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By Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.) | 14 Jun 2021 |

There are eight Gr.1 to be run in the five days of the Royal Meeting. Five of them come in the first three days including the oldest of them all, The Gold Cup. There are as many as three on the Ascot Opening Day. (Italics to acknowledge Alan Jay Lerner's lyrics).  The first two days are expected to be sunny but then it turns cloudy for the rest of the meeting with desultory showers not ruled out.

Queen Anne Stakes, Gr.1

The race was established in the 18th century but it was only in 1930 that it was renamed to honour the founder of the Ascot course. It has progressed from being a Gr.3 event earlier on to Gr.1 status in 2003. Since then, the three year-olds are no longer eligible to run. It is run on the straight course and is traditionally the first race of the Meeting. On an average, it draws a field of a  dozen milers. In its eighteen renewals as a Gr.1 contest, six favourites have won (33.33 %). The four year-olds are very much to the fore with twelve of them winning. Goldikova in 2010 is the only filly to win while just three of the winners had won a mile Classic in their time. The most successful jockeys have been Frankie Dettori and Richard Hughes (3 wins each); Aidan O'Brien has saddled four winners and the Coolmore syndicates have led in five. In the all time lists, Dettori is tied with Sir Gordon Richards and he has been sweating since 2007 to break the record.  

India saw a winner of the Queen Anne Stakes as long ago as the 19th century. That was Tostig who won the Trial Stakes at Calcutta and was beaten a neck by Highborn in the Viceroy's Cup. Tostig went on to Australia where he proved to be a successful sire. The 1939 winner MacKann also came to India and is remembered as the sire of Pimpernel on whom Khade won a memorable Indian St. Leger, Gr.1.

Though two previous winners of the race -- Accidental Angel and Lord Glitters, both long in the tooth now -- are in the race, there is no previous Classic winner running. On form, the race is there for Palace Pier (Kingman - Beach Frolic by Nayef) to win and take Frankie Dettori ahead of Sir Gordon Richards. The colt, trained by the Gosdens, has lost only once in eight starts and  won the Sandown Mile, Gr.2 and the Lockinge Stakes, Gr.1, both over a mile, this year. He lords over the field in terms of rating. However, he is at far too cramped odds and his only defeat was over the the course and distance. Of the other four year-old rivals, two are trained by O'Brien who has a glittering record in the race. Tilsit could be a good outsider. He was beaten only a head in the Prix d'Ispahan, Gr.1 at Longchamp last time out and he will be happy to have a furlong less to travel in the Meeting's opener.  Not a race for a casual punter who can avoid the rush at betting counters and get a good position to see Dettori's leaping dismount in the paddock. 

King's Stand Stakes, Gr.1

The shortest race of  the Royal Ascot, the King's Stand Stakes, was first run in the 19th century. It has undergone changes of nomenclature and its lost Gr.1 status was reinstated only in 2008 when it became a part of the Global Sprint Challenge.  It usually draws a big field of about 17 runners. Equiano, Sole Power and Blue Point have won the race twice. Adam Kirby, on a high after winning the Derby on Adayar, already had a unique record against his name. He is the only jockey to have ever won all the three Gr.1 sprints at Ascot. His treble consists of Profitable (King's Stand Stakes), Golden Horde (Commonwealth Cup) and Lethal Force (Diamond Jubilee Stakes). All his three winners were trained by Clive Cox. Other trainers to keep an eye on in the sprints are R. Cowell and C. Hills. This is a rare race which Aidan O.Brien has never won; he won't win it this year because there is no Ballydoyle runner. Neither has Frankie Dettori had a winner after it became a Gr.1 event.  

