06/16/2002 11:00PM

Banks Hill, Nayef to battle at Ascot


LONDON - Uncertainty is the order of the day for the Group 1 Prince of Wales Stakes, the feature race on Wednesday, the second day of Royal Ascot in England.

Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf winner Banks Hill and Dubai Sheema Classic winner Nayef are favored over 12 others in the 1 1/4-mile race, but both have concerns with the surface.

The going at Ascot is currently good to soft, and connections of both the favorites have expressed a preference for faster ground. Both would benefit from improvement in the course, but have performed well on softer surfaces in the past.

Banks Hill, who rounded off her excellent 3-year-old career with a scintillating win in the Breeders' Cup, should improve off her 2002 debut in the Prix d'Ispahan, a third to Best of the Bests.

Nayef was slightly disappointing in a Grade 1 at the Curragh in Ireland last month, finishing third, but his connections thought the condition of the ground was against him. In his seasonal debut in March, he won the Sheema Classic in good style, and a reproduction of that effort should have him right there at the finish.

Grandera, Godolphin's leading hope, and the German raider Paolini, also enter the race with good prospects, but they too would prefer faster ground. First and second in Singapore last month, they both have top class form to their names.

An outsider with a chance is the Mark Johnston-trained Desert Deer. A hugely impressive winner of a conditions race last time, he takes a massive step up in class, but has the potential to do so successfully.

Any winner owned by a member of the royal family is always hugely popular at this meeting, and this year it would be particularly significant with the Queen celebrating her Golden Jubilee. She will have two runners at the meeting, and Approval, trained by Richard Hannon in Wednesday's seven-furlong Group 3 Jersey Stakes is her best chance. Still, Meshaheer and his Godolphin stablemate Redback, third in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket, have stronger claims.