Royal Ascot Wednesday Spotlight: Cavalry charges in Jersey, Queen Mary
With 20 horses in the Jersey (G3) and 24 in the Queen Mary (G2), the first two races on Royal Ascot’s Wednesday card promise to be cavalry charges down the straightaway. The natural inclination is to try to find value, and not boringly adhere to the favorites in such big fields. That’s easier said than done considering the trends in each race.
The last five Jersey winners have all come off losses in classics, a profile broadly shared by the three market leaders. Yet the favorite, #9 LE BRIVIDO (3-1), is an outlier in that he came within a head-bob of winning the French 2000 Guineas (G1), not the English or Irish equivalents represented in those trends. Does that count against him and make him opposable? Normally I’d prefer Newmarket Guineas form to the Poulains, and I probably should stick to my general policy. Yet there was something quite taking in how the Andre Fabre pupil nearly pulled off a 16-1 upset at Deauville. He was just barely outdueled by Brametot, subsequently the hero of the French Derby (G1) who’s now setting his sights on the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1).
Le Brivido had won his first two starts in sprints, implying that the cutback to seven furlongs will suit. After a front-running score in a newcomers’ event over Chantilly’s Polytrack, he swept from off the pace to beat eventual Group 3 victress Aladdine in a conditions race on the turf. Those efforts aren’t his most compelling calling card. To me, it boils down to if you like Brametot, it’s tough to resist Le Brivido.
Of course, a similarly cogent argument applies to Godolphin’s #6 DREAM CASTLE (7-2), since his form revolves around Tuesday’s St James’s Palace (G1) conqueror Barney Roy. Indeed, the Godolphin treble on day one of Royal Ascot enhances his credentials. By the same token, the St James’s Palace may cast a negative light on Le Brivido, thanks to the disappointing performance by French Guineas third Rivet. I’m not inclined to hold a rival’s subpar run against Le Brivido, but Barney Roy has definitely boosted Dream Castle’s stock.
By Frankel and out of Group 2 speed merchant Sand Vixen, Dream Castle drew off in his unveiling at Doncaster in April. Next time in the Greenham (G3), the Saeed bin Suroor trainee traveled like a winner for the first six furlongs or so. Then Barney Roy, under urging before getting himself organized, caught fire late to overtake him. Dream Castle added a hood when stepping up to a mile for the 2000 Guineas (G1) at Newmarket, where he was buffeted in a tough trip and wound up a better-than-appears fifth to Churchill and Barney Roy.
On that formline, and back at the seven-furlong trip, for a Godolphin team that’s hit its stride, Dream Castle is an eminently logical choice. The booking of Josephine Gordon is a plus too, since last year’s champion apprentice has had success with bin Suroor runners. The one potential caveat is Dream Castle’s tendency to overrace a bit early. According to the racecard, he’s taking the hood off. Will he settle better now, or prove too keen again? If he relaxes for Gordon, he’ll pack a far stronger punch in the finish.
Speaking of headgear, Aidan O’Brien is adding blinkers to #19 WHITECLIFFSOFDOVER (8-1), who doesn’t fit the classic-loser trend as he exits a hanging third in the Owenstown Stud. Although not a win machine, the $1.15 million Keeneland September yearling has never run a bad race. Moreover, he scored a stakes breakthrough in the European Free Handicap at Newmarket in the same conditions he’ll find here – seven furlongs on firm turf. The caution is that three O’Brien runners ran well below form on Tuesday, chief among them the mystifyingly flat Churchill. Although another three ran very well to place, the Ballydoyle squad isn’t typically so hit-or-miss with its leading fancies at the Royal meeting. If Whitecliffsofdover throws in a clunker, a worrisome pattern is emerging.
The filly #5 DABAN (5-1) is full of merit, having suffered her only career loss when a non-staying third in the 1000 Guineas (G1). She was actually challenging eventual winner Winter until the final furlong, and just got nabbed for second by Rhododendron. Previously Daban had been a smart debut scorer for John Gosden who followed up in the Nell Gwyn (G3), both at seven furlongs. Nevertheless, she’s at a comparative disadvantage here at level weights with the boys. Perhaps the daughter of Acclamation can get away without the benefit of the fillies’ allowance, but she’d be a lot easier to back with it.
