2024 Royal Ascot: Selections for Thursday

June 19th, 2024

Several strong favorites, including the decorated stayer Kyprios, will be prominent in Royal Ascot's Group race offerings on Thursday. But I'll take a stand against all of them in the hope of hitting one or more home runs. 

My English betting bankroll stands at $699, and I will wager 5% of the balance on all my top selections. The first bet in the Norfolk will be worth $35.

Race 1 — 9:30 a.m. ET — Norfolk (G2)

No favorite has won this race since 2008, an extraordinarily long drought for any stakes. The public choice here will be short — close to even-money — and results in recent years suggest almost anything can happen. So why not try and beat him?

#7 Milford (15-1) won easily enough on debut at Hamilton in late May showing an above-average level of maturity. Breaking alertly and contesting the lead, he eventually asserted himself to win by 3 1/2 lengths while looking potentially useful. Lots of unknowns coming into this, though, as he beat only four overmatched rivals and will face much quicker ground. That said, he's sure to progress.

He offers appeal from a pedigree perspective, too. Kodiac has sired multiple Royal Ascot juvenile winners, including 2016 Norfolk winner Prince of Lir. Milford's dam is an unraced half-sister to Monterosso, a Dubai World Cup (G1) winner who also scored in the 1 1/2-mile King Edward VII (G2) at this fixture.

#13 Whistlejacket (1-1) will be an overwhelming choice to break the long losing skid of Norfolk favorites, and really can't find fault with him except for the price in a race that tends to produce wild results.

He won very well in the First Flier S. at The Curragh last out, defeating subsequent Marble Hill (G3) victor #2 Arizona Blaze (10-1). His pedigree is also very blue:d By No Nay Never, who won the Norfolk in 2013, he's a full brother to Little Big Bear, who landed the Windsor Castle S. at this stand two years ago. Those of a certain vintage will also remember his third dam All Along, the 1983 Horse of the Year and Hall of Fame inductee.

Nothing wrong with Arizona Blaze, per se, but our actual third choice is #12 Tropical Storm (20-1), who wasn't far behind Tuesday's Coventry (G2) upsetter Rashabar in his Newbury debut and then improved considerably to miss by a neck in a Newmarket novice on Guineas weekend. The form of that race didn't work out quite as well in the Coventry, though Newmarket third Al Qudra was beaten only a length in that scramble. Though still a maiden, Tropical Storm enters relatively fresh and with plenty of upside for Andrew Balding.

Race 3 — 10:45 a.m. ET — Ribblesdale (G2)

Andrew Balding's conservative handling of #6 Kalpana (9-2) might pay off in this 1 1/2-mile feature for three-year-old fillies. After running first and second in her first two starts over the all-weather (the loss coming to the Commonwealth Cup [G1]-bound Inisherin), Kalpana bolted up to win a minor Newmarket handicap by 10 lengths, and then was second best by a long way to Friendly Soul over the same 1 1/4-mile trip in the Pretty Polly S.

Unlike the connections of Friendly Soul, Balding resisted the urge to make the Oaks (G1) with her and instead set his eyes on this race after the Pretty Polly. On form and ratings, she won't have to improve considerably to land a serious blow and seems likely to stay.

The 2023 Ribblesdale had a heavy (and ultimately losing) favorite who attempted to squeeze too many races into too short a time after making a belated debut. The parallels with #2 Diamond Rain (2-1) aren't quite as exact, but close enough to give me cause for pause at the price.

Diamond Rain was bred to be amazing. She's by Shamardal and out of Dancing Rain, who won the Oaks at Epsom, German Oaks (G1), and the British Champions Fillies and Mares (G2) over this course and distance. Diamond Rain has looked pretty solid, too, getting up late to take her debut here over a mile on May 1, and then 18 days later beating a small field in a Newbury stakes won last year by Warm Heart, who went on to land the Ribblesdale and three Grade/Group 1s.

Diamond Rain showed just a slight touch of greenness at Newbury when drifting out in the latter stages, and perhaps her relative inexperience could open the door for others.

The Coolmore-owned #8 Port Fairy (10-1) was seemingly not judged to be Oaks caliber after running a head second to #3 Forest Fairy (10-1) in the Cheshire Oaks in early May. While Forest Fairy struggled at Epsom, Port Fairy enters this freshened and much less exposed than most of the others. The addition of blinkers (or visor, in European parlance) might prove useful in this spot.

