Every duke, earl, and peer is at Royal Ascot this week...and so is Picks and Ponderings.
Ascot runs races much of the year, but its marquee event is the Royal meet. It features a week of top-class turf racing, with the richest prizes of the year. This year's meet runs from Tuesday, June 14 through Saturday, June 18, with eight Group I events through the week.
If you plan to punt on what colour the Queen will be wearing on the first day, you're on your own. But, should you plan to bet the ponies, we can help. This year, we will be previewing the Group I races throughout Royal Ascot. We will have one race preview that covers each race day. This piece covers the Group I events on the first day of the meet -- and, with three, the first day is the day most rife with Group I races.
Going forward, Wednesday's card features the Prince of Wales's Stakes, a mile and a quarter for older horses. Thursday's sole Group I is the Gold Cup, a true marathon at two and a half miles. Friday features two Group I events for three-year-olds: the Coronation for fillies at a mile and the Commonwealth for open sophomores at six furlongs. Saturday closes out the five-day festival with the Diamond Jubilee at six panels.
Prices listed are William Hill odds as of original publish time. Odds will fluctuate based on bookmaker or pool.
Queen Anne Stakes (GI - ENG), four-year-olds and up, one mile (straightaway) on the turf, post time 2:30pm local time (8:30am Central time)
This race is the first of the Royal Ascot meet. It began its life as the Trial Stakes in 1840, but was renamed in 1930 to honour the founder of Ascot Racecourse. Open to ages three and older for most of its history, its minimum age was raised to four in 2003, the same year when it was first accorded Group I status. Several of its winners have made their mark on American shores. 1913 Met Mile winner Whisk Broom won this race in 1910. In the modern era, 1994 Breeders' Cup mile winner Barathea (1994), 2000 Breeders' Cup Turf winner Kalanisi (2000), and three-time Breeders' Cup Mile winner Goldikova (2010) all took the spoils in the Queen Anne.
Goldikova wins a tight finish in the 2010 Queen Anne.
There has been plenty of talk stateside about rabbits, thanks to Creator and Gettysburg. We will talk about them some more here. BARCHAN is at 200/1 or 250/1 at most of the major English books, and with good reason. But, he's not here to win -- he's here to make pace for BELARDO. That tactic worked brilliantly in the Lockinge Stakes (GI - ENG) last out, and could work very nicely here. That last-out win also came over soft going -- a point in his favour, given the week's rain. He has form at Ascot, too. In his only previous race at Ascot, last fall's Queen Elizabeth II (GI - ENG), BELARDO finished second beaten just 3/4 length by the world-class Solow. That also happened over soft ground. BELARDO is in the right form, he gets a pace target, and he runs well with cut in the ground.
ERVEDYA comes into the Queen Anne second off a layoff, having finished second in the Prix du Muguet (GII - FR) in her return. She won the Coronation Stakes (GI - ENG) going a mile over good ground at Royal Ascot last year, showing she can ship out and that she can run on this course. ERVEDYA also has no shortage of form over soft going. That includes a Group I win against males over soft ground at Longchamp last year, also going a mile. Her form over the distance is impeccable: in six starts, she has three wins and three seconds. She is the model of consistency and class: 11-7-3-1 lifetime, with her last nine starts all against group company in France or Great Britain.
Finally...we come to TEPIN. Some wonder how well she will handle the going. Her connections maintain she should handle it well, and this space agrees with Team Casse. She has done her most brilliant work over a waterlogged Keeneland course, making her one of the few American horses who moves up in a bog. Expect her to do her thing: sit off of speedier types like BARCHAN and TOORMORE, and unleash her turn of foot. Of course, there are still the usual questions about TEPIN as there are with any horse travelling overseas for the first time, about how she'll handle the ship, or how she'll run in a race without Lasix. She will almost certainly be an underlay in American pools, though there is enough of a chance that she runs to it that we discuss her here. But, if you have a buddy in Britain who can run to the betting shop and put a few quid on her for you, this space encourages you to take them up on their offer, and perhaps to ask us if we could get in on those prices too. The prices on her in UK markets are getting better and better the softer the turf gets, and it would be no surprise for TEPIN to prove she is the world-class miler so many already think she is.
#4 BELARDO (9/2)
#12 ERVEDYA (4/1)
#14 TEPIN (5/1)
Longshot: There are several ways one could go with this. With better ground, COUGAR MOUNTAIN would appeal, with some pace to chase and #SuperJockey (Ryan Moore) in the irons. Even AMAZING MARIA would get a bit of consideration here second off the lay, if there were better ground. However, given the condition of the turf, #6 ENDLESS DRAMA (6/1) gets the longshot call. Having only run five times, he has plenty of room to take a step forward. He is second off a yearlong lay, but his first race back was solid: a third behind BELARDO in the Lockinge. The ground should suit ENDLESS DRAMA as well; the going was soft for the Lockinge, and he finished in the money over both soft and heavy ground last year. He has some pace versatility, too, turning in consistent efforts from either a closer stalking spot or rallying from further off. A step forward second off the lay puts ENDLESS DRAMA realistically into this, and he stands to be the right price to bet that happens, given the money the top three will take.
