Welcome to Day Three of our Group I previews for Royal Ascot. Here we focus on Thursday's sole top-level event: the Gold Cup. 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.
The Gold Cup is one of the world's premier events for true stayers, going two and a half miles over the grass. First run in 1807, the race is the oldest of the Royal Ascot meet. It has been run at Ascot through the vast majority of its history, though it moved to Newmarket during wartime periods (1917-18, 1941-44), and was run at York in 2005. It is the traditional feature race of the third day of the meet, Ladies' Day.
The local prep race, the Sagaro Stakes (GIII - ENG), is named after a dominant Gold Cup performer. Sagaro won three times, 1975 through 1977, becoming the first horse in the race's history to win three times. That record has since been surpassed by Yeats. The son of Sadler's Wells marked himself as one of the best stayers of all time by winning four consecutive editions of the race, 2006 through 2009.
Odds listed are William Hill odds at publish time. Odds will fluctuate based on bookmaker or pool.
Race 4: Gold Cup (GI - ENG), four-year-olds and up, two and one half miles on the turf, post time 4:20pm local time (10:20am Central time)
The horse to beat by most estimations is ORDER OF ST GEORGE. Just four years old this year, young for a stayer, he has a solid resume: five wins and three seconds in ten career starts, never out of the exacta at distances of longer than a mile. He won the Irish St. Leger Trial (GIII - IRE) easily last year, and followed that up with a devastating eleven-length triumph in the Irish St. Leger the next month. Put away for the winter, ORDER OF ST GEORGE returned at Leopardstown earlier in June, and posted an easy tune-up victory over the same mile and three-quarters distance as the St. Leger Trial and the Irish St. Leger. Therein lies the question about him, and why this space hesitates to take him at evens. He has never gone past fourteen furlongs. Today he goes twenty.
Sure, if ORDER OF ST GEORGE is the same horse at today's distance as he is at approximately three quarters of that, he wins. If you like him, play him in an exacta over a horse or two you really like. Play him in an exacta over a horse or two that we like. But, this space would rather take advantage of good prices that will certainly be elsewhere when a horse goes off at evens in a field of eighteen.
MAX DYNAMITE disappointed last out, finishing just third in the Henry II S. (GIII - ENG) going 2 1/16 miles at Sandown last out. Still, that was his first start since last November, and he should make better account of himself in his second start off the lay. That start in November was nothing to sneeze at: a second-place finish in one of the world's premier staying races, the Melbourne Cup (GI - AUS). In his start before that, MAX DYNAMITE took the spoils in the Lonsdale Cup (GII - ENG) going 2 1/16 miles over soft going at York, finishing four and a half lengths clear of second-place MIZZOU. That aptitude over softer going will help MAX DYNAMITE again here.
Three horses finished in a thrilling photo in the local prep for this race, the two-mile Sagaro Stakes on April 27: MIZZOU, CLEVER COOKIE, and FLYING OFFICER. Among the three, MIZZOU gets slight preference. Last year, he won the Sagaro by daylight, but disappointed a bit in the Gold Cup. Still, the Gold Cup was his first try at two miles, and he was just four. There is room for MIZZOU to be better this year, perhaps more strongly able to stay the two and a half mile trip. The Sagaro was his first start since that August race against MAX DYNAMITE, so he also has a right to step forward second off the lay. That Sagaro victory came on soft ground at Ascot, suggesting he should be ready to handle course conditions today. CLEVER COOKIE, the second-place finisher, could figure, but seems a bit short on upside: he is now in his fourth start off the winter lay, and at eight years old, there is probably only so much new he can show. It would be no shock to see him run well, but this space prefers third-place FLYING OFFICER just a bit more than that one. The Sagaro was FLYING OFFICER's first start off a lay since October of last year, giving him a place to improve second off the lay. He keeps Frankie Dettori in the irons, always a good man to have in your corner at Royal Ascot. FLYING OFFICER is pace-versatile, able to carve out the fractions or rally from well off the going. He is consistent, a winner of six of his ten career tries. Finally, his soft-ground form is excellent. FLYING OFFICER goes longer than two miles for the first time ever here, but he will be a solid enough price to gamble that he stays the trip.
#6 MAX DYNAMITE (8/1)
#8 MIZZOU (10/1)
#3 FLYING OFFICER (10/1)
Longshot: #4 FUN MAC (33/1) gets a stiff class test here, but there are a few suggestions that he could have a place chance at long odds. He has proven form at two and a half miles, having finished a close second in the Ascot Stakes last year as well as third at the distance behind MILLE ET MILLE and KICKY BLUE. Those were both on ground rated good, but he has strong back form over ground with more give in it. It will be his first race off the winter lay, but his only win last year came in his first start after a similarly long winter layoff. Of course, that race was in handicap company, and this is the Gold Cup. But, if FUN MAC can fire his best first off the lay once again, he has enough form at the distance and conditions to stand out as a longshot place chance.
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.