2023 Royal Ascot: Selections for Wednesday

June 20th, 2023

The Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Prince of Wales’s (G1) is the highlight of Royal Ascot Wednesday, with a small but select field squaring off. Enhancing the day’s puzzles are an incredibly tricky Queen Mary (G2) with 28 juvenile fillies, and a Queen’s Vase (G2) with perhaps more than usual strength in depth among three-year-old stayers.

Here are my thoughts on the quartet of Group races on the card, including the Duke of Cambridge (G2) for older distaffers.

Race 1 (9:30 a.m. ET) – Queen Mary (G2)

With a massive field of two-year-old fillies, all operating on limited experience and developing at different rates, this five-furlong dash shapes up as a wild scramble.

In the anything-can-happen department, #11 Flora of Bermuda (20-1) has appeal as a twice-race maiden who could arguably have won both outings. She’s well-regarded by trainer Andrew Balding, who has sent out 11 Royal Ascot winners going into this year’s meeting. Five went off at double-digit odds, including two of his three juvenile scorers.

The nearly $425,000 breeze-up purchase appeared poised to punch in her unveiling at Sandown, only to wander around greenly and wind up a near-miss fourth to #15 Graceful Thunder. Undeterred, Balding shipped Flora of Bermuda up to Beverley for the conditions race that often attracts Queen Mary hopefuls, the Hilary Needler, and she was mired in traffic before getting through belatedly in second.

That’s an eye-catching piece of form because the Hilary Needler winner, #21 Midnight Affair (8-1), is herself a prime win contender here. Also a daughter of the outstanding sire Dark Angel like Flora of Bermuda, Midnight Affair was coming off a troubled second in her debut at Newmarket. The Richard Fahey pupil flashed home just behind Soprano, one of the leading fancies in Friday’s Albany (G3). Midnight Affair had smoother sailing at Beverley, where she clocked a faster time than her stablemate, the colt Bombay Bazaar, in the companion conditions race. (Bombay Bazaar is in the Windsor Castle S. later on the card.) Fahey told sportinglife.com that they can’t get Midnight Affair off the bridle in her workouts.

The replay cuts off at the wire, but right afterward, Flora of Bermuda was rapidly alongside Midnight Affair and then ahead on the gallop-out. The duo is drawn on opposite sides of the field at Ascot, with Midnight Affair possibly better placed in post 19. Flora of Bermuda is in post 8, but there should be enough pace on her side of the course with blast-off #24 Princess Chizara and #28 Tiger Belle near the far rail.

#25 Relief Rally (10-1) and #17 Juniper Berries (30-1), the respective one-two in a Salisbury conditions race, were both debut winners in their lone previous start. The odds discrepancy may not be warranted, since Juniper Berries didn’t get the right trip last time, according to trainer Eve Johnson Houghton. By 2018 Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) hero Expert Eye, Juniper Berries responded to more patient handling when running away at Bath. That said, Relief Rally has delivered two smooth successes for the in-form William Haggas, first pouncing at Windsor and then following up to win a bit cozily over Juniper Berries. The Kodiac filly sports some old-fashioned British sprinting bloodlines via her broodmare sire, Fayruz.

#3 Beautiful Diamond (4-1), a nearly $450,000 breeze-up purchase, could give Karl Burke back-to-back wins in this race after Dramatised last summer. Both fillies posted dynamic debut wins, although Dramatised did so on a grander stage at Newmarket. Beautiful Diamond blew away her foes at Nottingham June 7 and makes the quick turnaround for Royal Ascot. There’s also not quite the same over-the-top bubbly vibe from Burke, for whatever it’s worth. Beautiful Diamond still rates the best of his trio. Stablemate #14 Got to Love a Grey is likeably tough and gritty, as exemplified by her Marygate S. score, but she lacks the brilliance required to win here.

Freshman sire Omaha Beach will try to make a splash with #10 Cynane (12-1), possibly the best of the U.S. contingent, and Kentucky-bred, Irish-based sleeper #19 Launch (30-1). One of the Amo Racing juvenile army, Launch was third to a pair of Albany fancies, Porta Fortuna and Navassa Island, in a six-furlong Group 3 at Naas, and she should prefer dropping back in trip. Cynane’s Belmont Park maiden romp for Tom Morley is more compelling than Wesley Ward’s #6 Bundchen, who needs to be the next Acapulco to win this off a dirt maiden loss, and speedball #9 Crimson Advocate, who may not be as effective on the straightaway as she was whipping around Gulfstream.

