Royal Ascot Juvenile Spotlight: Tuesday’s Coventry conundrum

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

June 19th, 2017

When coming up with selections for Tuesday’s Group 1s at Royal Ascot, at least there was a form hierarchy to go by, even if sifting through it forced some tough decisions.

The executive summary version: I give #11 Mutakayyef (7-1) a shot to upset form choice Ribchester in the Queen Anne (G1), #12 Signs of Blessing (6-1) and Marsha as possibly besting Lady Aurelia in the King’s Stand (G1), and stick with #2 Churchill (3-5) over Barney Roy and longshot Rivet in the St James’s Palace (G1). Detailed analysis, outlining more contenders, is available over on the piece.

But for the two-year-olds in the Coventry (G2), carded as Tuesday’s 2ND race, the picture is much murkier. The market, usually a guide, is pointing to a tepid favorite without rallying decisively around him. Sure, it might end up being as easy as Aidan O’Brien, Wesley Ward, or Richard Hannon, in which case everything will look oh so logical in hindsight.

Yet given the uneasiness in the early betting, I wonder if this isn’t one of those times for a dark horse to jump up at a price. In an 18-horse field brimming with promising, unexposed types at different rates of development, there’s no shortage of candidates. So I find myself in a tug-of-war between the present and the future, whether to go with the prototypical sharp two-year-old, or one whose debut I loved but smacks of a horse more for later down the road.

Perhaps with more sentiment than sense, I’ll give a marginal preference to the long-term prospect with fingers crossed that the future might be now for #16 ROMANISED (12-1). If he were from a higher-profile yard than Ken Condon’s, he might be half that price. The three-quarter brother to Hong Kong standout Designs on Rome (who was himself Group 1-placed as a juvenile in Ireland) deployed a stirring turn of foot to upset a loaded maiden at Navan in his only start. Showing the ability to take up a close stalking position, angle off the fence like an old pro, and lengthen late, Romanised won in a style suggesting a bright future.

Although the runner-up was beaten since, the third-placer was O’Brien’s $2.6 million Declarationofpeace, who went on to crush a maiden and appeared to be the yard’s prime Coventry hope. He’s instead been rerouted to Tuesday’s Windsor Castle, leaving Murillo (whom the market originally pegged as O’Brien’s secondary chance) to emerge as the Ballydoyle number one here. Interestingly, the fourth-placer in Romanised’s maiden was subsequently second to Murillo. Even the fifth-placer has come back to run well, underscoring the depth of that Navan contest back in April.

Romanised had a “little setback” after his maiden, Condon told, but he’s since been delighted with him. The very fact that a half-brother to such thoroughgoing stayers as Fictional Account and Rock of Romance could win first up, in April, at this six-furlong trip, could be a hint of his raw ability. Perhaps he’s taking more after his sire, Holy Roman Emperor, a multiple Group 1-winning juvenile for O’Brien.

Condon has given Romanised some fancy entries, including the Phoenix (G1) and Vincent O’Brien National (G1) later in the season. If this comes too soon for him to beat pure juvenile types, I still think he can outperform his odds and hit the board. For whatever it’s worth, he adds a tongue tie for the first time.

Of those peaking already, I like #7 DENAAR (6-1) best. Maybe that’s a case of a general fighting the last war, since he’s reminiscent of the same connections’ Mehmas, runner-up here last year to O’Brien hotpot Caravaggio. There might not be a Caravaggio here. Trained by Hannon for Al Shaqab Racing, the 300,000 guineas breeze-up purchase knew his job when coasting on debut over Chelmsford’s Polytrack. He was a simple steering job for Frankie Dettori, needing only a hands-and-heels ride in the five-furlong novice.

Denaar wheeled back at Newbury on a big occasion for his owners, Al Shaqab Lockinge Day, for the conditions race they sponsor in the name of past star and current stallion Olympic Glory. It turned out to be a tough day to step up to six furlongs, considering the soft ground that made it a more rigorous test for the babies. But Denaar got through it, demonstrating a great attitude to see off a challenge and win well. With his low, daisy-cutting action, the Acclamation colt should prefer the quick ground he’ll get Tuesday.

Like Romanised, Denaar is engaged in the same Irish Group 1 races down the line. I take that, perhaps too seriously, as a clue in Denaar’s favor against stablemate De Bruyne Horse, who doesn’t have Group 1 entries. To be fair, juveniles can surprise you, and the Hannon pupil has stretched clear nicely in a Ripon maiden and in Epsom’s Woodcote (beating next-out winner Cardsharp). Maybe he just wasn’t showing enough early days, which would fit the way he’s had to be ridden too. Not the most fluent traveler, De Bruyne Horse needs energetic handling to get going. Maybe he can get away with that here, or maybe his progression will make him a little sharper, but I’d prefer to see readier involvement than shoving along.

#14 RAJASINGHE (10-1) traveled like a dream before drawing off with authority in his debut over Newcastle’s Tapeta. The son of Choisir could be any kind off that, but he doesn’t sport any Group 1 entries either. Perhaps that’s just a cautious approach on the part of young trainer Richard Spencer, who learned the craft under the Hills and Michael Bell. On visual impression alone, though, Rajasinghe is right up there.

The logical, if lukewarm, favorite is #3 BROTHER BEAR (9-2) from the Jessica Harrington yard. A perfect two-for-two, the Kodiac colt looked slightly green in spots before pulling clear in his Leopardstown unveiling, defeating a couple of next-out winners. The ground was far worse in his follow-up in the Marble Hill at the Curragh, but he handled it beautifully. The one caution is that the better juveniles probably haven’t tried stakes yet; that’s why six of the last 10 Coventry winners were coming off maidens (or a conditions race). (Check out the Group race histories in the free Royal Ascot betting guide.) Perhaps he really is the best of the lot, but like all of them, this is his first serious test.

Can O’Brien win his ninth Coventry, one year after Caravaggio, with another son of Scat Daddy named after a great painter? #11 MURILLO (10-1) makes sense off his second-up maiden romp, but the market vibes leave some hesitation. And what does one make of Ward’s contender for the same Coolmore partners, #2 ARAWAK (5-1), whose price is much closer to Murillo’s with the bookmakers? A romp in a muddy off-the-turf maiden at Belmont isn’t much to go on, and Ward has yet to win a six-furlong juvenile race at Royal Ascot.

#12 NEBO (12-1) was positively stylish in a strong Newbury maiden, but on soft ground. Was he flattered by conditions? Or can he look as good on firmer going? If so, he’s got the significant Group 1 entry as a measure of trainer Charlie Hills’ regard.

Adding to the puzzle are two more maiden winners eligible to move forward. #13 PRINCE OF THE DARK (15-1) adds cheekpieces off a decisive debut score, but at Bath, and sports no fancy entries for Clive Cox. It’s a similar story for the William Haggas-trained #9 HEADWAY (20-1), a commanding winner at Chester but not engaged in any other major races.

Peruse the free Brisnet PPs and see which one(s) appeal to you!