Selections for Tuesday’s opener at Royal Ascot 2019

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

June 16th, 2019

Before drilling into the Group races on a banner opening Tuesday at Royal Ascot, a preamble on the recent rain in Berkshire. At Sunday’s final declaration stage, the straight course was listed as “good to soft,” and the round course “good to soft, soft in places.” The forecast (aka weather handicapping) holds out the prospect of drying conditions until Tuesday, when more rain could move in – the timing of that being critical, and expected later in the day going into evening. So my working assumption is that Tuesday’s ground is likely to be on the slower side of good. My horses of interest should be fine on that going, but I’ll note if there are concerns about anything softer. Race 1 – The Queen Anne (G1) 1st - #9 MUSTASHRY (9-2) checks the boxes after his convincing victory in the Lockinge (G1). Not only has that prep produced eight of the last 12 winners of this race, but the Sheikh Hamdan homebred dispatched several of his re-opposing rivals. While a few would have claims to turn the tables on softer ground, Mustashry might not meet those conditions, and enters in the form of his life. In that respect he calls to mind his maternal “uncle” (and fellow Sir Michael Stoute trainee) Maraahel, who likewise reached his peak as an older campaigner. Mustashry has turned the corner since being gelded last year, his only disappointing effort coming in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) (where he had a tough trip from post 12 on a rain-affected course). Returning with a sneaky third in a red-hot renewal of the Earl of Sefton (G3), Mustashry took a leap forward last out, and unless the ground is in worse shape than projected, he can bring long-awaited clarity to the older mile division. 2nd - #6 LE BRIVIDO (4-1) didn’t have the cleverest trip when a belated fifth to Mustashry in the Lockinge, and the market reacted by making the Aidan O’Brien pupil the early favorite here. Already sporting a win over the course in the 2017 Jersey (G3) when trained by Andre Fabre, he just missed in that year’s French 2000 Guineas (G1) on a soft course, so ground is no concern. What is a slight question is his missing virtually all of 2018 after making just one start. Following a promising third off the year-long layoff in the Gladness (G3), and another buildable effort in the Lockinge, he’s ready to fire, much like O’Brien’s latest Queen Anne winner, Declaration of War (2013). But you’re taking on trust that he can reproduce, or exceed, his classic form from two years ago. 3rd - #12 ROMANISED (30-1) demands a much bigger leap of faith, but at least he offers a huge price to go along with it. Last year’s Irish 2000 Guineas (G1) winner has been underwhelming ever since. Yet trainer Ken Condon still believes in his ability, and I’m inclined to agree by grasping at a pedigree straw. Three-quarter brother Designs on Rome excelled at four and up in Hong Kong, so perhaps Romanised can follow suit. According to that hypothesis, his flashes of ability at two (runner-up to Masar in the Solario [G3]) and three could be a harbinger of the level he can attain as an older horse. His close fifth in the Gladness and respectable fourth in the Lockinge reinforce the hope that he’s rounding into his best form. 4th - #7 LORD GLITTERS (12-1), a troubled second to 33-1 shocker ACCIDENTAL AGENT here a year ago, threw in a clunker in the Lockinge but is entitled to get involved for trainer David O’Meara. Third to Japan’s superstar Almond Eye in the Dubai Turf (G1) two back, he was also a commendable third in last summer’s Sussex (G1) before edging Mustashry in the nine-furlong Strensall (G3) at York. And he handles all kinds of ground. Others to note: # 15 LAURENS (6-1) and #2 BARNEY ROY (5-1) are both top-class individuals with a caveat. Laurens ran a fantastic second in her Lockinge comeback after being in the vanguard of a solid pace, and the five-time Group 1 winner against fillies will run her heart out again versus males. The only question is whether the forward type can hold off a gauntlet of closers down the length of a stiffer mile course. Godolphin’s Barney Roy has resurfaced in style from a failed stud career, but can he recapture his Royal Ascot glory of two years ago in only his third start back? For those reasons I see both more as exotics threats. Race 2 – The Coventry (G2) 1st - #1 ARIZONA (5-2) offers no prizes for creativity, but the O’Brien juvenile looked like a budding star in his eight-length maiden conquest. Bred to be precocious as a son of No Nay Never, and from the family of French champion two-year-old Dabirsim, Arizona was a promising second on good-to-yielding on debut. The €260,000 Arqana August yearling made an even bigger jump than might have been forecast second out at the Curragh. 