2024 Royal Ascot: Selections for Wednesday

June 18th, 2024

The centerpiece of Wednesday’s card at Royal Ascot, the Prince of Wales’s (G1), often produces one of the week’s enduring highlights. The 1 1/4-mile affair promises to deliver once again, as Breeders’ Cup stars Auguste Rodin and Inspiral square off in this “Win and You’re In” for the Turf (G1).

The action begins with a typically frenetic Queen Mary (G2), where 26 juvenile fillies remain in the five-furlong dash. Let’s plunge into the four Group stakes and try to find the right value.

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

In a wildly inscrutable race, Juddmonte’s #9 Kassaya (15-1) offers the captivating combination of pedigree power and high cruising speed. A $1.2 million Tattersalls December foal, the Kingman filly is a half-sister to last year’s 2000 Guineas (G1) winner Chaldean and four other stakes performers. 

The Andrew Balding pupil has raced well versus males, so this marks her first appearance in her own division. Kassaya ran greenly but still nearly won on debut at Salisbury, where she was just run down by Pont Neuf, who had won his previous start. The third in that Salisbury race has since placed in the Woodcote S., giving collateral form with shock Coventry (G2) winner Rashabar. Pont Neuf is himself a contender later Wednesday in the Windsor Castle S. 

Next time at Nottingham, Kassaya put the race away decisively despite still learning on the job. She should have the pace to attend early and maintain the gallop. 

#17 Miss Rascal (8-1) recently dominated a course-and-distance maiden on the front end, following up on her unveiling at Newmarket. She was slowly away on that first start, and quietly ridden in the back, but rattled home in eye-popping fashion for sixth. Trained by Paul and Oliver Cole, the Havana Gold filly comes from the immediate family of 2018 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) victor Line of Duty.

#22 Spherical (15-1) dusted only two rivals in a Yarmouth maiden of questionable merit, but she could hardly have looked any better stretching clear. The Blue Point filly is a homebred granddaughter of Cheveley Park’s magnificent racemare Spatial, and there was something about the way she lowered her head and leveled off. Since trainer Roger Varian doesn’t tilt at windmills, Spherical is worth a look at the price.

Lukewarm favorite #13 Make Haste (4-1) inhaled her opponents in her sole start at Naas for Diego Dias. As a former jockey and veteran of the breeze-up scene, Dias saw that she had Queen Mary written all over her. Yet at the price, she doesn’t necessarily stand out among the boatload of logical players here. A similar comment applies to #12 Leovanni (6-1), who scampered home smartly at Nottingham. 

#4 Enchanting Empress (15-1), a perfect 3-for-3 for the Amo Racing team, has beaten males in every start. By hot freshman sire Sergei Prokofiev (a son of Scat Daddy), she prevailed in a course-and-distance conditions race and in the National S. at Sandown. Enchanting Empress doesn’t win by gaudy margins, but she travels well before ultimately imposing her will. Wesley Ward’s #24 Ultima Grace (8-1) posted an easy Keeneland maiden win in slow time; she has more allure on pedigree, as an American Pharoah filly from the family of No Nay Never. 

Race 2 (10:05 a.m. ET) – Queen’s Vase (G2)

Aidan O’Brien has this 1 3/4-mile test surrounded with four entrants, and three key chances, putting a Ballydoyle trifecta within reach. All are by the great patriarch Galileo.

Based on jockey bookings, the market views #2 Grosvenor Square as the third string (the 5-1 odds in the past performances don’t reflect his 7-1 or 8-1 price abroad). But that’s perhaps penalizing him too harshly for his distant third as the favorite in the Chester Vase (G3). Ring-rusty off the layoff, he also wasn’t helped by the race flow around that very tight track, and it’s not surprising that he was outpaced. 

As a juvenile, though, Grosvenor Square was shaping up as a stayer. His half-brother Santiago won this race in 2020 before capturing the Irish Derby (G1) and subsequently sticking to longer distances. Grosvenor Square displayed a relentless galloping style in his debut score (in the same Galway maiden won by future staying star Kyprios) and in last fall’s Eyrefield (G3). Off that evidence, he’s just the type to relish the step up in trip, and young Dylan Browne McMonagle is an excellent rider. 

Stablemate #4 Illinois has been hammered into 2-1 favoritism abroad because Ryan Moore is aboard, but he has the right profile too. A half-brother to European champion Danedream, and a full brother to past Ballydoyle alum Venice Beach, Illinois has collateral form tying directly into the Derby (G1) at Epsom. He was most recently runner-up in the Lingfield Derby Trial to Ambiente Friendly, who came back to finish second in the Derby. In last fall’s Criterium de Saint-Cloud (G1), Illinois was third to eventual Derby third Los Angeles. As a one-paced grinder, he’s likewise bound to find more at this distance.

I’m not sure the same can be said for stablemate #3 Highbury, who was the antepost favorite until Wayne Lordan was named to ride. Bettors were wowed by his Leopardstown maiden romp in fast time, in just his second start. While Highbury has any amount of potential, he’s taking a class and distance hike simultaneously. With O’Brien having to juggle so many three-year-olds, this has the vibe of a reconnaissance mission to see if he can slot into the stayers’ group. 

Perhaps the biggest threat to a Ballydoyle sweep is fellow Irish shipper #1 Birdman (9-2). The gelded son of Free Eagle, from the family of globetrotter Snow Fairy, is undefeated in two starts for Jessica Harrington. After easily beating a babyish Highbury in their mutual debut at Cork, Birdman rolled in the 1 5/8-mile Yeats S. over Bellezza, who gives him collateral form with Oaks (G1) star Ezeliya. Of the British, Balding’s #8 Mina Rashid (20-1) upset O’Brien’s promising Ephesus in a fast-run maiden during Chester’s May meeting. 

