By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman")
There is no race meet in the world quite like Royal Ascot. The five-day, thirty-race festival features some of the highest-class racing in all of Europe, and the participation of top jockeys, trainers, and owners is spectacular. The quality of the horses is also unquestionable, with names like Frankel and Black Caviar thrilling audiences with breathtaking performances in recent years.
This year’s Royal Ascot meet began with a bang earlier today, with the top-notch miler Toronado tenaciously defeating 2013 Haskell Invitational (gr. I) and Wood Memorial (gr. I) winner Verrazano in the Queen Anne Stakes (Eng-I). Later on the card, the remarkable Sole Power won the group I King’s Stand Stakes (Eng-I) for a second consecutive year; Kingman defeated Night of Thunder and Outstrip in the prestigious St James’s Palace Stakes (Eng-I); and the American-based two-year-old Hootenanny—with Victor Espinoza in the saddle for trainer Wesley Ward—scored a decisive triumph over twenty-two rivals in the Windsor Castle Stakes.
But as spectacular as the opening day of the meet may have been, the second day promises to be even better. The third race on the card is the Prince of Wales’s Stakes (Eng-I), a race that features several names that will be familiar to American racing fans. Drawing posts six, seven, and eight in an eight-horse field are Dank, winner of the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. I); The Fugue, runner-up in the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. I) and third in the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. I); and Magician, winner of the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. I). Also in the race is Treve, winner of the 2013 Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I). Needless to say, this is an extremely talented field!
The favorite among the various British bookmakers is Treve, who is being offered at odds between 4/7 and 8/11. However, the four-year-old filly—who went unbeaten in her first five starts—lost her perfect record in her 2014 debut, losing by a neck to Cirrus des Aigles in the Prix Ganay (Fr-I) at Longchamp. The performance was by no means a poor one, coming over very soft ground that probably favored Cirrus des Aigles, but it also wasn’t up to Treve’s usual high standards. She’ll likely be sharper in her second start of the season, but the talent of her rivals is exceptional, and in making her first start outside of France, Treve could very well be vulnerable to defeat. This is not to say that Treve will lose—personally, I think she will win—but the opportunity for value exists if she is heavily bet in the American pools, so it might be worth supporting her well-credentialed rivals if they offer enticing odds.
The most logical candidate to pull off an upset is Magician, who has three starts under his belt already this year, including a narrow victory over Parish Hall in the Mooresbridge Stakes (Ire-III) at the Curragh on May 5th. Last time out, he finished second by 1 ¼ lengths behind Noble Mission in the Tattersalls Gold Cup (Ire-I), although the very soft conditions that day may have contributed to his defeat. He should get a firmer course tomorrow, and that should increase his chances substantially.
Dank and The Fugue have both proven themselves to be very capable performers, especially The Fugue, who is a four-time group I winner in England and Ireland. Both fillies began their 2014 campaigns in the Dubai Duty Free (UAE-I) on March 29th, in which Dank finished a respectable third while The Fugue failed to fire and came home eleventh. Neither filly has raced since then, but while their respective finishes in Dubai suggest that Dank is in better form, The Fugue’s overall record—coupled with the fact that she has rebounded well from sub-par efforts in the past—leads me to side with The Fugue over Dank in this spot.
But can The Fugue beat Magician? That’s a tougher question. The Fugue and Magician have met once in the past, with Magician triumphing by a half-length over the filly in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. I). At the time, many believed that The Fugue would have beaten Magician with a better trip, and keeping in mind that the Prince of Wales’s Stakes is just ten furlongs—a distance over which The Fugue has had great success—I believe The Fugue can get the better of Magician tomorrow.
There’s one other horse I’d like to mention, and that is Mukhadram. While finishing second in this race last year, he defeated The Fugue (who finished third) by 3 ¼ lengths, and while finishing third in the Coral-Eclipse Stakes (Eng-I) 2 ½ weeks later, he defeated her by an even more decisive 9 ¼ lengths. Mukhadram opened his 2014 season with a strong runner-up effort behind African Story in the $10,000,000 Dubai World Cup (UAE-I), and while he may not be as well known in the United States as Treve, Magician, Dank, and The Fugue, that may mean that he will offer exceptional odds in the American pools.
So in essence, I believe that Treve is capable of returning to top form on the second day of Royal Ascot, with Mukhadram and The Fugue rounding out the top three. Even if Treve ends up as a heavy favorite, the odds on Mukhadram should be high enough to make the exacta an intriguing possibility. However, should Mukhadram go off at 10-1 or higher—and I believe he will—that is more than fair value on a very talented horse that is being quoted at 6-1 by many of the British bookmakers.
But regardless of post-time odds and opportunity for value, the Prince of Wales’s Stakes promises to be one of the highlights of the Royal Ascot meet, and possibly one of the highlights of the entire racing season. Be sure to tune in if you can!