With no overwhelming favorites in any of the four Group stakes for Day 4 of Royal Ascot, there’s a potential for some surprises on Friday’s program.
1st Race, the Albany (G3)
#8 JUST WONDERFUL (3-1) is a Dansili filly out of Wading, a Group 2 winner as a juvenile and a full sister to Irish Oaks (G1) and Ribblesdale (G2) winner Bracelet, while her third dam is the remarkable Urban Sea. Her debut victory, achieved by a neck at the Curragh over six furlongs, keeps looking better with time. Runner-up Lethal Promise came back to win by more than six lengths at Naas, while third-placer Gossamer Wings missed by a head in Wednesday’s Queen Mary (G2) as a 25-1 chance. Looms a major danger.
#2 BYRON BAY (30-1) is one of several French raiders in the field. Debuted impressively at Chantilly in early May, lacking room in the early stages before turning in a quick burst of speed to seize the lead and spurting clear to win by 2 1/2 lengths. Open to improvement.
#1 ANGEL’S HIDEAWAY (10-1) turned in a professional-looking maiden score at Haydock second out for John Gosden, winning as she pleased by 2 1/4 lengths. Appears a strong traveler and could threaten the O’Brien-trained pair that figure to dominate the market.
#5 FAIRYLAND (5-2), unsurprisingly, has proven to be a precocious sort for O’Brien. Her second dam, Land of Dreams, won a Flying Childers (G2) and later produced Dream Ahead, who landed the Prix Morny (G1) and Middle Park (G1). She’s two-for-two, including a 2 1/4-length decision over males in the Marble Hill Stakes at the Curragh. The seven-figure yearling buy figures tough again.
Longshot: #14 OCTAVE (30-1) won first out on the all-weather at Lingfield, and last time was left in the wake of Calyx, the son of Kingman who looked an exciting prospect when taking the Coventry (G2) on Tuesday. While five lengths behind that one at Newmarket last time, she was six lengths clear of the next closest colt. Long-striding filly is a half-sister to Champlain, who won the Chesham Stakes at the 2006 Royal meeting held at York. #16 REPONSE EXACTE (20-1) debuted just six days ago, leading throughout in a newcomers race at Maisons-Laffitte for American ex-pat Gina Rarick. The margin was 2 1/2 lengths over soft ground, and interesting that they wheel right back and take a shot against this tougher group Perhaps a price to include if going deep in the vertical exotics.
2nd Race, the King Edward VII (G2)
#2 DELANO ROOSEVELT (5-2) has a big chance to be the third straight horse to exit the Epsom Derby (G1) and win this race, colloquially known as the “Ascot Derby,” after a number of years when that classic proved a relatively negative prep. A bit of “wise-guy” selection for minor honors leading up to the Derby, his odds eventually drifted to 16-1 and he could fare no better than sixth after a string of runner-up placings in dating back to the autumn. Though unproductive at frequently reaching the winner’s circle thus far, his form save the Epsom experience has been fairly solid, and Ryan Moore climbs back aboard for the first time since September.
#6 OLD PERSIAN (6-1) has won three of four on turf rated good, including a half-length score in the Fairway Stakes at Newmarket over 1 1/4 miles last time. While not a whole lot can be gleaned from beating just two rivals in that spot, his overall form this spring has been strong and the step up to 1 1/2 miles should be in his wheelhouse as he’s out of a full sister to Silkwood, who won the 1 1/2-mile Ribblesdale (G2) over this course in 2007.
#8 ROSTROPOVICH (3-1) was a handy winner of the Dee Stakes at Chester two back, and then was beaten less than five lengths when ninth in the French Derby (G1) at Chantilly, one of the few races that continues to elude trainer Aidan O’Brien. Has caught soft or heavy ground in three of his past four, and if his effort on the Roodee suggests anything, it’s that he’ll be more effective on the faster conditions likely to remain prevalent this week.
