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GBI's preview of Royal Ascot

ROYAL ASCOT TUESDAY JUNE 19 - SATURDAY JUNE 23

TUESDAY

The story of Royal Ascot is that of top-class racing right from the start with three Group Ones on the opening day.

1430 (BST) Queen Anne Stakes (Group 1) (1600m)
1505 Coventry Stakes (Group 2) (1200m)
1540 King’s Stand Stakes (Group 1) (1000m)
1620 St James’s Palace Stakes (Group 1) (1600m)
1700 Ascot Stakes (Handicap) (4000m)
1735 Wolferton Stakes (Listed) (2000m)

Rhododendron bids to continue a good run for fillies in the Queen Anne Stakes and get the Royal meeting off to the best possible start for Aidan O’Brien after her battling latest success in the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury. O’Brien has claimed the top trainer award at Royal Ascot for the last three seasons and eight times in total.

Victory here would help set the tone for another good week for the powerful Ballydoyle operation and follow recent victories in the race for other females Solow (2010) and Tepin (2016) from a relatively small number of representatives. With Group Ones already in the bag at two, three and four, Rhodendron holds strong claims.

However, Saeed bin Suroor has an excellent record in this race and he saddles Benbatl, who may just have the edge in this line-up. A smart performer last season, he looked to have done well physically when claiming a couple of big prizes in Dubai at the start of the year and his trainer believes he is capable of mixing it with the very best in Europe this year. Fast ground is ideal and this stiff test at 1600m should also suit.

Another contender already proven at the top level is French hope Recoletos, trained by Carlos Laffon-Parias. Third in the French Derby last year, he gained his first Group One in good style last time out, but may not be as well suited to fast ground as some of his rivals.

The opening day features a number of another potential riveting top-level clashes. Brilliant US sprinter Lady Aurelia has won at this meeting for the last two years and bids for a hat-trick in the King’s Stand Stakes, but she faces a particularly tough rival in the shape of the Charlie Hills-trained Battaash. With a combustible temperament, a high cruising speed and an impressive turn of foot, Battaash is unquestionably the fastest horse in training in Britain. But can he prove a match for the raider who will have John Velazquez on board?

The list of great horses to have taken the Coventry Stakes goes a long way to explain why the 1200m juveniles’ contest is one of the most sought-after prizes of the week and this renewal features a head-to-head between the Aidan O’Brien-trained Sergei Prokofiev and John Gosden’s Calyx. Both have impressed in their racecourse appearances so far, the latter coming well clear to make a winning debut at Newmarket.

In the St James’s Palace Stakes, Irish 2000 Guineas runner-up US Navy Flag is set to meet French hope Wootton, unlucky when only fourth in their version of the Classic, and unbeaten son of Frankel, Without Parole, a late absentee from the 2000 Guineas but now ready again to line up for John Gosden. Gosden, however, believes that 2000 Guineas runner-up Tip Two Win is the one to beat. Trained by Roger Teal, Tip Two Win would be a first-ever Group One winner for his stable. “My horse has got a tremendous kick,” Teal reported. “As long as we have a safe trip I’m sure he should kick off that bend. So we’re looking forward to it.”

WEDNESDAY

1430 (BST) Queen Mary Stakes (Group 2) (1000m)
1505 Queen’s Vase (Group 2) (2800m)
1540 Duke Of Cambridge Stakes (Group 2) (1600m)
1620 Prince of Wales’s Stakes (Group 1) (2000m)
1700 Royal Hunt Cup (Handicap) (1600m)
1735 Jersey Stakes (Group 3) (1400m)

After being forced to miss the whole of last year’s meeting when picking up a late shoulder injury, Frankie Dettori has much to look forward to over the week ahead but his mount aboard the brilliant Cracksman in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes could be his strongest of the meeting.

Ascot is home territory for Dettori, being the track where he rode all seven winners in September 1996, a feat that is commemorated by a bronze of the rider performing his trademark flying dismount. Yet Dettori has not finished the Royal meeting as leading jockey since 2004 and he would love to enjoy a successful week.

Cracksman struggled to beat the outsider Salouen when odds-on for the Coronation Cup at Epsom, at the end of a race when the hot favourite did not appear to be travelling easily at any stage. Dettori, though, is confident Cracksman will return to his best form over the trip and track where he won the Champion Stakes last autumn.