King's Stand Stakes (GI - ENG), three-year-olds and up, five furlongs on the turf, post time 3:40pm local time (9:40am Central time)
The King's Stand Stakes started as an attempt to make the best of a bad situation. The Royal Stand Plate was run over a distance of two miles, but all but five furlongs of the course were unusable. They ran the race over that five furlongs instead, calling it the Queen's Stand as Queen Victoria had the throne. It was renamed the King's Stand in 1901 due to the accession of King Edward VII, and has retained that name since. Named a Group I in 1973, it was demoted to a Group II in 1988, but regained its top-shelf status in 2008. Since 2005, it has been part of the Global Sprint Challenge, a series of races in Asia, Australia, and Europe designed to attract the best sprinters in the world. Though no horse has achieved a King's Stand - Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint double, Last Tycoon (1986) stretched out and won the Breeders' Cup Mile later that year as a 36/1 bomb. Dayjur (1990) came close to a different double: he appeared to have put away Safely Kept in the 1990 Breeders' Cup Sprint, but he jumped a pair of shadows near the wire, allowing Safely Kept to come back and win by a neck.
1990 King's Stand Stakes winner Dayjur lets Safely Kept back past him in the shadow of the wire in the 1990 Breeders' Cup Sprint.
There were originally two American shippers slated to run in the King's Stand. ACAPULCO, winner of the Queen Mary (GII - ENG) at Royal Ascot last year, has been declared a non-runner due to the ground. She may run in Friday's Commonwealth Cup (GI - ENG) should the turf improve. Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint winner (and familiar face from Arlington) MONGOLIAN SATURDAY does run. Should he bring his best with Florent Geroux back in the irons, he could contend. If we stateside could get the 20/1 that William Hill is offering right now, MONGOLIAN SATURDAY merits a punt. But, as he remains unproven on such soft ground as we will see here, and has yet to put all the pieces together while trotting the globe, the American pools will most certainly be underlaid.
MECCA'S ANGEL is the proven sort here, and it is difficult to knock her on her merits. She has six wins and four seconds at twelve starts at the distance, including a sharp victory over ACAPULCO in the Nunthorpe (GI - ENG) last summer. She should be forward, but does not need to make all, and can kick on late in the game. That style should serve her well. Finally, MECCA'S ANGEL has beautiful form over soft going. She rarely loses going five furlongs over soft turf. However, she did miss by a neck last out, in her first start off a winter lay -- to PROFITABLE. MECCA'S ANGEL should be sharper second off the lay -- but with PROFITABLE in here third off his winter break, let's take a bit of a price shot. He was clearly not yet this class of horse last year at age three. He made good account of himself in handicap company, but found Group I types too much last year. In last year's Nunthorpe, he was a well-beaten 10th behind MECCA'S ANGEL. But, after a long winter, he seems a better sort at four. Though he had not yet won in group company, his connections thought well enough of him to start him for the year in the Palace House Stakes (GIII - ENG) at Newmarket in April. He won, beating many of the foes he will face today. He returned the next month in the Temple Stakes (GII - ENG), and outdid MECCA'S ANGEL. PROFITABLE is rapidly improving, was good enough to beat MECCA'S ANGEL over ground with some cut last time, and will be a square price to do it again. PROFITABLE is the more profitable bet.
WAADY makes his third start of the year. He has been third in five-furlong races over soft ground in both of his races this year -- in fact, third behind PROFITABLE both times. Both of those starts came over soft ground, making him attractive in a race with so many horses who do their best over ground rated good. He also gets a switch to Frankie Dettori in the irons, never a bad person to have in your corner on a big race day. He also had an admirable consistency in these five-furlong dashes: in seven tries, he has five wins, and the aforementioned two thirds behind PROFITABLE. WAADY would have to take a serious step forward to beat the top two, but he is showing more class so far this year than last, and is still lightly raced enough to improve.
