A vintage renewal of the Gold Cup (G1) highlights Day 3 of Royal Ascot on Thursday, also known as Ladies Day for those fortunate enough to be in attendance.
1st Race, the Norfolk (G2), “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint
#1 CHARMING KID (12-1) had an interesting debut at York on May 16 over five furlongs. Squeezed a bit at the start, he raced near the back until halfway when he darted through an opening in the middle of the pack, showed a little greenness drifting toward the stands’ side rail after taking the lead, but maintained his advantage to post a half-length win. It’s also worth noting that he was beginning to show signs of illness in the preliminaries yet still won.
“He had a bit of a dirty nose after winning on debut at York,” said trainer Richard Fahey as reported at Sportinglife.com. “It’s funny, he coughed twice going round the parade ring there and four days later it had surfaced. We cleared that up and he had his Ascot gallop on Monday and we were delighted with him. He has natural speed and is very genuine.”
#10 SHANG SHANG SHANG (2-1) is the only U.S. representative here from trainer Wesley Ward, who won this in 2013 with No Nay Never. She’s also the only filly in the field, thus gets three pounds from the boys. A daughter of 2012 champion juvenile Shanghai Bobby, she was a stellar debut winner at Keeneland on April 26, completing 4 1/2 furlongs in :51 and earning a 91 BRIS Speed rating. She won by 2 1/4 lengths over fellow Ward pupil Moonlight Romance, who romped next out over the Belmont turf. She might have too much speed for these.
#4 KONCHEK (9-2) won a relatively lucrative maiden at Newmarket on the 1000 Guineas undercard in early May, and last time in the National Stakes at Sandown was hung wide throughout the five-furlong dash and missed catching #9 VINTAGE BRUT (5-1), who raced closer to the pace and was able to save ground. His dam, Soar, was a precocious juvenile, finishing second in the Queen Mary (G2) at Royal Ascot before taking the Princess Margaret (G3) and the Lowther (G2).
Longshot: #5 LAND FORCE (12-1), by Ward’s Norfolk winner No Nay Never, is already a veteran of three starts, including two tries at six furlongs at the Curragh. Made no headway in the Marble Hill Stakes last time and lost second late to a fellow Aidan O’Brien trainee in his first attempt on nominally fast ground.
2nd Race, the Hampton Court (G3)
#5 KEY VICTORY (4-1), a winner on debut last October at Newmarket against two next-out winners (including MASAARR), stepped up successfully to 1 1/4 miles on May 5 when taking the Newmarket Stakes over next-out Fairway Stakes winner Old Persian. Upped in class for the French Derby (G1) in which he was sent away at 11-2, the son of Teofilio did okay to finish within 3 1/4 lengths of the winner, Study of Man, in his first encounter with soft ground. He’ll get his preferred faster conditions here and remains an exciting prospect with plenty of upside. He’s a half-brother to Group 1 winner Blair House and is from the family of top-level winner Poet’s Voice.
#15 WADILSAFA (10-1) reversed form with Herculean, to whom he lost his debut by a half-length at Ascot last fall, in his May 18 comeback at Newmarket over a mile, displaying potential in a dominating 3 1/4-length decision. One of many in the field bred to be a pattern-race type, he’s by Frankel and out of the Epsom Oaks (G1)-placed Rumoush, a half-sister to 1000 Guineas (G1) and Coronation (G1) winner Ghanaati that has produced the Group performers Talaayeb and Muntazah.
#4 HUNTING HORN (5-1) finished one length ahead of Key Victory in the French Derby, outrunning his 25-1 odds as well as some Aidan O’Brien stablemates that were preferred in the market. Previously third in the Sandown Classic Trial (G3) and Chester Vase (G3), the latter to Young Rascal and eventual Epsom Derby (G1) runner-up Dee Ex Bee, there’s little doubting his relative class will carry him a long way here.
Longshot: Second-time starter #8 MINI P (30-1) nearly pulled off a massive upset in his debut at Newbury, but his smoothly-made bid from the back was halted in the final yards as he went down by a neck over this trip. Aggressively spotted here, he has the pedigree to get better as a son of New Approach and out of a half-sister to Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) winner Karakontie. The aforementioned #7 MASAARR (20-1), only a modest fourth last time in the London Gold Cup Handicap at Newbury last time when backed to 11-4, is perhaps capable of better and can get sneak into the lower rung of exotics with improvement.
