It’s here! The most fabulous five days of Flat racing and fashion in the sporting world as Royal Ascot kicks into gear on Tuesday June 14.
In terms of Group 1 action, the opening day is actually the best of the lot, with three such races, including the Queen Anne Stakes (14.30) to kick things off in fine style.
Even though it is full of classy performers, it will be a surprise if Baaeed, who has carried all before him over a mile, is beaten.
The William Haggas-trained four-year-old, by the Sea The Stars, is a best-priced 2/7 to win the race (he’s as short as 1/5 with one firm). While there number of odds-on winners has reduced in recent times, the way he destroyed Group 1 opposition in last month’s Lockinge Stakes suggests he will be awfully difficult to beat. Real World, who has more than 3l to find with him on their Newbury running, is second favourite at a best-priced 8/1 with bet365.
The Coventry Stakes (15.05) is a traditional Group 2 dash over 6f for the juveniles. Aidan O’Brien-trained Blackbeard probably just shades favouritism across the various markets but it’s a close-run thing with Richard Hannon’s Persian Force and both are a best-priced 3/1.
The latter is 2-2, having won easily on debut at Doncaster in March, before winning a three-horse race comfortably at Newbury when upped to 6f last month. He is yet to be properly tested but is much more likely to be so in this race, with Blackbeard heading up his likely rivals.
The Ballydoyle inmate has a little more experience, having won all of his three starts to date, the most recent, a commanding success in a Group 3 at the Curragh. O’Brien has won this race three times in the past decade, two of them ridden by Ryan Moore, who is booked for this mount. He has a big chance.
There’s a second Group 1 at 15.40 when the focus remains with the sprinters for the King’s Stand Stakes over 5f.
18 of them have been declared for this, with Nature Strip, trained Down Under by Chris Waller as the best-priced 11/4 favourite with Betfred.
The eight-year-old has been described by his handler as ‘a freak’ and has won 20 of his 37 starts and is a hugely consistent performer in his native Australia. He was last seen winning a heavy ground Group 1 contest at Randwick (6f) in April. He has won plenty on good ground but if conditions turn fast before the race, he’ll have a little bit to prove.
The Wesley Ward-trained Golden Pal, who raids from the United States, may be a better option. He has some brilliant form to his name as well as the ability to handle fast ground, which could be key in the outcome.
2021 Nunthorpe winner Winter Power would have claims if in the same sort of form but he looks badly in need of a revival, having been well beaten in his three subsequent starts. It’s a risky proposition but 20/1 would look a huge price if trainer Tim Easterby has him back in better form.
The third and final Group 1 contest on day one is the St James’s Palace Stakes (16.20), over a distance of one mile on the round course. There’s another odds-on favourite here in Coroebus.
He’s a best-priced 4/5 with Betfred and looks a strong favourite based on his 2,000 Guineas success at Newmarket last month, from stablemate Native Trail. The pair have been kept apart now, with the latter having won the Irish 2,000 Guineas since his Newmarket run, boosting the chances of Coroebus here.
William Haggas is double-handed in the race, with second-favourite My Prospero (Tom Marquand) and third-favourite Maljoom (Cieren Fallon). The former made rapid strides to win a Listed contest (1m, good to firm) at Sandown Park last time and a similar step up this time might mean that the favourite does not have it all his own way.
Maljoom won the Group 2 German 2,000 Guineas when last seen and has to be taken seriously but if the favourite holds his Newmarket form he should prove tough to topple.
The first of the meeting’s big-field handicaps is due off at 17.00, with the stayers coming to the fore in the Ascot Stakes, over 2m4f.
Legendary jumps trainer Willie Mullins loves to target this race and has won it four times in the last decade, three of those having been ridden by Ryan Moore.
The pair combine again, this time with Bring On The Night, who won twice on the Flat in 2020, when trained in France by Andre Fabre. More recently, he won a Naas maiden hurdle over 1m7f on soft ground on his debut for Mullins in February.
His level of form in that code, despite being beaten twice since, suggests that he is well treated from a mark of just 93 on the Flat. The bookmakers tend to agree and are taking few chances, with a best price of 5/1 available with William Hill, who are clearly more prepared to lay him than most, as there is plenty of 7/2 around.
Pied Piper is another Irish raider who is prominent in the market. Gordon Elliott’s gelding races from a mark of 96. He was well held in the Group 2 Queen’s Vase at last year’s royal meeting, when trained by John and Thady Gosden.
Since then he’s won a Grade 2 hurdle and been placed in both the Triumph Hurdle and it’s Aintree equivalent, two Grade 1 races over jumps.
Both those market leaders will have a bit to prove over this far on the level whereas the John and Thady Gosden-trained Marshall Plan prepared for this with a close second over an extended two miles at Newcastle in April.
He looks worth taking on the leading pair with from a 2lb higher mark for that Gosforth Park run, with the Gosden runners red hot at present.
One other to mention is last year’s winner Reshoun. He was 66/1 that day and returns as a 14/1 chance this time. His trainer Ian Williams has won this race twice in the last three years.
The Listed Wolferton Stakes (17.35) has been priced up as a very open contest, as they go 6/1 the field about the 16 declared runners.
Last year’s winner Juan Elcano is back for more for the Kevin Ryan and Andrea Atzeni partnership. He hasn’t managed to win since that success 12-months ago but he has largely run well enough in defeat and a repeat victory is not discounted.
Cadillac, trained by Jessie Harrington, is one of the joint favourites and arrives after a revival last time when he won the Listed Glencairn Stakes at Leopardstown very comfortably, in first-time blinkers. He’s due at the Ascot Sales the day before lining up for the Wolferton and what an incentive for potential buyers as he could be a ready-made Royal Ascot winner.
Star Safari is another leading player on his return to turf, having won a Listed contest at Meydan in the winter, as well as being beaten just a short head in a Group 3 when last seen at that venue in February. He gets further than the 1m2f trip, which is never a bad thing on the stiff Ascot circuit.
Although Harrovian was thrashed in a Meydan Group 1 when last seen, this is easier and he should be very competitive at this level. He is respected but Cadillac is the suggestion.
The curtain falls on the opening day with the Copper Horse Handicap Stakes (18.10) and a field of 16 go to post for this class 2 contest over 1m6f.
Chester Cup winner Cleveland heads the market and is another big chance on the day for pilot Ryan Moore, who rides him for Aidan O’Brien. He’s only gone up 5lb for winning that 2m2f Chester contest last month and remains totally unexposed after just two handicap runs. It would be no surprise to see him add a third career success.
Those wanting to consider an each-way play have a look at the Gordon Elliott-trained Platinumcard, who is unexposed over this far on the Flat and whose pedigree suggests that he will get this trip. He could go well at 16/1 and you’ll get four places provided there are no non-runners.