3rd Race, the Commonwealth Cup (G1)
#5 EQTIDAAR (15-1), a half-brother to Group 2 winner and classic-placed Massaat, is a colt with plenty of upside and should offer attractive odds in this spot. Though beaten twice by the more experienced #11 INVINCIBLE ARMY, one occurred on the all-weather last fall in the Sirenia (G3) at Kempton. The other was in their mutual season debut, the May 2 Pavilion (G3), over this course and distance. Invincible Army won for the second time in Group company by 1 1/2 lengths, but this one took a big step forward in that spot. Last time, in the Carnarvon Stakes at Newbury, Eqtidaar was severely compromised when forced to steady at the break and never reached serious contention while racing on an unfavorable part of the course. Willing to give him the benefit of the doubt for that run, his only one thus far on good ground. Should keep improving and perhaps can make some noise late with a better trip in this congested field.
#11 INVINCIBLE ARMY (7-1) enjoyed a solid juvenile campaign and, as mentioned, kicked off 2018 with a 1 1/2-length win over EQTIDAAR in the Pavilion (G3) over this course and distance. Just pipped by #14 SANDS OF MALI last time in the Sandy Lane (G2) at Haydock, his second loss in two meetings with that foe, but it appeared he got his nose past a stride or two after the wire. This race could set up better for him if Sands of Mali gets additional pressure from the outset. Figures hard to keep out of the frame with his best.
#15 SIOUX NATION (5-1), after a couple setbacks on soft and yielding ground, was back in the winner’s enclosure following the Lacken (G3) at Naas last time, re-claiming the form that saw him taking the five-furlong Norfolk (G2) here at 14-1 last year and, later, the Phoenix (G1) at the Curragh. The son of Scat Daddy beat several returning rivals in the Lacken and is undoubtedly one of the quicker contenders on form.
Longshot: #21 MAIN DESIRE (15-1), one of several fillies in the field, steps up in trip after winning her third straight over five furlongs at York in the May 17 Westow Stakes, in which she beat returning foes #10 HEY JONESY and #13 ROUSSEL. It was an impressive comeback for a filly that hadn’t competed in 363 days. She tracked early, responded generously with just over a furlong remaining and out-dueled Hey Jonesy to win by a neck. The extra furlong looks within her scope, but this is obviously stiffer competition. #14 SANDS OF MALI (7-1) has run just two clunkers, in the Middle Park (G1) and when stretching out to a mile in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1), but has otherwise been one of the best in his division. He’s bested Invincible Army in two meetings, by 2 3/4 lengths in the Gimcrack (G2) last fall, but by a much narrower Sandy Lane (G2) at Haydock last time. Captured the Prix Sigy (G3) in France, also in a photo, two back, so he’s been hanging tough under pressure in both tries this term. Might see quite a bit of that today, and will have to avoid regression off two demanding efforts.
4th Race, the Coronation (G1)
#12 VERACIOUS (15-1) is aggressively spotted by Sir Michael Stoute, now the all-time leading trainer at Royal Ascot after Poet’s Word’s upset of Cracksman in Wednesday’s Prince of Wales’s (G1). A highly-impressive maiden winner at Newmarket second out by four lengths over Winter Lightning (later to win the UAE 1000 Guineas and third in the UAE Oaks [G3]), this daughter of Frankel and Coronation runner-up Infallible missed an intended start in the 1000 Guineas (G1) back at Newmarket after a training setback in April. That race was won by 66-1 chance #5 BILLESDON BROOK, thus it could be argued Veracious might have fit well given the outcome. A half to Group 2 winner Mutakayyef, she obviously lacks the benefit of a run this year, thus her relative fitness can be questioned. She’s apparently highly thought of, though, and at a price can make an impact against a group that has not yielded a standout performer this year.
#3 ALPHA CENTAURI (7-2), who narrowly missed when well-backed in the Albany (G3) on this day a year ago, finally got the faster ground she needed in the Irish 1000 Guineas (G1) when registering a 12-1 upset of the Curragh classic last time by 1 3/4 lengths. The descendant of Miesque apparently struggled with softer conditions in two prior starts, but probably won’t have to encounter that issue if the forecasts are correct and it stays dry through the week. Logical contender.
#7 CLEMMIE (3-1), a full sister to dual classic winner Churchill, was a three-time Group winner last year, including the six-furlong Cheveley Park (G1). She disappointed, however, in the Albany in her lone previous try on this course. Very much expected to move forward from her ninth-place run in the Irish 1000 Guineas, a race she needed. Ryan Moore seemingly tipped his hat as much when opting for another mount that afternoon. He’s back on Ballydoyle’s lone representative here, but she has the look of an underlay.