and third at Epsom, the Aidan O’Brien pupil broke through with a handy score in the Great Voltigeur (G2). He looked assured of a classic success in the St Leger (G1) when cruising into contention, only to stumble and unseat his rider as the odds-on favorite. Idaho went on a retrieval mission in the Canadian International, where he wasn’t helped by a snail’s pace and wound up a churning fifth. He reappeared as a non-threatening sixth behind Highland Reel in the Coronation Cup (G1), but ought to move forward markedly in this second start of the season. As logical as he is, Idaho needs to step up on what he’s shown so far versus the older brigade.
#9 MY DREAM BOAT (12-1) would be ranked higher if we could bank on rain. Indeed, trainer Clive Cox told Racing Post that he’s likely to scratch if conditions don’t change. So if he lines up after all, My Dream Boat is worth a long look as an upset candidate. He stunned future Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) heroine Found at the Royal meeting last summer in the Prince of Wales’s (G1), and although unable to back it up in subsequent starts, his fourth to Almanzor, Found, and Jack Hobbs in last October’s Champion (G1) was respectable. My Dream Boat is steadily rounding into form this term. His comeback third in the Gordon Richards (G3) at Sandown has worked out well, with the winner Ulysses returning to finish third in Wednesday’s Prince of Wales’s and Gordon Richards runner-up Deauville a bang-up third in Tuesday’s Queen Anne (G1). Upped to this 1 1/2-mile trip for the first time in the Aston Park (G3) at Newbury, My Dream Boat plugged on for second to front-running Hawkbill. That will have put him spot-on for the Hardwicke – if he gets the weather to cooperate. Note he could also sharpen up in first-time cheekpieces.
Aside from Wings of Desire, Gosden has two other worthies in #13 WESTERN HYMN (12-1), not the most consistent character but exits an up-in-time score in the Ormonde in first-time cheekpieces, and the similarly hit-or-miss #8 MUNTAHAA (10-1), winner of the John Porter (G3) two back who flopped behind Dartmouth in the York bog last out. Either is plenty capable if you catch him on the right day. Another who could outperform his odds is #11 SECOND STEP (15-1), who has back class as a Group 1 winner in Germany for former trainer Luca Cumani, and now once more on the upswing since switching to Roger Charlton.
4TH RACE, THE DIAMOND JUBILEE (G1)
#7 LIMATO (3-1) would have had this race at his mercy last year, but a rainy week prompted trainer Henry Candy to swerve the Royal meeting. It would be nightmarish, after four days bathed in sunshine and ideal conditions, if the rain arrives in time to dampen his chances again. That’s just what unpredictably happened before the Al Quoz Sprint (G1) on World Cup night, leaving him spinning his wheels behind French soft-ground aficionado The Right Man and American hope Long on Value. Limato was the worse for wear for all of his straining, returning home with pulled muscles. Candy’s got him ready to go here en route to a title defense in the July Cup (G1) at Newmarket, where he was positively electric last summer. Limato was already a high-class customer, having gone unbeaten at two, finishing runner-up to the dazzling Muhaarar in the 2015 Commonwealth Cup (G1) at this course and distance, trouncing them in the Park (G2), and rallying for an unlucky second in a course-record Prix de la Foret (G1). But he actually built upon that resume in 2016, adding the July Cup and Foret to his trophy cabinet. Knowing how top-notch he is sprinting on fast ground, I’ve got to keep faith with him here.
#9 MAGICAL MEMORY (6-1) was another adversely affected by the wet Royal Ascot of 2016, winding up a close fourth in this race, but sure to do much better if the quick conditions endure this time. A progressive handicapper at three, the Charlie Hills trainee captured the valuable Stewards’ Cup (a heritage handicap at Goodwood) and made the transition to the highest level when third in the Haydock Sprint Cup (G1). The gray continued his relentless progress at the beginning of 2016, taking both the Abernant (G3) and Duke of York (G2), until his half-length loss in the Diamond Jubilee. He lost his way in two remaining outings, and a setback thwarted hopes of making the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1). Magical Memory resurfaced to defend his title in the Duke of York, again finding unsuitably soft ground, but placed an excellent second to Tasleet in the circumstances.
#12 TASLEET (7-1), a useful two-year-old who missed all but the bookends of a sophomore campaign, is better than ever at four for William Haggas. Sheikh Hamdan’s colt had landed the 2015 Rose Bowl S. and lucrative DBS Premier Yearling Sales, placed second to then high-flying Shalaa in the Richmond (G2), and lost a heartbreaker in the Somerville Tattersall (G3). Victorious upon return in a three-runner Greenham (G3) (that had been transferred to Chelmsford’s Polytrack), Tasleet was sidelined six months until a forgettable run in the Challenge (G2) behind Aclaim. Any suspicion that he was a precocious type who didn’t train on was dispelled in the April 29 King Richard III at Leicester. Meeting defending champion Home of the Brave over seven furlongs, Tasleet was the only rival who got close to him in fast time. Back down to probably his preferred six-furlong trip for the Duke of York, Tasleet responded to first-time cheekpieces and rolled from off the pace to a daylight score. Although he now tries Group 1 company, his adaptability – regarding both tactics and ground – should redound to his benefit.
#14 THE TIN MAN (5-1) warrants respect as the winner of the British Champions Sprint (G1) over course and distance last October, and the James Fanshawe trainee stands to improve off his comeback fifth to Tasleet at York. The one concern is that he was a no-excuse eighth in this race a year ago. Perhaps it was just a bad day at the office, since he rebounded in the Hackwood (G3) at Newbury and finished runner-up in the Haydock Sprint Cup. Benefitting from being drawn on the “right side” of the track in the Champions Sprint, The Tin Man may get a similarly lucky turn in post 3 on Saturday. The stands’ side (higher numbers) were privileged earlier in the week, while by the end, the far side runners were better off. If that holds, The Tin Man and The Right Man (in post 2) may get the plum trip. But deciphering the preferable part of the track often demands a healthy dose of hindsight, and the weather conditions – coupled with the wise decision NOT to water overnight – could change the equation again on Saturday. The bottom line is that I wouldn’t be put off high-numbered draws of top contenders like Limato (in post 15) or Magical Memory (in 18) on speculation, but it might make sense to have a “saver” on the far side too just in case.
#5 KACHY (20-1) rates a live longshot off his runner-up effort to Quiet Reflection in last summer’s Commonwealth Cup (G1), as does #18 DANCING STAR (15-1), who elicited comparisons to her maternal relative Lochsong when winning the Stewards’ Cup last August. Both are drawn more toward the far side as well. #1 ACLAIM (20-1) excelled when stretching out to seven furlongs and a mile last year, but the more mature four-year-old is a fascinating type on the reversion to six. While his placement may have some commercial stallion appeal for his Australian-based owners, he was a real improver at the end of 2016 who may have more to offer. Forgive his debacle in the Lockinge (G1) (had an infection).
#13 THE RIGHT MAN (12-1) capitalized on the yielding ground to score a career high in the Al Quoz, where #8 LONG ON VALUE (20-1) missed by a hard-charging nose. It’s uncertain whether The Right Man would be a Group 1 threat on a better surface. Long on Value is not ground-dependent at all, but he might have a better chance if the big guns were stuck on rain-affected going again. Watch the weather in the morning, and the ground reports. Their stock will be boosted if there’s enough rain, added to the watering earlier in the week, to create loose ground.