Race 3 (10:45 a.m. ET) – Duke of Cambridge (G2)

#11 Rogue Millennium (3-1), an overlay when winning this race last year on the straight course, will be tough to dethrone as the mile feature moves to the round course. The Dubawi mare excels at this distance if she gets quicker ground, as she reiterated when rallying for second to Tahiyra in last fall’s Matron (G1). Sold for more than $2.1 million following her 2023 campaign, Rogue Millennium switched to Joseph O’Brien, who cautioned that she’d need her first run to bring her on. So her comeback third to #1 Ocean Jewel (7-1) in the Lanwades Stud (G2) was most encouraging, especially on going that was slower than ideal, and with an unlucky trip that saw her bottled up at a crucial stage. She’ll be fitter, and get better conditions, here.

John and Thady Gosden have a vulnerable favorite in #6 Laurel (5-2), who resumes from a 13-month layoff in a challenging spot. Stablemate #13 Running Lion (15-1) has more appeal; if she were more straightforward, I’d be tempted to tab her for the upset. Running Lion arguably wants to be a miler, rather than the longer trips she’s been encountering. She shortened up for her reappearance in the nine-furlong Dahlia (G2) at Newmarket, where she struck the front well as the favorite, only to get outstayed by the smart Stay Alert. Favored again in the 1 1/16-mile Princess Elizabeth (G3) at Epsom, Running Lion was moving well when she tried to get through up the rail. There was a seam – until she shrank from it, possibly got unbalanced in traffic, and wound up last. The daughter of Roaring Lion, and maternal relative of 2018 Duke of Cambridge winner Aljazzi, should be psychologically more comfortable drawn toward the outside on this track. 

The unlucky third in the Princess Elizabeth, #12 Royal Dress (12-1), likewise has strong claims to turn the tables on the victorious #2 Breege (7-1). Indeed, in her prior start, Royal Dress edged #9 Novus (15-1) and Breege in the Conqueror Fillies’ S. at Goodwood. Improving with age as the progeny of Night of Thunder tend to do, Royal Dress has also found new life since switching to trainer James Tate. 

Joseph O’Brien’s other recruit, #4 Gregarina (15-1), has the class if she can cope with the faster ground. Second to the useful male Poker Face in last summer’s Prix Quincey (G3), she exceeded expectations in her debut for O’Brien when upsetting the Athasi (G3). French shipper #14 Sea the Lady (15-1) finished third at 18-1 in the Prix Allez France (G3) in her first start for Christopher Head, hinting that she could be capable of further progress. 

Race 4 (11:25 a.m. ET) – Prince of Wales’s (G1), WAYI for BC Turf (G1)

As a longtime fan of #2 Auguste Rodin (even-money), I can’t bring myself to oppose him when the scenario is likely to set up well for him. Between his own Ballydoyle pacemaker, and the one employed to assist #9 Blue Rose Cen (12-1), he’ll get a truly run race on a surface that promises to be riding pretty quick. The son of the great Deep Impact hasn’t had either in his two starts so far this year, but O’Brien has been building up to this main aim. When the stars align for him, Auguste Rodin is a world-class operator, and he’s not currently a prohibitive price in the market either.

#10 Inspiral (3-1) doesn’t offer as great a price differential as the morning line implies. Her odds are shortening abroad, with her course form making her the obvious alternative. The Cheveley Park homebred was spectacular in her only prior appearance on the round course, albeit over a mile in the 2022 Coronation (G1). The Frankel mare proved that she stays a fast-run 1 1/4 miles in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1), although the contours of Santa Anita are easier than the stiff circuit at Ascot. That’s the only potential question; Auguste Rodin might have a stamina edge in the circumstances. But Inspiral should deliver her trademark kick. She’s tended to come to hand for the Gosdens as spring turns to summer, and she’ll improve markedly from her fourth in the one-mile Lockinge (G1) – the prep that produced the winner of Tuesday’s Queen Anne (G1), Charyn.

#1 Alflaila (10-1) rates a sneaky upset chance. The Shadwell homebred was on a rapid upswing during his 2022 campaign before he was struck down by injury. Trainer Owen Burrows was able to bring him right back to winning form in last year’s York (G2). In his only subsequent start, Alflaila was a slow-starting, stealthy fifth to Auguste Rodin in the Sept. 9 Irish Champion (G1). Connections had the easier option of Tuesday’s Wolferton S., won by fellow Shadwell colorbearer Israr. Alflaila’s placement here off the layoff could be a tip in itself. Burrows in the past has said that he wouldn’t risk him on rattling-fast ground again, but he’s effective on it. 

Although my longshot hope in the Queen Anne, Dolayli, didn’t boost the Prix d’Ispahan (G1) form, Ispahan near-misser #4 Horizon Dore (6-1) fits better in this spot. Trained by Patrice Cottier, who sent out Sparkling Plenty to upset Sunday’s French Oaks (G1), Horizon Dore has course-and-distance form as the third in last fall’s Champion (G1). A male-line descendant of Sunday Silence (like Auguste Rodin), he too appreciates better conditions. Compatriot #8 Zarakem (20-1), who beat Horizon Dore two back in the Prix d’Harcourt (G2), can be forgiven his flop as the favorite in the Prix Ganay (G1). Trainer Jerome Reynier said in the attheraces.com stable tour that they got the tactics wrong, and a more patient ride would put him in a much better light.