#14 PROFITABLE (9/2)
#20 MECCA'S ANGEL (7/4)
#18 WAADY (11/1)
Longshot: Beyond the top three, pickings are slim given the condition of the ground. #6 JUNGLE CAT (16/1) had been going longer, but has cut back smartly to five-furlong dashes this year. He finished second beaten a nose in the Meydan Sprint (GIII - UAE) and was a creditable fourth in the Al Quoz (GI - UAE), a good start at the distance for a horse who had been mainly going six and seven panels before that. He has raced once since Dubai. There, his form goes through PROFITABLE: he was second beaten half a length by that one in the Palace House. He had a poor run over soft ground at age two, but it ws his last race of the year. That better recent try over ground with cut makes JUNGLE CAT a bit more attractive Tuesday than he otherwise would be, and a step forward from that outing at Newmarket gives him an each-way chance.
St. James's Palace Stakes (GI - ENG), three-year-old colts, one mile (round) on the turf, post time 4:20pm local time (10:20am Central time)
This race was inaugurated in 1834, and named for the royal residence built in the 1530s. Throughout its history, it has been a mile race for three-year-olds. Unlike the Queen Anne, which is run over a straightaway, this race is run over the round "Old Mile". Originally a Group II, when race grades were introduced, it was promoted to a Group I in 1988, and has maintained that status ever since. Iroquois, a stakes namesake at Churchill and the first American-bred winner of the Epsom Derby, also won the St. James's Palace in 1881. Though no horse has won both the St. James's Palace and a Breeders' Cup race, one came close: Giant's Causeway (2000), who fell just a neck short behind Tiznow in the Classic later that year.
Prominent sire Giant's Causeway gamely prevails in the 2000 St. James's Palace Stakes.
No North American sophomores ship for the St. James's Palace this year. Just one of the horses in the field has raced on these shores so far: CYMRIC, who made his way stateside and ran a disappointing eighth behind Hit It a Bomb in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (GI). He may be better sprinting, and most likely shows up here as a rabbit for fellow Godolphin interest EMOTIONLESS. We will get to EMOTIONLESS later, though it suffices to say that even with a rabbit there to give him a pace target (and stop FIRST SELECTION from having things soft up front), the "Godolphin A" will have to take a big step up to make his mark here.
It would be no surprise to see either AWTAAD, THE GURKHA, or GALILEO GOLD win this race. They are the three top contenders for good reason. They have class. AWTAAD and GALILEO GOLD have both shown progression from two to three. Though THE GURKHA did not race until age three, he has quickly marked himself as a class horse to be reckoned with. All three have also shown some form over ground with cut, a must given the recent weather at Ascot.
The razor-slight edge goes to AWTAAD here. He has won all three of his starts this year by daylight, including a sharp win over GALILEO GOLD in the Irish Two Thousand Guineas (GI - IRE) on May 21. It was his group level unveiling, as well as his first try at a mile. He has back form over soft ground as well; two back, he prevailed going seven furlongs at The Curragh over ground rated soft. Splitting between him and THE GURKHA was quite hard, making AWTAAD the pick because he stands to be the slightly better price. However, THE GURKHA warrants serious respect, too. All three of his starts have come at a mile. He was third in his debut at Leopardstown over heavy ground, but romped next out in a one-mile maiden over soft ground at Navan. Next out, in his group-level unveiling, he won the Poule d'Essai des Poulains (GI - FR) easily over FIRST SELECTION. He keeps Ryan Moore in the irons from that pair of wins, and should be fine with the soft ground.
GALILEO GOLD is going to be a bit longer price than these two, but may not quite have the upside as the more lightly-raced pair. Still, he has shown plenty of class this year, winning the Qipco Two Thousand Guineas (GI - ENG) at Newmarket, and finishing a creditable second to AWTAAD in the Irish version last out. Frankie Dettori had the call on GALILEO GOLD in both of those outings, and returns today. His form over soft ground was excellent both at two and at three, something that should also work in his favour here.
#1 AWTAAD (7/4)
#7 THE GURKHA (11/8)
#6 GALILEO GOLD (11/2)
Longshot: #4 EMOTIONLESS (12/1) won his first two starts last year, though came out of his disappointing run in the Dewhurst Stakes (GI - ENG) with a chip in his knee. One must wonder whether he is the same horse after the injury, much less whether he has taken a step forward from two to three. But, he should get some sort of a pace target with both CYMRIC and FIRST SELECTION in the field, and does not need to be too far off the going to begin with, as he showed in the Champagne Stakes (GII - ENG). EMOTIONLESS also keeps his regular rider in William Buick, a point in his favour. Take a look at him physically before the race -- if he looks fit, strong, ready, and composed, he may merit an each-way flyer.
You can take "Picks & Ponderings" with you anytime, anywhere. You can get Twitter updates @picksponderings for on-scene reports from Arlington International Racecourse. And you can get "Picks and Ponderings" in your e-mail by typing your email address in the box and clicking "Create Subscription." It's a FREE service, and you'll never get any unwanted spam.