One of the greatest meetings in the racing calendar begins today.
Elite thoroughbreds are sent into battle by the most talented trainers on behalf of the wealthiest and most influential owners. All compete before huge crowds dressed in their finest, not to mention Her Majesty the Queen. It truly is hard to top Royal Ascot.
Five days of racing packed with Group 1 action never fails to thrill, and this year’s event looks set to be as exciting as any before. Horses from all parts of the globe are gathering for Flat racing’s greatest spectacle.
Day one certainly sets the tone with the opening race pitching Europe against Asia. America throws their hat in the ring for race two, with Australia and Europe resuming hostilities in race three. And so the international flavour continues throughout the week, with huge global clashes at every turn.
The opening Queen Anne Stakes is particularly exciting, setting a champion of the southern hemisphere against two quality horses from the north.
Solow is set to start the race as favourite, and in Meydan and Longchamp looked stunningly progressive. The Grey Gatsby was shrugged aside with contempt in March and a similar fate befell Cirrus Des Aigles in May. This is tougher, and over a slightly shorter trip. He’s in against speedier types and will need to step up again to win this. His trainer Freddy Head couldn’t be happier, saying: “He’s very well, as well as he was in Dubai, and things couldn’t have gone better. It’s a tough race but I’m very confident. He’s not met many good horses so we’ll find out how good he is.”
Richard Hannon saddles the strongest of the home challenge with Night Of Thunder appearing the main hope. Last season’s 2,000 Guineas winner won the Lockinge on his return to action and should have improved a fair amount since. Charm Spirit and Kingman appeared to have his number as a three-year-old, but he is sure to have strengthened from three to four. This is his trip, and a strong end to end gallop should be ideal. His form ties in nicely with Toronado, who took this race for Hannon last June.
Able Friend is the Aussie bred star, who has been mopping up huge prizes in Hong Kong over the winter. Unbeatable over a mile at Sha Tin, he has to adapt to the straight mile at Ascot. He’s a horse with a devastating finishing burst, and looks sure to be held on too for as long as possible. Finding cover will be tricky with just eight runners likely to be spread across a wide-open straight. However, I’m of the opinion that too much has been made of the track. For me the question is will he have enough at the end of the race to hold off Solow and Night Of Thunder?
It’s a cracking opener to a wonderful week. The addition of so many horses from overseas adds huge interest, but also makes the task of picking winners that much more difficult. However, a thrilling spectacle is assured, and that’ll do for me.