2024 Royal Ascot: Selections for Tuesday

June 17th, 2024

Royal Ascot opens with its customary bang on Tuesday. Three Group 1s – including two Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” (WAYI) events and a stellar renewal of the St James’s Palace (G1) – plus the marquee juvenile race of the meeting, the Coventry (G2), make for quite a wagering menu.

The favorites should run well, but better-priced challengers have compelling claims too. We’ll trust that the weather handicappers, a.k.a. meteorologists, are correct about the pleasant conditions. 

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

This looked like a potentially tricky race, even before Inspiral decamped to Wednesday’s Prince of Wales’s (G1). As sensible as the new market leaders are, they’ve been “nearly” horses at this level throughout their European careers. I can’t resist the hidebound notion that they’ll be filling the minors again, but behind whom? Longshots could jump up in a race like this, and two have particular interest.

Aga Khan blueblood #7 Dolayli (20-1) is a lightly-raced improver for Francis-Henri Graffard. The son of Siyouni and high-class racemare Dolniya, who beat males in the 2015 Dubai Sheema Classic (G1), strikes me as the type eligible to blossom in these conditions. Although he’s been campaigned over further, the sectional times on france-galop.com show that he has quite a kick. Dolayli wasn’t beaten much in fourth in his Group 1 debut last time in the Prix d’Ispahan (G1), where he struck the front a tad early. A rollicking pace over a stiff mile could be just the scenario for him to reach a new high. 

#11 Maljoom (12-1) was widely flagged as an unlucky loser of the 2022 St James’s Palace, on good-to-firm, over the round mile. Buried far back in traffic, behind a dawdling pace, the William Haggas trainee exploded once he got a sliver of room. The wire came too soon, however, and he had to settle for a near-miss fourth. His ferocious kick, in the hottest part of the race when everyone else was quickening too, marked him out as a miler of the highest order. 

Unfortunately, Maljoom hasn’t had the opportunity to prove it because of various physical issues. He’s raced only twice in the intervening two years, but his latest comeback attempt hinted that connections may at last be rewarded for their patience. Although only third in the course-and-distance Paradise S. as the favorite, Maljoom was totally unsuited by the tactical set-up. He’ll have targets to chase this time.

#8 Facteur Cheval (3-1), thereabouts in a series of majors last season, broke through in the Dubai Turf (G1) on World Cup night. The son of 2017 Queen Anne course record-setter Ribchester has every right to keep progressing for Jerome Reynier. Roger Varian’s #5 Charyn (5-2) brings a similar profile of consistency reaching an even higher level this term, and he comes off a terrific second in the key prep, the Lockinge (G1). Yet Charyn might have preferred a bit more ease in the ground here. 

The horse I fear most, #2 Big Rock (5-1), should run better than his Lockinge flop. He has been effective on ground much quicker than his Queen Elizabeth II (G1) conquest here last October, so the going isn’t a deal-breaker. My sticking point is the fact that he was shockingly uprooted from the Christopher Head yard earlier this spring. Can new trainer Maurizio Guarnieri get him back to his former peak? 

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

In a 23-strong field of well-regarded juveniles, all developing in leaps and bounds if not fits and starts, virtually anything can happen. 

From a visual and pedigree perspective, Richard Fahey’s #6 Catalyse (10-1) looms as an enticing price play. A profitable pinhook for Norman Williamson’s Oak Tree operation, the about $373,505 Goffs breeze-up buy made a stylish debut at Hamilton. The Wathnan Racing runner traveled exceptionally well and picked up on cue to assert with ears pricked. 

Catalyse has Royal Ascot bloodlines top and bottom, as a son of sprint supremo Starspangledbanner (himself by the Aussie trailblazer Choisir) and out of a mare by 2014 Queen Anne hero Toronado. Catalyse comes from the productive family of Invincible Spirit and $16 million-earner Mishriff. 

Joseph O’Brien has the one to beat in #9 Cowardofthecounty (5-1), who galloped all over father Aidan’s hotpot Whistlejacket in their mutual debut over six furlongs at the Curragh. Whistlejacket has since starred on the cutback to five furlongs, and ranks as the favorite for Thursday’s Norfolk (G2). Perhaps the longer distance of that maiden, especially on soft-to-heavy going, inflated Whistlejacket’s margin of defeat. Cowardofthecounty nevertheless shapes up as an outstanding long-term prospect. The question is whether he might just find one of his rivals a bit more precocious in this spot. Otherwise, he’s a very likeable favorite.

Aidan O’Brien’s #5 Camille Pissarro (9-2), in contrast, was a weak Coventry favorite who’s been eclipsed in the market. Given his reputation, it’s difficult to discount him altogether, but the form of his Navan win has proved to be rather poor, and he was narrowly overturned in the Marble Hill (G3). The proximity of Joseph’s third-placer in that stakes, #13 Midnight Strike (20-1), could be interpreted as a sign that Camille Pissarro has to improve to deal with Cowardofthecounty.

Karl Burke’s York debut winner #2 Andesite (12-1) is bred for Royal Ascot success, as a Pinatubo half-brother to 2022 Queen Mary (G2) heroine Dramatised. Yet he doesn’t have much in hand over the runner-up that day, #22 Yah Mo Be There (20-1), who appeared to have Andesite in his grasp before losing the plot. 

#11 Francisco’s Piece (15-1) is a battle-hardened, thoroughly professional juvenile, and that could carry him a long way versus inexperienced rivals. Stepping up from five to six furlongs for the Coventry reportedly wasn’t the initial plan, though, for the Adrian Keatley pupil, who RNA’d for £500,000 at Monday’s Goffs London Sale. 

