2023 Royal Ascot: Selections for Tuesday

June 19th, 2023

The Royal Ascot meeting gets off to a rollicking start Tuesday with two “Win and You’re In” events for the Breeders’ Cup, the Queen Anne (G1) for older milers and the King’s Stand (G1) for the speediest sprinters.

But that’s just half of the Group race action on opening day. Top three-year-old milers clash in the St James’s Palace (G1), and highly-regarded juveniles make for another compelling renewal of the Coventry (G2).

Here are my thoughts on the marquee events, the first four races on the seven-race program.

Race 1 (9:30 a.m. ET) – Queen Anne (G1), WAYI for Breeders’ Cup Mile

#9 Native Trail (5-1) can upend the narrative about this being a two-horse race between outstanding filly #12 Inspiral (9-5) and Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) winner #7 Modern Games (9-5).

The unbeaten European champion juvenile of 2021, Native Trail was originally Godolphin’s leading contender for the mile classics of 2022. Then ill-fated stablemate Coroebus edged him in the 2000 Guineas (G1).

After Native Trail earned his classic laurel in the Irish 2000 Guineas (G1), I had hoped that he would stick to a mile while Coroebus stretched out. Trainer Charlie Appleby did the opposite, instead pitching Native Trail in a couple of majors at 1 1/4 miles or slightly beyond. He was a valiant, near-miss third in the Eclipse (G1) to French star Vadeni before flopping behind Baaeed in the Juddmonte International (G1).

Having undergone wind surgery following that uncharacteristic clunker, Native Trail is now recommitted to the mile campaign that he arguably always wanted. He likely needed the tightener when runner-up to #8 Mutasaabeq at Newmarket.

If my hypothesis is correct, Native Trail is the best value in this race. I rehash the ancient history because Native Trail was once higher in the pecking order than Modern Games, a position that he might be able to reclaim.

Modern Games has since overshadowed him, of course. That’s why William Buick sticks with Modern Games, and James Doyle gets the pick-up mount on Native Trail. Indeed, as a son of Dubawi, Modern Games can claim to have progressed past Native Trail with maturity.

Yet it might be worth remembering that Modern Games had been earning his stripes abroad, in North America and France, before checking the all-important British Group 1 box in the Lockinge (G1) last out. Over a straight mile at Newbury, the Lockinge tends to be the most productive stepping stone to the Queen Anne. The concern would be if the forecast rain materializes, since Modern Games isn’t as effective on softish ground.

Inspiral can beat Modern Games at her best, although her price is cramped by this point. Word of her excellent work last week – and the Frankie Dettori factor – have seen her odds plunge. Bettors are piling on for the legendary rider’s final Royal Ascot during his season-long retirement tour. There’s also the precedent of Inspiral making a smashing seasonal reappearance here, as she did in last summer’s Coronation (G1) (on the round, not straight course). That was in her own division; now she’s a year older going versus males off the bench. Still, the Frankel filly has top claims to win.

As with all of these ferociously competitive races, you can make a case for a number of longshots to squeak in underneath. #5 Light Infantry (20-1) is attractive on the basis of his neck loss to Inspiral in last year’s Prix Jacques le Marois (G1), and he exits another near-miss in the Prix d’Ispahan (G1). #2 Berkshire Shadow (20-1), third in the Lockinge, probably shouldn’t be twice the price of Lockinge runner-up #4 Chindit.

Race 2 (10:05 a.m. ET) – Coventry (G2)

#17 River Tiber (8-5) has looked like the real thing for nine-time Coventry winner Aidan O’Brien. After storming 10 lengths clear on soft going at Navan, the Wootton Bassett colt was a little less awe-inspiring at Naas. But he was cutting back to five furlongs on a much quicker surface, and once hitting the rising ground, he powered away with authority. The master of Ballydoyle emphasizes the importance of getting in two races, for educational purposes, ahead of Royal Ascot, so this was mission accomplished. Up to six furlongs, River Tiber has a right to enhance his profile.

