A maximum of nine runners go to post for the St. James’s Palace Stakes (3.45pm, Royal Ascot, Tuesday), but only three of them, Dawn Approach, Magician and Toronado, have realistic chances of winning if the betting market is to be believed.
Vanquished Derby favourite Dawn Approach (11/8 in the latest St James’s Palace Stakes betting) was promoted to outright favourite for this race when it emerged that Magician (5/2) had suffered minor bruising after taking a knock last Thursday. However, trainer Aidan O’Brien declared Magician sound on Friday and there is just 3lb between the pair according to official BHA ratings.
Trainer Jim Bolger’s Dawn Approach pulled uncharacteristically hard throughout the first half a mile of the Derby and, although taking the lead in the home straight, was soon ridden and beaten, eventually finishing last of the 12 runners.
That performance was in complete contrast to his run in the 2,000 Guineas, over a mile, at Newmarket, where he settled well before staying on strongly to win by five lengths. It’s worth remembering that he was unbeaten in seven races prior to the Derby and, provided his Epsom experience hasn’t done any lasting damage, he must have every chance of making it eight wins from nine starts.
Magician made a promising start to his three-year-old career when winning the Dee Stakes, over 1m2f, at Chester last month and confirmed that promise with a comfortable win in the Irish 2,000 Guineas, over 1m, at the Curragh two weeks later. He quickened clear to win by 3½ lengths on that occasion, with Van Der Neer, who had finished third, beaten 7¼ lengths, behind Dawn Approach at Newmarket, 14 lengths behind in eighth. It may be dangerous to take that form at face value, but it’s clear that Magician commands maximum respect, especially as his proven stamina will stand him in good stead over the stiff mile at Ascot.
Toronado (4/1) could finish only fourth, beaten 7½ lengths, behind Dawn Approach in the 2,000 Guineas, but was suffering from a suspected displaced palate during the race, which may be the reason why he weakened in the closing stages. His usual drop noseband will be dispensed with and he will be fitted with a tongue-tie and ridden with more restraint, according to connections. This may allow him to recapture his earlier form. He was unbeaten in three starts as a juvenile and made all for a comfortable 4-length win in the Craven Stakes, over the same course and distance as the 2,000 Guineas, in April, so it would be dangerous to write him off altogether.
Aidan O’Brien’s apparent second string, Mars (14/1) has 8¾ lengths to find with Dawn Approach on their running in the 2,000 Guineas and, despite running respectably when sixth in the Derby, appears to have little chance of reversing the form.
Dundonnell (20/1) was beaten just half a length by Toronado in the Champagne Stakes, over 7 furlongs, at Doncaster as a juvenile, but is 3lb worse off for the 4¼ lengths he finished behind that rival in the Craven Stakes. He runs in the St. James’s Palace Stakes rather than the Jersey Stakes, over 7 furlongs, on Wednesday, but even a place may be beyond him if the principals run to form.
Of the others, Glory Awaits (33/1) was a creditable, if distant, second in the 2,000 Guineas, but has only a maiden win to his name. French raider Mshawish (33/1) was fourth in the Prix Du Jockey Club at Chantilly earlier this month, but has 8lb to find with Magician and 11lb to find with Dawn Approach on official BHA ratings. George Vancouver (66/1) has yet to show a glimmer of the form that saw him win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Santa Anita last November.
All three of the principals have questions to answer at present, but MAGICIAN has fewer doubts about him than either of his rivals and, at odds of around 5/2, looks good value.