Royal Ascot starts with a bang on Tuesday, the opening card highlighted by a trio of Group 1 events. The full schedule, including post times, is accessible on the TwinSpires.com Royal Ascot page.
Let’s dive right into the selections for the features:
1ST RACE, THE QUEEN ANNE (G1)
#11 MUTAKAYYEF (7-1) is a tempting price for a high-class horse who will get his optimal conditions. A perennial bridesmaid earlier in his career, the Shadwell colorbearer discovered a new attitude after being gelded. He promptly won two straight, putting on a domineering display in the 2016 Summer Mile (G2) here (on the round course) that marked him as very smart. Up in class and trip for the Juddmonte International (G1) at York, Mutakayyef proved himself a bona fide Group 1 performer with a bold rally for third to Postponed and Highland Reel. He could well have finished closer but for Postponed’s drifting across his path. In any event, that formline was about as good as it got. The son of Sea the Stars next tried Tepin in the Woodbine Mile (G1), but his kick was blunted on the less-than-firm surface, and he settled for third. It was a similar story in his 2017 debut in the Dubai Turf (G1), where he caught an unusually yielding course at Meydan. Although traveling well early – every bit as well as Ribchester – Mutakayyef just couldn’t quicken in the conditions and he plugged on for fifth. After being knocked out by the long journey, he was given time to regroup. Trainer William Haggas decided to point him straight to the Queen Anne, a wise strategy considering how well Mutakayyef has historically run fresh. On Tuesday, the ground promises to be ideal for him, and the projected rollicking pace down the straight mile should suit a horse who stays 10 furlongs. That makes Mutakayyef a live upset candidate.
#13 RIBCHESTER (4-5) rates as the rightful favorite, as he brings the gold standard of miler form into a race that tends to be pretty formful. Improving throughout last season for trainer Richard Fahey, the Godolphin runner was third in the 2000 Guineas (G1) before outclassing them in the Jersey (G3) over this course. His progress was visible with his rattling third in the Sussex (G1), and he earned his Group 1 laurel next out in the Prix Jacques Marois (G1). Ribchester arguably moved forward again to come within a half-length of Aidan O’Brien’s star filly Minding in last October’s Queen Elizabeth II (G1) at this track and trip. Reappearing in the Dubai Turf over nine furlongs – his first try beyond a mile – he did very well to be on the engine throughout and just get run down late in third. Ribchester tuned up for the Queen Anne by romping in the key prep, the Lockinge (G1) at Newbury, where he controlled the pace on soft ground. That was very much Plan B, since his pacemaker, Toscanini, totally flubbed the start and Ribchester found himself on the lead. Now Toscanini hopes to make amends by giving his star stablemate a proper pace set-up.
#10 LIGHTNING SPEAR (9-2) also has a rabbit in tow (Dutch Uncle) in hopes that will finally help him overcome Ribchester. Third to Tepin in last summer’s Queen Anne on soft going, Lightning Spear later earned his breakthrough in Goodwood’s Celebration Mile (G2). But he’s yet to peg back Ribchester, finishing unplaced in the Sussex and Marois, third in the QEII (where he raced mostly on the unfavorable side of the track), and most recently second in the soggy Lockinge. As with Mutakayyef, lightning fast ground will benefit him, and the David Simcock charge will be doing his best work late.
#15 MISS TEMPLE CITY (20-1) has a better shot than her morning-line odds imply, as a two-time Grade 1 winner over males last term and with plenty of experience here. The Graham Motion mare is more mature now than in her first trip to Royal Ascot, when fourth to Ervedya and Found (the eventual Breeders’ Cup Turf [G1] and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe [G1] winner) in the 2015 Coronation (G1). In last year’s venture for the Duke of Cambridge (G2), Miss Temple City was unlucky to find a soft course as the 131-pound highweight, making her fourth-place effort more commendable than it might look on paper. Similarly, her fourth in the Diana (G1) was the result of an unlucky passage, and her fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) was in part a function of proximity to an insane early pace. Indeed, Miss Temple City had beaten BC Mile winner Tourist in their prior start, the Shadwell Turf Mile (G1). The Queen Anne figures to unfold more to her liking. Although unraced since her Matriarch (G1) victory in December, Miss Temple City defeated males in the 2016 Maker’s 46 Mile (G1) off a similar layoff, and Motion has been pleased with her fitness level.
