Five longshots to know for 2023 Royal Ascot

June 19th, 2023

While the build-up to Royal Ascot centers upon the favorites in the marquee races, longshots can pop up throughout the festival.

Pinpointing them is difficult enough once fields are set and track conditions are known. Even now, days in advance, when the fields are still crystallizing and the state of the ground remains a variable, it is still possible to identify a few to keep an eye on. With that preamble, here’s a stab at an interesting price play for each day of the meeting.

Tuesday’s King’s Stand (G1) – Mitbaahy

If Roger Varian puts in a good word for a runner, unilaterally and without prompting, it’s worth heeding. The trainer did just that in a recent Sky Sports Racing interview on his Royal Ascot squad, mentioning Mitbaahy as one he expects to outperform his odds in the King’s Stand (G1) on opening day.

By 2016 King’s Stand winner Profitable, and a half-brother to California turf celebrity Going Global, Mitbaahy held his own as a sophomore taking on older sprinters last season. He was favored in the Charge (G3) at Sandown, where he just missed after a checkered trip, and later got up in time in Newbury’s World Trophy (G3), with Manaccan a close third. Although never involved on bottomless ground in the Prix de l’Abbaye (G1) on Arc Day, Mitbaahy was beaten all of four lengths in a race that did not set up for closers.

In his 2023 reappearance in the Temple (G2), Mitbaahy was a better-than-appears fifth to the sharp filly Dramatised, while racing on the disadvantaged far side of the course. Varian believes that the tightener has put Mitbaahy just right for the King’s Stand. The antepost market is beginning to take note, and Mitbaahy’s odds have dropped to 18-1 at this writing (15-1 in the Brisnet past performances).

Wednesday’s Duke of Cambridge (G2) – Rogue Millennium

Supplemented to this distaff contest, Rogue Millennium will be shortening up to a mile for the first time. But the Shadwell-bred daughter of Dubawi shapes up as the type to thrive on the cutback. It was her blistering turn of foot, rather than stamina, that netted her last year’s steadily-run Lingfield Oaks Trial. A non-staying seventh in the 2022 Oaks (G1) at Epsom behind future Breeders’ Cup star Tuesday and Emily Upjohn, she has been competing around 1 1/4 miles ever since.

In fine form so far this campaign, Rogue Millennium has placed in all three starts at double-digit odds. The 33-1 shot rallied from last to take second versus males in the Magnolia S. over the Kempton Polytrack. A close third at 14-1 in the Prix Allez France (G3) at Longchamp, Rogue Millennium nearly upset hot favorite Free Wind in the Middleton (G2) at York last out. She came up a half-length shy as a 20-1 outsider, rattling off her final three furlongs in :32.92. To put that effort in perspective, Free Wind is currently near the top of the market for Saturday’s Hardwicke (G2) against elite males.

Both her explosive kick and her action make Rogue Millennium a tantalizing prospect at this distance, especially in an open-looking renewal. She’s not far off on official ratings.

Thursday – Trueshan in the Gold Cup (G1), and a back-up

Haskoy was going to be my price play in the Gold Cup, until an injury prompted her retirement. So it’s back to the drawing board and a second look at an old-guard warrior.

If everyone knew that Trueshan would turn up with his “A” game, on his prerequisite of rain-slowed ground, he’d never be 20-1. Even if he runs, it’s anyone’s guess if he’ll return to form after two disappointing efforts this year.

But there are two reasons to suspect he might: Trueshan was diagnosed with a breathing issue that has since been corrected by a procedure, and trainer Alan King revealed that the seven-year-old worked exceptionally well last week.

At his best, Trueshan rates a threat because of his prowess over the course and his proven stamina at the 2 1/2-mile distance of the Gold Cup (G1) – a real question mark for a number of top contenders. A three-time winner of the British Champions Long Distance Cup (G2) here, he achieved the three-peat in a pulsating duel last October with Gold Cup favorite Coltrane.

Trueshan has also traded decisions with star stayer Stradivarius. In their final meeting, Trueshan was a hard-trying third, as the defending champion, in last summer’s Goodwood Cup (G1). The ground was too quick for him, but Trueshan battled bravely against Kyprios and Stradivarius.