“He doesn’t like Epsom, he struggles to run downhill, but he likes Ascot and I hope the beast turns up that we’ve seen before,” he said. “You don’t get a rating of 130 for no reason. I’m as excited as anyone to see him.”

THURSDAY

1430 (BST) Norfolk Stakes (Group 2) (1000m)
1505 Hampton Court Stakes (Group 3) (2000m)
1540 Ribblesdale Stakes (Group 2) (2400m)
1620 Gold Cup (Group 1) (4000m)
1700 Britannia Stakes (Handicap) (1600m)
1735 King George V Stakes (Handicap) (2400m)

Order Of St George, Stradivarius and Vazirabad are among the elite stayers set to scrap it out in the Gold Cup, the marathon test on the third day of Royal Ascot.

Order Of St George provided trainer Aidan O’Brien with a record seventh victory in this race in 2016 and was beaten a short head by Big Orange when defending his crown 12 months ago. Just as he did last season, the six-year-old has warmed up by running in the Vintage Crop Stakes at Navan and the Saval Beg at Leopardstown and looked as good as ever when taking the latter contest in emphatic fashion.

The John Gosden-trained Stradivarius won the Queen’s Vase at last year’s Royal meeting. The four-year-old was beaten a length into third place by Order Of St George in the Long Distance Cup at Ascot last October, but a winning return in last month’s Yorkshire Cup suggested he could be an improved performer this season.

Jessica Harrington’s Torcedor and the Willie Mullins-trained Max Dynamite complete a formidable Irish challenge, while France’s star stayer Vazirabad is set to make his first appearance in Britain.

A big winner in Dubai again earlier this year, Vazirabad was also successful in France on his latest appearance and trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre knows just what it takes to win at Royal Ascot. He said: “I’m pleased he had quite an easy comeback run and I think there’s more to come for the Gold Cup.”

FRIDAY

1430 (BST) Albany Stakes (Group 3) (1200m)
1505 King Edward VII Stakes (Group 2) (2400m)
1540 Commonwealth Cup (Group 1) (1200m)
1620 Coronation Stakes (Group 1) (1600m)
1700 Sandringham Stakes (Handicap) (1600m)
1735 Duke of Edinburgh Stakes (Handicap) (2400m)

Classic-winning fillies Billesdon Brook, Alpha Centauri and Teppal are all set to clash in the Coronation Stakes, the 1600m contest that should be the highlight on the fourth day of the Royal meeting.

The Richard Hannon-trained Billesdon Brook was a shock winner of the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket last month and she bids to prove that was no fluke after connections stumped up £45,000 to add her into this race.

Alpha Centauri secured a landmark first Classic success for prominent dual-purpose trainer Jessica Harrington when landing the Irish 1,000 Guineas and she will also be aiming to give her trainer a first Royal Ascot win.

Teppal is unbeaten in three starts for David Simcock and graduated to the highest level with victory in the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches - otherwise known as the French 1000 Guineas - last month.

Sioux Nation bids to give Aidan O’Brien back-to-back victories in the Commonwealth Cup following success for Caravaggio 12 months ago. The trainer also intends to run Different League, a winner at this meeting last year for Matthieu Palussiere. Pick of the British team could be the Richard Fahey-trained Sands Of Mali, who booked his place in the line-up for this race when taking the Sandy Lane Stakes at Haydock.

SATURDAY

1430 (BST) Chesham Stakes (Listed) (1400m)
1505 Hardwicke Stakes (Group 2) (2400m)
1540 Windsor Castle Stakes (Listed) (1000m)
1620 Diamond Jubilee Stakes (Group 1) (1200m)
1700 Wokingham Stakes (Handicap) (1200m)
1735 Queen Alexandra Stakes (4300m

Officially rated the best sprinter anywhere in the world last year, Harry Angel hasn’t so far managed to show his true colours at Ascot, but trainer Clive Cox knows just what he is doing when it comes to the preparation of speedsters and he is confident in the chances of his top talent in Saturday’s Diamond Jubilee Stakes.