Race 3 (10:45 a.m. ET) – King Charles III (G1), WAYI for BC Turf Sprint (G1)

This five-furlong scramble could end up being a lottery, if Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G1) winner #12 Big Evs (3-1) isn’t able to justify favoritism over an evenly-matched bunch of older horses. 

Big Evs has the raw talent to emerge as the sprint star everyone craves, but it can be tough for sophomores taking on older horses at this stage. His attempt as a two-year-old in last summer’s Nunthorpe (G1) didn’t go well, although trainer Mick Appleby believes that he simply ran back too quickly. There’s also a substantial price differential with #16 Valiant Force (15-1), the close runner-up to Big Evs at Santa Anita, who was a course-and-distance winner last term at 150-1 in the Norfolk (G2).

Amid the caveats, Big Evs has displayed a greater degree of reliability than the alternatives. He has the course form angle, having broken his maiden here a year ago by dominating the Windsor Castle S. as a 20-1 shot. Sire Blue Point turned the big Royal Ascot sprint double in 2019, winning this race and adding the Jubilee (G1) four days later. 

My main alternative is #6 Rogue Lightning (10-1), who belongs to a fairly similar group of #5 Regional (9-2), #9 Believing (10-1), and #4 Kerdos (8-1). They all have solid win chances, making it maddening to separate them. Rogue Lightning’s price stands to be a little better, and the $1.2 million Wathnan Racing purchase might just have the key piece of form down a straightaway at this distance.

Anchoring my rationale is his sneaky fifth in last fall’s Prix de l’Abbaye (G1), where Rogue Lightning was blocked until it was too late. Yet he still had the pluck to rally amid the clump in the photo for the placings, missing second by a couple of heads and a nose. With a halfway decent trip, Rogue Lightning would have been runner-up at a minimum, and potentially even challenging divisional benchmark Highfield Princess for the victory. 

Forget his low-key reappearance on soft ground at Haydock. Back on a quicker surface here, Rogue Lightning will be in his element. The Kodiac gelding sports a course-and-distance score over elders last season, in the Shergar Cup Dash H., as well as pedigree appeal, hailing from the family of Prix de la Foret (G1) three-peater One Master. 

Veteran #7 Twilight Calls (10-1) is only 3-for-17 in his career, but he’s factored in the past two runnings of this race. Second to the superb Australian Nature Strip in 2022, Twilight Calls was a troubled fourth last year. That was his only decent race in a forgettable 2023, and he’s entering in better form now. His sire, Twilight Son, won the 2016 Jubilee here for the same trainer, Henry Candy. 

While the current Australian flagbearer, #8 Asfoora (7-1), isn’t in Nature Strip’s league, she has been competing admirably in a jurisdiction with a much deeper sprint bench that what Europe can muster. Most eye-catchingly, she was runner-up to the Antipodean queen, Imperatriz, in last September’s Moir (G1). That came around a turn, and the stiff track at Ascot might just put her at the upper limit of her stamina. Trainer Henry Dwyer is eyeing additional targets during her British sojourn. Five furlongs at Glorious Goodwood or York, for example, would cater to her more. Asfoora was semi-fit when fourth in her tune-up at Haydock, and she should improve enough to make the frame here. 

Race 4 (11:25 a.m. ET) – St James’s Palace (G1)

Does Aidan O’Brien’s #4 Henry Longfellow (4-1) need rain to spring a mild upset? I first imagined so, but after overthinking the race scenario, I’m beginning to suspect that he might not. If Coolmore’s royally-bred son of Dubawi and seven-time Group 1 heroine Minding is an unknown quantity on ground this firm, it’s not necessarily a hindrance either. Ryan Moore could leverage an advantageous position in a tactical affair, and coming off the turn, get the decisive jump on hot favorite #6 Notable Speech (3-2). Henry Longfellow is bred to want upwards of a mile, so Notable Speech might find it more challenging to reel him in up the stiff stretch at Ascot than he did blowing away his 2000 Guineas (G1) rivals at Newmarket. 

This nice theory requires Henry Longfellow to step up from his frustrating eighth in the Poule d’Essai des Poulains (French 2000 Guineas) (G1), where he suffered his first loss without getting a meaningful chance to use his stride. It requires that the Ballydoyle brain trust gets the tactics exactly right. And it requires that he’s every bit as good as he appeared during a sparkling juvenile campaign. Indeed, in a typical year, “Henry” might well have been at Newmarket instead of Paris, but his celebrated stablemate City of Troy was going solo in the Guineas. That plan backfired. The St James’s Palace, however, was always Henry’s gig.

Godolphin’s homebred Notable Speech, also by Dubawi, was a revelation in his turf debut in the Guineas. The Charlie Appleby trainee rightly became the favorite to follow up here, although the circumstances are liable to play out differently. 

Guineas runner-up #7 Rosallion (7-2) complimented the form when going on to capture the Irish 2000 Guineas (G1). He might have been fitter at the Curragh than in his reappearance at Newmarket, where Notable Speech had the recency edge. Rosallion could also theoretically benefit from the change of venue to Ascot, since he impressed (on the straight course) here as a juvenile. Yet Rosallion’s rail draw could keep him pocketed for longer than ideal on the round course. 

One potential dark horse is #3 Darlinghurst (10-1), who brings tactical speed as well as a four-race winning streak from France. A stablemate of Queen Anne contender Facteur Cheval, the Reynier pupil has beaten a couple of notable foes in his past two – Wootton Verni, the next-out Prix Greffulhe (G3) winner, and First Look, second in the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) (G1). The rub is that both stepped up in distance after their losses to Darlinghurst going about nine furlongs. Darlinghurst will need to be sharper as he cuts back to a mile on faster ground, but the son of Dark Angel has the pedigree to do just that.