Probing for value on Royal Ascot Friday
After my so-called value options spectacularly failed in Thursday’s Group races at Royal Ascot, the consolation was that the winners were among the obvious players, and logical results are always welcome. That said, we’ll turn the page to Friday’s Group action, where the favorites may again hold a strong hand, but hopefully these price angles will perform up to their best and at least give a run for the money.
1ST Race, the Albany (G3)
The Aidan O’Brien duo of #8 JUST WONDERFUL (3-1) and #5 FAIRYLAND (5-2) are impeccable specimens, and they may well have the finish all to themselves. Just Wonderful went from 0 to 60 (metaphorically speaking) in a couple of strides in her maiden (beating Wednesday’s Queen Mary [G2] near-misser Gossamer Wings). Fairyland has been on cruise control in her wins, including the Marble Hill (over Thursday’s Norfolk [G2] third Land Force). If Fairyland has the advantage of a little more experience, Just Wonderful has a serious engine (and Ryan Moore).
Yet there are others who can make their presence felt. #1 ANGEL’S HIDEAWAY (10-1) was arguably unlucky in her Newmarket unveiling for John Gosden. Traveling at least as well as the front-running winner New Winds (who runs in Saturday’s Chesham), Angel’s Hideaway became unbalanced when brushed by that rival, a miscue possibly exacerbated by going into the Dip. Cheveley Park’s €390,000 Goffs Orby purchase showed a willing attitude to get back into stride for a closing third. New Winds has since won again, as has the runner-up Beyond Reason (also in the Chesham). Angel’s Hideaway had a smoother passage next time at Haydock, again moving easily on the bridle and striding clear. I’m baffled by the morning-line price on #14 OCTAVE (30-1), who pummeled all but one of her male rivals (giving them a pound too) at Newmarket – that one exception being the superlative Calyx, Tuesday’s Coventry (G2) romper. The Mark Johnston filly had been a bit green on debut over Lingfield’s Polytrack, but quickened out of the pocket and lengthened well to get up in time. By Dawn Approach and a well-related granddaughter of triple Oaks heroine Diminuendo, Octave is in the shadow of unbeaten stablemate #10 MAIN EDITION (7-1), a powerful galloper who gains momentum the farther she goes. But even though Main Edition has bragging rights as the yard’s first-stringer, the odds differential between them is exaggerated.
2ND Race, the King Edward VII (G2)
#9 WELLS FARHH GO (7-1) suffered his first loss in his reappearance in the Dante (G2), where he was unsuited by the sit-sprint tempo and wound up sixth (in a blanket finish for third). The seventh, Crossed Baton, rebounded with a runner-up effort in Thursday’s Hampton Court (G3), and I expect Wells Farhh Go to fare much better on the step up to 1 1/2 miles. With O’Brien’s three-strong posse involved, the pace figures to be lively enough, and it would be ironic if Ballydoyle tactics play into the hands of this Tim Easterby pupil. From the first crop of Farhh, Wells Farhh Go boasts Galileo as his broodmare sire, Nashwan as his second dam’s sire, and the prolific Rosia Bay (of the Ouija Board family) as his third dam. So I take it as a positive sign that he won both starts over seven furlongs as a juvenile at York, significantly the Acomb (G3) over the very smart two-year-old James Garfield. The good-to-soft ground turned both into greater stamina tests that helped his cause, but it’s too soon to tell if he’s really ground-dependent. One final theory from his Dante: Mildenberger, the clear second to Roaring Lion that day, would have been a major threat here. Wells Farhh Go was only a couple of lengths behind Mildenberger, and second up in a race that figures to set up better, he could take a leap forward.
So far O’Brien has been unassailable in the longer stakes for three-year-olds this week, with Kew Gardens leading home a clean sweep of the trifecta in Wednesday’s Queen’s Vase (G2), Hunting Horn dominating Thursday’s Hampton Court, and Magic Wand likewise turning in a career-best in the Ribblesdale (G2). Like Kew Gardens, the classy #2 DELANO ROOSEVELT (5-2) seeks a return to form after a rare subpar effort in the Derby (G1). Progressive stablemate #4 GIUSEPPE GARIBALDI (10-1) would be interesting if he’s not there just to ensure a good pace, while #8 ROSTROPOVICH (4-1) is a hit-or-miss type experimenting on the stretch-out.