Only two favourites have won since the race became a Gr.1 and one of them is Battaash who won last year. Battaash (Dark Angel - Anna Law by Lawman) is back again this year seeking a back-to-back double. He will be under the Shadwell colours after 308 days but that is nothing new to the gelding. Four times previously he has raced after gaps of around 250 days and scored. He seems to run best when fresh. He is now a seven year-old and will obviously take comfort from the fact that Sole Power bagged his double at 6 and 7. He has a lot going for him and at the time of writing he can be backed at 2/1 if one looks around. This will be his fourth participation in the race. He was twice second to Blue Point before his win.
(Racing Post suggests that he has had problems in his preparation; despite that he is one of the three most backed horses of the Meeting).

Just two three year-olds have won this race since 2008 and they were both trained abroad. Equiano (2008) was then schooled in France and  Wesley Ward came from the U.S.A. and won this race four years ago with the three year-old filly Lady Aurelia. He returns this time with Maven, a four year-old colt who won his last start at Keeneland over 1100 m. in taking style. The three year-old colt Winter Power, an inmate of Tim Easterby's Habton Grange stables in Yorkshire, has raced ten times so far and all of them have been over the minimum distance. He has five wins to his credit including a hat-trick of black type wins. Astute Northern interests are said to have struck a few bets on him at attractive odds while there are whispers about Oxted who is bred to be fast.

St. James's Palace Stakes, Gr.1

Unlike the Queen Anne Stakes, the earlier Gr.1 mile on the day's card,  St. James's Palace Stakes, Gr.1 is run on the round course. Confined to only the colts from the Classic crop, it is very much a reunion of the Two Thousand Guineas stalwarts of the year. Thirteen of the winners of this race this millennium had a "2000" to their credit. (Having said that, it has also to be mentioned that in the last three years, the winner had not participated in any "2000"). Ten favourites (that's 50 %) have won making it the Gr.1 race that is most kind to the punters during the meeting. J.P. Murtagh has ridden four winners but since he has hung up his boots, the current leading jockey is Frankie Dettori with three wins, just ahead of Ryan Moore and James Doyle on two each. Aidan O'Brien has sent out seven (eight, counting an earlier one) winners from Ballydoyle and is comfortably ahead of others. One of O'Brien's winners was Excellent Art, now a very successful sire in India. Bairn, who won the race in 1985, also came to India as a stallion. 

This year, we do have one winner of the 2000 Guineas in the field and he is the leader in the betting market at around 4/1. Jim Bolger's Poetic Flare (Dawn Approach - Maria Lee by Rock of Gibraltar)  won the Qipco Two Thousand Guineas, Gr.1 at Newmarket, was unplaced in the Emirates Poule d'Essai des Poulains, Gr.1 and placed second to stable-mate Mac Swiney in the Tattersalls Irish 2000 Guineas, Gr.1. His sire as well as his damsire won the "2000" at Newmarket and later captured this very race so Poetic Flare is on a proven path. Like John Oxx before him, Jim Bolger doesn't often take his wards away from Ireland. When he does, you will get a run for your money more often than not. 

Mostahdaf -- unbeaten in three races -- and Godolphin's Highland Avenue -- three wins from five starts -- come next in the betting. They have been brought along patiently and have yet not been thrown into the deep end. Mostahdaf is exactly at the same point where Palace Pier was last year so the Gosdens, who train both, know what is required. Mostahdaf and Highland Avenue are just Listed race winners at the moment. They could turn out to be anything but the claims of Chindit are stronger. Chindit is a winner of  Champagne Stakes, Gr.2 last year and the Greenham Stakes, Gr.3 this April. He just missed the frame in Poetic Flare's "2000" last time out. He comes across as a typical Hannon horse who outruns his form and pedigree. Ballydoyle's Battleground was beaten as the favourite in his last two starts, both Gr.1 events, and hence is currently at decent odds.

Ireland's W.P. Mullins is as dominant a force in NH racing as Aidan O'Brien is on the flat and he has two well backed runners, both ridden by Ryan Moore, in the undercard on the opening day which merit consideration. Mullins, a former jockey and assistant to trainer Jim Bolger, often lets a cat out among the pigeons on the flat.