3rd Race, the Ribblesdale (G2)
#2 ATHENA (8-1), after a slow start to her career, has appeared to turn a corner of late. She was still a maiden when finishing two lengths second in a stakes at Newbury two back, the winner being the exciting Sea of Class, who is now bound for the Irish Oaks (G1). She finally graduated at Fairyhouse on May 31 in her seventh attempt, and was obviously not asked to go all out in that one. She should appreciate the step up in trip to 1 1/2 miles. She’s by Epsom Derby (G1) winner Camelot and her half-sister, Bracelet, won the 2014 Ribblesdale and Irish Oaks. Her second dam was Urban Sea, the gift that keeps on giving. Besides foaling Galileo and Sea the Stars, Urban Sea is also the fourth dam of this year’s Derby winner Masar.
#6 MAGIC WAND (5-1) was the preferred entry among the five Aidan O’Brien fillies in the Oaks at 4-1 following a 3 1/2-length score in the Cheshire Oaks over Forever Together. This half to Irish Oaks winner Chicquita perhaps wasn’t suited to the Epsom layout and/or the soft ground. A return to better form wouldn’t surprise.
#10 SUN MAIDEN (5-2), despite racing greenly while well ahead, walloped maiden foes in her first test on the turf last out at Salisbury, winning by 12 lengths over 1 1/4 miles and swiftly rising in ante-post betting for this race. While a relative lack of experience is a concern, the daughter of Frankel is bred to be any kid. She’s a half-sister to multiple Group 1 and Breeders’ Cup winner Midday, who in turned reared 2017 Ribblesdale runner-up Mori, also by Frankel.
#1 WILD ILLUSION (2-1) was the only Group 1 winner in the field for this year’s Epsom Oaks (G1) and finished a credible and clear second to Forever Together as the 5-2 favorite. That followed a fourth in the 1000 Guineas (G1) behind upset winner Billesdon Brook and runner-up Laurens, who bounced back to claim the Prix Saint-Alary (G1) and French Oaks (G1) in photo finishes. Her form is hard to knock, relatively speaking, but she must concede three pounds to the rest of these after taking the Prix Marcel Boussac (G1) on Arc day last fall. It’s also worth noting that, contrary to conventional wisdom, exiting the Epsom classic is often not the way to the Ribblesdale winner’s enclosure. Last year, Coronet was the first Oaks participant in nine years to come back and win this. We’ll lean against for the win at a short price.
4th Race, the Gold Cup (G1)
#6 VAZIRABAD (9-2) takes his first crack at this 2 1/2-mile test after being withdrawn from consideration a year ago. France’s leading stayer of recent seasons, his form both there and in Dubai, where he’s won three straight editions of the Dubai Gold Cup (G2) on World Cup night, is virtually impeccable — 15 wins from 22 starts, with five seconds. He’s stayed this trip effectively with a win and a narrow loss in the last two runnings of the Prix du Cadran (G1), can handle any surface conditions, and, for a stayer, has a decent turn of foot. In a Gold Cup renewal brimming with talent and depth, he represents the betting value.
#9 STRADIVARIUS (2-1) landed the prestigious Goodwood Cup (G1) at three last season over 2017 Gold Cup winner Big Orange, which came on the heels of a Royal success in the Queen’s Vase (G2). Perhaps not quite as good on soft ground when third in the St Leger (G1) and British Champions Long Distance Cup (G2), he returned with a vengeance last month with a facile, odds-on success in the Yorkshire Cup (G2). The son of Sea the Stars is still an entire colt and has the potential to have a massive year for trainer John Gosden and jockey Frankie Dettori, who teamed up to win three of the six races on Tuesday’s opener. Still an unknown beyond two miles, though, and the price will be short.
#2 ORDER OF ST GEORGE (9-5) is reportedly coming into this better than ever. He’s won five of his last six, the only setback being when he stepped down in trip to finish fourth in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) over 1 1/2 miles. Winner of the 2016 Gold Cup, he was kept at bay by Big Orange by a head last year, but got his revenge last fall on the softer ground he likes (and that Big Orange doesn’t) in the British Champions Long Distance Cup, which he got up late to nab from TORCEDOR, with STRADIVARIUS third. The latter will attempt to reverse the form of the Distance Cup on faster ground and will be tough, though the extra half-mile may well favor Order of St George. This one and Vazirabad have yet to meet, so this should be an outstanding, belated first battle between the two best stayers in Europe. As noted before, price dictates our preference.
Longshot: #1 MAX DYNAMITE (20-1), a past winner of the Lonsdale Cup (G1) and a two-time place-getter in the two-mile Melbourne Cup (G1), is arguably not classy enough to pull off the upset, but definitely has a chance to outstay some of these. Seemingly below form when 6 3/4 lengths fourth to Stradivarius in the Yorkshire Cup in his return to the flat after two spring hurdle attempts. #5 TORCEDOR (8-1) has finished behind Order of St George three times since upsetting that one in the Vintage Crop (G3) early last year. A distant fifth in the Gold Cup a year ago, he enters off a monster five-length score in the two-mile Sagaro (G3) over this track.