The Royal Ascot extravaganza is upon us once again and I don’t think you can rival the opening day, in terms of sheer quality of Flat racing, anywhere in the world.
I’ll focus mainly on the first couple of days, as we know who’s running and those are the best days’ racing for me.
The week begins with a bang with the Queen Anne Stakes. Ribchester is the highest-rated horse in Europe, according to Timeform, and comes here on the back of an impressive win in the Lockinge.
What I would say is that the Lockinge can often throw up strange results and the race was run to suit Ribchester. I believe trainer Richard Fahey and the Godolphin team sold the rest of the field a dummy when their pacemaker turned out not to be a pacemaker, enabling Ribchester to take an easy lead.
This time, Qatar Racing, whose hopes lie with the Lockinge runner-up, Lightning Spear, are running a pacemaker, Dutch Uncle, who will ensure Ribchester doesn’t get things his own way in front.
Mutakayyef is the value for me at 7-1. He won over the course and distance in July before going on to finish third to Postponed in the International Stakes and then third again to Tepin in the Woodbine Mile.
That’s top-class form and showed he was as good as ever with a close fifth on Dubai World Cup night, only two places behind Ribchester. I still think there’s more to come from him and he looks a great each-way proposition.
I was in the US a couple of weeks ago and couldn’t make head nor tail of the form or vibes for the Wesley Ward-trained horses. Arawak is his choice in the Coventry, which is regularly the best two-year-old race of the week. He will need to be a real star, as this looks a very classy renewal.
Richard Hannon always need to be feared in these races and he is represented by two leading chances in De Bruyne Horse and Denaar, while Aidan O’Brien’s Murillo is highly- regarded. Brother Bear is the one for me, though.
Jessie Harrington-trained the Cheltenham Gold Cup winner in March and she can add a Royal Ascot winner to her amazing 2017. Brother Bear easily dismissed the opposition in Listed class at The Curragh last time and left a really good impression on me.
The sprinting division needs a superstar, as not one horse has really dominated recently, but I think Lady Aurelia fits the bill and will win the King’s Stand.
The filly blew away the opposition at this fixture last year and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. She showed she was in good form in April — her first start as a three-year-old — when winning at Keeneland and I can’t wait to see her in the flesh again.
All the talk in Ireland has been that Churchill had one target this year, one race he just had to win, and no, that wasn’t the 2,000 Guineas, but the St James’s Palace Stakes. He has been trained for this and you will see a better horse than shown to date. Don’t take him on.
I believe the Coral Cup at the Festival in March will have the biggest influence on the Ascot Stakes. Thomas Hobson was well beaten that day, but jumping has never been his strong suit and he is a much better horse on the Flat. The third that day, Who Dares Wins, went on to run a cracker in the Chester Cup and I’d put these two in a forecast.
On to the Windsor Castle and Declarationofpeace was very impressive when winning at Dundalk last time and looks a cut above the rest of them on what we’ve seen so far. I hope T For Tango puts up a good show for my good friend James Nash at a big price. They think he’ll run well, anyway.
Onto tomorrow and the Prince of Wales looks a great showdown with Jack Hobbs, Highland Reel, and Ulysses in the line-up.
The last-named hasn’t shown enough yet for me to side with him and I think it will be an incredibly tight call between Jack Hobbs and Highland Reel. Both look top, top-class horses and, if I had to choose, I would come down on the side of Highland Reel, as I think the fast ground will suit him more.
Order Of St George was mightily impressive in the Gold Cup last year, but he did put in a couple of questionable performances since and my preference in Thursday’s showpiece race would be for Sheikhzayedroad, who won the Long Distance Cup on British Champions Day at Ascot, with Order Of St George back in fourth.
Sheikhzayedroad has won at Group One level before and is so consistent; I can’t see him finishing out of the frame at around 9-1, and I can easily see him winning it.
Aidan O’Brien thinks Caravaggio could be the fastest he’s trained and that’s good enough for me. He is even money for the Commonwealth on Friday and is the obvious choice. I’d put him in a double with stablemate Winter, who runs in the Coronation Stakes; she is the exceptional three-year-old filly this year.
The final Group One race of the week is the Diamond Jubilee on Saturday, in which Acapulco and Limato are vying for favouritism. I think there are question marks over Limato, so the safer choice would be the O’Brien-trained American import, who was a very cosy winner for his new trainer last month.
Ruby Walsh will be previewing the action on Racing UK (Sky 432 and Virgin 536) from 9am to 1pm today and Wednesday. Racing UK will show the most extensive coverage of Royal Ascot available with every race live and nine hours of live coverage from 9am daily. Watch it for free with a free one-month trial by visiting racinguk.com/freetrial and use code “RUK1MF”
The sprinting division needs a superstar, as not one horse has dominated recently, but I think Lady Aurelia fits the bill
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