Handicapping the 2021 St James's Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

June 13th, 2021

The St James’s Palace S. (G1), Royal Ascot’s fourth race at 11:20 a.m. (ET) Tuesday, is the marquee event for three-year-old milers. Held over the round course, the mile prize once again shapes up as a referendum on the 2000 Guineas (G1) winner.

A few of the Guineas also-rans are clearly better than they showed at Newmarket, so I’m expecting a reversal of form here. The greater difficulty is figuring out which rebound candidates to emphasize. If disappointing Guineas favorite Battleground makes a lot of sense, you can make a strong case for others at a price.

Top selection: #3 Chindit (8-1)

Chindit’s only losses have come at Newmarket, where he was well below his best in last fall’s Dewhurst S. (G1) on soft and a staying-on fifth in the Guineas. Otherwise, the Richard Hannon pupil is perfect, including a stylish victory in the 2020 Pat Eddery S. at Ascot. As the At the Races tweet below indicates, Chindit beat some useful juveniles that day.

The Wootton Bassett colt reiterated his quality in the Sept. 12 Champagne S. (G2) at Doncaster. The margin wasn’t flashy, but the time for seven furlongs (1:24.21) was faster than the Park S. (G2) for elders (1:25.12). Turning the page on his forgettable Dewhurst, Chindit returned a winner in the Apr. 18 Greenham S. (G3) at Newbury, where he got up in time.

Aside from the plus of getting away from Newmarket, Chindit is making an equipment change. Hannon has said that the noseband is coming off, and plans call for him to secure better early position.

Second choice: #12 Thunder Moon (12-1)

If Thunder Moon runs back to his stellar performance in last fall’s Vincent O’ Brien National S. (G1) at the Curragh, everyone else is in trouble. The Joseph O’Brien trainee had the gears of a racecar as he changed lanes in traffic and zoomed clear of Wembley; St Mark’s Basilica, now a dual French classic winner; future Guineas near-misser Master of the Seas, and the super-consistent Lucky Vega.

Thunder Moon accordingly was favored to follow up in the Dewhurst, but wound up third to St Mark’s Basilica and Wembley on ground that didn’t suit. Not seen again until the Guineas, Thunder Moon was studdish in the paddock, uninterested in racing, and trailed home last.

The son of Zoffany, who ran Frankel close in this race 10 years ago, has questions to answer now. But I can’t forget how he manhandled a top field in the quick conditions he’ll find here.

Third: #11 Poetic Flare (4-1)

A short head away from being a dual Guineas winner, Poetic Flare is yet another standout for breeder/trainer Jim Bolger. By Dawn Approach, Bolger’s Guineas and St James’s Palace hero in 2013, Poetic Flare was all heart in springing a 16-1 upset at Newmarket. He was sixth in the French equivalent, then wheeled back and just missed to stablemate Mac Swiney in the Irish 2000 Guineas (G1) on soft to heavy going.

Poetic Flare has every right to be involved in the finish again, between his tactical style and grit. Yet he’s not exactly the kind of dominant figure you’d associate with turning the Guineas/St James’s Palace double, and that makes him an arguably vulnerable favorite.

Beyond the question of confirming form with his old rivals who are eligible to bounce back, there’s the matter of a few class-climbers with real potential.

Fourth: #7 Maximal (20-1)

Frankel’s relative Maximal is fascinating on the cutback for Sir Michael Stoute, especially since he was well backed for Thursday’s Hampton Court S. (G3) at 1 1/4 miles. The Juddmonte homebred was a smashing winner over a mile at Sandown last fall, and he has finished second to such classy Godolphin runners as One Ruler (at seven furlongs) and Hurricane Lane (at 1 1/4 miles). Maximal gave Hurricane Lane, the future Dante (G2) winner and Epsom Derby (G1) third, all he could handle before being outstayed late. His most recent second in the Dee S. again represents solid form over further.

Pedigree hints that Maximal will find another level going shorter. While he’s by Galileo, dam Joyeuse (a half to Frankel) was a multiple stakes winner at six furlongs and Group 3-placed at seven.

I’m compelled to mention that #4 Highland Avenue (5-1) was my original fourth pick. Then Maximal was confirmed, Highland Avenue got stuck in post 12, and I overthought it. Although his unbeaten conqueror Mostahdaf is attracting a lot of market support, there’s no compelling reason why Highland Avenue can’t gain revenge.

In the Heron S. last out, Mostahdaf ground his way a half-length past in a slog on soft, while receiving three pounds. This rematch levels the playing field not only at the weights, but on a better surface. Highland Avenue had won three straight for Charlie Appleby, highlighted by the Feilden S. in good time. He could prefer that nine-furlong trip, but the son of Dubawi and the brilliant Lumiere is not lacking around a mile.

Exotics player: #6 Lucky Vega (7-1)

It’s unfair to relegate Lucky Vega to a footnote because he’s likely to garner a placing. Indeed, he has made the trifecta in five of seven starts, with legitimate excuses in the other two. Since taking last summer’s Phoenix S. (G1), the Jessica Harrington colt has placed in the Middle Park and Guineas at Newmarket, and he was a brave fourth in the Irish version. The return to quicker ground will help him. Lucky Vega would have more win appeal if he’d won beyond six furlongs, or drew better than post 11, so I see him more as the quintessential exotics player.