#3 DEAUVILLE (12-1) cuts back to a mile for the first time since his juvenile days, in an apparent change of direction by Aidan O’Brien, who supplemented him to this race. The Galileo colt has been best suited to about 1 1/4 miles, but he enters in good heart off a series of solid efforts. Although unlikely to have the gears to win a Queen Anne, the race shape could bring out the best in him, and Deauville is worth considering for the exotics.
(The 2ND Race, the Coventry [G2], is analyzed on the TwinSpires.com blog, wherein I dabble with #16 ROMANISED at 12-1 and #7 DENAAR at 6-1.)
3RD RACE, THE KING’S STAND (G1)
#12 SIGNS OF BLESSING (6-1) has appeal in a frenetic renewal of this five-furlong dash. There’s no Hong Kong or Australian invader this time, but the French speedster held his own on the world’s toughest sprint circuit when fifth in last December’s Hong Kong Sprint (G1). Taken out of his pacesetting game from the start by breaking on the far outside post 13, Signs of Blessing nevertheless managed to rally from last – despite going wide off the turn at Sha Tin – and produced a sparkling final sectional (about a quarter-mile) in :22.21. On the straight course at Ascot last year, the Francois Rohaut trainee ran two fine races, but didn’t quite get home over six furlongs. In front for a long way in both the Diamond Jubilee (G1) at the Royal meeting and the British Champions Sprint (G1) in October, he was just swallowed up in deep stretch and relegated to third and fourth, respectively. Although Signs of Blessing scored his signature win in the about 6 1/2-furlong Prix Maurice de Gheest (G1) at Deauville, the stiffer test at Ascot saps him, so shortening up in trip here could be the answer. The Invincible Spirit gelding couldn’t have looked any better in his seasonal reappearance, treating 137 pounds like a feather when hacking up in the Prix de Saint-Georges (G3) over defending King’s Stand champion Profitable. Signs of Blessing’s effortless early foot suggests he could attend the pace without necessarily trying to wire them, and his six-furlong Ascot form offers hope he can stick around longer than the other pace factors.
#16 MARSHA (3-1) checks the proverbial boxes, having already beaten males at the Group 1 level and employing a closing style in a race loaded with speed. The Sir Mark Prescott pupil burst onto the stage last June with a jaw-dropping victory in the Land O’Burns at Ayr, cantering all over them as if not taking a deep breath. Next seen in York’s City Walls S., Marsha ran down a very good type in Easton Angel (who’d been second to Acapulco in the 2015 Queen Mary [G2]), leaving the old stager Muthmir in third. After a pair of creditable performances in defeat, Marsha sprang a 16-1 upset in the Prix de l’Abbaye (G1) on Arc Day, defeating Washington DC and a few other King’s Stand rivals. If there were any doubt if she’d back that up this season, she erased it in the Palace House (G3). She bested Washington DC again, giving him weight. Thus Marsha reportedly became the first female since legendary Lochsong to defy her seven-pound Group 1 penalty in that Newmarket sprint. Now she gets a three-pound weight break from the boys. Out of a three-quarter sister to multiple champion mare Soviet Song, Marsha promises to deliver another terrific effort from off the pace.
#18 LADY AURELIA (5-2) may be able to duplicate her Queen Mary heroics over this course and distance, but it’s worth taking stock of the historical perspective. Three-year-old filly winners of this race are rare enough in general, and no Queen Mary winner has come back to turn the double. (A few have placed, the last being 1985 Queen Mary scorer Gwydion, third in the 1986 King’s Stand.) To find a filly who won any Royal Ascot stakes at two and added the King’s Stand at three, you’ve got to go back 61 years to the Aga Khan’s Palariva. Of course, Lady Aurelia might well be the kind of otherworldly talent to rewrite the record book. Yet her two-year-old form hasn’t stood up particularly well over time, and she bled when trying to carry her speed in last fall’s Cheveley Park (G1) (over an extra furlong at Newmarket). Trainer Wesley Ward openly described how relieved he was when Lady Aurelia scoped clean after her work at Ascot last week, revealing that he didn’t want to put much pressure on her in the build-up. Finally, the King’s Stand hasn’t been kind to favorites in recent years. In the last decade, only two favorites won, and both were Australians. At a short price, taking on history and a crack field of elders, it won’t be a shock if she’s upset. While she’s much too good to leave out, she may be best used defensively.