French listed winner #1 Balsam (15-1) is a half-sister to Al Johrah, runner-up to Lady Aurelia in the 2016 Queen Mary, as well as to admirable globetrotter Stormy Antarctic. Balsam’s form is useful, as she’s beaten Norfolk (G2)-bound colt The Fixer (admittedly on heavy going). Balsam also raced against a pair who just placed to the best over there, Ramatuelle, in Sunday’s Prix du Bois (G3). Finally, #5 Born to Rock (7-2) has the feel of an underlay after her Yarmouth debut hasn’t really stood up.

Race 3 (10:40 a.m. ET) – Duke of Cambridge (G2)

The price has collapsed on #7 Prosperous Voyage (7-2) after key contender Laurel dropped out and she picked Frankie Dettori back up. But I’ll stick with the classic-placed filly, the near-misser in last year’s 1000 Guineas (G1), as the form choice at the distance. The Ralph Beckett filly has often faced superstar Inspiral, who was runner-up against males in Tuesday’s Queen Anne (G1). Twice runner-up to Inspiral in majors as a juvenile, Prosperous Voyage floored her in last summer’s Falmouth (G1). She regained the winning thread in the Princess Elizabeth (G3) at Epsom last out. Recovering from a slow-starting last, Prosperous Voyage sprinted her final three furlongs in :31.75 to catch the pace-advantaged #9 Random Harvest. If not the most consistent customer, Prosperous Voyage has the overall resume, especially if the ground isn’t too soft.

#10 Rogue Millennium (10-1) rates as my longshot to know for Wednesday. Although the Tom Clover trainee is trying a mile for the first time, her finishing speed over further could be a hint. The daughter of Dubawi, who was seventh in last year’s Oaks (G1) at Epsom, has repeatedly hit the board this season in a variety of conditions – versus males on all-weather, on very soft going in France, and most recently on good ground at York, where she threw a scare into high-class Free Wind. That makes her competitive on form, if the cutback is the right idea. Rogue Millennium was not originally engaged here, but her connections supplemented her into this race.

In contrast, #4 Jumbly (7-5) has had this target in her datebook ever since selling for more than $1.5 million at Tattersalls. Her odds appear out of line with her 2022 form, even judging by her hard-fought verdict in the Valiant (G3) here on the round course. But the daughter of Gleneagles and Group 1 queen Thistle Bird resumed with a fine second in the Lanwades Stud (G2) at the Curragh. Presumably, Jumbly can move forward off that tightener in her second start for Joseph O’Brien, who has inherited father Aidan’s ability to build up to a target. She’ll try to kick off a sibling act with half-brother Epictetus, a contender in Thursday’s Hampton Court (G3).

#1 Grande Dame (7-1), a troubled third in last fall’s Sun Chariot (G1), makes her seasonal reappearance for John and Thady Gosden. Other than flopping behind Inspiral in the 2022 Coronation (G1), Grande Dame was progressive throughout her sophomore campaign. She slammed her contemporaries in the Distaff at Sandown and then succumbed to the older #6 Potapova in the Atalanta (G3) over the same mile course. #8 Queen Aminatu (15-1), more of an all-weather specialist, exits a third to the top-class Sacred and Sandrine in the Chartwell Fillies’ (G3) over Lingfield’s Polytrack. But the Haggas filly turned in perhaps her best effort on turf here last October, when runner-up in a listed stakes.

Race 4 (11:20 a.m. ET) – Prince of Wales’s (G1), WAYI for Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1)

Since his unbeaten juvenile season, #4 Luxembourg (9-5) has reminded me of Ballydoyle legend St Nicholas Abbey. The parallel was strengthened when Luxembourg also lost the 2000 Guineas (G1) and missed the Derby (G1) with an injury. Unlike “St Nick,” Luxembourg made it back for a second-half campaign at three and scored a gutsy win in the Irish Champion (G1). A bottomless-ground Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) didn’t pan out for him, as he injured a muscle, but he wasn’t disgraced in seventh.

Luxembourg is renewing those St Nick comparisons, broad as they are, as an older horse. Improving second up to capture the Tattersalls Gold Cup (G1) over #2 Bay Bridge (4-1), with a new front-running capability, the son of Camelot figures to move forward again. After all, Royal Ascot is a vital objective for the Coolmore empire, and his Curragh excursion was a step toward the goal. He’ll likely let longshot #3 Classic Causeway deal with the pacesetting job. As long as Ryan Moore can find room from his rail post, Luxembourg strikes me as the best of this superb group. He’s won on good and soft alike.

Perhaps the biggest danger is also the least exposed, #6 My Prospero (7-2). This could be his year, as the shrewd Haggas has said. Although only a close third to Bay Bridge and #1 Adayar (2-1) in last fall’s course-and-distance Champion (G1), My Prospero was facing those older stars off a three-month layoff. He has more recency this time, having prepped with a sneaky fourth to Modern Games in the Lockinge (G1) over an inadequate mile. Staying on well when it looked as though he might be up the course, My Prospero will be better suited by the stretch-out.

