With the Queen Anne, the St James’s Palace Stakes, the King’s Stand Stakes and the Coventry all on one card, day one of Royal Ascot can claim to be the best day’s racing of the entire year, and the renewed rivalry of Irish 2000 Guineas first and second, Phoenix Of Spain and Too Darn Hot, in the Group 1 St James’s Palace Stakes sets the tone for a fabulous five days at the Berkshire track.
Charlie Hills’ horse can confirm the form in a race which should answer many questions. The grey was one of the best juveniles of last season, winning twice and finishing runner-up to Too Darn Hot on one occasion and to subsequent Newmarket 2000 Guineas winner Magna Grecia on another.
There may have been excuses for Too Darn Hot last time. Perhaps the run came too soon after his seasonal return, over ten furlongs, in the Dante. Perhaps the fact it wasn’t always an intended target told. Perhaps he has just needed time after an interrupted preparation for the season.
Or perhaps he has not stepped very far forward from his two-year-old form. He isn’t a horse of particularly impressive scope and maybe we’ve seen the best of him. But his trainer, John Gosden, is amongst the elite of the sport in terms of his ability and when he says the horse is as good now as he has been all year, we must, at the very least, respect that.
Phoenix Of Spain is a different type of colt, however, and I expect he can confirm the feeling that he has improved past Too Darn Hot. He was as good at the end of the Irish Guineas as he was at any stage of it, and, while it’s easy to argue he got the run of the race, we must remember it was his seasonal debut and there should be plenty more to come. He doesn’t have to lead – it wasn’t the plan at The Curragh –but a decent pace should play to his strengths and he can be part of what should be a brilliant day for Charlie Hills.
The quirky Battaash, also trained by Hills, secured a second consecutive win in the Group 2 Temple Stakes on his seasonal debut and can follow up in the Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes.
The five-year-old got a bit hot prior to this race last year but ran a fine race to take the runner-up spot behind Blue Point. His recent run, which was his first after a wind op, suggests he could be better than ever. He oozes class when at his best and can reverse last year’s form with the winner and also fend off a likely challenge from stablemate Equilateral.
Laurens can reverse Lockinge form with Mustashry when they renew their rivalry in the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes which gets the programme underway. A four-time Group 1 winner last season, she reappeared in the Lockinge and travelled with her customary style. She looked to have them all in trouble for a long way, but the winner picked up really well late on to win well.
Laurens, to her credit, was coming back again at the finish of the race and should be better for that outing. At around the 6-1 mark, she makes plenty of each-way appeal. Last year’s French 2000 Guineas winner Olmedo can also go well at a much bigger price.
There is a cracking renewal of the Group 2 Coventry Stakes and, despite the feeling he will be better over further, I can’t look past Aidan O’Brien’s Arizona.
His debut second behind Sunday Sovereign has been well advertised since, and he could hardly have been more impressive himself when winning his maiden at The Curragh.
The son of No Nay Never will improve again for that run and should prove too strong for his rivals. At much bigger odds his stablemate, King Of Athens, who finished behind him at The Curragh, could surprise some better fancied rivals by reaching the frame.
2:30 Laurens (Olmedo)
3:05 Arizona (King Of Athens)
3:40 Battaash (Equilateral)
4:20 Phoenix Of Spain (NAP) (Too Darn Hot)
5:00 Buildmeupbuttercup (Batts Rock)
5:35 Latrobe (Riven Light)