Anticipation mounts as Royal Ascot looms large on the horizon.
Flat racing’s greatest spectacle is less than a week away, and as ever with the Royal Meeting, talent from far and wide will gather, treating race-fans to a feast of top-class racing.
A challenge from ‘down-under’ has failed to materialise, but nevertheless Wes Ward will launch a strong assault from across the pond, and the battalion sent from France looks to be one of the strongest on record.
Les Bleus landed Royal Ascot glory 12 months ago thanks to a pair of fillies. Andre Fabre’s Usherette proved far too good in the Duke Of Cambridge Stakes, whilst Jean-Claude Rouget’s Qemah benefitted from a disastrous ride by Ryan Moore on Alice Springs, to take the Coronation Stakes.
Rouget will be hoping that his run of success with fillies continues, having landed back to back Coronations, with Qemah following on from Ervedya in 2015. The former looks set to head for the Duke Of Cambridge, won last year by Usherette. She was without doubt one of the best fillies over a mile last summer, and has a great chance of becoming a two-time Royal Ascot winner. John Gosden holds a strong hand, and Usherette may yet be supplemented.
Rouget also has interest in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes, with Mekhtaal fancied by many to go well. The French have enjoyed plenty of success in the recent past, with Manduro, Vision D’Etat and Byword, all winners during a dazzling period from 2007 to 2010. Andre Fabre was responsible for two of those victories, and has a leading contender in Cloth Of Stars.
Fabre’s colt clashed with Mekhtaal at Chantilly in April, and edged it in a thriller. He had fitness on his side and the pair look closely matched on all known form. Rouget’s fella needs decent ground, and looks sure to get it. In a hugely competitive renewal, both have a realistic chance at a trip that looks ideal. Jack Hobbs is favourite for the race, though this may prove short of his optimum.
The pair could be joined by another French raider in Al Shaqab owned Heshem. He finished ahead of Ribchester at Meydan, and is also entered in the Queen Anne on the opening day. That’s where I think he’ll go, and I fancy he’ll run a huge race. At around 14s he looks a terrific each-way proposition, and could easily be Ribchester’s main challenger. The longer race looks far more competitive, though should he take that route he could also go close. He’ll look to emulate Solow and Goldikova if he sticks to the mile.
Another from France who has two options, is the talented sprinter Signs Of Blessing. Third to Twilight Son in the Diamond Jubilee 12 months ago, he was mightily impressive on his seasonal return at Deauville, when giving lumps of weight and a beating to the hugely talented Profitable. Francois Rohaut’s six-year-old tends to go ‘hell-for-leather’ from the off, and the King’s Stand should be ideal. I fancy he’ll go very close if lining up in the opening day sprint, though the opposition is high-class, and will include America’s Lady Aurelia.
Fas is another being touted as a lively outsider, as he looks to line up in the Commonwealth Cup. He was impressive in a Group 3 at Chantilly in April, when demolishing subsequent French 1000 Guineas winner Precieuse. This is much tougher, but he looks to have improved plenty from two to three, and could go close.
Finally, though the French have not sent an Ervedya or a Qemah to contest this year’s Coronation Stakes, they could still prove competitive with either Rohaut’s Wajnah, or Pascal Bary’s Senga. The latter was disappointing in the French 1000 Guineas on unsuitably soft ground. Whilst Wajnah finished fourth that day and could run far better than her odds of 33/1 suggests.
It’s another terrific turnout from the French, and they are likely to be rewarded with a winner or two. Their football team taught England a lesson last night, and Les Bleus will again look to run the opposition ragged at Royal Ascot next week.