Yet I wouldn’t be surprised if #5 Mostahdaf (20-1) makes the frame at big odds, especially if the ground is not too soft. Last seen finishing fourth to the world’s highest-rated horse, Equinox, in the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) on World Cup night, Mostahdaf drops back to about 1 1/4 miles here. Two starts back, the Shadwell homebred delivered one of his career-best efforts on a similar cutback, albeit on a quicker surface, for the Neom Turf Cup (G3) on Saudi Cup Day.

Adayar can’t be underestimated as the 2021 Epsom Derby (G1)/King George VI & Queen Elizabeth (G1) hero. It wouldn’t be fair to typecast him as a strictly 1 1/2-mile performer, since the Godolphin celebrity just bolted up in the Gordon Richards (G3) at this trip. Still, my suspicion is that he’d want much slower ground, or a much stiffer pace, to put a premium on stamina in a 1 1/4-mile prize at this level. This distance is Bay Bridge’s wheelhouse, and he will enjoy a bit of ease in the going; however, he was second in this race last summer, and Wednesday’s edition is even tougher.

Race 6 (12:35 p.m. ET) – Queen’s Vase (G2)

Although the market is all about one horse, there are three other major contenders in a race for aspiring sophomores in the staying division. All four principals are trying 1 3/4 miles for the first time, adding a new variable into the mix and prodding the inclination to value.

#2 Chesspiece (8-1) had a lot to recommend him at the entry stage, even before he was just scooped up by Godolphin. But the formal change of ownership from Rabbah Racing only underscores his potential. Trained by Simon and Ed Crisford, Chesspiece has won two of three starts, with a sustained late run that suggests he’s made for this kind of distance.

After beating the consistent #6 Hadrianus in their mutual debut over 1 1/4 miles on the Newcastle Tapeta in November, Chesspiece returned at the same trip in a soft-ground conditions race at Newbury, where he plugged on in third. The pace-controlling winner was Godolphin’s Military Order, who went on to capture the Lingfield Derby Trial. Chesspiece nearly snatched second from the smart Exoplanet and then finished an unlucky third next out in the valuable London Gold Cup H. (and a contender in Thursday’s Hampton Court). Up to 1 1/2 miles in a York handicap, Chesspiece defied top weight of 136 pounds to get up in a fast time.

By Nathaniel and out of German highweight Royal Solitaire, from the terrific family of Domestic Spending, Queen’s Trust, Thundering Nights, Luso, and Warrsan, Chesspiece sports entries in such marquee events as the Irish St Leger (G1) and the Arc.

Hot favorite #5 Gregory (8-5) brings plenty of pedigree power along with his 2-for-2 record. The son of Golden Horn is the latest from a family of prominent stayers; dam Gretchen, the 2015 Park Hill (G2) winner, is a half-sister to Duncan and Samuel. Gregory is already living up to those bloodlines, powering from off the pace as much the best in his Haydock premiere and in the 1 3/8-mile Cocked Hat S. (which his own half-brother Lionel won last year). In that Goodwood stakes, though, Gregory was more disorganized before pulling himself together, and he might not get away with that here. On the other hand, he’s entitled to be happier around the more straightforward circuit at Ascot.

I imagined that #3 Circle of Fire (5-1) might have been one for Friday’s King Edward VII (G2), but perhaps this is viewed as a more winnable spot for King Charles and Queen Camilla’s runner. Sir Michael Stoute certainly knows how to place them. Bred by the late Queen Elizabeth II, Circle of Fire has run well in defeat in a pair of stakes this season. His one-paced second in the Newmarket S. illustrated his desire for more distance, an impression he reiterated with a commendable third to Military Order in the 1 1/2-mile Lingfield Derby Trial. Circle of Fire dug himself a hole there by breaking slowly, so he did very well to rally.

#9 Peking Opera (8-1), who likewise had other options during the Royal meeting, represents seven-time Queen’s Vase winner Aidan O’Brien. While the Galileo colt is out of a full sister to European champion juvenile Air Force Blue, his slow-fuse running style marks him more as a marathoner. Indeed, Peking Opera was workmanlike in both his Leopardstown maiden win (over eventual London Gold Cup winner Bertinelli) and in his reappearance in the 1 5/8-mile Yeats S. at Navan. Taking a while to wind up, Peking Opera eventually wore down #4 Etna Rosso (15-1), who stuck on stubbornly himself. The added furlong should be within their compass.

The one I could be underestimating is #10 Saint George (8-1), who is proven at the distance, having won over a shade further than this at Doncaster. The Balding pupil was getting weight in that handicap, but is clearly on the upswing. 

Good luck!