#14 WASHINGTON DC (15-1) has twice been beaten by Marsha elsewhere, but the O’Brien colt has also turned in two of his better efforts at Ascot. Successful in the 2015 Windsor Castle at this track and trip as a juvenile, he was third in last summer’s Commonwealth Cup (G1) going six furlongs. He apparently needs a strong pace over a stiff track, which he’ll get here. With a bit of luck, he’s not far off winning one of these big ones, and at a minimum, he’ll probably make the frame.
#17 PRICELESS (10-1) captured the most productive prep over the last decade, the Temple (G2). But she got the jump on slow-starting #5 GOLDREAM (12-1), the 2015 King’s Stand winner, who ran exceptionally to close for second, and he’s eligible to turn the tables. #9 MUTHMIR (15-1), third to Goldream here two years ago, hints that he could be back to his best after regaining his title in the Prix du Gros-Chene (G2). They may all be double-digits, but none would be a surprise.
4TH RACE, THE ST JAMES’S PALACE (G1)
#2 CHURCHILL (3-5) offers no value whatsoever as a prohibitive odds-on favorite, but the Ballydoyle bruiser simply has the knack for winning. Since his educational third on debut, the Galileo blueblood has reeled off seven in a row. Churchill broke his maiden here in the Chesham at the Royal meeting, ended the season as Europe’s champion two-year-old, and kept on rolling through the Guineas double at Newmarket and the Curragh. For whatever it’s worth, I’ve long considered him better than Gleneagles, O’Brien’s last dual Guineas winner to add the St James’s Palace in 2015. Barring bad luck or an unforeseeable regression, Churchill has the look of a banker who won’t need a bailout.
#1 BARNEY ROY (2-1) is the best argument against Churchill, since he all but fell down in the Dip at Newmarket and only lost the 2000 Guineas (G1) by a length. As a lightly raced type making only his fourth start in this spot, Barney Roy has a world of potential. After an eye-catching debut score at Haydock, the Richard Hannon pupil was snapped up by Godolphin. He made his sophomore bow in the Greenham (G3) at Newbury, mowing down Godolphin’s better-fancied Dream Castle to win going away. The Guineas was a trial by fire, and Ascot’s round course should be more easily navigable. The one sticking point is that if Barney Roy is sure to have progressed in the interim, so has Churchill. By that line of reasoning, he may have more than one length to find. His sire, Excelebration, was best known for playing second fiddle to Frankel. Will Barney Roy fill the same role?
#7 RIVET (20-1) is an overlay, thanks to his forgettable jaunts to France for the Poule d’Essai des Poulains (G1), the Guineas equivalent in which he was third, and his subpar eighth in the French Derby (G1). But if you focus only on his British form, the Haggas sophomore fits well. Rivet ran down Thunder Snow in full flight in last September’s Champagne (G2), and after a flat fifth to Churchill in the Dewhurst (G1), he wired the Racing Post Trophy (G1). Resurfacing in the Craven (G3) over Newmarket’s Rowley Mile, he tried the same forward tactics, only to yield to Eminent in race-record time. The Craven form didn’t work out in the Guineas, but it did take on stronger proportions after Eminent finished a close fourth in the Derby (G1) with Craven third Benbatl a barnstorming fifth at Epsom. Rivet needs to do better to challenge the top two, but Fastnet Rock progeny can improve with age, and he may have more scope for development.
#4 LANCASTER BOMBER (20-1) has been used as Churchill’s pacemaker, but that hasn’t prevented him from hanging tough as long as the ground is on the firm side. Toss his efforts on rain-softened tracks, and he’s right in the exotics mix. #8 THUNDER SNOW (8-1) recovered from his Kentucky Derby (G1) debacle to chase Churchill home in the Irish 2000 Guineas (G1). It’s difficult to envision a scenario in which the Godolphin colt can turn the tables, especially since he couldn’t take advantage of the yielding ground at the Curragh.
For more information on all of Tuesday’s races, consult the free PPs.