2024 Royal Ascot: Top 10 storylines

June 16th, 2024

The most anticipated event of the British summer season returns this week, as Royal Ascot stages its action-packed five-day meeting Tuesday through Saturday. From two-year-olds and sprinters to mile specialists, middle-distance aficionados, and stamina-laden stayers, the gala presents opportunities for every division. 

The world-class racing will have reverberations throughout the rest of the season, both at home and abroad. From a U.S. perspective, the Breeders’ Cup implications are especially valuable. 

Four Royal Ascot races are part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge program, beginning right off the bat with Tuesday’s opener, the Queen Anne (G1), a “Win and You’re In” for the Mile (G1). A little more than an hour later, the King Charles III (G1) offers a free berth in the Turf Sprint (G1). Wednesday’s Prince of Wales’s (G1) carries the same perk for the Turf (G1), and Thursday’s Norfolk (G2) winner earns a spot in the Juvenile Turf Sprint (G1).

Here are my top 10 Royal Ascot storylines:

1. Breeders’ Cup champions clash after Inspiral’s switcheroo

Reigning Turf hero Auguste Rodin and Filly & Mare Turf (G1) star Inspiral are not only lining up at Royal Ascot, but now set to square off against each other, in the Prince of Wales’s. 

Inspiral was long expected to take another crack at the Queen Anne over the straight mile, where she was just denied last year. But after proving her 1 1/4-mile aptitude with a devastating rally at Santa Anita in November, connections were open to stepping up in trip back home. The John and Thady Gosden mare gave further reason to change her target once she was a distant, ring-rusty fourth behind stablemate Audience in the one-mile Lockinge (G1) last month. Factor in the major defection of antepost Prince of Wales’s favorite Passenger, and the circumstances have aligned for an Inspiral switch-up. 

2. Showdown of mile classic winners

Tuesday’s St James’s Palace (G1) will decide the leading miler among the three-year-old colts, and the showdown of classic winners figures to produce the brightest fireworks on day one. Unbeaten 2000 Guineas (G1) winner Notable Speech is all the rage to confirm the form over Rosallion, the Newmarket runner-up who went on to take the Irish equivalent. But there’s also French intrigue courtesy of Darlinghurst and Metropolitan, who surprised in the Poule d’Essai des Poulains (French 2000 Guineas) (G1). Not to be forgotten is the Aidan O’Brien-trained Henry Longfellow, a juvenile standout who never saw much daylight in the Poulains. 

The companion mile affair for sophomore fillies, Friday’s Coronation (G1), serves up a rematch of the top three from Newmarket’s 1000 Guineas (G1) – Elmalka, Porta Fortuna, and Ramatuelle – plus Rouhiya, the upsetter in the French equivalent. But the favorite is O’Brien’s Opera Singer, third in the Irish 1000 Guineas (G1) when just returning from a setback. 

3. French invasion worthy of Napoleon

Napoleon’s ambition of invading Great Britain never came off, but the emperor might have been pleased by the French forces amassing on Ascot. Field marshals Andre Fabre, Jerome Reynier, Christopher Head, Francis-Henri Graffard, and Patrice Cottier are firing some real shots over the week, as are French-based Italian expats Maurizio Guarnieri and Mario Baratti.

Reynier could strike the first blow with Facteur Cheval in the Queen Anne. Cottier’s star, Horizon Dore, is arguably the top French hope in the Prince of Wales’s. Fabre’s First Look is a prime player in Thursday’s Hampton Court (G3), while Graffard’s best-backed contender is Calandagan in Friday’s King Edward VII (G2). Head’s leading light is the aforementioned Ramatuelle. Note that Guarnieri’s duo of Big Rock (Queen Anne) and Blue Rose Cen (Prince of Wales’s) were both bombshell transfers from Head, who had developed them into top-notchers, and it remains to be seen if they’ll hit the same heights for a different yard.

4. Wathnan Racing out in force

The Emir of Qatar’s Wathnan Racing has spared no expense in acquiring recruits specifically to maximize their Royal Ascot representation. Between splurging for juveniles at the recent breeze-up sales, and opening the checkbook to snap up proven performers, the emerging powerhouse will have loads of chances every day.