Among the longer-priced alternatives, the best option may be Jeremy Noseda’s #20 WINNING WAYS (15-1), a resounding victor of a course-and-distance handicap last out. Others eligible to jump up include Hugo Palmer’s #7 ESCOBAR (20-1), who’s likely better than he’s shown so far; #10 MUBTASIM (20-1), a rallying third in the Pavilion (G3) here two starts back; and #13 SOLOMON’S BAY (20-1), fresh off a new career best in the Surrey for Roger Varian. #16 TAAMOL (15-1) adds cheekpieces, in case that can be a galvanizing factor, but his better form is on soft.
If zeroing in on classic alums has been the way to go in the Jersey, following Wesley Ward’s well-regarded fillies has been the winning formula of late in the Queen Mary.
#8 HAPPY LIKE A FOOL (8-5) aims to make it a hat trick after Acapulco (2015) and Lady Aurelia (2016), and a total of four if you go back to Jealous Again (2009). Every year I’m the blockhead who tries to find a British or Irish filly to put up against them, whether through an impenetrable contrarian streak, or getting too caught up in the notion of straight-course form. Adding to my incorrigible, curmudgeon-like tendencies this year is the fact that Happy Like a Fool didn’t look as visually impressive in her maiden win on the dirt as, say, Lady Aurelia did (or Albany [G3]-bound stablemate Fairyland]. None of that matters, however, when she lines up for Ascot’s five-furlong speed test, and there’s no question she has speed to burn. Ward described her as his best two-year-old contender on this trip, and so far, the results have borne that out. His Coventry (G2) entrant and Windsor Castle duo were unplaced Tuesday.
But if, like me, you can’t resist going against the grain, perhaps the most intriguing value play is #23 TREASURING (12-1), who’s run well in both of her starts so far versus the boys. Trainer Ger Lyons told irishtimes.com that she’s reminiscent of his 2007 Queen Mary winner, Elletelle:
“She reminds me of Elletelle a lot in that she has the speed for five, gets six, is very hardy and doesn’t show me anything at home. They’re very similar so maybe it’s written in the stars!”
From the first crop of Havana Gold, who almost had a longshot Coventry winner in Headway, Treasuring was a belated (and ordinary) second in a Dundalk maiden behind O’Brien hotpot Declarationofpeace. That result looked like something when he was an antepost favorite for the Coventry, but Declarationofpeace bombed as the favorite in the Windsor Castle, trailing home a too-bad-to-be-true last of 22.
Switched to turf and donning a shadow roll next time at Navan, Treasuring was a different horse. Lyons had predicted as much beforehand, explaining the Dundalk outing was more useful than another morning workout, and expecting significant improvement second time. She showed bags of pace while striding well within herself, then stretched clear to beat Chesham entrant Yulong Warrior (a colt who’s also engaged in the Phoenix [G1]). Lyons had Treasuring in the mix for four Royal Ascot races, so the fact he chose this spot may be telling.
#18 ONE MINUTE (20-1) has likewise won and placed from two starts against colts for William Haggas, and her form collaterally stacks up, twice over, with Godolphin’s Roussel, the Windsor Castle runner-up. A ready winner on debut in a Lingfield novice, the Kodiac filly then dropped a hard-fought photo at Yarmouth to Viscount Loftus, who’s entered in Thursday’s Norfolk (G2). She was actually giving him a pound.
#16 NEOLA (10-1) scampered home by seven lengths on good ground at Nottingham, but soft going in the Marygate may have told as she was collared by Main Desire in deep stretch. The Mick Channon filly has every right to bounce back on a quicker surface. #9 HEARTACHE (5-1) makes perfect sense as a smashing debutante at Bath, while #15 MRS GALLAGHER (15-1) beat a couple of next-out winners, including #19 OUT OF THE FLAMES (12-1), in doughty fashion at this track and trip.
I love the pedigree on #2 CHICA LA HABANA (10-1), a daughter of Havana Gold and Esloob who counts Roseate Tern as a second dam, but for that very reason she probably wants to go longer. Trainer Robert Cowell thought enough of her to unveil her in the Hilary Needler, not even wasting time on a maiden, and she closed stoutly to win. But she was niggled along early on good-to-soft ground, and may get outpaced in faster conditions here. Truth be told, if I hadn’t watched the replay, I’d have been tempted to pick her on top. That was either valuable research or a case of too much information – we’ll find out soon enough!
For the two marquee races on the card, the Duke of Cambridge (G2) and Prince of Wales's (G1), I offer more decisive opinions (right or wrong!) and selections over at Brisnet.com.