2nd - #15 ROYAL LYTHAM (12-1) could upstage stablemate Arizona if taking the same quantum leap from his Navan debut score. From the first crop of O’Brien star Gleneagles, the €180,000 Arqana August purchase wasn’t expected to do much in his unveiling, judging by his 10-1 odds. But he showed poise, professionalism, and a nifty turn of foot to slice between foes and win readily on good-to-yielding. The form looks decent since he beat a couple exiting Arizona’s romp, and the odds-on favorite had been fourth in the Newbury race featuring FORT MYERS and WELL OF WISDOM. It takes a good one to win first out for O’Brien, and Royal Lytham stands to benefit plenty. 3rd – #12 MAXI BOY (15-1) can’t claim any useful form from his debut victory, but there was much to like about how the 380,000 guineas ($526,800) Tattersalls October yearling traveled and kicked on. Tabbed as the yard’s best juvenile by Michael Bell’s assistant, the son of Oasis Dream has the action of a colt who’d appreciate some ease in the ground, and he might have found it lively enough at Yarmouth. 4th – #5 GUILDSMAN (8-1) turned in an eye-popping performance first up at Goodwood, in the same race that produced last year’s Albany (G3) winner, Main Edition. Off a beat slow, the close relative of European champion Almanzor traveled like a dream at every stage and put his rivals away with ease. The ground was soft, but Guildsman appeared to have the daisy-skimming stride that’s so effective on better going. If there’s one quibble, it’s that he might have won too easily, and not really known he was even in a race. The Coventry will present a different experience, but Guildsman is a top prospect for up-and-coming trainer Archie Watson. Others to note: Karl Burke’s #9 LORD OF THE LODGE (20-1) flies under the radar after a good-looking debut at Ayr. #13 MONOSKI (10-1) chased home the smasher Bomb Proof at York and followed up by outclassing them at Pontefract. Trainer Mark Johnston had a much higher-profile Coventry contender in Visinari, however, so it’s difficult to see him winning with another. #16 THREAT (7-2) created a very favorable impression in his Newmarket bow over five furlongs, powering uphill as though he already wanted this trip. Yet he beat only three rivals in that early-season maiden on the Rowley (not July Course), and his best recommendation is trainer Richard Hannon Jr. Race 3 – The King’s Stand (G1) 1st – #1 BATTAASH (2-1) was famously foiled by BLUE POINT last year. To be more precise, though, Battaash has been known to beat himself, and in the 2018 running, he simply did too much, too soon, and fizzled late. Although that risk is ever-present, the Charlie Hills speedster is the most brilliant five-furlong horse around when on his game. Battaash prepped by winning the same race, the Temple (G2), only this time he was far more decisive. Undergoing a second procedure to correct a breathing issue over the winter, the Dark Angel gelding employed the stalk-and-pounce tactics that are liable to be effective here. If regular rider Jim Crowley can keep a lid on Battaash early, we ought to see the European champion soar. 2nd – #2 BLUE POINT (3-1) was good enough to capitalize on Battaash’s miscue back then, and the Godolphin runner is arguably even better entering this title defense. Unbeatable during the Dubai Carnival, the Charlie Appleby trainee swept the Meydan Sprint (G2), Nad al Sheba Turf Sprint (G3), and the Al Quoz (G1) on World Cup night. This marks his first appearance since, unlike last year when he had a forgettable foray to Hong Kong in the interim, but he runs well fresh. 3rd – #11 FAIRYLAND (20-1) has always looked a bit special, so I’ll go out on a limb and mark the O’Brien filly as one capable of springing the upset. Although her placement here (rather than in the Commonwealth Cup [G1]) may be influenced in part by Coolmore’s interest in Ten Sovereigns’ enhancing his stallion value on Friday, it makes sense based on her career thus far over six. The beautifully bred daughter of Kodiac blew away Van Beethoven in last spring’s Marble Hill before missing narrowly in the Albany. She was just resuming from the infamous Ballydoyle virus when scraping home in last summer’s Lowther (G2), and didn’t have much more to spare in the Cheveley Park (G1). So it wasn’t exactly a surprise that she was unplaced trying a mile in this season’s 1000 Guineas (G1) and the Irish equivalent. What if this five-furlong trip is what would have suited her all along, only her class had carried her over six? If so, she’s a live longshot with Wayne Lordan in the saddle. Like the other sophomore filly, SIGNORA CABELLO, Fairyland receives a nine-pound weight break from the older males. 