Royal Ascot heavyweights are poised to square off in the first of two group 1 events June 23 as Coolmore, Godolphin, and American conditioner Wesley Ward are all in with good chances in the Commonwealth Cup for 3-year-olds at six furlongs.
The British bookmakers haven't gone much more than even odds on Caravaggio—and with good reason. The son of Scat Daddy comes to the Commonwealth Cup as the winner of his five previous starts for Coolmore-associated owners and trainer Aidan O'Brien, including the Keeneland Phoenix Stakes (G1) at the Curragh in his 2-year-old finale. All of his wins have been by daylight margins and he's won on turf ranging from yielding to good-to-firm.
Sheikh Mohammed's team counters with Harry Angel and Blue Point. Harry Angel has two wins and two seconds from four starts. One of the Dark Angel colt's losses came at the hands of Blue Point. The latter, a Shamardal colt, has four wins, two seconds and a third from his seven trips to the races and was third behind Churchill in the Dubai Dewhurst Stakes (G1) at Newmarket last fall.
Less experienced but still undefeated is Ward's challenger, Bound for Nowhere, by The Factor . He won at first asking on the Polytrack at Turfway Park in January, then easily took a Keeneland turf allowance event in April in his only other start.
Ballydoyle's hopes continue to be high in the next race on the card—the group 1 Coronation Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at one mile. There's good reason for hope as the overwhelming antepost favorite is a Galileo (IRE) filly named Winter, who swept the QIPCO One Thousand Guineas (G1) at Newmarket and the Tattersalls Irish One Thousand Guineas (G1) at the Curragh in her last two outings for O'Brien's forces.
As a backup, O'Brien entered Hydrangea, yet another Galileo filly. She was third in the Irish One Thousand Guineas (G1) and was a starter in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1T) at Santa Anita Park last November where she chugged home 14th and last.
French hopes ride with Precieuse, a daughter of Tamayuz who won the Abu Dhabi Poule d'Essai des Pouliches (G1), in her last start. The expected firm going would be an issue for her.
The Mark Casse-trained daughter of Colonel John booked her ticket to Royal Ascot with a win over stablemate Dream Dancing in the May 5 Edgewood Stakes Presented by Forcht Bank Bank (G3T) at Churchill Downs and previously captured the Appalachian Stakes Presented by Japan Racing Association (G3T) at Keeneland in April by 3 1/4 lengths, defeating a bunch that included Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner New Money Honey.
In the Albany Stakes (G3) for 2-year-old fillies, Ward continues his assault on the Royal meeting with the well-regarded pair of Fairyland and Princess Peggy. But, as action early in the week showed, nothing's to be taken for granted with the young ones, especially in a field of 20.
Fairyland, a daughter of the late Scat Daddy, is owned by Coolmore partners and comes directly from a victory in her only previous start at Keeneland. Princess Peggy, also by Scat Daddy, runs in the Stonestreet Stables silks. She won her only start by 5 1/4 lengths at Belmont Park May 25.
The antepost favorite for the Albany is Alpha Centauri, a Niarchos family homebred filly by Mastercraftsman out of the Rahy mare Alpha Lupi. She won both her previous starts at Naas for trainer Jessica Harrington. Clemmie (IRE), a daughter of Galileo, is a Coolmore contender via the Ballydoyle yard and while more is expected of her, she enters the fray a maiden after running third in her only previous race at the Curragh.
The King Edward VII Stakes (G2) for 3-year-old males at 1 1/2 miles is a wide-open affair that could boil down to Coolmore, Godolphin, and Her Majesty the Queen.
Coolmore, in various ownership configurations, sends out a team that includes one of the favorites, Sir John Lavery (IRE), a Galileo colt out of the Fusaichi Pegasus mare Race For The Stars. He's a maiden winner who disappointed in the Lingfield Derby Trial.
Godolphin has two of the five early favorites in Best of Days and Best Solution. Best Solution, a Kodiac (GB) colt, won the Derby Trial at Lingfield and was a group 3 winner last year. Best of Days, by Azamour (IRE), was 2-for-3 last year and makes his 3-year-old debut.
That international rivalry notwithstanding, the bookmakers give the early nod to Crystal Ocean, a Sea The Stars colt trained by Sir Michael Stoute who was third in the Betfred Dante Stakes (G2) at York in his last outing. Permian, a son of Teofilo, owned by Sheikh Hamdan, won the Dante and is in this mix, too.
Her Majesty fields her homebred Galileo colt, Call to Mind, out of the Danehill Dancer mare Memory. Call to Mind was last seen finishing third in a listed event at Newmarket in his second start.
The Queen's Vase (G2) for 3-year-olds at 1 3/4 miles is a true program stabber. The Coolmore-O'Brien team has Belgravia (IRE) and Wisconsin (JPN). The bookmakers eye Time to Study (FR), a Motivator colt with three wins to his credit.
The day concludes with the Duke of Edinburgh Stakes, a handicap with a field of 19 going 1 1/4 miles and the primary interest might be another of Her Majesty's finest—Mainstream (GB). The 4-year-old Dansili gelding has been in the frame consistently and makes his second start since being gelded last November.
Wouldn't it be something if Her Majesty could score a double at the Royal meeting?