International challenge builds up for Royal Ascot

Animal Kingdom - Ascot opener?

Animal Kingdom - Ascot opener?

Hard to credit it, but next week it’s Royal Ascot week, with five days of top quality racing. Once again there’s a substantial international challenge to the British runners building up, and the first day alone has overseas runners at the head of the market for two of the feature races.

If the bookies have it right, then the opening race, the Queen Anne Stakes, is almost a formality for Animal Kingdom, trained in America by H Graham Motion. He’s an odds on favourite on the strength of his second place in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile, and even more as a result of winning the Dubai World Cup in March. Only Andrew Balding’s Side Glance, who finished fourth on the Dubai all weather track, takes him on again.

That’s a race that also has entries from France (Giofar) and Germany (Indomito) as well as plenty of Irish challengers.

With a little over a week to go the final entries are far from settled, but as things stand, French trainers have a particular interest in the St James’s Palace Stakes. Four of their three-year-old colts could be heading across La Manche for this race, with French 2,000 Guineas winner heading them. Whether a win by a neck from a 50/2 chance in a race run on heavy ground makes him a serious contender is questionable, especially as his two runs last year, both wins, were on Fibresand and good to soft ground. The ground as Ascot is currently good to firm, with watering under way all week.

As is often the way, trainers from the Southern hemisphere tend to focus on the sprint races. The favourite for Tuesday’s King’s Stand Stakes, Shea Shea, hails from Mike de Kock’s South African stable. He’ll have Australian company in the race. The Aussies have their horses at their regular pre-Ascot base, Abington Place stables in Newmarket, where Danny O’Brien’s team is preparing Shamexpress for a shot at the five-furlong sprint ahead of the trainer’s arrival in two days time. If he’s able to conjure up a win, it will be the fourth time in the last eight years that the King’s Stand has gone to an Australian trained horse.

And that’s just on the first day. Yes, the anticipation is definitely starting to build.

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