3RD Race, the Commonwealth Cup (G1)
#11 INVINCIBLE ARMY (7-1) has been admirably consistent at a high level, winning or placing in eight of nine starts, beginning with his second to future Derby hero Masar. Although twice runner-up to #14 SANDS OF MALI (7-1), in the Gimcrack (G2) at two and most recently in his near-miss Sandy Lane (G2), Invincible Army is eligible to turn the tables on the change of venue, and with the dynamics of a big field. Sands of Mali is a tough front runner to peg back at courses like York and Haydock, but the stiff six at Ascot, with likely pace pressure drawn nearby, complicates his task. Invincible Army has the advantage of being proven over the course, resuming with a comfortable victory in the Pavilion (G3). The son of Invincible Spirit and Group 1 vixen Rajeem projects a stalk-and-pounce trip.
My ever-sharp colleague, Vance Hanson, has tabbed #5 Eqtidaar (15-1) on top – and I find the other Sheikh Hamdan colorbearer, #4 ENJAZAAT (20-1), rather stealthy. At two, Enjazaat’s record is spotty, alternating sharp wins with dreadful losses. It’s revealing that he had wind surgery last fall, implying that maybe breathing problems were responsible for his flops. In that context, his comeback third to Invincible Army and Eqtidaar in the Pavilion was cause for quiet optimism – it was neither feast nor famine, but virtue as the mean between both extremes. You could infer that Eqtidaar’s the better of the two (presumably why Sheikh Hamdan’s rider Jim Crowley has now transferred his allegiance, leaving Dane O’Neill to pick up the mount on Enjazaat). But I’d argue that Enjazaat was compromised by the soft going that day, and Eqtidaar wasn’t. Enjazaat needs better conditions, which he’ll get here. My case rests on his good-looking victory in last summer’s Ripon Champion Two-Year-Old Trophy over Tip Two Win, the future 2000 Guineas (G1) runner-up (and fourth in Tuesday’s St James’s Palace [G1]). By Acclamation and descended from a relative of Group 1-winning sprinter Owington, Enjazaat can outperform his big price. Zayat Stables’ hopeful #9 GIDU (20-1) has the all-important Frankel sire angle in his corner, along with plenty of ability. Amid all of the variables, though, he’s liable to be an underlay on this side of the pond.
The hunt for value in this six-furlong scramble is particularly keen because the one who brings the brightest star quality, #6 EQUILATERAL (4-1), is also the one taking the steepest class hike. The Juddmonte blueblood, a “nephew” of Cityscape and Bated Breath, has won two of three in the manner of an absolute beast. But he’s a frightful price for a horse yet to see stakes company, let alone a Group 1, and he’ll either run off the screen or combust. His rival at the head of the market, #15 SIOUX NATION (5-1), has the opposite profile: he lacks razzle-dazzle but has stolidly built a resume as last year’s Norfolk and Phoenix (G1) hero and last-out Lacken (G3) scorer. Sioux Nation would be eminently logical, but the temptation is to cast about for back-ups for a horse who won’t be confused with fellow Scat Daddy, Caravaggio.
4TH Race, the Coronation S. (G1)
In this clash of Guineas winners to decide the top three-year-old filly miler, a onetime classic prospect is entering under the radar – #11 THREADING (15-1). Shaping as a rising star last summer, the Johnston pupil drubbed them in her Goodwood debut and passed her first class test with flying colors in the Lowther (G2) at York. But she was a bitterly disappointing seventh behind #7 CLEMMIE (3-1) in the Cheveley Park (G1) at Newmarket. That was palpably below form as proven by the Lowther runner-up Madeline, who finished third in the Cheveley Park. Threading returned to Newmarket for her seasonal reappearance in the Nell Gwyn (G3) and again checked in a poor seventh. But back up north at York, the real Threading found herself and outclassed a short field by seven lengths in the Michael Seely Memorial. Unbeaten in all starts away from Newmarket, she has every right to display her true ability at Ascot, like other progeny of Exceed and Excel who tend to favor the course. She is also out of a full sister to the late, great Dubai Millennium.
The 1000 Guineas (G1) form has been franked in several classics, so the 66-1 upset winner, #5 BILLESDON BROOK (5-1), cannot be discounted here. Note that Billesdon Brook, like Threading, also failed to sparkle in the Nell Gwyn before righting the ship. The Irish 1000 Guineas (G1) form of #3 ALPHA CENTAURI (4-1) likewise strikes me as generally stronger than the French equivalent, and the descendant of Miesque is poised to deliver her best on this kind of ground. If there’s any to take out of Paris, it’s #8 COEUR DE BEAUTE (10-1), who just missed from a horrible post, but faces fiercely quick conditions here. I’m torn by #12 VERACIOUS (10-1). While I love her as an individual, she was only “50-50” as late as last week to make the Coronation, thanks to the setback that had cost her a Guineas tilt. Perhaps Stoute’s giving her the green light is sufficient, yet it’s still a big ask.
Remember to consult the betting guide too. Good luck and happy Day 4!
Royal Ascot scenic by Frank Sorge/Horsephotos.com