Tuesday’s Royal Ascot card serves up a blockbuster of an opening day, highlighted by three Group 1 events.
The world-class action begins right off the bat with the first race, the Queen Anne (G1), newly added to the Breeders’ Cup Challenge program as a “Win and You’re In” for the Mile (G1) at Churchill Downs. If the European mile division is currently in search of a superstar, a few top performers proven over longer trips are eligible to seize the opportunity. Ability to stay farther is a plus when tackling Ascot’s stiff mile down the straight course.
Adding further piquancy to the narrative, an old-fashioned Coolmore versus Godolphin clash is in the offing courtesy of Aidan O’Brien’s Rhododendron and Benbatl from the Saeed bin Suroor yard. France’s Recoletos is prominent in the antepost market as well, and American-based Yoshida tries his luck for Hall of Famer Bill Mott.
Rhododendron, heroine of the 2016 Fillies’ Mile (G1) and the about 1 1/4-mile Prix de l’Opera (G1) on Arc Day, was arguably unlucky from post 14 when runner-up in last November’s Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1). A ring-rusty fourth behind Cracksman on reappearance in the Prix Ganay (G1), the Galileo filly reverted to a mile in the historically key prep for the Queen Anne, the May 19 Lockinge (G1), and narrowly prevailed over perennial bridesmaid Lightning Spear.
Benbatl scored his signature win of 2017 in the 1 1/4-mile Hampton Court (G3) at Royal Ascot, but the son of Dubawi became a celebrity at about nine furlongs during the Dubai Carnival this winter. Victorious in three of four at Meydan, Benbatl was last seen dismissing an international cast in the March 31 Dubai Turf (G1) on World Cup night.
Recoletos, a close third in the 2017 Prix du Jockey-Club (French Derby) (G1) and fourth behind Cracksman in the Champion S. (G1) at Ascot last October, has won both starts going shorter this term. The Carlos Laffon-Parias trainee rolled from off the pace set by his rabbit to take the Prix du Muguet (G2) and most recently the Prix d’Ispahan (G1).
Yoshida is himself cutting back in trip from his new career high in the 1 1/8-mile Old Forester Turf Classic (G1), where he outdueled Beach Patrol over a yielding Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day. Co-owners WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, SF Racing, and Head of Plains Partners are all involved in Triple Crown winner Justify too, so Yoshida aims to furnish one historic accomplishment on top of another. Jose Ortiz retains the mount aboard the Cox Plate (G1) invitee, who might mull taking on Winx Down Under in October.
Deauville, rerouted to the Lockinge after scratching from a soggy Old Forester, set the pace for stablemate Rhododendron before checking in fifth. As a closing third in the 2017 Queen Anne, however, Deauville is eligible to do better. Other contenders include multiple Group 1 sprint star Limato, still trying at a mile; Shadwell Turf Mile (G1) victor Suedois and upwardly mobile handicapper Lord Glitters (choosing the tougher option in lieu of Wednesday’s Royal Hunt Cup) for David O’Meara; feast-or-famine Beat the Bank; and progressive Diomed (G3) scorer Century Dream, who was supplemented.
The five-furlong King’s Stand (G1) features a hotly anticipated showdown between Wesley Ward’s defending champion Lady Aurelia and the Charlie Hills-trained Battaash.
Unbeatable over this course, Lady Aurelia was imperious in the 2016 Queen Mary (G2) during her juvenile campaign, and she meted out the same rough treatment to older males in last year’s King’s Stand. Yet the four-year-old Lady Aurelia does not enter in quite the same form. Unlike in 2017, when coming off a sharp score in the Giant’s Causeway at Keeneland, the daughter of Scat Daddy was overturned in the same prep by Triple Chelsea. That marked her third straight loss after a near-miss in the Nunthorpe (G1) and a flat 10th in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1). Indiana-bred Woodford (G2) hero Bucchero, fourth in the Turf Sprint, gives Americans an additional opportunity to cheer. The Tim Glyshaw charge exits a troubled third in the TwinSpires Turf Sprint (G3) on Kentucky Oaks Day.
Battaash fizzled in his first tilt at Lady Aurelia in the Nunthorpe, winding up fourth after frittering away too much energy in pre-race nerves. Hills took care to prevent a boilover in the Prix de l’Abbaye (G1) on Arc Day, and the Sheikh Hamdan colorbearer responded with a devastating performance. Battaash underwent surgery to correct an entrapped epiglottis in the off-season, and made a winning reappearance in the May 26 Temple (G2) over O’Brien’s deep closer Washington DC, Kachy, Palace House (G3) victress Mabs Cross, and old stager Muthmir.
Those looking for better value than the two short-priced favorites have a ready candidate in Godolphin’s Blue Point. Things haven’t gone right of late for the Charlie Appleby pupil, who was scratched at the gate of the Al Quoz Sprint (G1) on Dubai World Cup night and trailed home last after a frustrating trip in Hong Kong’s Chairman’s Sprint Prize (G1). But Blue Point is two-for-three at Ascot, including a course record-setting win in the 2017 Pavilion (G3) and a third in the Commonwealth Cup (G1), and shortening up could be the key. Also in the mix is French invader Finsbury Square, successful in the Prix du Gros-Chene (G2) in his first outing for Mauricio Delcher Sanchez.
The final Group 1 on day one, the St James’s Palace (G1) for three-year-old colts on the round mile course, pits veterans of the three marquee Guineas against up-and-comer Without Parole.
Trained by John Gosden for Justify’s breeders, John Gunther and daughter Tanya, Without Parole would have competed in the 2000 Guineas (G1) if not for a foot abscess. The son of Frankel regrouped and overcame lack of fitness to stay perfect in the Heron at Sandown, beating another intriguing prospect in Gabr.
Classic standard is set by Irish 2000 Guineas (G1) upsetter Romanised, who ran down the O’Brien trio of Middle Park (G1) and Dewhurst (G1) winner U S Navy Flag, Gustav Klimt, and Threeandfourpence at the Curragh. In defeat U S Navy Flag was still moving forward off a fifth in the French equivalent, where he stumbled on a bad patch of ground. Gustav Klimt was third in Ireland after a subpar sixth behind stablemate Saxon Warrior and 50-1 shot Tip Two Win at Newmarket.
The Roger Teal-trained Tip Two Win was overlooked thanks to wintering off the beaten path in Qatar, but he had been a listed winner and Somerville (G3) runner-up at two. The Guineas result looked good at Epsom, with third-placer Masar graduating to Derby over fellow Newmarket alumni Roaring Lion and Saxon Warrior, but its utility in the mile division remains to be seen.
Aside from U S Navy Flag, other notables from the French 2000 Guineas (G1) are near-misser Hey Gaman (now out) and Wootton, who lost his perfect record in fourth. Hey Gaman went on to finish a non-staying seventh in the French Derby, one spot ahead of Key Victory (who now is likely for Thursday’s Hampton Court [G3]). Two more have collateral form through French Derby principals – Glorious Journey (now running in Wednesday’s Jersey [G3]) was a close third in the Prix de Guiche (G3) and the supplemented Chilean beat future French Derby winner Study of Man in the Prix La Force (G3).
No fewer than 24 juveniles are set to compete in the Coventry (G2). Vying for early favoritism are Sergei Prokofiev, an O’Brien colt from the final crop of Scat Daddy who hacked up by four lengths in the Rochestown, and Juddmonte homebred Calyx, the first winner sired by Kingman when romping at Newmarket for Gosden.
We’ll also have handicapping features for each day of Royal Ascot right here.