The hottest antepost favorite of Royal Ascot 2018 will take center stage on Wednesday as Cracksman lines up in the Prince of Wales’s (G1). His towering presence is keeping the field relatively small for this “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), with a maximum of eight possible rivals pending Monday’s final declaration stage.
Scintillating in last October’s course-and-distance Champion S. (G1), Cracksman brings a five-race winning streak into the 1 1/4-mile prize. But he only just scraped home in the June 1 Coronation Cup (G1) last out, where he found himself further behind early and vulnerable to 33-1 front runner Salouen. Thanks to the quick thinking of regular rider Frankie Dettori, who switched him to the stands’ side rail, Cracksman surged in the nick of time and got up by a head.
Trainer John Gosden later revealed that the Frankel colt banged his head hard on the starting gate. If Cracksman had been seeing stars like a concussed cartoon character in the first half of the race, his lackadaisical run is even more excusable than his just not liking Epsom. Back at Ascot, we’re liable to see Cracksman back at the top of his game. The cutback from 1 1/2 miles should be no problem, considering that he’d aired in the 2017 Great Voltigeur (G2) and Prix Niel (G2) over the longer trip en route to his Champion heroics.
Champion runner-up Poet’s Word was no match for Cracksman that day, but the seven-length margin may have been inflated by the soft ground, and the progressive type can make it closer in the rematch. A typical Sir Michael Stoute improver, Poet’s Word was also second in last fall’s Irish Champion (G1) and a better-than-appears sixth from a poor post in the Hong Kong Cup (G1). After settling for second in Hawkbill’s wire job in the March 31 Dubai Sheema Classic (G1), Poet’s Word stamped his class in the May 24 Brigadier Gerard (G3) over this distance at Sandown.
Hawkbill comes off a surprisingly bad fifth behind Cracksman in the Coronation Cup, where he was third last season and the soft going should have suited him. Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby now shortens him up to the 1 1/4-mile trip that produced his first major wins in the Tercentenary (G3) at Royal Ascot and the Eclipse (G1) in 2016.
Cliffs of Moher is one of two entrants for Aidan O’Brien, but stablemate Hydrangea could stick with fellow distaffers elsewhere on the card. Just denied in last year’s Derby (G1) at Epsom, edging an immature Cracksman for second, Cliffs of Moher lost his way after a badly hampered fourth in the Eclipse. The Galileo colt has finally regained his old luster this spring, capturing the May 7 Mooresbridge (G2) and finishing runner-up to loose-on-the-lead Lancaster Bomber in the May 27 Tattersalls Gold Cup (G1).
Joining Cracksman and Cliffs of Moher in the 2017 Derby reunion is Eminent, a close fourth at Epsom. Ending the season with a front-running coup in the Prix Guillaume d’Ornano (G2) and a third in the Irish Champion, the Martyn Meade trainee unraveled in his May 11 comeback in the Huxley (G2).
Rounding out the cast are Group 3 winner Desert Encounter, third in the Eclipse at 50-1 and most recently third to Poet’s Word at Sandown; Morando, third in the Gordon Richards (G3) in his debut for Andrew Balding; and May 13 Premio Presidente della Repubblica (G2) romper Royal Julius.
One race earlier, the Duke of Cambridge (G2) would receive a boost if Hydrangea opts for the straight mile test. The Galileo filly rates as by far the class of the projected field, having garnered last fall’s Matron (G1) and British Champions Fillies & Mares (G1) in addition to placing in five Group 1s. Very much in need of the race when resurfacing in the May 26 Lanwades Stud (G2), Hydrangea did well to place second and stands to move forward here.
Aljazzi, last year’s Duke of Cambridge runner-up at 40-1, next scored in the Atalanta (G3) and just resumed with a third versus males in the April 27 Sandown Mile (G2). Godolphin’s Promising Run, who turned the Cape Verdi (G2)/Balanchine (G2) double during the Dubai Carnival, was last seen finishing fifth in the Dubai Turf (G1). Fellow Saeed bin Suroor pupil Arabian Hope, third in last July’s Falmouth (G1), is set for a belated 2018 bow. Wilamina, best of the rest behind now-retired Breeders’ Cup star Wuheida in the Dahlia (G2), broke through in the June 1 Princess Elizabeth (G3), while Tomyris made a winning return in the May 12 Chartwell Fillies’ S. (G3) over Lincoln Rocks.
The Wednesday action kicks off with the five-furlong Queen Mary (G2) for two-year-old fillies, and Wesley Ward’s Chelsea Cloisters is all the rage. Showing bags of speed in her Keeneland debut, the daughter of First Samurai will try to emulate Ward’s past Queen Mary winners Jealous Again (2009), Acapulco (2015), and Lady Aurelia (2016).
Of O’Brien’s possibles, unbeaten Fairyland floored odds-on Van Beethoven in the Marble Hill, but may join blueblood Just Wonderful in Friday’s Albany (G3), and So Perfect was a tough-trip fourth to Jessica Harrington’s well-regarded Servalan in the Fillies’ Sprint at Naas. Shades of Blue is attracting support for beating Queen of Bermuda in a course-and-distance maiden for Clive Cox.
In a case of going from one extreme to another, the next race is the 1 3/4-mile Queen’s Vase (G2) for three-year-old stayers. O’Brien has several in the mix at this stage, including Southern France, the early favorite on the strength of his Yeats S. victory at Navan, and multiple Group 3 scorer Nelson. Gosden’s recent Ascot maiden winner, Stream of Stars, is currently second in the market. Mark Johnston’s tough Dante (G2) runner-up, Mildenberger, is probably bound for Friday’s King Edward VII (G2) instead.
The Jersey (G3) has been repositioned as the Wednesday nightcap. But the seven-furlong sprint again showcases runners dropping down in class and trip from the classics. Juddmonte homebred Expert Eye seeks to redeem his once-lofty reputation that’s taken some knocks since last summer’s Vintage (G2), and fellow 2000 Guineas (G1) also-rans James Garfield and Headway should similarly find this spot easier. O’Brien’s filly Could It Be Love, a War Front half to Uncle Mo, nearly wired the Irish 1000 Guineas (G1).
Other contenders who didn’t go the classic route include Ward’s multiple stakes hero Hemp Hemp Hurray; Gosden’s Emaraaty and Purser, the King Charles II winner who was previously fourth to Gronkowski in the Burradon; and Gronkowski’s former stablemate Walk in the Sun, a €1.4 million Arqana purchase who tested positive after his last win. He’s since been transferred from Jeremy Noseda to Eminent’s trainer Meade.
We’ll post a handicapping feature after the Wednesday card is finalized.