The coming weeks are set to serve up a gargantuan feast of sporting entertainment with major events to suit all palates.
The Euros from France kicked-off on Friday, with the hosts defeating Romania. On Saturday England hammered Russia 1-1, whilst the Welsh had a terrific win over Slovakia. And last night it was Germany’s turn to hold a tenuous one goal advantage into added time, but with typical German efficiency they doubled their lead with virtually the last kick of the game. Some things never change.
At the end of the week the world’s best golfers collide at Oakmont, Pennsylvania, as they battle for the US Open, the second Major of the summer. Jason Day, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy once again set the standard for the rest to follow, in an event that has been kind to Europeans in recent times.
And at the end of the month it’s all aboard the Murray Express, as Andy attempts to get the upper-hand at Wimbledon, and finally put that troublesome Serb Novak, back in his box. Ivan Lendl is back in the team, and that could prove crucial in helping Murray with issues between the ears.
As exciting as all the above clearly is, for those that follow the geegeez only one event can truly capture the imagination in the coming week.
Royal Ascot is the highlight of the Flat racing campaign. Jumps has Cheltenham, the Flat has Royal Ascot. It really is as simple as that. It’s a sporting extravaganza, drawing in elite equine talent from around the world, trained to the minute by the very best handlers and ridden by the sport’s outstanding jockeys.
But it’s the ‘Pomp and Ceremony’ that set the meeting apart from all others. The Queen’s royal procession opens proceedings each day, as she arrives in her horse drawn carriage, welcomed by a fanfare from the Coldstream Guards band and a hearty rendition from the gathered masses of ‘God Save the Queen’.
Royal Ascot is famed for its fashion. Top hat and tails replaces tweed in the posh seats, and inevitably there’ll be a fair sprinkling of the rich and famous in their finery, striking a pose for any that care to point a lens in their direction.
But it’s the racing that I must focus on, and an opening day highlight that sees a clash of the ages.
The King’s Stand Stakes is one of the most eagerly anticipated sprints of the season. It never fails to attract the elite, often tempting owners of top class horses from around the globe. It’s also a common theme in these major sprints of the younger generation taking on the older established guard. And this year is no exception.
Three seven-year-olds have won the race in the last dozen years, and 12 months ago it was a six-year-old that got the better of a horse aged nine, in a thrilling finish. We’re more than used to seeing older horses return year after year in the National Hunt sphere of racing, and it certainly adds a sentimental element to the sport to see the return of a familiar warrior. Medicean Man is one such warrior, and one that often represents huge value from a betting prospective.
Chinned on the line at 50/1 last year, he clearly enjoys stepping out in front of the Queen, having finished a close fourth in the race a year earlier at 33/1. The veteran is trained by Jeremy Gask in Hampshire, and the Aussie will be hoping for another big performance from the now 10-year-old, as he looks to build on a solid if not spectacular campaign in Meydan.
But he isn’t the only ‘senior citizen’ hoping to spark on the main stage. Two-time winner of the King’s Stand, Sole Power, is back for another crack. It’s hard to believe that Ed Lynam’s star is now nine. Often at his best when the ground runs quick, there’s just a concern that his powers have looked to be on the wane in recent times. Having said that, he did run a cracker in the Nunthorpe last August, and followed that performance by taking a Group 2 at the Curragh in September. Five furlongs at Ascot certainly suits him, and it would be unwise to count him out.
Take Cover is the other older statesmen in the field, and another who is more than capable of going close. He has been running well of late, having romped home in a listed event at Haydock last time, and prior to that finishing a close fifth at Newmarket behind the talented youngster Profitable. He’s another that could do with the ground drying out to be seen at his best. He likes to go ‘hell-for-leather’ and will be hanging on late on. He’s not without an each-way shout.
It looks a mighty renewal this year, and with Mecca’s Angel, Profitable and Acapulco toward the head of the betting it will take a huge performance from one of the less fancied runners to hit the frame. Nevertheless, a 50/1 runner-up in 2015 and 2014, along with 33/1 fourth-placed finishes in 2013 and 2012, suggests an outsider could well run into a place.
As a man fast approaching elder-statesman status myself, I’ll be hoping that it’s one of the equine ‘wrinklies’ that makes a serious impact. And in doing so land a blow for the more nostalgic racegoer, as is probably befitting such a grand and royal occasion.