Royal Ascot, off to a flying start, rolls right along through the weekend with just about something for everyone in terms of ages, genders and distances. If it's good enough for Her Majesty, how bad could it be?
There's plenty of American involvement at Ascot, including horses invading from the United States, Euros who have raced in the United States and even some American-sired horses who have found favor overseas.
There's a relatively light scattering of big races in the former colonies. Among those, the richest is Saturday's $300,000 Evangeline Downs Turf Sprint in Louisiana, which anchors a stakes card worth $640,000.
On Thursday, among other things, Her Majesty came ohsoclose to a Group 1 win:
Baltha Alga was easily best in the final furlong to take the Group 2 Norfolk Stakes for 2-year-olds by 1 1/2 lengths over Mind of Madness with Ahlan Emirati third. The favorite, The Great War, had an off day for trainer Aidan O'Brien, finishing fifth. Wesley Ward's American starter, To Be Determined, dwelt and basically was eased late by Victor Espinoza. Baltha Alga, a Fast Company colt ridden by Frankie Dettori for his 49th Royal Ascot victory, won for the third straight time. "He was very impressive," said winning trainer Richard Hannon. "I saw Frankie sitting in behind, pull him out and he never really looked like getting beaten. He is a very smart 2-year-old and we might have a look at the Prix Morny after this. To have an impressive Ascot winner like that is really nice."
Bracelet advanced from mid-pack to take the lead a furlong from home in the Group 2 Ribblesdale Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and held on strongly to score by 1/2 length from Lustrous. Criteria finished third and the favorite, Vazira, was a close fourth. Bracelet, an Irish-bred Montjeu filly, had won two straight in Ireland before a 14th-place showing in the Qipco 1,000 Guineas in her last start for the O'Brien yard. The Ribblesdale win was the first of this year's Royal Ascot for O'Brien, who endured a disappointing first two days. "We gave her time to progress after the Guineas," O'Brien said. "And because we had three other fillies in the (Epsom) Oaks, we decided to leave her at home and wait to come here." He said he now will consider the Irish Oaks on July 19.
O'Brien quickly made up some ground in the following race, saddling Leading Light to hold off defending champion Estimate through the final furlong and win the Group 1 Gold Cup by a neck -- after 2 1/2 miles. Missunited was only a short head farther back with Brown Panther fourth. Joseph O'Brien had the mount for his trainer-father. Leading Light, winner of the 2-mile Queen's Vase at last year's Royal Ascot, also won the St Leger last fall before finishing well up the track in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp. "Once you go beyond 2 miles, you don't know what's going to happen," O'Brien said. "Joseph saved him as much as he could -- taking nothing out of him to get a position. But then he had to move. It was nip and tuck ... Two and a half miles around Ascot really tests a horse's courage." An inquiry after the race undoubtedly tested O'Brien's courage. While the stewards determined Leading Light had interfered with Brown Panther in the stretch run, causing a chain reaction of further trouble, they let the result stand. The officials did slap Joseph O'Brien with a nine-day suspension, to begin July 3, for whip violations. The elder O'Brien made sure to nice things about Estimate, a 5-year-old Monsun mare trained by Sir Michael Stoute for Her Majesty the Queen. Estimate provided the 88-year-old monarch her 22nd Royal Ascot win in last year's Gold Cup.
Still to come:
Friday's Group 1 Coronation Stakes is for 3-year-old fillies going 1 1/4 miles and could be right in the wheelhouse of American import Rosalind. The Kenny McPeek filly comes off a fourth-place finish in the Kentucky Oaks. She also has been in the money at Keeneland and Gulfstream Park since her third-place finish in last fall's Breeders' Cup Juvenile, where she was closing like a house afire. She won her only previous start on the grass -- her career debut -- but faces a whole different class here, including Lightning Thunder, who finished second in both the English and Irish 1,000 Guineas, and My Titania, a Sea the Stars filly who promises great things off two consecutive wins. In the Group 3 Albany Stakes, you can have a superfecta of Bond's Girl, Sexy Legs, Gilded Lace and Secret Liaison -- and who wouldn't? The Group 1 King Edward VII for 3-year-old colts and geldings has some fine ones who weren't ready for the Derby.
Saturday' program is headed by the Group 1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes, the second Group 1 leg of the Global Sprint Challenge on the week's schedule. The news here is that Sole Power, winner of Tuesday's Group 1 King's Stand, won't try for the two-peat. The Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes at 1 1/2 miles drew a field of accomplished world travelers and is worth a look.
Back in the U.S.A.:
Saturday evening's inaugural running of the $300,000 Evangeline Downs Turf Sprint attracted a quality field of 10, including graded stakes winners Gantry and Sum of the Parts, as well as local speedburner Heitai. Gantry won the Grade II Smile Sprint Handicap at Calder nearly two years ago and the 7-year-old Pulpit gelding usually is in the mix. Sum of the Parts, a 5-year-old son of Speightstown, won the Grade III Phoenix at Keeneland last October. Note the presence of Berlino Di Tiger, who has struggled to replicate his Brazilian form in North America but did win the Grade III Shakertown at Keeneland in the spring of 2013. He makes his first start since a fruitless trip to Dubai.