Prince of Wales' Stakes, Gr.1

The race was instituted in 1862 when Edward Albert, son of Queen Victoria, was invested as the Prince of Wales. It saw an interregnum from 1940 to 1967 when there was no Prince of Wales. It was revived in 1968 when Prince Charles became the Prince of Wales. The first three runnings on resumption were won by Sandy Barclay including on Connaught, the first horse to win the race in successive years. Barclay, who died recently, was popular with Indian race goers. Barclay's three winners were all trained by Noel Murless and owned by Jim Joel. The race is run over a mile and two furlongs (almost; because the actual distance is  1 mile, 1 furlong and 212 yards and it is short by eight yards of the second furlong !). It was elevated to  Gr.1 status in 2000 and the minimum qualifying age was raised from 3 to 4. Thus, all twenty renewals this century have been Gr.1 events. The all time records of trainer John Porter (8 wins) and jockey Mornington Cannon (6 wins) are not under a threat but owners Earl of Derby and Godolphin (5 wins each) are tied. There is no runner in Godolphin blue among the seven participating this year.

This millennium, the five-year-olds lead the four-year-olds 10-9, one renewal going to a six-year-old. Eleven of the winners had won their previous starts, many of them capturing a Gr.1. Mares Ouija Board and The Fugue put it across the colts in their years. On an average, eight runners participate and only six favourites have gladdened the hearts of their backers. Dettori (4 wins) and Aidan O'Brien (3 wins) lead their fellow professionals while Coolmore and Godolphin have  led in three winners each.  The 1993 Prince of Wales's Stakes was won by Placerville on virtually three legs, beating the great Urban Sea. Urban Sea has had significant influence on breeding world wide whereas Placerville had a splendid innings at stud in India. 

Last year's winner Lord North (Dubawi - Najoom), trained by the Gosdens for Sheikh Zayed, is wagered to complete a first back-to-back double of this century. After winning this race last year  he has won just once from his next four starts. That win came at Meydan at the end of March and he was found to have bled when he returned to the scales.  At Ascot last year, Lord North was a comfortable winner, finishing almost four lengths ahead of Addeybb. Thereafter, Addeybb has lost just once in four starts. He extracted a course and distance revenge victory over Lord North in the Qipco Champion Stakes, Gr.1 and on his last start down-under, he picked up the Longines Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, Gr.1 at Randwick. There isn't much to choose in their respective form lines but the disparity in odds is glaring.

On pure form, the horse to beat should be the Ballydoyle filly Love. She raced just three times last year and recorded a Gr.1 hat-trick of Qipco One Thousand Guineas, Investec Epsom Oaks and Darley Yorkshire Oaks. She will be running after 300 days and has never raced against older horses. The question therefore arises whether she will be in earnest on Wednesday or is being merely readied for a later target. Significantly, her stable-mate Armory has been getting some support in the ante post exchanges though he is yet to win a Gr.1 race.

Lady Bowthorpe's second to Palace Pier on her last start has seen her being backed with such gusto that she figures as one of the three most backed runners of the Meeting. She is a hot order in the Duke of Cambridge Stakes, Gr.2 on the second day.

The Gold Cup

The oldest -- established in 1807 -- and the longest -- run over 2 miles and 4 furlongs; to be precise, ten yards short -- race of the Royal Meeting is The Gold Cup. Like the Epsom Derby, it is often loosely referred to as the Ascot Gold Cup. The race was not run in 1940 and 1964 and it has also been staged at Newmarket and York due to wartime exigencies. Now a contest for four year-olds and over, it was won by three year-olds early on. In spite of being contested over such a stamina sapping distance, it draws a fair field, a dozen runners being the par this century. Nine favourites have won in the last twenty renewals and a four year-old has emerged on top of his older rivals on eight occasions. Lester Piggott (11 wins), Aidan O'Brien (7 wins) and Coolmore (7 wins) are perched comfortably on their pedestals. The only filly to win The Gold Cup this century is Estimate, owned by The Queen. That was the first victory in the race for a reigning monarch. In 1952, the race was won by Aquino who was owned by Maharani Seeta Devi Gaekwar of Baroda.

