Kate set to test Kingdom
Channel 4 commentator and our columnist Simon Holt previews day one of Royal Ascot.
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Royal Ascot begins with the eagerly awaited appearance of top class American horse Animal Kingdom, who is set to start a short-price to win the opening Queen Anne Stakes.
Winner of a Kentucky Derby and the Dubai World Cup at Meydan in March, the giant-sized challenger's credentials look compelling but it should be considered that he has never won over a mile and that, despite a running-on second to Wise Dan in the Breeders' Cup Mile last November, his biggest days have come on a synthetic or dirt surface.
- 2pts e.w. Elusive Kate in 2.30 Royal Ascot at 8/1 (1/4 1,2,3 BetVictor, bet365) - String of top-class efforts and can shake up the favourite.
- 2pts win Shea Shea in 3.05 Royal ascot at 2/1 (general) - Worthy favourite and should have too much pace for his rivals.
- 1pt win Tiger Cliff in 5.00 Royal Ascot at best morning price - Has plenty of potential and looks to have been aimed at this contest.
It coud be that Animal Kingdom will crush these small doubts and confirm himself one of the best horses in the world but there has to be some each-way value in the race and I believe it could lie very strongly with John Gosden's filly ELUSIVE KATE.
Thoroughly genuine and consistent, the daughter of Elusive Quality is a solid Group One performer and ran extremely well on her seasonal reappearance in the Falmouth Stakes (second to Giofra) last term suggesting that lack of a recent run will be no hindrance.
Elusive Kate's later efforts came in high class company and comprised a top-level win at Deauville (beating Golden Lilac), two thirds to Excelebration at Deauville (in the Prix Jacques le Marois) and over this course and distance (in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes) and a second to Siyouma in the Sun Chariot Stakes.
Those efforts clearly establish her as Animal Kingdom's strongest rival and, at 8-1, she looks hard to keep out of the frame - and could be there to capitalise if, on new terrain, the favourite fails to sparkle.
The best of the rest are Sovereign Debt, Aljamaaheer, Chil The Kite and Declaration Of War who finished second, third, fourth and fifth respectively - though all trounced - behind Farhh in the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury last month.
Later, the St James's Palace Stakes provides a mouth-watering clash between Dawn Approach and Magician, the English and Irish 2000 Guineas winners, along with Toronado and Mars.
Magician's participation has been in some doubt as Aidan O'Brien's colt incurred bruising on a leg a few days ago but he has been hugely impressive in two starts this season and will be hard to beat if reproducing his decisive success at the Curragh.
However, a line through fourth-placed Havana Gold doesn't give him all that much in hand of Toronado who slammed the same horse in the Craven Stakes at Newmarket in the spring. Toronado failed to run up to form in the Guineas next time but may have been suffering from an obstruction to his breathing (caused by a displaced palate) and will now be fitted with a spoon bit.
Richard Hannon's charge remains an exciting colt and, if back on song, could go close.
Meanwhile, O'Brien has a fine substitute/second-string runner in Mars who has shown great promise in both the 2000 Guineas and the Derby this season, finishing sixth in both.
The son of Galileo was running-on strongly having been given plenty to do at Epsom, but has plenty of speed in his dam's side pedigree, and is not to be discounted back over a mile despite apparantly being held on his Newmarket effort.
Of course, the great imponderable here is how Dawn Approach will fare after blowing his lid and finishing well beaten in the Derby. Jim Bolger's colt, who slammed Glory Awaits by five lengths in the Guineas (Toronado fourth, Mars sixth) will doubtless appreciate the return to a mile - and the likelihood of a strong early pace provided by stable companion Leitir Mor - but this comes plenty soon enough after that bad experience on Epsom Downs and, smart as he is, there has to be a doubt about him now.
It's a tough race to call.
The other big race on day one of the meeting is the Kings Stand Stakes in which the South African raider SHEA SHEA looks a worthy favourite after two fine victories in Dubai.
Mike de Kock's charge has to reproduce the form in this part of the world but looks clear best on form and should be too quick for Kingsgate Native and Sole Power.
The latter was twice beaten by Shea Shea at Meydan and then, after a brilliant win at Newmarket (from Kingsgate Native) in April, may have run a bit below form behind Kingsgate Native, Swiss Spirit and Reckless Abandon (Spirit Quartz - winner since - fifth) in the Temple Stakes at Haydock.
The later races all look super-competitive but TIGER CLIFF will have solid claims in the Ascot Stakes after his Newmarket defeat of De Rigeur was strongly franked by the runner-up's subsequent Haydock victory.
Before tragically passing away, Sir Henry Cecil earmarked this race as ideal for this progressive son of Tiger Hill and he looks a potential Cup horse of the future. However, his form - and the sentiment attached to him - will ensure cramped odds for a race of this nature.