King's Stand Stakes (Group 1) | 5f | 3yo+ | ITV4/RUK
Contender: Lady Aurelia
Lady Aurelia is a bit special. Few horses become synonymous with the royal meeting, Yeats was probably the last, and the list of such types based on another continent was non-existent until Wesley Ward's speedster came along.
But for the last two years Ward has prepared her at Keeneland in Kentucky and brought her across to Royal Ascot, where she has reigned supreme.
Lady Aurelia, photo Liesl King
In 2016 she was sent off 2-1 favourite for the Queen Mary and demolished the field by seven lengths. Last year she was a 7-2 chance and won this Group 1 with ease by three lengths from the previous year's winner Profitable.
Few horses have been as well designed for Ascot's five furlongs as the four-year-old daughter of Scat Daddy.
Given the ease with which she won last year it is perhaps not a surprise she is a shorter price to defend her title than she was to claim it for the first time, but she also has more to overcome.
In Battaash, the highest-rated five-furlong sprinter worldwide last year, she faces an arguably stiffer task than that presented by Profitable, Marsha and Muthmir last year, while she also gets less weight from her rivals – 3lb this year, compared to 9lb in 2017 – and comes into the race on the back of a defeat for the first time.
For the last two years she has come to Ascot off the back of comfortable Keeneland wins. This year she was beaten a length and a half in the Listed Giant's Causeway Stakes.
Ward believes Ascot brings out the best in his star filly and he has been delighted with what he has seen in the mornings since she arrived.
"I think she's got a fabulous chance," he said. "She's older now and knows what's coming. When they're younger it can all come as a shock and there's a lot to take in, but she knows what it's all about now.
"She's been here a little over a week and she's been out on the course, you can just see it in her whole demeanour, her eyes are bright, she's alert, she knows she's here to do battle and she's ready."
Pros: Has proven difficult to live with over the course and distance, comprehensively beating her rivals last year by three lengths
Cons: Gets only her fillies' allowance this year (also got weight-for-age last year) and disappointed in her prep race – which is a break from her norm
Battaash and Lady Aurelia have met once before, with America's speed queen getting the best of their duel in the Nunthorpe – when both were overshadowed by the late-surging Marsha. Lady Aurelia was the better fancied that day, going off 10-11 favourite (Battaash was sent off at 11-4) and finished five and a quarter lengths in front of Charlie Hills's stable star.
But since then the Hamdan Al Maktoum-owned four-year-old has elevated himself to the very top, finishing 2017 as the highest-rated five-furlong sprinter on the planet courtesy of his breathtaking four-length beating of Marsha in the Prix de l'Abbaye at Chantilly.
That he was sent off the 9-4 favourite to see off Marsha and Profitable, the same two horses who chased home Lady Aurelia in this race last year, and did so more comfortably, bodes well for the rematch.
Hills said: "I'm really happy with him. He's spot on, his weight's perfect and the draw's okay, he's where he needs to be. Kachy, Lady Aurelia and Blue Point are all nearby so we'll see what happens.
"Lady Aurelia is the main danger, but you can't just focus on one horse in a race like this. Anything can happen, a lot of it depends on the pace, and there are plenty in there good enough to win if things fall right on the day."
Pros: Officially the best five-furlong horse on the planet and beat Marsha and Profitable in the Abbaye more comfortably than Lady Aurelia defeated the same pair in this last year
Cons: This time last year he was a mere Listed winner and the only piece of form that suggests he is up to this class came on soft ground at the backend of the season
Contender: Blue Point
If the top two seem a class apart coming into the race then Blue Point could claim to be the best of the rest. This time last year he was sent off at 9-2 for the Commonwealth Cup and found only Caravaggio and Harry Angel too good when beaten just a length and a quarter.
On his previous start, also at Ascot, he beat Harry Angel in a Group 3, while his best run of the year came when justifying even-money favouritism in the Bengough Stakes – another Group 3 at Ascot.
So this is a course he loves and he is obviously classy, but can a horse who spent his entire two- and three-year-old campaigns at six furlongs, except for tackling seven furlongs once when third in Churchill's Dewhurst, really have the speed for five?