Race 4 — 11:25 a.m. ET — Gold Cup (G1)

The centerpiece of every Royal meeting, this 2 1/2-mile marathon has not always been the best of wagering opportunities for win bettors as post-time favorites have won eight of the 13 renewals since the TwinSpires crew began covering Royal Ascot in 2011.

#3 Kyprios (4-5) could easily make it 9-for-14. The Coolmore grandee, when healthy, has been a stayer of remarkable dependability. Prevented from defending his title 12 months ago due to injury, he's seeking to become the first horse in this race's long history to win non-consecutive renewals.

The conventional wisdom is, though his two preps in Ireland this spring weren't overly flashy, they were good enough to suggest he is close to, but not all the way back, to his best form from 2022, when he proved the dominant stayer on both sides of the English Channel. And the 2022 version of Kyprios perhaps isn't needed to win this, which might be entirely true. Besides his CV, Kyprios' main strength is his record over 2 1/2 miles. No one else is proven over the distance.

Be that as it may, at the risk of not walking away without endorsing one winner on either Thursday or Friday, I'll take him on. No guts, no glory, as they say.

#6 Trawlerman (10-1) caught Kyprios at a rare weak point in the British Champions Long Distance Cup (G2) in October. After conceding the lead to Kyprios in upper stretch, Trawlerman went around the heavy favorite and proceeded to snatch victory from the jaws of assured defeat in a remarkable performance for Frankie Dettori in his swan song to riding in Britain.

Whether Trawlerman can knock off Kyprios again, in a race a half-mile longer than he's ever run, remains to be seen. Another potential concern is that he tends to race prominently, and there appears to be plenty of other pace types entered.

Still, one could argue Trawlerman is perhaps the second best horse on paper as far as recent form and consistency in Britain, even though the betting might not reflect it. If you cut him slack for his performances the last couple years in the Middle East, where he has never shown himself to best effect, he's been a tough nut to crack on this isle. He looks the best value on the board.

The mare #10 Caius Chorister (15-1) was a bit unlucky to lose both the Sagaro (G3) and Henry II (G3) by narrow margins, and a perfectly-timed bid could net her one of the bigger shares. #1 Coltrane (12-1) saw a welcome return to form when gutting out a second consecutive win in the Sagaro, but perhaps squandered his best chance at winning this race when falling short of younger upstart Courage Mon Ami last year. This renewal is significantly deeper.

Race 6 — 12:40 p.m. ET — Hampton Court (G3)

#1 Al Musmak (15-1) raced to no effect in a not-so-hot renewal of the Dante (G2) first up this term, but his juvenile form suggests he should have fared much better.

After a career-opening win here in July, Al Musmak finished four lengths second to Rosallion in the seven-furlong Pat Eddery S. Rosallion, of course, has since become a triple Group 1 and classic winner, most recently taking Tuesday's St James's Palace (G1). Al Musmak closed out the season winning a one-mile stakes at Haydock and finishing second in the Royal Lodge (G2) to Ghostwriter, a respectable fourth in both the 2000 Guineas (G1) and French Derby (G1).

This distance might be a bit of a question mark, but there's no doubting he's faced more talented foes and deserves some benefit of the doubt for the Dante after acting up in the preliminaries. Food for thought at a big price, and for his apparent fondness for the course.

#5 First Look (3-1) is an obvious threat after running second, beaten two lengths, in the French Derby to Look de Vega, who is already one of the top favorites for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (G1). First Look might not need more than a repeat of that form to win, though worth noting this will likely be the quickest ground he's ever run over and has yet to actually win in three starts on grass.

#11 Taraj (10-1) also owns a piece of very good form, having finished one length third in the Derby Trial (G3) at Leopardstown to Los Angeles, subsequently third in the Epsom classic and a top contender in the Irish Derby (G1) later this month. Trainer Dermot Weld tends to send very legitimate contenders to this meeting.

Haven't quite understood the buzz surrounding current favorite #7 King's Gambit (7-2), but that doesn't mean I discount the possibility of belatedly seeing the light at the end of this 1 1/4 miles. Simply not for me at the current odds.