The 1ST Race, the Norfolk S. (G2) for two-year-olds over five furlongs, may be the toughest hurdle to clear in the Pick 4 – unless you think Wesley Ward’s runner is a moral certainty, or are willing to devote a substantial portion of your bankroll to go deep. If neither of those is true, some difficult decisions have to be made.
Given that no favorite has won the Norfolk in 10 years, and that six of the last nine winners went off at 8-1 or higher, the three I’m most interested in are #2 GLORY FIGHTER (15-1), #1 CHARMING KID (12-1), and #5 LAND FORCE (12-1).
Glory Fighter, a 95,000-guineas ($131,161) Tattersalls October yearling by Kyllachy and from the immediate family of speed merchant Frizzante, stepped up from his first run to break the five-furlong juvenile course record at Lingfield last out. Well regarded by trainer Charlie Hills, Glory Fighter has seen his form flattered in the interim. Charming Kid, one of a few winners already for promising freshman sire Charm Spirit, was a £105,000 (approximately $148,774) Goffs two-year-olds in training purchase who showed a potent closing punch in his York debut for Richard Fahey. Finally, if Land Force is a bigger price than you’d expect for an Aidan O’Brien, note that his last two winners of this race (Waterloo Bridge in 2015 and Sioux Nation last year) were double-digits too. Two other angles: regarding his placement here, Coolmore has every incentive to get a high-profile Royal Ascot winner for freshman sire No Nay Never, the 2013 Norfolk hero; and he shortens up off a third to talented stablemate Fairyland, a prime player in Friday’s Albany (G3). Given the speed he’s shown, that looks like the right move.
Although Ward’s #10 SHANG SHANG SHANG (2-1) may well prevail, I hesitate because he’s historically run his best fillies in Wednesday’s Queen Mary (G2), not versus the boys here. On the other hand, the fact that the Norfolk is now a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint may be a consideration affecting that policy. The other market leaders are the respective first and third from the National S. at Sandown, #9 VINTAGE BRUT (5-1) and #4 KONCHEK (9-2), but the National has not exactly been a pipeline to Norfolk success in recent years. And since Konchek was arguably unlucky that day, if you like one you’ve almost got to like both. Richard Hannon’s #8 THE PADDOCKS (8-1) is a beautifully bred Charm Spirit colt with loads of upside, but he’ll need to sharpen up a bit from his six-furlong debut. Had he won first up over five, I’d be much more bullish on him.
The 2ND Race, the Hampton Court S. (G3), features several promising sophomores. While inexperience and the class hike could find him out, #15 WADILSAFA (10-1) looked potentially smart when beating Juddmonte hotpot Herculean in their mutual reappearance at Newmarket. Sheikh Hamdan’s Frankel blueblood was getting seven pounds, but between his pedigree and the way he surged up the rising ground in that mile affair, he stands to improve over the extra quarter-mile for trainer Owen Burrows. Then again, I’m a pushover for descendants of the great matron Height of Fashion. The logical form players, #4 HUNTING HORN (5-1) and #5 KEY VICTORY (4-1), exit a sixth and eighth, respectively, in the French Derby (G1), and they’ll serve up a proper class test. Godolphin rider William Buick sticks with Key Victory, but Charlie Appleby’s ostensible second-stringer, #10 NORDIC LIGHTS (6-1), isn’t to be forgotten as he seeks to rebound from a Dante (G2) fifth with new rider James Doyle.
The 3RD Race, the Ribblesdale (G2), offers a similar clash of established form versus red hot class-climbers. O’Brien’s ostensible second-stringer, #2 ATHENA (8-1), has a bit of both, making her an intriguing value play. If you ignore her previous runs on rain-softened ground, she’s perfectly consistent on good-to-firm. An excellent second in a Newbury classic trial to Sea of Class, who would have been a major contender at Epsom but took a more conservative route, Athena shaped like a 1 1/2-mile performer outkicked in a 1 1/4-mile race. But she still drew five lengths clear of another decent filly in third, and came right back to break her maiden in cozy fashion. A Camelot granddaughter of the blue hen Urban Sea, Athena will try to emulate three-quarter sister Bracelet, the 2014 Ribblesdale heroine. Juddmonte’s (and Sir Michael Stoute’s) stellar Royal Ascot might get even better courtesy of #10 SUN MAIDEN (5-2), a Frankel half to Midday who annihilated her foes at Salisbury last out. Although eligible for the Oaks (G1), connections opted for the more gradual approach and pointed for this very winnable spot. Her price is the only unattractive thing about this smashing filly, who shapes as more talented than close relative Mori so narrowly denied here last year. The established form, #1 WILD ILLUSION (2-1), is entitled to turn in her typically fine performance as a Group 1 winner and Epsom Oaks runner-up. Historical trends are generally against Oaks alumnae in the Ribblesdale though – a stat defied in 2017 but possibly to re-assert itself.
The 4TH Race, the Gold Cup (G1), largely revolves around the “Big Three” of #6 VAZIRABAD (9-2), #2 ORDER OF ST GEORGE (9-5), and #9 STRADIVARIUS (2-1). Vazirabad is the best value among the trio, as a proven stayer with a blistering turn of foot who’s never been out of the exacta over marathon trips. If there’s a knock, it’s that he’s untested at Ascot, and no French stayer has plundered the prize since Westerner (when the meeting was held at York in 2005). But trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre has wisely waited until he believed the time was right, and as a fully mature six-year-old, this might be his year. Stradivarius cannot be discounted, although he must prove himself over an extra half-mile, and he needs to step up from his third to Order of St George in last fall’s British Champions Long Distance Cup (G2) on this track.
But there is a price play in the Gold Cup in #7 DESERT SKYLINE (12-1), on the theory that he stands to benefit from the stretch-out to 2 1/2 miles. Stradivarius is clearly his superior at up to two miles, but Desert Skyline scored his signature win – as a three-year-old over grizzled veterans – in the 2 1/4-mile Doncaster Cup (G2). And the David Elsworth gelding has been building up to this third start of the campaign nicely, improving from a returning third in the slowly-run Sagaro (G3) to a closing second in the Yorkshire Cup (G2). At the price, he’s worth a flyer to crack the top three.
Good luck and enjoy Day 3!
Royal Ascot scenic by Frank Sorge/Horsephotos.com