In four previous visits, the dual Group One winner has suffered defeat on every occasion, including in the Commonwealth Cup 12 months ago. But Cox said: “I’m not losing any sleep over that statistic. He was just a bit too keen when he ran here last year, then when he ran in the Champions Sprint the ground was atrocious. He has proved he has progressed with racing and I’d like to think he is more mature this year.”

Harry Angel faces Aussie hope Redkirk Warrior and the fascinating Merchant Navy, now trained by Aidan O’Brien having also formerly been based Down Under. He was beaten only narrowly by Redkirk Warrior at Flemington in March and made a big impression in taking the Greenlands Stakes at The Curragh last month.

Sir Michael Stoute has an excellent record in the Hardwicke Stakes and his representative Crystal Ocean holds very obvious claims. Second in the St Leger last year, he has taken only Group Three contests in his two starts so far this season, but was much too strong for the smart Second Step when winning by six lengths at Newbury on his latest appearance. However, there is a case to be made for taking him on with Idaho, who failed to handle soft going at Epsom last time and is better judged on a previous stylish success at Chester.

One of the greatest developments in the recent history of Royal Ascot has been the increasing participation and success of international travellers at the meeting. Since the turn of the Millennium there have been 10 winners at Royal Ascot from the USA, two from Hong Kong, six from Australia – including Choisir twice and the great Black Caviar in 2012 – and many more have made it to the winner’s enclosure from all around Europe.

Here we look at three international contenders bidding to join the illustrious Royal Ascot roll of honour in 2018.

LADY AURELIA

One of the finest sprinters in the world and bids for her third successive victory at Royal Ascot when she lines up in the King’s Stand Stakes. She finished second on her comeback in the Giant’s Causeway Stakes, a contest she won in 2017, at Keeneland on April 14.

Lady Aurelia produced a breathtaking performance to take the King’s Stand Stakes by three lengths under John Velazquez in 2017 but was beaten a nose by the Sir Mark Prescott-trained Marsha in the Nunthorpe Stakes at York last August.

American trainer Wesley Ward hopes to saddle 10 runners at the meeting.

REDKIRK WARRIOR

Australian hope who has been stabled in the same box in Newmarket that Black Caviar occupied in 2012. Winner of his latest start, holding on by a short-head, when enjoying a second victory in the Newmarket Handicap over 1200m at Flemington on March 10.

David Hayes has had one previous runner at Royal Ascot, with Nicconi finishing fourth in 2010.

Redkirk Warrior has a thoroughly international profile, having begun his career in Britain before having five runs for trainer Chris So in Hong Kong, including a nose second in the Hong Kong Classic Cup (over 1800m) in February 2015.

YOSHIDA

Asked what he had learned from taking their first runner to Royal Ascot last year, Riley Mott replied “to bring a better horse”. Could the Japanese-bred Yoshida be the answer when he tackles the Queen Anne Stakes?

He warmed up for this when victorious in the Old Forester Turf Classic Stakes (1800m) by three quarters of a length on on yielding turf at Churchill Downs on his reappearance on May 5 under Jose Ortiz.

He has a host of smart form on turf in the USA to his name, including twice making the frame in Group races at Saratoga and a close-up finish in the Belmont Derby.

Hayley Turner selections

2.30 – Queen Anne Stakes (Group 1) 
BENBATL
This race is not often won by an outsider and I am going for Benbatl here. He stays a mile and one furlong (1800m) so Ascot's stiff, straight mile (1600m) will really suit. He has also won fresh before and, with Saeed bin Suroor horses hitting form, I think this will be good bet to start your Royal Ascot.

3.05 – Coventry Stakes (Group 2)
CALYX
John Gosden's horses are running well at the moment and I think it says something that he has selected this horse for this race, one of the best two-year-old contests of the season. He was an impressive winner first time out, despite being a bit green, and there will be plenty of improvement.
 
3.40 – King’s Stand Stakes (Group 1)
LADY AURELIA – Bet of the day
I was impressed when she won this race as a three-year-old last year as it is not often won by a horse that age, so now she is four years old she will be even stronger. She will have been set out for this race and looks a rock-solid proposition.

 4.20 – St James’s Palace Stakes (Group 1)
WITHOUT PAROLE 
He won his last race in not a flashy style but he likes to make the jockey work hard and keep a bit up his sleeve. There is definitely more to come from him and is trained by the man in-form, John Gosden.
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