September 22, 2023

Royal Ascot sneak preview: Thursday

Order of St George aims to regain his Gold Cup crown (Photo courtesy of Champions Series via Twitter)

Continued from Wednesday’s Royal Ascot forecast


Royal Ascot post times here

The Norfolk (G2), as a five-furlong sprint for two-year-olds, has some crossover with Tuesday’s Coventry and Windsor Castle. As of this writing, Ward’s McErin is the early favorite. Aside from the ubiquitous O’Brien, whose plans are still being ironed out, unbeaten Santry could hardly have looked more exciting at York, Frozen Angel was an inconvenienced runner-up to Havana Grey in the National at Sandown, and Nine Below Zero is two-for-two for Ralph Beckett.

[Update: At the final declaration stage, Sioux Nation was the only Aidan O’Brien entrant, but son Joseph O’Brien has a better fancied prospect in True Blue Moon.]

The 1 1/4-mile Hampton Court (G3) for sophomores (now back to its original name after spending a few years as the Tercentenary) serves up a clash between Juddmonte’s Mirage Dancer and Godolphin’s Benbatl (plus whichever O’Brien gets the assignment). Mirage Dancer, a son of Frankel and Heat Haze, was last seen fourth in the Dee at Chester, while Benbatl cuts back in trip off a strong rallying fifth in the Derby (G1) at Epsom.

[Update: Aidan O’Brien relies on Orderofthegarter and Taj Mahal. Each last seen in the French Derby, Taj Mahal was used as the pacemaker and held fourth while Orderofthegarter closed for sixth. But earlier Orderofthegarter had readily beaten Taj Mahal in the Leopardstown 2000 Guineas Trial and rates the stable fancy on the booking of ace rider Ryan Moore. Godolphin has three remaining, with Dee runner-up Bay of Poets (most recently seventh in the French Derby) and Chester Vase (G3) fourth Tamleek joining Benbatl. And the Michael Halford-trained Irishcorrespondent, third in the Irish 2000 Guineas, is garnering support on his step up in trip. ]

The Ribblesdale (G2) pits O’Brien’s Alluringly and Gosden’s Coronet, the respective third and fifth in the Oaks (G1) at Epsom, against exciting Juddmonte homebred Mori. By Frankel and out of Midday, Mori stretches out to 1 1/2 miles after a good-looking stakes debut in the Height of Fashion. Vintage Folly from the Hugo Palmer yard, runner-up to French Oaks (G1) threat Shutter Speed in York’s Musidora (G3), will gain even more adherents if the form is franked at Chantilly Sunday.

[Update: Vintage Folly was withdrawn from consideration. And as a footnote on her formline, Shutter Speed was only fourth in France.]

Order of St George is a warm order to win the 2 1/2-mile Gold Cup (G1) for the second year in a row, and O’Brien’s latest star stayer served notice of intent with a fluent prep in the Saval Beg (G3). Among those standing in his way are Beckett’s outstanding mare Simple Verse, the 2015 St Leger (G1) victress; enthusiastic pace factor Big Orange, winner of the past two Goodwood Cups (G2) and most recently the Henry II (G3); Sheikhzayedroad, third in last year’s Gold Cup, and his frequent foe Quest for More; Torcedor, who upset Order of St George in his Vintage Crop (G3) comeback; and Cesarewitch heroine Sweet Selection, winner of the Sagaro (G3) over the course.

Thursday’s card concludes with a pair of handicaps for three-year-olds. The Britannia, a heritage handicap down the straight mile, has been known to yield recruits for Hong Kong buyers. The 1 1/2-mile King George V gives Frankel another chance of a Royal Ascot winner, with Godolphin’s well-regarded Atty Persse in the line-up for Roger Charlton.

Continued in Friday’s Royal Ascot forecast