Keeping it Simple on Thursday at Royal Ascot
More than happy that our astute Vance Hanson takes over for the Thursday and Friday Royal Ascot selections, I’ll just pipe up from the peanut gallery to add a few thoughts.
Full disclosure: this is more impressionistic, and not exhaustively researched as my Tuesday and Wednesday material. That might be for the best, since I haven’t twisted myself into an overanalytical pretzel.
The Norfolk (G2): It may be significant that #4 FROZEN ANGEL (10-1) met with some inconvenience when trying to rally between horses in the National S. at Sandown. Once able to feel comfortable enough in his own space, the Tom Dascombe trainee finished strongly and came up a length shy of front-running Havana Grey. The $217,470 Goffs yearling had previously romped in a maiden over this course and distance, propelling him to 7-4 favoritism for the National. Aside from the trip handicapping angle, there’s also a form dimension. National fourth Sound and Silence (winner of the Newmarket maiden in which Frozen Angel was a clueless last on debut) came back to take Tuesday’s Windsor Castle. I swore I wouldn’t mention more than one horse in these quick takes, but must note that Richard Fahey reportedly tabbed #7 IT DONT COME EASY (8-1), a juvenile course record-setter at Musselburgh last out, as his next-best chance after Ribchester, who won Tuesday’s Queen Anne (G1)
The Hampton Court (G3): I’m very curious to see how #2 BAY OF POETS (12-1) gets on as a first-time gelding. The Godolphin runner has some smart bits of form to his credit this season, checking in a sneakily-good third to Cracksman in the “Derby Trial” conditions race at Epsom and runner-up to Cliffs of Moher in the Dee at Chester. Cliffs of Moher and Cracksman went on to finish a close second and third in the Derby (G1). Bay of Poets instead went to Chantilly for the French version, beaten three lengths into seventh, and trainer Charlie Appleby promptly had him gelded. As a horse who’s shown talent without quite putting it together, the operation could be the making of him. We’ll know more after Thursday, but he might be worth using in combination with the obvious fancies.
The Ribblesdale (G2): Totally biased in favor of #8 MORI (3-1), the daughter of Frankel and Midday, whose Ascot maiden win and victory in Goodwood’s Height of Fashion strongly suggested she wants every yard of this 1 1/2-mile trip. Will this be a time when blind loyalty works?
The Gold Cup (G1): If defending champion Order of St George isn’t able to repeat, I hope #13 SIMPLE VERSE (8-1) is the one who takes advantage. I loved her sire, Duke of Marmalade, and he’s transmitting his admirable toughness along with plentiful stamina. Broodmare sire Sadler’s Wells, second damsire Darshaan, and third damsire Nijinsky II add to her potent pedigree, which combined with her performances on course, give me faith that she’ll handle 2 1/2 miles. Trainer Ralph Beckett has explicitly said he’s been eager to test her beyond two miles, convinced she’ll see out the trip.
Also in her favor is her implacable attitude, as evidenced when winning the wrestling match with Aidan O’Brien’s colt Bondi Beach in the 2015 St Leger (G1) – where she appeared the more physically dominant combatant. Simple Verse has run well in two of three starts at Ascot, landing the 2015 British Champions Fillies & Mares (G1) and grinding late for a close third in last October’s British Champions Long Distance Cup (G2) over two miles. In the latter, Order of St George was a subpar fourth when wheeling back 13 days after his third in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1). This, in contrast, is his prime objective.
Simple Verse prepped in the May 19 Yorkshire Cup (G2), also versus males, and missed by a neck in a blanket finish. She was just edged by Hardwicke (G2) winner Dartmouth, whom she never saw on the opposite side of the course. Had he been alongside, Simple Verse might have found extra with her battling nature fully engaged. In any event, considering that she’s historically needed a couple of runs to reach peak form, that five-year-old debut was a lot stronger than you might have expected. I’m taking it as a sign of a top effort here. Fingers crossed she’s fighting out the finish.
P.S. I usually don’t get into the ultra-competitive handicaps, but glancing at the King George V, noticed that another promising Frankel, #12 ATTY PERSSE (5-1), is in the line-up. A debut winner at Sandown last September, the Roger Charlton pupil was subsequently scooped up by Godolphin. He returned to the same track and one-mile distance for the Esher Cup, and got up despite a nightmare trip in the stretch. There was talk of possibly contesting a Derby trial, but Charlton preferred to take a more conservative route. Just as well, since Atty Persse was toppled as the even-money favorite last time in a 1 1/4-mile handicap at Haydock, but he was conceding eight pounds to the winner. Now he gets in with just 122 pounds, and adds cheekpieces, in the step up to 1 1/2 miles. Since his dam, stakes victress Dorcas Lane, placed in the 2011 Ribblesdale, he’s eligible to cope with the added ground. I mention him in light of his home reputation, and in hopes that he goes well and onto better things.