Selections for Wednesday’s features at Royal Ascot 2020
With the rearranged running order at Royal Ascot, Wednesday has a more handicap-oriented card, leaving us just two Group features and a listed stakes to tackle.
Aidan O’Brien has a realistic chance of sweeping all three – the marquee Prince of Wales’s (G1) that offers a berth to the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1); the Hampton Court (G3) for classic hopefuls; and the Windsor Court for juveniles. But as ever at Royal Ascot, there’s no shortage of intrigue.
Race 2 - Hampton Court (8:50 a.m. ET)
1st - #8 Russian Emperor (4-1): O’Brien’s blueblood son of Galileo and Australian champion Atlantic Jewel broke his maiden with a whirlwind charge at Naas on soft-to-heavy, but he’s not ground-dependent. In the June 9 Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial (G3) at a good-to-firm Leopardstown, Russian Emperor delivered another fine rally to come up just shy of front-running stablemate Cormorant. That result isn’t a true reflection of their relative merits, since Cormorant benefited from another tactical coup by jockey Padraig Beggy on a course that was playing very favorably to forward runners. Russian Emperor can be marked up for coming as close as he did, and Ascot figures to be a fairer canvas.
2nd - #4 Juan Elcano (2-1): An honorable fifth after forcing the ferocious pace in the 2000 Guineas (G1) at Newmarket, the Frankel colt could appreciate the step up in trip to 1 1/4 miles. The Kevin Ryan pupil was a consistent juvenile, getting up in time on heavy going at Haydock and placing in both the Superlative (G2) and Champagne (G2) on good-to-firm. The top two in the latter are smart, St James’s Palace (G1)-bound Threat and Godolphin’s Royal Crusade who’s in the Commonwealth Cup (G1).
3rd - #1 Berlin Tango (5-1): Having to carry an extra four pounds as the winner of Kempton’s Classic Trial (G3) doesn’t help, but the George Strawbridge homebred is a reliable stakes performer. His stock could go up pending the results of Tuesday’s King Edward VII (G2), where Mohican Heights (who beat him in last summer’s Stonehenge) and Pyledriver (a better-than-appears second to him at Kempton) square off against Ballydoyle hotpot Mogul. Berlin Tango has other form to recommend him though, as a close third in last fall’s Flying Scotsman (where St James’s Palace threat Wichita was second). By Dansili and out of the classy transatlantic racemare Fantasia, Berlin Tango is untested on anything slower than “good” and might not want it too soft.
4th - #3 First Receiver (3-1): Market confidence behind The Queen’s recent Kempton maiden romper elevates him above fellow stakes firster Mascat (who nevertheless has plenty of upside himself). First Receiver didn’t beat anyone of note last time, but the form of his career debut last summer suffices. The Sir Michael Stoute pupil had been a troubled third in a key Newmarket maiden to Al Madhar and future multiple Group 3-placed Al Suhail. Off that evidence, the homebred son of New Approach can make his presence felt at a higher grade. His odds aren’t as attractive given the ground variables.
Race 4 – Prince of Wales’s (10 a.m. ET)
1st - #5 Japan (4-5): Siding with the odds-on favorite in a potentially trappy comeback might not turn to be the smartest move, but the particular circumstances of this race keep bringing me back to Japan. O’Brien’s yard has been in great form since the resumption of racing, suggesting that Japan is ready to deliver. The fact that Ballydoyle puts all of its eggs in one basket – rather than their familiar strategy of multiple entries – could be telling. By foregoing a pacemaker in a race lacking obvious pace, the Coolmore brain trust is apparently satisfied that Galileo’s champion son doesn’t need assistance. His most visually impressive victory came on good-to-soft here in the King Edward VII, so we know he handles the course well. The prospect of rain-softened ground might pose a fitness concern if he were resuming in a slog at that 1 1/2-mile trip, but this 1 1/4-mile affair should suit him first up. Japan’s marquee victory came in the 1 5/16-mile Juddmonte International (G1) over Crystal Ocean, who won this race last year at Magical’s expense. Unless the ground turns bottomless, someone springs a tactical coup, or Japan is unaccountably lackluster, he ought to get the job done.