Among their prominent contenders are Gregory in Thursday’s Gold Cup (G1) and the aforementioned First Look elsewhere on the same card; Haatem, slated for Saturday’s Jersey (G3); Rogue Lightning in the King Charles III; Space Legend in the King Edward VII; and Shartash in Saturday’s closing-day highlight, the Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee (G1); not to mention the array of smart two-year-olds being filtered into various spots. 

5. Open-looking sprint division

The sprint scene lacks clarity, to put it charitably, and the establishment has been little more than a revolving door of “whose turn is it” winners. In the circumstances, it’s understandable why bettors are flocking to three-year-old Big Evs in the King Charles III, in hopes that he’ll topple his elders and take charge of the five-furlong division. Yet the reigning Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint king isn’t a standout on form, and it wouldn’t be a shock to see another of the usual suspects step forward.

The story is the same among the six-furlong crowd in the Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee, only with no sophomore to offer a fresh-faced alternative. The three-year-old specialists at that trip are in Friday’s Commonwealth Cup (G1), which has an open feel at the moment too. If last year’s all-conquering Vandeek doesn’t bounce back, you can make cases for several to jump up. 

6. Asfoora the lone Aussie

In the past, fans could seek refuge in a sprint champion from further afield, often Australia. But the lone shipper from Down Under this year, Asfoora, doesn’t bring that sort of profile into the King Charles III.

Indeed, the lack of interest overall from Australia, Hong Kong, and Japan has generated much discussion. Royal Ascot’s prestige is second to none, but more lucrative prizes, in their own backyard, are difficult to pass up, especially when firm-ground lovers are at the mercy of the British weather. And flat-track types might not handle the terrain as effectively. 

That’s not to downplay the merit of Asfoora, a multiple Group 2 winner who’s twice placed in Group 1s at home. But her conqueror Imperatriz, a 10-time Group 1 winner, would have brought Antipodean flair. 

7. Royal Palm to wave again?

Last year, Crimson Advocate yielded instant dividends for Gulfstream Park’s Royal Palm initiative, using her free ticket from the Juvenile Fillies to win the Queen Mary (G2). Her successor in the fillies’ race, Bullet, opted not to make the trip. But the colt Gabaldon, who flashed high speed to prevail in the Royal Palm Juvenile, is using his pass to Royal Ascot. Trainer Jose D’Angelo cross-entered him to Wednesday’s Windsor Castle S. as well as Thursday’s Norfolk, with reports indicating that he’ll run on Wednesday. 

As you’d expect, Wesley Ward fields most of the American team, with four juveniles hoping to end his losing skid at the meeting. Crimson Advocate is back for the King Charles III, but as an expat who just arrived at the Gosdens’ yard. The only grizzled veteran of the U.S. squad is John Sadler’s Missed the Cut, a winner here in his former British days, who tries Saturday’s Hardwicke (G2). 

8. O’Brien/Moore look for more titles

O’Brien focuses on Royal Ascot as the premier objective for his Coolmore patrons, and the master of Ballydoyle has hit the target as champion trainer 12 times. Not only did he defend his title last year, but O’Brien made history by increasing his Royal Ascot win total to 85, surpassing the former record of 82 held by Sir Michael Stoute. His phalanx for 2024 promises to add to that stat. The most meaningful of all might be the outstanding stayer Kyprios, back from the brink to pursue another Gold Cup

Coolmore’s go-to rider, Ryan Moore, also ranked as the meet’s top jockey for the 10th time last year. Entering the 2024 stand with a career total of 79 wins, Moore is on the verge of overtaking Frankie Dettori’s mark of 81 among active riders.

9. Dettori soaking up the scene

Speaking of Dettori, the legendary reinsman will reportedly be on the premises, but not in the saddle. He doesn’t have to endure another round of “Frankie’s last Royal Ascot” fanfare, which is just as well since he had a brilliant time of it a year ago. It’s best to leave those memories – four winners highlighted by Courage Mon Ami in the Gold Cup – as the best send-off. 

Dettori’s famous decision to postpone retirement and continue riding stateside has been a boon for U.S. fans, and hopefully for him as well. After he gets to enjoy the Royal meeting with no pressure, he’ll be back at Saratoga soon enough. 

10. Weather watch

Every year, the weather is a developing story in itself, and the forecast has delivered a plot twist already. A rainy start was expected, but the outlook is now dramatically brighter for the first couple of days. According to the Sunday update from Ascot, Thursday could be showery.

For the latest weather forecast, ground descriptions, and more details, check out the dedicated “going” page at ascot.com