Blessed. That is one word to describe how racegoers heading to Royal Ascot should feel on Friday. Not only has the weather been kind, the quality has been exceptional, and that thread continues with two Group 1 contests and some cracking shoulder races.
The Coronation Cup could not have provided a stronger field. This mile race for three-year-old fillies sees the heroines of all three 1,000 Guineas – the 1m Classic races run at Newmarket, the Curragh and Longchamp – clash for the first time in the £500,000 event.
Billesdon Brook caused a 66/1 shock in the Qipco 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket for Richard Hannon and jockey Sean Levey – and it seemed as much a shock to the trainer as it did to everyone else. She was, however, unexposed over the trip and coped well with faster ground.
On ratings, she is a shade below average Guineas winners in recent times, but the form has subsequently been boosted by runner-up Laurens who won the Prix de Diane, and the fourth home, Wild Illusion, who was runner-up in the Oaks.
Jessica Harrington is still waiting for her first Royal Ascot success, but has a fair chance of getting it with Irish 1,000 Guineas winner Alpha Centurai, who is a 4/1 shot with Genting Bet.
And the David Simcock-trained Teppal, narrow winner of the Poule d’Essai de Pouliches (French 1,000 Guineas) at Longchamp makes this a fascinating clash of the Classic winners.
Adding further intrigue is the Aidan O’Brien-trained Clemmie, who won the Group 1 Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket in September. She was fancied for the 1,000 Guineas but missed that engagement with a setback and should improve for her first outing of the season, where she was behind Alpha Centuri when tackling this trip for the first time at the Curragh.
It has also been great to see two of the elder statesmen of the game among the winners again this week. Sir Michael Stoute and Frankie Dettori team up with Veracious, who landed a well-contested maiden at Newmarket in October, but is making her seasonal debut. It is perhaps worth noting that her dam, Infallible, was a runner-up in the Coronation Stakes and she holds each-way claims.
Thirteen are set to go to post and a chance is taken that Alpha Centuari (4.10) can back up her Irish 1,000 Guineas success. She is rated 1lb superior to Billesdon Brook, although it would be no surprise to see Clemmie improve significantly from her tenderly-ridden seasonal bow.
As with any new race, there is a bedding-in period, but the Commonwealth Cup has been a boon to the sprinting division since its introduction three years ago.
The bold vision to fill a gap in racing’s calendar with a Group 1 sprint for three-year-olds has paid off, with each of the winners to date among the season’s top sprinters. The idea was to attract European horses who may have run in their respective Guineas races, but who may not have been suited by the mile distance.
Now the Commonwealth Cup has established itself as the premier, mid-season six-furlong sprint.
And the field of 22 for the £283,550 Group 1 event is a stellar one. The key form to consider is that of Haydock’s Group 2 Sandy Lane Stakes, which has been a significant trial for this race. Quiet Reflection landed that race en route to giving Karl Burke his first Group 1 success in Britain, while 2017 winner Harry Angel subsequently chased home last year’s winner Caravaggio.
Sands Of Mali, who was a high-class winner of the Gimcrack Strakes at York as a juvenile, won the Sandy Land Stakes last month, having taken a heavy-ground Group 3 event at Chantilly on his seasonal debut. Richard Fahey’s runner sets a high standard.
Given that this is likely to be a more strongly-run affair than the eight-runner Haydock race, runner-up Invincible Army (3.40) might reverse the form. James Tate’s runner previously landed a Group 3 at Ascot and is likely to be up with the pace throughout. He has a great attitude and will keep finding for James Doyle.
Others to consider are the Charles Hills-trained Equilateral, who looked a high-class colt when beating a decent field of novices by eight lengths at Doncaster on his seasonal debut, and Aidan O’Brien’s Sioux Nation, who won the Norfolk here last year before following up in the Group 1 Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh.
The opening Albany Stakes, a 6f Group 3 contest, contains 10 fillies who won last time out, six previous winners and two maidens. O’Brien likely holds the key to this, saddling Just Wonderful, a well-bred daughter of Dansili, who showed an eye-catching turn of foot to win her Curragh maiden.
American trainer Wesley Ward saddles Stillwater Cove, who won on her debut at Keeneland, Mark Johnston has Main Edition, who is unbeaten in her two starts, but preference is for the O’Brien-trained Fairyland (2.30pm), who followed up her Naas debut win with another in a Listed contest at the Curragh last month. She accounted for some decent colts that day and, back against her own sex, could take all the beating.
Quality comes thick and fast with the Group 2 King Edward VII Stakes, where DELANO ROOSEVELT (3.05pm, NAP) gets the verdict. He finished runner-up in the Derrinstown Derby Trial at Leopardstown and having got shuffled back in the Derby, was doing all his best work late. He may bounce back to take this 1m4f contest.
Just the 23 go to post for the 1m Sandringham Handicap over the straight mile. Good luck.
A chance is taken on the fitness of Poetic Charm (5.00), who has not been seen since landing a fillies’ conditions event at Kempton in September. She is bred to do better over this mile and is likely to be a good bit better than her current mark of 96.
The finale is the 1m4f Duke of Edinburgh Handicap, where 19 runners go to post. Blakeney Point (5.35), who won three Class 2 handicaps in 2017, gets the vote. Roger Charlton’s representative had the rust knocked off of him with a good effort in defeat at Goodwood after 228 days off and should give us a fair run for our money.
ROYAL ASCOT: 2.30 Fairyland, 3.05 DELANO ROOSEVELT (NAP), 3.40 Invincible Army, 4.10 Alpha Centauri, 5.00 Poetic Charm, 5.35 Blakeney Point
MARKET RASEN: 1.40 Strongarm Chaser, 2.10 Ilovemints, 2.45 Peculiar Places, 3.20 Minella Awards, 3.55 Marquis Of Carabas, 4.35 Champagne George, 5.10 Fortunes Hiding
REDCAR: 1.50 Knockabout Queen, 2.20 Showroom, 2.55 Angelina D’Or, 3.30 Mon Beau Visage, 4.50 Christmas Night, 4.45 Pepys, 5.20 Palmer
WETHERBY: 5.40 Jungle Juice, 6.10 Poetic Steps, 6.45 Fleetfoot Jack, 7.15 Allante, 7.50 Munthany, 8.25 Racehorse, 8.55 Canford Bay
NEWMARKET: 5.50 Slow To Hand, 6.20 George Villiers, 6.55 Journey Of Life, 7.30 Icart Point, 8.00 Rebel Surge, 8.35 Sawwaah, 9.05 Flying Foxy
AYR: 5.55 Thorntoun Care, 6.30 Good Boy Alfie, 7.05 Question Of Faith, 7.40 Parole, 8.10 Holmeswood, 8.45 Alsvinder, 9.15 Colour Contrast
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