Amo Racing is loaded with talented juveniles, so it’s worth noting how Kia Joorabchian’s brain trust deploys the forces across various fronts. #5 Bucanero Fuerte (15-1) created a big impression on debut back on March 25, when bounding clear with ground-devouring strides at the Curragh. We’d have learned more if he hadn’t been scratched from his May 1 engagement due to a cough. But he does have collateral form with the smart Noche Magica, who was just denied by #12 Givemethebeatboys (6-1) in the May 27 Marble Hill (G3). I’d argue that Noche Magica shaped better than that winner, and accordingly prefer Bucanero Fuerte here.

Note that Amo’s retained rider, Kevin Stott, opts for Bucanero Fuerte over their other promising colorbearers, York maiden winner #8 Cuban Thunder and #14 Packard. The “other” son of Wootton Bassett along with River Tiber, Bucanero Fuerte is a full brother to 2020 Prix de l’Abbaye (G1) hero Wooded.

The leading British-based contender, #3 Asadna (5-2), put up a stellar time in his unveiling at Ripon. Even allowing for the fact that he was primed as a recent breeze-up graduate, the George Boughey pupil laid down a serious benchmark. The caveat is that he drubbed five forgettable rivals, and the Mehmas colt will face a different caliber of opponent in this gigantic field.

Wesley Ward has yet to win the Coventry, with his juveniles prospering in the meeting’s five-furlong contests. Brilliant Keeneland maiden winner #10 Fandom (10-1) could be the one to change that stat, given his British pedigree, especially his very current family with a couple of other runners on Friday (Lezoo and Navassa Island). As discussed in the story on the U.S. shippers, Fandom worked sharply in company with highly-touted stablemate American Rascal, the Lady Aurelia colt bound for Thursday’s Norfolk (G2). I half-expect Fandom to go for Wednesday’s Windsor Castle S. (he’s still in that spot as of Monday’s final declarations). It’s a notable sign if he opts for the more prestigious Coventry.

#21 Watch My Tracer (30-1), by the prolific Dandy Man, scored nicely in his Yarmouth premiere, and #2 Army Ethos (15-1) rolled first out at Ayr – both for the same Bahraini owners. #13 Haatem (20-1), one of the Richard Hannon trio, warrants mention for his close third at Epsom despite totally missing the break.

Race 3 (10:40 a.m. ET) – King’s Stand (G1), WAYI for Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1)

#19 Dramatised (5-1), a convincing winner of last summer’s course-and-distance Queen Mary (G2), has yet to lose at this straight five-furlong distance. Just caught in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G1) over a turning 5 1/2 furlongs at Keeneland, the Karl Burke filly beat older males – including #4 Equilateral, #7 Mitbaahy (15-1), and #9 Twilight Calls – in her Temple (G2) comeback at Haydock.

Granted, she was advantaged by her draw at Haydock, but Dramatised confirmed the idea that she’s the type of three-year-old to make an impact outside of her division. And Burke believes that she’s come on for that run. Between her abundant class, course proficiency, and substantial weight concessions in her favor, I have to keep faith in her. Note that Equilateral has upheld the Temple form with his ensuing second to up-and-coming Regional in the Achilles S.

Multiple Group 1 star #12 Highfield Princess (2-1) is the one to beat if she’s anywhere near peak form. That’s the cause for pause. The John Quinn veteran thrived on a busy schedule last campaign, reaching her top in the second half of the summer. It’s a very positive sign that Highfield Princess was a bang-up second off the bench in the 1895 Duke of York (G2), implying that she could spiral up in a hurry. At the price, though, I just wonder if she’s one start or so away from her absolute best. For whatever it’s worth, she is in Saturday’s Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee (G1) as well, and it wouldn’t be a shock if she turns right around for that.

Of the Australians, #2 Cannonball (8-1) has more to prove than #10 Coolangatta (5-2), but he could also appreciate the stiff five furlongs more, especially in view of the weights. As examined in the story on the King’s Stand duo, Coolangatta no longer gets the same weight breaks she enjoyed at home. Neither does Cannonball, her Southern Hemisphere contemporary, although I’d argue it’s a greater issue for the filly. While both want better ground, that could be a bigger prerequisite for Cannonball.

