That grand and historic race meeting, Royal Ascot, a five-day pageant of the finest that horse racing has to offer, opens on Tuesday, June 19th, in Berkshire, England, with the delightful prospect of the world's top three Thoroughbreds in action. Held each June, this year's meeting – first instituted by Queen Anne in 1711, in the early part of the 18th century – has added significance, coming as it does against the backdrop of Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee celebrations. Some six kilometers of buntings will decorate the venerable track, whose stands were renovated in 2006.
Unfortunately the three leading racehorses, as rated by the International Federation of Horse Racing Authorities, will not be facing each other as they have different distance requirements. The unbeaten Frankel (by Galileo), rated 138 after 10 consecutive wins, is a miler and goes in the meeting's opener, the Queen Anne Stakes; Black Caviar (by Bel Esprit), the wonder Australian sprinting racemare with 21 victories from as many starts and rated 130, makes her first overseas foray on closing day in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes; and the admirable 128-rated Cirrus Des Aigles (by Even Top, a son of Topanoora, who once stood in India) aims to cement his place in the pantheon of 10 furlong greats in the Prince Of Wales's Stakes on Wednesday.
The Queen herself has three runners engaged during the meeting – last year's Epsom Derby placegetter, Carlton House (by Street Cry), the lightly-raced but progressive Momentary (by Nayef) and the equally inexperienced Estimate (by Monsun) who might attempt to score over two miles on only her third start.
In addition, there is a jockeys' championship, for the rider who steers home the most winners during the meet, and Aidan O'Brien's son, Joseph, is the current favourite, an unusual situation for one who has yet to ride a winner at the Royal meeting! Richard Hughes is next in demand and should go close as should last year's victor, Ryan Moore. With Godolphin not firing smoothly, Frankie Dettori will be a longshot for the title. The canny Johnny Murtagh, seen to good effect in the Prix de Diane Longines on Sunday, shapes as a lively outsider for the honours.
So prestigious is a Royal Ascot win that even with the overwhelming superiority that Frankel has displayed, as many as 10 have cared to take him on in the Queen Anne at 2:30. In an ordinary year, Excelebration (by Exceed And Excel) might have been a "shoo-in". Even runners like Strong Suit (by Rahy), whose rider Richard Hughes fancies him (to run second), Worthadd (also by Rahy) and the high class, but out of form, Australian ace Helmet (by Exceed And Excel) might have prevailed had they been foaled in a different era. There are risks inherent in any race but in a clean-run race, Frankel should easily oblige. The Sir Henry Cecil-trained colt is "doing very well", said Teddy Grimthorpe, Racing Manager of Prince Khalid Abdullah's Juddmonte Farms operation, in an exclusive telephonic conversation with this writer a couple of days ago.
Thirty five minutes later, punters will face a dilemma choosing between 23 runners in a most competitive renewal of the Kings' Stand Stakes. Given that the race will be over in a minute or so, there is not much time to recover from a bad start, or to weave one's way through traffic, so the ultimate winner is going to have to be handy early on – or extremely lucky. With Australian runners proving so successful in recent times – Choisir, Takeover Target, Miss Andretti and Scenic Blast come to mind – Ortensia (by Testa Rossa) is one to keep on the short list. Bated Breath (by Dansili), Sole Power (by Kyllachy), France's Wizz Kid (by Whipper) and a pair of Hong Kong challengers, Joy And Fun (by Cullen) and Little Bridge (by Faltaat) who surely have not come over merely for the atmosphere, should add some spice to the finish.
Milers of the classic generation gain another opportunity to settle scores in the St. James's Palace Stakes (3:45), with Abu Dhabi Irish 2000 Guineas hero, Power (by Oasis Dream), his stablemate Wrote (by High Chaparral) and Born To Sea (by Invincible Spirit) spearheading the Irish challenge. France sends over its "2000 Guineas" winner, Lucayan (by Turtle Bowl), who will have Stephane Pasquier up, along with Hermival (by Dubawi), and Dragon Pulse (by Kyllachy). The home defence is provided in quantity by John Gosden, with his trio of The Nile (by Three Valleys), Gregorian (by Clodovil) and Fencing (by Street Cry), while quality-wise, Brian Meehan's Most Improved (by Lawman), with Kieren Fallon astride, and Bryan Smart's Foxtrot Romeo (by Danehill Dancer), with Richard Hughes on board, are higher-rated than those three albeit somewhat below the overseas challengers.
Wednesday starts with something of a lottery – as many as 34 have been left in for the 7 fur. Jersey Stakes (2:30), a race that has produced some useful stallions in the past, notably Indian Ridge, Diktat, Mozart, Kheleyf and Tecorno (who stood in India). The Equus Stud resident, Tariq, who has yet to have runners, is another successful graduate of this race. One hopes the commentator can distinguish between this year's contestants in such a crowded field, more so as Talwar (by Acclamation) is opposed by Telwaar (by Haafhd)!
Several superior older fillies and mares clash in the 3:05 Windsor Forest Stakes (1 mile). Both Emulous (by Dansili) and Nahrain (by Selkirk) bring enviable records into the race and should vie for honours. Sir Henry Cecil's Chachamaidee (by Footstepsinthesand) has not been unplaced for nearly two years and should be a certain place-getter. The much-improved Clinical (by Motivator), from the yard of Sir Mark Prescott, can upset the applecart of this trio.
The 150th Prince Of Wales's Stakes has drawn a mouth-watering field of 14 runners, which include the aforementioned Cirrus des Aigles and the unlikely-to-run Excelebration. Interestingly, the first-named is not the best-fancied as a wave of support for So You Think (by High Chaparral) has propelled the latter into "odds-on" territory. Showing signs of a return to his best form when annexing the Tattersalls Gold Cup last time out, the Aidan O'Brien trainee, with son Joseph up, will need to be at his very best to defeat "Cirrus" on whom the wily Olivier Peslier might prove too canny. Nor can one totally ignore the French-campaigned Reliable Man (by Dalakhani) and Planteur (by Danehill Dancer). Carlton House could provide a fairytale end to the Diamond Jubilee story while both Farrh (by Pivotal) and Big Blue Kitten (by Kitten's Joy) are intriguing, the former for being unbeaten and the latter for being a rare American-trained challenger.
More in a couple of days….