4th – #8 MABS CROSS (7-1), third to the big two a year ago, again enters in good heart. Rarely out of the top three in her 15-race career, the admirable mare bagged a deserved Group 1 in the Prix de l’Abbaye (G1) on Arc Day, and returned to lug 136 pounds to victory over males in her Palace House (G3) repeat. In her latest in the Temple, she was along for third to Battaash. Others to note: #5 IMPRIMIS (10-1) is arguably better than fellow American shipper Bucchero, who was a creditable fifth here in 2018. #10 SOLDIER’S CALL (15-1) was so close to scoring a rare Abbaye victory for a juvenile last fall. While he didn’t do himself justice in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint, his comeback third under top weight at York was full of promise. #9 SERGEI PROKOFIEV (6-1), another not seen to best effect at Churchill, is the better fancied of the O’Brien pair following his useful fourth to Mabs Cross. Race 4 – The St James’s Palace (G1) 1st – #10 TOO DARN HOT (5-2) may have cooled a little in the public’s estimation after being upset in both the Dante (G2) and Irish 2000 Guineas. But there’s a lot of truth in John Gosden’s confession that last year’s unbeaten juvenile sensation has been the “worst-managed horse” this term. Ruled out of Newmarket’s Guineas by a setback, he stretched out for the Dante, and the strong pace turned it into a greater test of stamina than he needed off the layoff. Even so, he was hardly disgraced in a stubborn second. Then he wheeled back nine days later and shortened up to a mile at the Curragh, where he threw down a challenge to PHOENIX OF SPAIN before flattening out. If Too Darn Hot had a precocious pedigree, you’d be tempted to think he just hasn’t trained on. But as a son of Dubawi and Dar Re Mi, he achieved far more than he had a right to as a juvenile. With more time to regroup, and a more logical progression of races, Too Darn Hot can recapture his old glory. Ease in the ground, likelier to be more of a factor on this round mile course, could help a lot too. 2nd – #5 PHOENIX OF SPAIN (8-5) had been unlucky to miss in last fall’s key Vertem Futurity Trophy (G1), so his 16-1 odds in the Irish Guineas were a massive overlay. The son of Lope de Vega shaped as the type to excel from two to three, and he did, emphatically gaining revenge on Too Darn Hot for his loss in the Champagne (G2). Phoenix of Spain can give trainer Hills an opening-day double if Battaash obliges, and if Too Darn Hot fails to muster his old form. 3rd – #2 CIRCUS MAXIMUS (10-1) was supplemented once O’Brien’s big gun, Magna Grecia, was sidelined, but he fits well on form at a mile. A very close fourth in the Vertem Futurity, the Galileo colt was also third to Persian King and Magna Grecia in the Autumn (G3). He opened 2019 with a score in the 10 1/2-furlong Dee S. at Chester, but didn’t stay the Derby (G1) trip and accordingly cuts back. Note that he adds blinkers as well. 4th – #7 SHAMAN (12-1) likewise sports the Persian King form having chased him home in the French 2000 Guineas. The Wertheimer et Frere homebred, who hails from the immediate family of Mondialiste, captured both of his classic trials and enjoys softer conditions. Others to note: #8 SKARDU (10-1) was a better-than-appears third in the 2000 Guineas, faring best of those on the wrong side of the course, and trainer William Haggas believes he raced too forward when fourth in the Irish version. The promise of more patient tactics makes him a factor at a price. #4 KING OF COMEDY (5-1) dominated the same prep, the Heron, that launched Gosden’s winner of this race last year, Without Parole. He brings abundant upside into his first serious class test. #6 ROYAL MARINE (20-1) has yet to duplicate his juvenile form, but the Saeed bin Suroor pupil had a troubled trip when fourth to Skardu in the Craven (G3), and he’s plainly better than his Guineas flop (when experimenting with a hood). Good luck! More analysis is available on the Royal Ascot news and notes page Royal Ascot file photo (c) Frank Sorge/Horsephotos.com