Writing a preview of Royal Ascot from a two-year-old perspective this year is both easier and more difficult than usual. Easier in that, bar one juvenile race at Naas on 23 March, the entire British and Irish two-year-old season has been condensed into the opening days of June, and there is no danger therefore of missing anything relevant.
More difficult in that, in this strangest of years, it is even less clear than usual which horses will run in which races, or will run at all. As a result, the best way to handle this, in my opinion, is to review the two-year-old season in its entirety – little more than a week of action-packed drama on this side of The Pond anyway – and to find out before long which horses run in which races.
I have rated every horse in every two-year-old race from a sectional point of view, with overall times adjusted for the efficiency with which those overall times were achieved, so let’s start with a summary of the leading performers by such means.
Watch every race of Royal Ascot 2020 live on Sky Sports Racing (Sky 415 | Virgin 535) from Tuesday 16th June to Saturday 20th June.
Those figures are lower than they would usually be. There has been no National Stakes, Woodcote Stakes, Marble Hill Stakes or many of the Listed and Novice events that would customarily give the participants the opportunity to boost their ratings.
The colts are likely to have to run well into the 100s to win at Royal Ascot and so have much improving to do. That may not be true to such an extent with the leading fillies. Top of the pile in Britain and Ireland is the Aidan O’Brien-trained filly MORE BEAUTIFUL, who ran fast when scoring decisively at Naas on Monday.
A half-sister by War Front to the 2000 Guineas winner Saxon Warrior, she should stay quite a bit further than the minimum trip but still managed to run 58 and change at Naas and is certainly not slow. Pick of a host of promising two-year-old performances at Newmarket last week on sectionals was that of CREATIVE FORCE in beating IMPERIAL FORCE, SAEIQA and the strong-finishing DARK LION in Division Two of the 6f Maiden on Thursday.
This was the fastest of four juvenile races at the trip on the card, but it was the closing splits which really took the eye, with Creative Force running 22.67s for the last 2f (Dark Lion 22.54s). Creative Force is likely to be suited by 7f/8f in due course but showed the speed required for the Coventry nearer at hand.
EYE OF HEAVEN ran fast enough to duck under the juvenile course record when winning at 5f on the same card, though his last 2f was a length or so slower than Creative Force’s at 22.84s, in what was a more evenly-run race (some sources wrongly gave his time as 0.60s faster than it actually was). The Norfolk Stakes on Friday is a more obvious target for him than the Coventry on the following day.
THE LIR JET was another juvenile course record breaker – at 5f at Yarmouth – with the Total Performance Data figures showing that he knocked out sub-10.7s furlongs for each of the mid-race splits. He is fast, especially with a wind at his back as was the case here, and is another Norfolk contender.
Tom Dascombe has sent out some sharp juveniles already, the pick of which on sectionals have been the Haydock winners LAUDED and DEVIOUS COMPANY, the latter at 7f but managing to break 35.0s for the last 3f.
TALBOT was faster than two older-horse winners on the same card at Lingfield on Monday, racing fairly efficiently (as the TPD splits show) in mowing down his rivals late on. That was at 5f but his pedigree and striding suggest he will be tried at further before long.
MIGHTY GURKHA (talented if quirky judged on a wide-margin win at Lingfield), ADAAY DREAM (solid splits when winning at Newcastle), ARMY OF INDIA (possibly a shade fortunate to beat SCIENCE at Kempton but looked professional doing it) and 83-rated MODERN NEWS (held off his stronger-finishing stablemate NOBLE DYNASTY at Newmarket) all made decent starts and could do better.
The leading British-trained two-year-old fillies have achieved less than the pick of their Irish and American counterparts, on my figures at least, but SACRED (less than two lengths slower than Eye of Heaven at Newmarket and quicker late on), GOLDEN MELODY (a solid winner at Haydock) and SANDS OF TIME (all speed when making all at Lingfield) look capable of significant improvement.
The Irish juveniles have been hampered by that country’s week-later resumption. POETIC FLARE gets his figure from defeating LIPIZZANER on heavy going at Naas in March, and the latter’s defeat by LUCKY VEGA at the same track this week should be viewed in the context of his doing too much too soon (below 95% finishing speed).
I have managed to get this far without mentioning the elephant in the room that is the Wesley Ward contingent. Ward has had no small amount of success in sending speedy youngsters across from his US base, and it could be that he has an advantage this year in that racing has continued (at some tracks, and behind closed doors) in his backyard.
The best of Ward’s raiders look to be CAMPANELLE, who was fastest of four 5f winners on turf at Gulfstream Park on 31 May (she ran 55.66s from a rolling start, and the other winners were older horses, too), and FLYING ALETHA, who won by five and a half lengths and six and a half at 5f on dirt at the same venue 10 days earlier.
Both fillies accounted for shorter-priced stable-companions, with Campanelle giving 3 lb and a three and a half lengths beating to ROYAL APPROVAL, who is considered good enough to make the journey to Royal Ascot also, breaking 22.0s for a mid-race quarter which involved negotiating a bend in the process.
One suspects that the two, or perhaps the three, and not forgetting the others in the Ward raiding party, are not here for the fun of it, especially as Royal Ascot 2020 will have no spectators or much in the way of the pageantry that some seem to enjoy.
Running intentions will soon become clearer, but if pressed to nominate a couple of youngsters to have on your side next week, they would be Campanelle in the Queen Mary Stakes and Creative Force in the Coventry Stakes, both on Saturday. Good luck!