That brings us to the next hurdle – the weather. Trueshan was withdrawn from the Gold Cup for the past two years because of good-to-firm going. The forecast suggests that the ground could have enough residual moisture for him to race on Thursday, but it devolves into a waiting game now. This whole discussion is moot if Trueshan scratches again; still, he’s worth discussing at a forgotten-horse price.

In case Trueshan opts out, a juvenile in the Norfolk (G2) could come to the rescue as a Thursday longshot – Devious. Entries for the two-year-old races are too chaotic to nail longshot colors to the mast in advance, which is why I avoid them for this kind of story. But the Donnacha O’Brien trainee isn’t cross-entered anywhere else at Royal Ascot, making him a worthwhile option at 10-1. By Starspangledbanner and out of a half-sister to dual classic-winning champion Attraction, Devious drove to a good-looking victory on debut at Naas. The placed horses give him collateral form with Marble Hill (G3) winner Givemethebeatboys, who runs in Tuesday’s Coventry (G2), and smart Ballydoyle prospect Unquestionable.

Friday’s Commonwealth Cup (G1) – Marbaan

Speaking of horses who’ve fallen off the radar, Marbaan is arguably overpriced at 25-1 (from 33-1 a couple of days ago) as he returns to sophomore company. At this time a year ago, the Charlie Fellowes pupil was commencing a three-race winning streak that culminated in a last-to-first Vintage (G2). He was overlooked as a 14-1 chance that day, but nailed the favorite, Holloway Boy, who was a solid yardstick.

Marbaan never landed a blow in his final two outings as a juvenile, the Vincent O’Brien National (G1) and Dewhurst (G1). While soft going in Ireland was blamed for the former, he didn’t have that excuse for his no-show in the latter at Newmarket, and I’m inclined to cite the seven-furlong distance. Marbaan had gotten away with it in an evenly-run Vintage on a turning, slalom circuit, and versus lesser at Salisbury, but not at the top level in a fast Dewhurst.

Thus Fellowes decided to focus on a sprint campaign and not attempt the mile classics. Perhaps too fresh out on the wing in the center of the course when fourth in the Commonwealth Cup Trial (G3), Marbaan was a lot better next time versus elders in the Cathedral S. He had to come off the fence to rally in tandem with Run to Freedom and succumbed by only a head, with the smart Sandrine fifth. Run to Freedom, the runner-up to Kinross in last fall’s British Champions Sprint (G1), and Sandrine go in Saturday’s Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee (G1).

Marbaan will need to move forward again to factor here. But the well-regarded son of Oasis Dream, and grandson of blue hen Tanaghum (dam of The Foxes, Bangkok, Matterhorn, et al), has the scope to get involved at a very big price.

Saturday’s Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee (G1) – Sacred

Hong Kong’s Wellington was penciled in as the value play. I think the world of him, but his price has contracted so far that he’s now the second favorite to the Australian Artorius. Still approximating our theme, though, is a top-class mare I’ve loved since her juvenile days – Sacred.

My top choice in this race last year, Sacred was beaten only a length in fifth in a blanket finish, just adrift of Artorius and her old foe, Wesley Ward’s Campanelle. That was off a layoff, but this time around, the William Haggas trainee has the benefit of a tune-up. And what a prep it was, a sparkling display in the Chartwell Fillies’ (G3). Sacred spurted 2 3/4 lengths clear of Sandrine in 1:21.50, a fast time for seven furlongs on the Lingfield Polytrack.

That’s the rub: Sacred’s optimal trip is seven, the distance of her major wins in the 2021 Nell Gwyn (G3) (over Saffron Beach) and Hungerford (G2) over older males. But the stiffer six furlongs of Ascot can help bring her strong finish into play. She also needs a quicker surface. If the course hasn’t dried out enough, Haggas will scratch. So her presence on Saturday would be a very encouraging sign that Haggas finds conditions suitable.

By Exceed and Excel and out of a half-sister to champion Lady Eli, Sacred was kept in training in hopes of adding a Group 1 laurel to her resume.