This may surprise you but the opening day of Royal Ascot rivals the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival in terms of a quality.
In fact, I can’t think of a raceday around the world – and I’ve been lucky enough to attend a few – which combines quality with a sense of occasion like today does. Three Group Ones, a Group Two, an £80,000 Listed and Handicap contest says it all. The quality just keeps on coming.
I’m filing the first race of the meeting, the Queen Anne Stakes, in the too difficult drawer, but I am very hopeful of picking the winner of the second race, the Coventry Stakes, despite it traditionally being one of the best two-year-old races of the year, and in a field of 19, there are only three which haven’t won before.
Ger Lyons is a very astute trainer and I have been very impressed by his Psychedelic Funk, who’s won both his starts, the last by six lengths. The course and track will suit him, he’s by a former Royal Ascot hero, Choisir, and I think he will win.
Profitable has come on leaps and bounds this season and I am a little confused why Mecca’s Angel, the filly he beat in similar conditions at Haydock last month, is 7-4 and he’s 9-2 for the King’s Stand Stakes. He ticks all the boxes and has set the standard for sprinters this season.
The St James’s Palace Stakes sees the clash of three Guineas heroes, but I take the impressive winner of the French version, The Gurkha, to see off the English and Irish winners, Galileo Gold and Awtaad. Aidan O’Brien does amazing well at this meeting – especially with his favourites – and The Gurkha was breath-taking in Deauville a month ago.
Jennies Jewel has really caught my eye in the Ascot Stakes. She was second to Vroum Vroum Mag at Ascot in January, which, as we know, is top-class form and then more recently filled the same position in the Champion Stayers Hurdle at Punchestown. She then won as she liked on the Flat at The Curragh just over three weeks ago. I am not being very loyal but I think she’ll be too good for the Willie Mullins pair of Pique Sous, who would not want too much more rain, and Sempre Medici, whose stamina might be tested.
The final race on Tuesday, the Windsor Castle Stakes, looks ultra-competitive but I’d expect the US raiders Drafted and Big City Dreamin to figure in the finish. It’s a long way to bring a horse over for a Listed race. These could be Group 1 horses, but their remit is to win a race at Royal Ascot no matter what the grade.
Wednesday is all about the Prince of Wales’s Stakes and the big hope from Japan, A Shin Hikari. A 10-length winner of a Group One race deserves to be favourite especially as it was on easy ground at Chantilly, which he wouldn’t have experienced in Japan before.
The big hope for the Willie Mullins camp is Max Dynamite in the Gold Cup. I think it looks a match between him and the favourite, Order Of St George. I’ve ridden Max a couple of times in the last fortnight and his work on Saturday was very good.
I think tactics got him beat at Sandown but we were still disappointed. He will have improved a hell of a lot for that run but he will need to put in a career best to beat the favourite. Order Of St George’s form is outstanding – just look at his 11-length win of the Irish St Leger. He’ll be going an extra six furlongs for the first time in his life which hopefully will pose some serious questions.
Friday is now host to two Group One races and I’ll be taking one more chance on Air Force Blue in the Commonwealth Cup. He has been shocking in his two races this season, having swept all before him last year. I’m going on the assumption that his form has been too bad to be true and if he’s anywhere near his best, he will be hard to beat.
At the time of writing it remains to be seen which colours Jet Setting will be running in as she’s in the Goffs Sale on Monday night, but hopefully she will be still be with trainer Adrian Keatley, who oversaw her victory over Minding in the Irish 1,000 Guineas. To witness what Minding then did at Epsom, make Jet Setting the one to beat in the Coronation Stakes.
I do like the chance of Wicklow Brave in the Hardwicke Stakes on Saturday. He is probably the fastest horse in Willie’s yard and was only beaten a neck in the Ormonde at Chester. Ascot will suit him a lot better and his work has been very good. Judges tell me that the race won’t take an awful lot of winning, so hopefully he’d have a shout.
Willie might have three runners in the Queen Alexandra Stakes, Clondaw Warrior, Simenon and Ivan Grozny. Clondaw Warrior is part-owned by my wife, Gillian, so I am clearly biased, but I do think he has the best chance of the three, having won at the meeting last year. That said, I think last year’s winner Oriental Fox is the one to beat.
Enjoy what should be a brilliant week.
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