The aforementioned Mitbaahy is among the rather evenly-matched bunch of males trying to get a word in edgewise. Pegged as my longshot to know on Tuesday, the Roger Varian trainee has always been well regarded, and as a four-year-old, he’s not as exposed as some. Indeed, Mitbaahy might be in the sweet spot of having enough experience to cope while retaining upside. He owns a Group 3 win at the expense of #6 Manaccan, who’s trading at a fraction of Mitbaahy’s price (thanks to the booking of Dettori on Manaccan).

Finally, I can’t ignore #13 Mooneista (30-1), who was fourth as my longshot here last year, just missing the placings. The Dandy Man mare was badly in need of her comeback run last time, and new trainer Joseph O’Brien revealed that she was a late arrival to his yard after selling for more than $1 million at Tattersalls. Mooneista had more racing under her belt at the comparable stage in 2022. But if the younger O’Brien can present her in similar form, high summer is typically her time to shine.

Race 4 (11:20 a.m. ET) – St James’s Palace (G1)

I usually have pretty fixed (not to say stubborn) ideas about the mile classics that frame my opinions on the St James’s Palace. This year, however, leaves me uncharacteristically ambivalent, and inclined to violate my usual rule and look for a class-climber in this spot. There are two candidates, and I’ve talked myself into #7 Mostabshir (8-1) in preference to unbeaten #3 Cicero’s Gift (5-1), on pedigree, price, and totally subjective instinct.

Although half-brother Mostahdaf took a similar leap into the 2021 St James’s Palace for the same connections, and failed badly, Mostabshir is arguably ahead of that one’s schedule. The salient differences are that he was ready to race at two, dominating his sole start at Kempton, and reappeared in a Guineas trial, as a 4-1 chance in the Craven (G3). Mostabshir floundered in that prep (John Gosden blamed the wet spring and its impact on his training regimen).

Lowering his sights to a York novice, Mostabshir crushed them on the front end under top weight of 136 pounds. He had the run of the race, to be sure, but this was more like his true ability. Off that evidence, he could become the third major winner out of the Dubawi mare Handassa, after multiple Group 1 victress Nazeef and Mostahdaf, who’s made amends with multiple Group 3 tallies. At the price, I’ll take a stab that now is the hour.

#8 Paddington (2-1) would normally be my top selection in the St James’s Palace. Ballydoyle’s upwardly mobile Irish 2000 Guineas (G1) winner beat the placed horses from Newmarket’s 2000 Guineas (G1). My only hang-up is that the Siyouni blueblood still appears a bit green, a work in progress (or babyish, to use Aidan O’Brien’s term). Maybe he can win this too, despite not being the finished article.

There’s no such qualm about the eminently professional Newmarket Guineas hero, #1 Chaldean (2-1). He might have won six straight if not for unseating Dettori in the Greenham (G3), a miscue at the start that was not Chaldean’s fault. Rather, my one mental reservation is that the other Guineas principals didn’t do themselves justice on the day, whether through failure to stay the mile, or the soft going, or whatever. Will Chaldean still prove best when everybody turns up? Maybe he will, but like Paddington, the price is short enough in the circumstances.

#6 Isaac Shelby (8-1) can claim to be the most logical value play, based on his terrific French classic form. He was just collared in Longchamp’s 2000 Guineas equivalent by Marhaba Ya Sanafi, who later placed third to record-setting Ace Impact in the French Derby (G1). My one qualm is that I’m not entirely sure that a mile is his optimal trip. The fear is that if Isaac Shelby couldn’t quite get home at Longchamp, Ascot’s mile can find him out. To be fair, that was very soft ground, and Isaac Shelby could stretch his speed farther in better conditions. If not for my overthinking the distance angle, Isaac Shelby makes an awful lot of sense.

Good luck!