The Prince of Wales's Stakes has some top-notchers on its roll of honour, the likes of Dubai Millennium, Ouija Board, Al Kazeem and Highland Reel just to name a few this century, and this year's renewal looks a cracker. Unlike most years, it is two fillies that dominate the betting, and also top Timeform's weight-adjusted ratings, just 1 lb separating Sea of Class and Magical, who are rated 146 and 145, respectively.
The first-named did nothing but progress in her first season in 2018, making her debut in mid-April before going on to win her next four starts, notably the Irish Oaks at the Curragh after being forced to bypass Epsom due to soft ground. She was most impressive on that occasion, coming from last to first in the straight without her rider having to resort to the whip. Sea of Class then put up an even more devastating performance in the Yorkshire Oaks next time, pushing her rating through the 120 barrier and value for extra as she beat Coronet by two and a quarter lengths, again showing blistering acceleration. She ended last season as she started it, with a narrow defeat, but that doesn't tell the full story, beaten a short neck by Enable in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp. There is a strong case to be made that she was the best horse in the race, based on sectional upgrades, for all that Enable wasn't at her best.
Now just in her second season, it's entirely feasible that Sea of Class could have even more to offer this season, but this will be no easy task having to concede race fitness to another high-class filly in the shape of Magical. The shorter trip is another potential weak point, having not raced over this short since winning a listed race at Newbury on her third start. The relative short straight may also not play to her strengths given how quietly she is normally ridden, and she could find things happening all too quickly if Magical manages to get a break on her.
Aidan O'Brien has won this race three times before, the latest in 2017, and he has also declared Hunting Horn alongside the more fancied Magical. The latter has looked better than ever so far this season, winning all three of her starts over this trip, recording her second win at Group 1 level in the Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh last time in impressive fashion, beating her stablemate Flag of Honour by seven lengths. Admittedly, that wasn't the strongest renewal of that race, and she will likely have to pull out more up against more thorough opposition here, but that isn't out of the question, and she looks a worthy favourite. Her stablemate Hunting Horn is seemingly making up the numbers, or has been included to take up pace making duties, the pick of his form falling below the standard required to figure in an average renewal.
Of more interest is Crystal Ocean, who won the Hardwicke Stakes over a mile and a half at this meeting 12 months ago. He has followed the same route this time around, recording wins in the Gordon Richards Stakes at Sandown and the Aston Park Stakes at Newbury, both for the second successive year. Connections are still searching for a Group 1 win with him, hence why he is pitching up here rather than defend his Hardwicke Crown, and on the figures he is equally effective at this shorter distance. Whether he is good enough to give weight away to two high-class fillies remains to be seen, but he seems sure to be in the mix regardless.
Waldgeist is another interesting inclusion, having looked at least as good as ever after five months off when winning the Prix Ganay at Longchamp last time by four and a half lengths from Study of Man. That was encouraging given he has needed a run or two to get to full flow in previous seasons, and he is seemingly getting better with age, adding further intrigue to an already fascinating race.
As does Zabeel Prince, who has shown improved form upped in trip this season, recording his first Group 1 win in the Prix d'Ispahan at Longchamp last time, also beating Study of Man (by three quarters of a length). He seemingly hasn't been the easiest to train, only now starting to fulfil his potential at the age of six, but he is clearly a talented performer on his day. This will be the longest trip he has encountered (both wins this season have come over nine furlongs), but it should be within his compass (strong-travelling type who has stamina in his pedigree), and he is another who can't be confidently ruled out.
Dierdre and Desert Encounter complete the line-up. The first-named is a very smart performer in Japan, but has been operating below her best this season, last seen finishing sixth to Win Bright in Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Sha Tin (beaten four and a quarter lengths). Even her best form leaves her with something to find with the principals. The same applies to Desert Encounter, who finished well held behind Old Persian in the Dubai Sheema Classic at Meydan last time. The drop back in trip also isn't sure to suit.
In summary, this is potentially the race of the meeting even in the absence of Enable who had been scheduled to reappear here. Sea of Class is a headline act who commands plenty of respect on her seasonal return, but she does so against some bang-in-form high-class rivals, not only Crystal Ocean, Waldgeist and Zabeel Prince, but also course winner Magical who has breezed through her races in Ireland this season and should be hard to beat.
Check out the Betfair Royal Ascot podcast, where Kieran O'Connor was joined by Joseph O'Brien, Gary O'Brien and Barry Orr to preview the finest five days in the flat racing calendar