2023 Royal Ascot: Selections for Friday

June 22nd, 2023

Several of the strongest favorites of the week will be in action on Day 4 of the Royal Ascot meet on Friday, but they might not all be slam dunks. Here are thoughts on the four Group stakes on the program.

Race 1 (9:30 a.m. ET) -- Albany (G3)

Lacking room behind a wall of rivals about a quarter-mile from the finish of her debut at Newmarket, #6 Jabaara (9-2) was switched out to the near side by jockey David Egan and promptly exploded in the final furlong to win by three parts of a length. She looked like a relatively seasoned pro doing so, and if she can reproduce another kick like that against this field, she'll be tough to fend off.

#10 Navassa Island (8-1) is another who didn't get the best of trips first out, but, in her case, she wound missing by a diminishing neck to #13 Porta Fortuna in the Naas Juvenile Fillies Sprint. Indeed, she was in front of that rival barely a few jumps past the wire. She can reverse that form and possibly win it all here with a clearer run, and she's very likable as a half-sister to last season's Cheveley Park (G1) heroine Lezoo.

#3 Do It With Style (15-1) is one of the earliest graduates in the field, having taken her debut by a length at the Curragh on May 1 over at least one next-out winner. She didn't need that much encouragement to prevail, so there might be more in the tank for this Donnacha O'Brien trainee, who figures to be overlooked in the wagering.

There are plenty of other recent maiden winners who could step up to be in the frame. Ones I'd note include #9 Matrika (8-1), a half-sister to Group 1-winning juvenile and Royal Ascot veteran The Wow Signal; #18 Soprano (4-1), who landed her debut at Newmarket at the Guineas Festival; and Newbury grad #8 Mapmaker (20-1).

Race 2 (10:05 a.m. ET) -- Commonwealth Cup (G1)

We have an imposing and heavy favorite in this six-furlong dash for three-year-old colts and fillies, but the likely second choice looks no obvious slouch by comparison, so we'll lean in his direction for the sake of value.

That would be #7 Sakheer (5-2), who capped a highly successful juvenile campaign with an eye-catching score in the Mill Reef (G2) at Newbury over this distance. He returned to action in the 2000 Guineas (G1), in which he stepped up to a mile and caught deteriorating conditions that few save the winning Chaldean seemed to like. Bumped at the break and the early trailer, Sakheer made some headway to reach midpack by the finish, but it was obviously a couple of furlongs too far and not his type of surface. Faster ground and a cutback to six should hit him between the eyes.

Absolutely hard to knock anything about #2 Little Big Bear (7-5), Europe's top juvenile sprinter last season when crushing the opposition in the Phoenix (G1) by seven lengths. He had a valid excuse when the back marker in the 2000 Guineas (reportedly returned lame), and was back to near his best when taking the Sandy Lane (G2) at Haydock against a field that included Bradsell, who landed the King's Stand (G1) on Tuesday. Again, the most logical winner, but simply not enthused about settling for 7-5 or less in this spot.

#8 Shaquille (7-1) looks a cut or two below the top pair from a class perspective but has won five of six and seems good enough to pick up a piece. The filly #11 Lezoo (7-1) won the Princess Margaret (G3) over this course and distance last summer before landing a winning blow over the top-class Meditate and Mawj in the Cheveley Park. Not suited to a mile (and possibly the soft ground, too) when trying the 1000 Guineas (G1) in her season debut, but this test should bring out a more representative effort.

Race 4 (11:20 a.m. ET) -- Coronation (G1)

This race lost some luster with the unexpected withdrawal of 1000 Guineas winner Mawj earlier this week, which leaves us with perhaps the shortest-priced favorite of the fixture. It might be futile to oppose her as she's looked like the premier filly miler of her generation since last fall, but I have some reservations about her, and taking a pass at an odds-on price is a risk I'm willing to take.

#4 Queen for You (5-1) is ambitiously placed for only her third lifetime start and all in the span of less than two months, but she's looked a potential Group filly in the making from what we've seen so far from her. Following a two-length maiden win here over the straight mile, she was only beaten a head by the more experienced #6 Sounds of Heaven in the Michael Seely Memorial at York.

Queen for You seems to travel well and can produce a fine run when called upon; whether it's good enough remains to be seen, but the potential is there. Her dam, Fallen for You, upset the 2012 edition of the Coronation for this owner/trainer combo.

The filly to beat is obviously #7 Tahiyra (3-5), who looked like a potential monster when notching the Moyglare Stud (G1) in her juvenile finale. As excited as I was to see how much she'd advance this season, I have to say I've been a little underwhelmed so far. She ran a cracker in the 1000 Guineas but was still beaten a half-length by Mawj, which I wouldn't have thought likely judging the two of them on their respective juvenile form. She rebounded to win the Irish 1000 Guineas (G1) at 2-5, but again it wasn't a dazzling performance on her part to beat Meditate by only 1 1/2 lengths, considering she had towered over her by more impressive margins in two previous encounters.

I might be reading far too much into Tahiyra's two races this term and be completely wide of the mark, but holding that opinion, however wrong it might turn out, compels me to take her on.

#3 Meditate (6-1) is the most logical one to choose if you're going to pick against Tahiyra, though I prefer a less-exposed type like Queen for You if I'm going to do it rather than a filly who has already lost to the favorite three times. Victorious at the Breeders' Cup last fall, Meditate has thrown only one clunker, in the 1000 Guineas, but has otherwise hit the exacta in every other start. She won the Albany last year, so has the local experience that Tahiyra lacks.

#2 Mammas Girl (20-1) impressed me a lot winning the Nell Gwyn (G3) in her first outing of the season, but couldn't reproduce that effort in the 1000 Guineas in her first run over a truly soft course. Perhaps she'll be more formidable on the faster ground she likely gets here, though have a lingering suspicion that she might prefer a little less than a mile.

Race 6 (12:35 p.m. ET) -- King Edward VII (G2)

All signs suggest I should side with #5 King of Steel (4-5), right? The physically imposing colt beat all save Auguste Rodin in the Epsom Derby (G1) earlier this month, and this race is full of Blue Riband also-rans. He and Auguste turned it into a two-horse race, and it was a long way back to the rest of the pack. Yes, King of Steel was 66-1, but that was more a reflection of the uncertainty about his preparation rather than serious doubts regarding his innate talent. A striking debut winner at Nottingham last October, he was wheeled back too soon for the Futurity Trophy (G1) (won by Auguste Rodin on bottomless ground) and simply didn't get his Derby prep in when a late scratch from the Dante (G2). If he runs up to the Epsom standard, it's difficult to see any of the others turning the tables.

#4 Continuous (9-2) was considered for an upset selection. A Group 3 winner in France for Coolmore last fall, he was likely in need of a race when a commendable third in the Dante. A no-show in the French Derby (G1) last out, he's capable of much better and figures to enjoy the step up in trip to 1 1/2 miles.

#3 Artistic Star (10-1) finished midpack in the Derby after a rough trip, but two back won a key novice at Sandown over Torito, my selection for Thursday's Hampton Court (G3). If the latter wins, consider upgrading this colt's chances. #2 Arrest (6-1) seemed ill-suited to the Epsom course when a retreating 10th in the Derby. His prior form is hard to fault, though he'd look a lot more imposing over ground with a little more give to it.