No matter what the result on Thursday, no horse will be greeted as warmly when he enters the paddock as Stradivarius (Sea The Stars - Private Life by Bering) (DI 0.91). The seven year-old was bred by his owner Bjorn Nielsen and has been trained throughout  by John Gosden, his son Thady figuring as a joint-trainer from this year. Nineteen horses have won The Gold Cup twice, two -- Sagaro and Stradivarius -- have won it twice while Yeats has the record number of four wins. It is the record of Yeats that Stradivarius is seeking to equal. After his victory last year, odds of 4/1 were on offer for his quadruple. He is now around evens, having been backed at various prices and some bookmakers will have to shell out a king's ransom if does so. Like Yeats, he has four consecutive wins at Royal Ascot, his first coming in the Queen's Vase, Gr.2 as a three year-old. Yeats won all his four races on good to firm going; Stradivarius has won twice on soft so a shower or two won't inconvenience him. Rated 125, he has a few lengths to spare to the field and he showed all was well with him when winning the Longines Sagaro Stakes, Gr.3, a popular lead-up, in April.

Stradivarius is only trying to match the record of Yeats. There is a rival -- and he has plenty of friends in India ! -- who is trying to create a new one. Twilight Payment, trained by Joseph O'Brien, is looking to become the first horse to win the Melbourne Cup, Gr.1 and The Gold Cup, Gr.1, a unique trans-equator double. Stradivarius and Twilight Payment have never met. In fact, the Irish horse will be having his first start in England. In the betting, though, Twilight Payment is out on a limb. At this stage -- Monday evening -- the final declarations for Thursday are not known. Four year-old Subjectivist, winner of the Prix Royal-Oak, Gr.1 and the Dubai Gold Cup, Gr.1 on his last two starts, is the best backed horse after the favourite. He will be saddled by Mark Johnston who has trained more winners than anyone else in Britain and has previously led in three Gold Cup winners. Aidan O'Brien had the Irish Derby winner Santiago still in the race when he added the Epsom Derby winner Serpentine at the supplementary stage with a fee of GBP 30,000. Not counting the wartime Gold Cup winners at Newmarket, the last horse to do the Derby-Gold Cup double was the Prince of Wales's Persimmon in 1896. The lone filly, Princess Zoe, will also be coming from Ireland.   


How unlucky can one be ? There was a horse called Rock Roi. He was bred by Mrs. Vera Hue-Williams and raced in the colours of her husband Col. F.R. Hue-Williams. Rock Roi started his career in the training establishment of Sir Gordon Richards and won his only race at 2. At the end of that year, Sir Gordon Richards retired as a trainer and hence Rock Roi moved to trainer Peter Walwyn's yard. He began his second year disappointingly but showed calibre when sent over longer trips. At 4, he was  2/1 favourite for the Gold Cup and won comfortably from Random Shot. His samples, however, came positive and he was disqualified though the enquiry held the trainer and the head lad blameless. The next year, Rock Roi was as good as ever. From three starts he won the John Porter Stakes and the Prix du Cadran and that made him the favourite once again for the Gold Cup. This time, he was at even shorter odds of 11/4 on. In the hard fought match which developed in the closing stages of the race, he prevailed by a head from Erimo Hawk. Unfortunately, there was a Stewards Enquiry and Rock Roi was deemed to have taken his rival's ground and the race was awarded to Erimo Hawk. He was then purchased by Daniel Wildenstein and taken to France. He broke down shortly afterwards and never ran again. Twice first past the post in the Gold Cup but his name does not figure in the scroll of honour ! That's racing.