Dukes are not accustomed to having their eligibility questioned at Royal Ascot, but there are certainly people wondering whether a horse that failed to win once in six starts last year can really be in a different class from his rivals for the big race of the day. Duke Of Marmalade is no better than 7-4 favourite for the Prince of Wales's Stakes, and many who saw him repeatedly fall short at this level last season may be reluctant to take that sort of price.
He deserves fidelity, however, and not merely because this field looks somewhat short of vintage quality. The fact is that Duke Of Marmalade is only now fulfilling the lustrous promise of a truncated juvenile career. Having required surgery after an injury at two, he had the pins removed only last winter and promptly shed all inhibition on the Ballydoyle gallops.
And that impression has been corroborated where it counts, on the racetrack. In winning both starts this season, Duke Of Marmalade (3.45) has reached a standard approached by only the best of his rivals, Ask and Sixties Icon, over longer distances. With conditions favouring speed, he should have too much acceleration for their liking, while Phoenix Tower conversely must prove that he has stamina for this new distance. With Literato out of form, and Pipedreamer capable of a career best and still finishing second, the favourite looks very solid.
Aidan O'Brien, his trainer, also has a very interesting candidate for the Jersey Stakes in Jupiter Pluvius, who travelled well for a long way in the Irish 2,000 Guineas before lack of fitness and stamina told. He could yet prove a sprinter pure and simple, however, whereas Calming Influence (2.30) proved ideally suited by seven furlongs on fast ground when taking the same Newmarket race that produced the last two Jersey winners. He beat much more experienced rivals there, and Frankie Dettori's partnership with the other Godolphin runner offers hope that the odds may not do justice to this colt's potential for further improvement.
O'Brien has a tempting type for the Queen Mary Stakes in Heart Shaped, but the suspicion persists that the very best of this filly will come over slightly longer distances. In contrast Danehill Destiny (4.55) has shown molten speed in both her starts, her Newmarket debut proving particularly strong form. Her stable could not be in better fettle.
Baharah (3.05) was left with too much to do after struggling with the hill at Epsom last time, but had previously shown a liking for the Windsor Forest Stakes course and distance. The other race confined to fillies, the Sandringham Handicap, can go to Makaaseb (next best 5.30), who looked ready for even better company when unlucky on her reappearance.
And that leaves the simple matter of the Royal Hunt Cup. Bankable's breathless progress since the weights were published has made him an unpalatably short price, not least as he has never had a serious race on fast ground, while Lang Shining may also prove better than a handicapper. But EXTRATERRESTRIAL (nap 4.20) is experienced as well as progressive, gets weight from them both, and may not prove easy to keep at bay on the opposite side of the track.