We must give thanks to Queen Anne, who in 1711 decided that a racecourse at Ascot would be nice, and so Royal Ascot was born.
It’s the pomp and ceremony that sets the Royal Meeting apart from all other sporting events. The Queen and other members of the Royal family arrive each day, carried down the centre of the racecourse in horse-drawn carriages. In the enclosures, racegoers are dressed in their finery, with gentlemen sporting top hat and tails, whilst ladies adorn that ‘show-stopping’ outfit, often crowned by a spectacular hat or fascinator.
I like a hat as much as the next person, and to be honest I quite like getting the old ‘glad rags’ on. But that’s probably as much chat about fashion as I can stand, so I’ll turn my attention to the main topic of interest; the top-class racing that takes place over the five glorious days, and in particular the King’s Stand Stakes on the opening day.
The Group One sprint run over five-furlongs tends to attract an international contingent, and indeed in recent times has been won by horses trained in Hong Kong, Australia and France. That international flavour continues this year, with the market leader part of a Wes Ward raiding party from America.
Lady Aurelia produced one of the most dazzling performances at last year’s meeting, when scooting clear for a seven-length success in the Queen Mary. Visually stunning, the time of her victory was also noteworthy. It’s fair to say that she beat an ordinary looking field, and it’s likely that she coped best with the soft ground conditions. There’s also a concern that the form of the remainder of her juvenile campaign has failed to stack-up.
She defeated Peace Envoy in Deauville, and he’s disappointed since. She failed to see-out the six-furlong trip of the Cheveley Park (reported to have burst blood vessel), and of the pair that beat her that day, Roly Poly has finished down the field in this year’s Nell Gwyn, sixth in the French Guineas, and a well beaten runner-up in the Irish Guineas. The point being made, is that Lady Aurelia’s juvenile form looks rather suspect. As good as she looked at last year’s Royal meeting, she still has plenty to prove, and remains something of an unknown quantity.
The same cannot be said for Marsha, who is currently closing in at the top of the market. The four-year-old filly took the Abbaye at Chantilly in October, and returned to the track with a win in the Palace House Stakes at Newmarket in May. That race has often proved a strong pointer to the King’s Stand, and there’s little doubt that Sir Mark Prestcott’s filly is mightily progressive. She had to overcome a 4lb penalty at Newmarket, making the performance all the more eye-catching. She looks sure to go close on Tuesday.
The last filly or mare to take the King’s Stand was Miss Andretti in 2007, and we have a trio toward the head of the market for this year’s renewal. The third was behind Marsha at Newmarket, but came out and won the Temple Stakes at Haydock. Priceless is another fast improving four-year-old, trained by Clive Cox, who took this race last year with Profitable. She’s a rapid starter, and will probably find herself upfront with Lady Aurelia during the early stages. It’ll be interesting to see if the pair take each other on, and set the race up for a fast finisher. I have my doubts as to whether Priceless is quite good enough to win this, though I fancy she’ll go close.
Signs Of Blessing is another that likes to run from the front, though the fact he has form over six-furlongs could prove a factor in his favour. He came close to taking the Diamond Jubilee last year, when looking to run out of steam in the last 100 yards. Equiano won this for France in 2008, and I fancy this fella has a huge chance to add to that success. He looked the winner of the Champions Sprint in October, before again faltering late-on, and I fancy this drop back in trip will prove ideal. His seasonal return at Deauville in May was outstanding, when giving weight and beating to a strong looking field. He appears adaptable with regards to ground, and he’s sure to go close.
The likely fast ground will be ideal for 2015 winner Goldream. He was just behind Priceless last time at Haydock (when getting a shocking start), and I fancy he’ll reverse those placings on Tuesday. Whether at eight he remains quick enough to win this again is questionable, though his trainer, Robert Cowell, says he has him better than ever. Cowell has a fabulous record at Royal Ascot, and had a pair of winners at the meeting last year. The front runners could set this up for him, and he’s another with a great chance.
Profitable, Muthmir and Washington DC are all capable of placing, though I wouldn’t fancy any of the trio to claim the top prize. Profitable needs rain to have a chance of repeating last year’s win, whilst Muthmir and Washington DC have often come-up just short at the highest level.
The last favourite to prevail was Scenic Blast in 2009, and I’ll be taking on Lady Aurelia, though it would not surprise me should she storm to victory. Nevertheless, there’s enough doubts surrounding her form on the track to put me off. I fancy Signs Of Blessing to land the prize for France. I’m convinced that five-furlongs at Ascot will prove ideal, and that he’ll have enough in reserve to last home in what is set to be a lightning renewal. Marsha could prove the greatest danger, though Goldream has to be the each-way play for Sprint King Cowell.
Best of luck to all those having a punt.