The two $100,000 events on the same card also merit a look. Grand Contender is the morning-line favorite for the Evangeline Mile but no one has gone broke betting on Sunbean recently, even in open company. Class Included is the pick in the $100,000 Evangeline Downs Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on the grass but there's plenty of competition among the other 11.
Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Summertime Oaks features eight mostly second-tier 3-year-old fillies. Several have run middling well in graded stakes. One is still a maiden. Others include Delta Flower, who is riding a three-race win skein that includes the Rainbow Miss at Oaklawn and the Angels Flight over the Arcadia track. She will be stretching out for the 1 1/16 miles.
Orion Moon has been knocking on the door and that's enough to make her the morning-line favorite for Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Eatontown Stakes for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on the grass. The Manduro filly finished second, a neck behind Waterway Run, in the Grade III Beaugay at Belmont Park. The French-bred 4-year-old descends from German-breds on both sides of her pedigree. Nashly's Vow has been deadly in allowance company but not so much in her one previous stakes try. Lonesome Town finished a close third in the recent Miss Liberty Stakes over the course, a heat won by Grade I stakes winner Tannery.
Street Girl, a long shot second to Midnight Lucky in the Grade I Humana Distaff in her last start, is the lukewarm favorite among 11 entered for Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Bed o' Roses Handicap for fillies and mares going 7 furlongs on the main track. Street Girl has only two wins from 17 starts. Merry Meadow, Five Star Mama and Lion D N A also are among the more fancied on the morning line.
Utley comes off a victory in the Grade II Longines Dixie Stakes at Pimlico to rank among the favorites for Sunday's $200,000 (Canadian), Grade II King Edward Stakes for 3-year-olds and up at 1 mile on the grass. The Dixie was the first stakes win for the improving, 6-year-old son of Smart Strike, trained by Jonathan Sheppard. Excaper has won two in a row, most recently the Grade II Connaught Cup over the course and looks ready at age 5 to live up to his promise. Are You Kidding Me and Laugh Track would make a nice exacta pairing and both have credentials.
Already in the books:
You've Been Duped dueled with Born a Ruler in Tuesday's $50,000 Totah Stakes for New Mexico-bred, 2-year-old colts and geldings, then edged clear in the final yards to win by 3/4 length. Lee Did It was gaining late and finished third. You've Been Duped, a Diabolical gelding, ran 4 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 51.86 seconds with Ruby Gonzalez in the irons.
Royal Currier got by pacesetting King Henry in the late going to take Wednesday's $50,000 Hockessin Stakes by 3/4 length. Last year's winner, Picko's Pride, finished third as the favorite. Royal Currier, a 6-year-old Red Bullet gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.92 under Trevor McCarthy.
News and notes:
The 2015 Breeders' Cup World Championships will be staged at Keeneland, with Santa Anita and Del Mar queued up for the succeeding two years, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported Tuesday in a story under Gregory Hall's byline. Breeders' Cup Ltd. declined to comment. The selection of Keeneland would be a bit of a statement. The year-end championships have had their greatest success in attendance and wagering at Churchill Downs but have been absent from the Twin Spires track since Drosselmeyer won the Classic in 2011, defeating the likes of Game On Dude and Havre de Gras before a crowd of 105,820. Keeneland is replacing it's all-weather track with real dirt this summer in a move widely assumed at the time of its announcement as a part of a Breeders' Cup bid. Keeneland, like such earlier venues as Lone Star Park and Arlington International Racecourse, does not have sufficient permanent infrastructure to handle a crowd of Breeders' Cup size. Unlike Arlington and Lone Star, Keeneland's cozy dimensions are part of the Lexington track's unique charm so it will be interesting to see what temporary facilities can be put in place. And ... three more years without a Breeders' Cup in New York is likely to be very disappointing to the East Coast crowd. New York hasn't hosted the event since Belmont Park staged the 2005 races.
Nine racing and wagering operators announced Tuesday formation of the Asian-African Tote Association, dedicated to strengthen the economic underpinning of the sport in their juridications and worldwide. Richard Cheung, executive director of customer and marketing for the Hong Kong Jockey Club, was chosen president of the group with Brendan Parnell, COO of Tabcorp's Media and International Business as vice president. The group also includes Automatic Systems Limited, the Macau Jockey Club, New Zealand Racing Board, Phumelela Gaming and Leisure, Racing and Wagering Western Australia, Saigon Racing Club and Singapore Turf Club. The Japan Racing Association and Korean Racing Authority are "observer organizations." Pari-mutuel wagering is the most popular form of wagering in all member jurisdictions and goals include strengthening, coordinating and protecting those systems.