Like Nowhere Else. That’s the apt slogan that adorns Royal Ascot’s excellent 164-page annual ahead of the five-day meeting that has been at the heart of British sport for over 300 years.
For there is nothing quite like the 30-race thoroughbred Olympics.
Three track records were broken on the first day of Royal Ascot last year and with Clerk of the Course Chris Stickels producing Good to Firm ground again, it would not be a surprise to see times lowered again.
Quality is everywhere, with three Group 1 races and a Group 2 on the first day. ITV, who did such an excellent job of balancing the fashion and the racing last year, will show all six races live.
The first three races are run over the straight course, with 15 scheduled to go to post for the opening 1m Queen Anne Stakes, which has been won in the past by the likes of Frankel, Tepin, Goldikova, Canford Cliffs and Paco Boy.
While the Aidan O’Brien-trained Rhododendron is likely to go off favourite following her Group 1 Lockinge Stakes success at Newbury last month, French raider Recoletos (2.30pm), who comes here on a hat-trick, having landed a Group 2 and the Group 1 Prix d’Ispahan, might be the answer in a relatively weak renewal. The drop back in trip is a slight concern as Olivier Peslier may have to weave his way through traffic, but Ascot’s mile takes some getting and he will be thereabouts at the death.
The 6f Coventry Stakes is always an ultra-competitive affair and only three favourites have prevailed in the last decade. Aidan O’Brien has won this three times in the last seven years and saddles the favourite Sergei Prokofiev, who won his last two starts, including a Listed affair at Naas. The Scat Daddy colt steps up in trip for the first time.
It is not uncommon for inexperienced types to win this, as advertised by The Wow Signal and last year’s winner Rajasinghe, who each had just the one start beforehand. Two that may lack experience, but not talent, are Calyx and Dubai Legacy. The latter, in the care of Godolphin trainer Saeed bin Suroor, looked smart in winning on his Doncaster debut on ground that would have been plenty soft for him. This faster surface should help. But Calyx (3.05) drawn on the other side of the track from Sergei Prokofiev, showed plenty of speed to match his inexperience in powering home on Newmarket’s July course on debut. John Gosden’s Kingman colt will get further in time, but may well be good enough if this race has not come a little quickly for him.
The 5f Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes could be the race of the meeting, with Battaash taking on Lady Aurelia, who seeks a third successive Royal Ascot success. The two four-year-old , drawn either side of Palace House Stakes winner Mabs Cross, should have the finish to themselves and it is hard to get away from what Lady Aurelia (3.40, NAP) has achieved. While Battaash won the Prix de l’Abbaye and the Tenmple Stakes, he does have a propensity to get a little het-up, and he will have to be at his peak to beat Wesley Ward’s flying filly.
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The final Group 1 of the afternoon sees a fairly strong renewal of the St James’s Palace Stakes, which has attracted a field of 10. The Gosden-trained Without Parole attempts to extend his unbeaten record to four against the Irish 2,000 Guineas winner and runner-up Romanised and Tip Two Win, and a trio form Aidan O’Brien’s Ballydoyle yard in Gustav Klimt, U S Navy Flag and Threeandfourpence.
However, Gabr (4.20), who was beaten narrowly by Without Parole at Sandown last time, may find enough improvement for that seasonal debut run to warrant attention and possibly give trainer Sir Michael Stoute a record 76th Royal Ascot winner.
The 2m4f Ascot Stakes is usually a benefit for jumps trainers, with Willie Mullins (three), Nicky Henderson, Jonjo O’Neill and David Pipe all having saddled winners in the past eight years.
Mullins saddles no fewer than five of the 20-strong field with Stratum looking the pick of them. Yet the Stoute-trained Dannyday (5.00) gets the vote if anything like in the form he was when landing the Northumberland Vase at Newcastle in June 2016. He was off for 23 months thereafter and returned with a fair fourth at Goodwood last month. The extra distance is an unknown, but he looks as if he has been laid out for this.
The finale on day one is the Listed 1m2f Wolferton Stakes where Fabricate bids to give Her Majesty The Queen is a 24th Royal Ascot win. Michael Bell’s runner, who won the Listed Magnolia Stakes at Kempton in March, was not beaten far by Poet’s Word in the Brigadier Gerard at Sandown last time on ground that was a touch to soft, and will certainly attract each-way support.
Kidmenever (5.35) was third in this race last year off of a 121-day break and with Charlie Appleby’s string in fine fettle, the five-year-old should produce another bold showing.
ROYAL ASCOT: 2.30 Recoletos, 3.05 Calyx, 3.40 Lady Aurelia, 4.20 Gabr, 5.00 Dannyday, 5.35 Kidmenever
THIRSK: 1.40 War Tigress, 2.10 Deira Surprise, 2.45 Groundworker, 3.20 Beauty Filly, 3.55 Breaking Records, 4.35 Bayshore Freeway, 5.10 Kawasir, 5.45 Acrux
STRATFORD: 1.50 Sue Be It, 2.20 Tillythetank, 2.55 Lip Service, 3.30 Novis Adventus, 4.05 Isle Road, 4.45 Mick Maestro, 5.20 Iniesta
BRIGHTON: 5.40 Indian Warrior, 6.10 Leoube, 6.40 Bombshell Bay, 7.10 Mr Tyrrell, 7.40 Lady Of Petra, 8.10 Sharp Operator, 8.40 Deer Song
BEVERLEY: 6.30 Victory Command, 7.00 Di Alta, 7.30 Judicial, 8.00 Rampant Lion, 8.30 The Night Porter, 9.00 Bollin Ted
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