Well, he tried the minimum trip once this spring at Meydan, producing a career-best on Racing Post Ratings to push local superstar Ertijaal to a head in a Group 2. So the potential is there.
Since then he has run once, when last in Hong Kong, and trainer Charlie Appleby said: "Hong Kong was disappointing for him and he then had a bad trip back, with the plane hitting turbulence, which was unsettling.
"He's had a nice break since he got back and has recovered well. I feel he’s turned the corner, and he'll appreciate both the step back in trip to five furlongs and the return to Ascot."
Pros: Something of a course specialist and has been mixing it with some of the very best
Cons: Attempted five furlongs only once before, suggesting connections believe he lacks the raw speed for this sort of challenge
The beauty of sprinters is not only that they mature at different rates, but that they tend to be given the chance to reach the top.
Kachy, was promising at two, winning the Group 3 Molecomb at Goodwood on his second start, but from there he won once in 13 starts as his career meandered between coming up just short in Group races and coming up just short in handicaps. Second here to Quiet Reflection in the 2016 Commonwealth Cup was probably the highlight.
Then, at the turn of the year, trainer Tom Dascombe switched him to the all-weather and he won twice on the bounce, finished second on All-Weather Championships Finals Day, and then transitioned his improvement to the turf, winning a conditions race at Chester by nine lengths.
He found Battaash only a neck too good at Haydock last time, in receipt of 5lb, and his trainer is realistic about what to expect.
He said: "He's in great form, but on the face of it he's rated 113 and can probably run the best race of his life and finish only placed. I hope he runs really well, he's been brilliant this season and doesn't go without a chance."
Pros: Improving, in the form of his life and more than enough early speed to get involved in the race proper
Cons: Likely to come up just short against this class of opposition and, given his running style, likely to be fading late
What the others are saying
Tim Glyshaw, trainer of Bucchero
We think he's got a good chance. He finished in front of Lady Aurelia last year at the Breeders' Cup, which gave us a bit of hope as she runs really well here. If he runs his race he'll be right there. I don't know if that means he wins or finishes fourth, but I expect him to be very competitive.
Maurico Delcher-Sanchez, trainer of Finsbury Square
We’re not among the favourites but the horse is full of confidence and in good form. At his best he's well capable of running well at this level. Winning will be hard, but I think he has a good chance of fighting out the finish. It's completely different to go with Finsbury Square, who is very experienced, as opposed to [2010 winner] Equiano, who was an improving three-year-old. They're very different horses but why not try?
Hugo Palmer, trainer of Gifted Master
He's in fantastic form at home and the step back to five furlongs should be no problem, but he needs a career-best by some considerable margin in order to mix it with the front two in the betting. He's a winner at Ascot and will like the fast ground.
David Griffiths, trainer of Ornate
He stumbled out the stalls last time and I'm not sure he's quite come to himself yet, he's slowly getting there and on the best of his form he could feature. I think the first two are exceptional, I can't see them getting beaten, but he's very much up to the level of the rest, we just need to work him out and try to transfer his home work to the course, because based on that he's a Group 1 horse – he works very well.
Ger O'Leary, trainer of Primo Uomo
He put it all together at Navan two starts ago and if he can reproduce that run he'd run well. He couldn't quicken out of the heavy ground last time at the Curragh but his preparation since has all gone to plan. It's a super hot race but we're hoping for the best.
Aidan O'Brien, trainer of Washington DC, Battle Of Jericho, Declarationofpeace and Different League
Washington DC ran very well at Haydock last time. He needs holding up and luck in running, and if things go his way he should go very well. Different League won the Albany last year and has had a few runs for us. She ran very well at Haydock last time and seems to be improving. We think the drop down to five furlongs will suit. Declarationofpeace won a Listed race over the trip at Del Mar last year. The trip and fast ground will suit. He likes to come through horses. Battle Of Jericho ran quite well in the Cornwallis last season and won a six-furlong conditions race at Fairyhouse on his return. We think the shorter trip will suit.
Michael Dods, trainer of Mabs Cross
It's another step up in class, but she deserves a crack at it. It's a very tough race, we're taking on the likes of Baattash, Lady Aurelia and Blue Point, but it could be anyone's race.