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By Anil Mukhi | 17 Jun 2019 |

Anil Mukhi

Mid-June is the time of the year when the sporting canvas of Great Britain is embellished with the rich brushstrokes of high-profile action across different genres: for tennis fans there is Wimbledon; for cricket fans there is the ICC World Cup; and, of course, for racing fans there is the most prestigious race meeting in the world – Royal Ascot. Located at Ascot in Berkshire, England, on a stretch of open heath not far from Windsor Castle, the course was established in 1711 at the instance of the then reigning monarch, Queen Anne, whose term on the throne of England lasted from 1702 to 1714.

Originally programmed over four mid-week days – Tuesday to Friday – the meet was extended to a fifth day (Saturday) in 2002 to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of the current reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. Virtually every category of Thoroughbred is catered for, which ensures that connections of all the best racehorses make every effort to fine tune their runners for an appearance here. As a result, the public is treated to a gorgeous spectacle, the likes of which cannot be replicated anywhere else. 

Copious rains in England in the past week – as cricket fans would glumly attest – have rendered the ground soft everywhere, and Ascot is no exception. That said, a top horse does not need to carry its preferred track around and no runner should be unduly affected by the underfoot conditions.

Here are some notes on the Group 1 events. All times are in BST. Indian Standard Time is 4-1/2 hours ahead. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Queen Anne Stakes (1 mile, 2:30 p.m.) 

A mile event for four-year-olds and up on the straight course, this race promises to be an excellent contest. As many as 16 are in contention, which include the defending champion, Accidental Agent (by Delegator), previous Royal Ascot hero Barney Roy (by Excelebration), now a gelding after an unsuccessful stint at stud, the admirably consistent Mustashry (by Tamayuz) coming off a win in the Lockinge Stakes over the same distance last month, the beaten favourite there, Laurens (by Siyouni), the obligatory Aidan O’Brien contender, Le Brivido (also by Siyouni), formerly trained in France, and last year’s Irish 2000 Guineas winner Romanised (by Holy Roman Emperor). 

Karl Burke, trainer of Laurens, is adamant that she will reverse the form with Mustashry. Meanwhile, by leaving in only Le Brivido from his formidable arsenal, Aidan O’Brien has signaled that his ward is ready to move forward from his tame fifth behind this pair last time out, an opinion shared by the market which has made him the 7 to 2 favourite. Finally, fans of “each way betting” might like to take a look at Matterhorn (by Raven’s Pass), who has been only once unplaced from his dozen starts, and is currently at 25 to 1.

King’s Stand Stakes (5 fur., 3:40 p.m.) 

All through 2018, racegoers waited for Battaash (by Dark Angel) to display the 2017 form that suggested he was the fastest horse in England. Alas, he was beaten last year in all three of his Group 1 engagements – though he managed to save a bit of face by annexing a couple of Group 2 features. Trainer Charlie Hills was not too pleased with the gelding’s demeanour and physical fitness at the time, but has expressed nothing but admiration this term as the five-year-old has been in tip-top condition. Hamdan Al-Maktoum’s property demonstrated his current well-being, both in his sparkling work at home and also in the Gr.2 Temple Stakes last month where he toyed with his opponents. He is thus the public choice at 2 to 1 in the field of 12.

It was Godolphin’s Blue Point (by Shamardal) that inflicted defeat upon Battaash in this same race last year, and he has been in ominously good form in his three appearances in 2019, albeit all those winning efforts came in Dubai at Meydan Racecourse. With the unfortunate absence of William Buick (recovering after suffering concussion in a fall), he will have the equally-effective James Doyle – who has ridden him before – in the saddle.

The late, and much lamented, Scat Daddy (by Johannesburg) has had 8 previous Royal Ascot winners and has his final chance of adding to his tally this year. The Ballydoyle hope, Sergei Prokofiev, is one of his representatives from his final crop and is at the juicy price – for a mount of Ryan Moore – of 6 to 1. Mabs Cross (by Dutch Art), third last year, goes for Paul Mulrennan, who must be feeling full of confidence after completing 1,000 winners in the U.K.