2nd - #6 Lord North (12-1): While collateral form is tenuous, Lord North sports a tantalizing tie-in to Japan’s Juddmonte International. John Gosden’s class climber just beat Elarqam, who’d been a close and troubled third to Japan in that York feature. The caveat is that both Elarqam and Lord North were coming off layoffs in their clash in the June 7 Brigadier Gerard (G3), and it’s possible that Elarqam needed the race more. Still, Lord North traveled like a dream, seized command with a sudden burst, and held off the renewed thrust of Elarqam despite feeling a lack of fitness himself (according to his rider’s postrace quotes). As a gelding by Dubawi, Lord North is likely just beginning his upward trajectory at the age of four. His tactical style and ground versatility indicate he’ll be able to give another good account. Full disclosure that go-to rider Frankie Dettori is on stablemate Mehdaayih, who’s been earmarked for this race. I could be underestimating her in this spot since she runs well fresh, but has a bit to find on paper.
3rd - #3 Barney Roy (5-1): I was inclined to tab the Godolphin runner for an upset if the ground had been on the quicker side of good. Soft going takes away his chief weapon – his superb acceleration – especially at a trip that’s his upper limit. Barney Roy has already overturned one Ballydoyle darling (Churchill) at Royal Ascot in the 2017 St James’s Palace, and missed by an eyelash to Ulysses in the Eclipse (G1). Back from a failed attempt at stud, Barney Roy took time to regain his old panache but did so in spades at this year’s Dubai Carnival. His sparkling display in the about 9-furlong Jebel Hatta (G1) in 1:46.09 promised more to come upon his return to Europe, in his preferred conditions. If he won't get fast ground, it might not be as bad as when he floundered behind Cracksman in the 2017 Champion S. (G1).
4th - #1 Addeybb (10-1): Confirmed mudlark wouldn’t even run unless the ground were soft, and Haggas reportedly expressed satisfaction with the course Monday. Addeybb boasts two key pieces of form over this track and trip – a victory over Magic Wand in last summer’s Wolferton and a gallant runner-up effort to Magical on heavy going in the 2019 Champion. My cause for pause is that in the interim he’s gone to Australia to plunder the March 21 Ranvet (G1) and lucrative Queen Elizabeth (G1) on April 11, and this is his first start back home. Since the logical plan was to work backward from another go at Champions Day (and a surer chance of getting his conditions) in October, this strikes me as more of an opportunistic swing. He’s certainly in shape to do himself justice if it’s soft enough, but it’s asking a lot to see him winning this given how he spent the first part of the year.
Race 6 – Windsor Castle (11:10 a.m. ET)
1st - #14 Tactical (8-1): As a troubled third to Norfolk (G2) favorite Eye of Heaven and Get It in juvenile course-record time at Newmarket, The Queen’s homebred has claims in this competitive sprint. The ground is an unknown factor for most of these (except Fast Start), but Tactical’s dam handled soft (as did her sire Makfi). Most significant for me, given how they’re likely to go hard early here, is how well Tactical was staying on late from just behind the leaders. The Andrew Balding trainee was trying to split foes at the decisive point, got squeezed out, recovered to rally up the rising ground to snatch third, and joined the winner on the gallop-out. The stiff 5 furlongs here could suit him well, and being in post 20, he’ll get a good tow into the race from Wesley Ward’s speedy Sheriff Bianco in post 16. Stands’ side could be the place to be.
2nd - #1 Astimegoesby (15-1): Close third to the promising Godolphin duo Modern News (a favorite in Thursday’s Chesham) and Noble Dynasty was in front a long way in a 6-furlong Newmarket maiden before being outstayed late. Shortening up to this trip is the right idea. Judging by his relaxed demeanor on the lead, he’s eligible to stalk kindly when confronted by even sharper speed, and keep on. From the first crop of the precocious Mehmas, Astimegoesby is a half-brother to Bomb Proof, who impressed in his lone start before disappearing. He’s drawn on the opposite side in post 6, but has pace over there too.
3rd - #2 Chief Little Hawk (6-1): O’Brien colt ran his rivals off their feet on debut at Navan and would have been a likely sort for the Norfolk (for which he was cross-entered). His placement here could be about maximizing freshman sire Air Force Blue’s chances of celebrating a Royal winner. On fast ground, he would have been tough to catch, but the rain complicates the task of sustaining high speed on a stiff track. (Same applies to Sheriff Bianco and Mighty Gurkha.) His dam Marylebone, the 2003 Matron (G1) winner by Unbridled’s Song, might help. Breaking from post 2, Chief Little Hawk will blaze away on the far side.
4th - #17 Victory Heights (10-1): James Tate juvenile needs to step up from his Newcastle maiden score to get involved in a big field of unexposed types. But his off-the-pace style and pedigree as a son of Siyouni, from the family of Hydrangea and Hermosa, offer some hope that maybe he can work his way into the frame.