Five favorites to watch at Royal Ascot 2020
Before new stars arise over Ascot, the Royal meeting attracts established celebrities. Here are five such performers, one for each day of Royal Ascot, as they seek further fame and fortune. Note that all of these early favorites also have various questions to answer.
Battaash – Tuesday’s King’s Stand
Twice runner-up to Blue Point in this 5-furlong sprint, Battaash hopes that his nemesis’ retirement to stud has opened the door for him. Antepost bettors certainly see it that way, with Sheikh Hamdan’s colorbearer backed into odds-on favoritism. Battaash is brilliant at his best, as his King George (G2) three-peat and Nunthorpe (G1) conquest reiterated last summer. And unlike the past two years, he enters straight off the bench, a pattern that historically works for him. The Charlie Hills veteran does have one lingering question: is he a little more vulnerable to a stronger finisher at Ascot?
Japan – Wednesday’s Prince of Wales’s
With Magical taking a little longer to launch her season, trainer Aidan O’Brien instead relies on Japan in this “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1). The English/Irish champion 3-year-old colt of 2019, he ranked as the European highweight in his division at this 1 1/4-mile distance. Japan progressed last summer, stringing together a three-race skein including the King Edward VII (G2) here, the Grand Prix de Paris (G1), and most significantly, the Juddmonte International (G1) over 2019 Prince of Wales’s hero Crystal Ocean. The only potential caveat for the hot favorite is that he hasn’t raced since his fourth in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1).
Stradivarius – Thursday’s Gold Cup
Two-time defending champion Stradivarius is odds-on to land a third Gold Cup (G1), equaling the feat of Sagaro (1975-77) exceeded only by Yeats’ astonishing four-timer (2006-09). Stradivarius was unassailable in the staying ranks for two seasons, until Kew Gardens snapped his 10-race winning streak in last fall’s British Champions Long Distance Cup (G2) on unsuitably soft going. That rival is sidelined, but the ground might be similar. The other quibble is that trainer John Gosden had to use a different prep thanks to the COVID-19 calendar, shortening up in the 1 1/2-mile Coronation Cup (G1), and we’ll see if his third-place effort brings him on to complete the hat trick.
Anthony Van Dyck – Friday’s Hardwicke
Last year’s Epsom Derby (G1) winner lost luster as the season progressed, but resurfaced with a terrific second to course record-smashing Ghaiyyath in the June 5 Coronation Cup. Strong support in the market points to the Hardwicke as O’Brien’s preferred target, and the quick turnaround shouldn’t be a problem for a colt who twice won off short rest as a juvenile. Yet he also flopped in his only try over this course in the 2019 King George VI & Queen Elizabeth (G1). To be fair, there were extenuating circumstances that day – an afterthought following the Derby, an experiment in cheekpieces, as well as softish ground that O’Brien regretted in hindsight. Depending upon how much rain pelts Ascot during the week, the course figures to have residual moisture Friday.
Pinatubo – Saturday’s St James’s Palace
Last year’s highly decorated juvenile sensation, Pinatubo is on a retrieval mission after losing his unbeaten record in the 2000 Guineas (G1). The Godolphin homebred ran respectably in third, so he doesn’t have that big of a restoration project. And given how he went from strength to strength for Charlie Appleby in 2019, it’s plausible that Pinatubo will improve from his Newmarket effort. Still, whenever a 2-year-old superstar is upset in his reappearance at three, the scruple is whether his contemporaries have caught up to him – and if he’s as effective at a mile.