Foreign interest comes from a trio of raiders: 

•    Enzo’s Lad (by Testa Rossa), who is a rare visitor from New Zealand, with a Group 1 win to his name earlier this year. His trainer, Michael Pitman, has suffered a number of vicissitudes over the years, including a car accident, cancer and the loss of a child, but remains positive about life and it would be a great story were he to win.  

•    Houtzen (by I Am Invincible), whose owners actually wanted to name Doutzen, after the famous Dutch model and actress, but who became victims of “auto-correct” on a mobile phone used to transmit the selected name at the time of her registration! The racemare has earned the equivalent of over a million pounds, but has yet to display form that could win this.

•    Imprimis (by Broken Vow), who is attempting to transfer his outstanding American form (7 wins from 9 starts) to alien conditions for trainer Joe Orseno. The gelding’s schooler is thrilled to have pulled off a coup of sorts by securing the services of Frankie Dettori.

St. James’s Palace Stakes (1 mile, 4:20 p.m.) 

Run at 7 yards short of a mile – a negligible difference – this race is for three-year-olds and takes place on the round course. It brings together eleven of the top second-season milers and although the victor of the Qipco 2000 Guineas at Newmarket, Magna Grecia (by Invincible Spirit), is missing (he has another target), the event remains competitive. 

Heading the betting at 7 to 4 is the Tattersalls Irish 2000 Guineas hero Phoenix Of Spain (by Lope De Vega), whose victory in Ireland over Too Darn Hot (by Dubawi) seemed too easy, considering he was reversing juvenile form between the pair. Many fancy the runner-up to resume his winning ways and his handler, John Gosden, has gone on record to confess that his ward has been a victim of bad management on his own part this season. With the superbly-bred colt thriving, he can certainly provide Frankie Dettori with a winner, being presently quoted at 9 to 4. Gosden also runs King Of Comedy (by Kingman) who has been steadily backed down to 5 to 1 (from 12 to 1 earlier).

French form is represented by the Wertheimer Brothers’ Shaman (by Shamardal), winner of 3 of his last four outings under Maxime Guyon, who continues his association. Beaten just a length in the French Guineas equivalent by Persian King (by Kingman), the chestnut provides a valuable guideline as to the merit of the cross-Channel sophomores. By the same sire as Shaman (and also a chestnut) is the attractive Skardhu, third in the Qipco 2000 Guineas, just ahead of Madhmoon (by Dawn Approach). While remaining open to improvement as he matures, William Haggas’s runner seems well-held on form at present. 
Ballydoyle have sprung something of a surprise by nominating Investec Derby flop, Circus Maximus (by Galileo) as one of the three runners that will carry their hopes here. The Niarchos standard-bearer probably does have the speed to tackle a mile, but will need a considerable dose of fortune to be able to prevail here for Aidan O’Brien. His stablemates are presently forlorn hopes at 50 to 1 (Van Beethoven, by Scat Daddy) and 100 to 1 (The Irish Rover, by No Nay Never).

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Prince Of Wales’s Stakes (10 fur., 3:40 p.m.) 

At the time of writing, 11 have held their ground in what promises to be perhaps the best race of the year so far. Should both run, this middle-distance event will bring together two of the top fillies of 2018, namely Coolmore’s Magical (by Galileo), with Ryan Moore up, and last year’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe close runner-up, Sea Of Class (by Sea Of Stars), with James Doyle at the controls. While the former has been in sublime form with three wins in the first half of the year, the latter is making her seasonal reappearance and thus might need the run.

Meanwhile, Sir Michael Stoute, already a legend at Royal Ascot and a past master at improving his wards, has not been standing by – he pitches in Crystal Ocean (also by Sea The Stars), two-for-two in 2019. With Ryan Moore claimed for Magical, Sir Michael has roped in Frankie Dettori to guide the five-year-old. Also revealing form in excess of what he has shown previously is a member of the same crop in the shape of the Andre Fabre-schooled Gallic invader, Waldgeist (by Galileo). The German-owned chestnut trounced his rivals in the Prix Ganay in April and can go close here under Pierre-Charles Boudot. Finally, the connections of the Japanese challenger, Deirdre (by Harbinger), must hope she proves as fluent over the course as her sire was in his runaway victory in the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes in 2010.

More to follow later in the week…..