Hot favourite Palace Pier is set to face 10 rivals in the opening Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot on Tuesday.
The Kingman colt won a thrilling renewal of the St James’s Palace Stakes on the same card 12 months ago – and went on to double his Group One tally in the Prix Jacques le Marois at Deauville.
John and Thady Gosden’s stable star suffered defeat on his final start of 2020 when only third in the QEII at Ascot in October.
However, having bolted up on his return to action at Sandown before slamming his rivals in the Lockinge at Newbury last month, Palace Pier is odds-on to get Royal Ascot punters off to a flyer in the hands of Frankie Dettori.
Aidan O’Brien saddles both Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Order Of Australia and Lope Y Fernandez. The latter needs to bounce back from a disappointing effort in the Lockinge on his latest appearance.
There are two previous winners of the Queen Anne in contention, with Eve Johnson Houghton’s shock 2018 scorer Accidental Agent and David O’Meara’s 2019 hero Lord Glitters both back for another shot.
Accidental Agent has not won since his Ascot triumph, but Johnson Houghton believes she has him back on form now.
She said: “He’s as well as I’ve had him since he won – I couldn’t be happier with him. We’ve all got Palace Pier to beat obviously, but I really think he could run a huge race.
“He had a lot of niggly problems, but we’ve worked everything out, and he’s had a lot of physio and a wind op.
“He’s really enjoying himself and he ran a huge race under a big weight at Newbury, where he wasn’t fit enough but I needed to get a run into him. I’m looking forward to it.”
Sir Michael Stoute’s Regal Reality and James Tate’s Lockinge third Top Rank also feature along with Prince Eiji (Roger Varian), Sir Busker (William Knight), Bless Him (David Simcock) and Pogo (Charlie Hills).
Prince Eiji was edged out by Oh This Is Us in a Listed race over course and distance on his reappearance and with the winner having subsequently struck Group Three gold at Epsom, big-race rider Andrea Atzeni is hoping he can make the frame in a race that forms part of the Qipco British Champions Series.
He said: “He’s a fast-ground horse, he likes Ascot and his homework has been good. Probably none of us can beat Palace Pier, but he’s a ride I’m looking forward to and I think he’ll run big.”
The only horse not declared from the confirmation stage is Tilsit.
Classic hero Poetic Flare and the unbeaten Mostahdaf are among 13 colts declared for the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot.
Jim Bolger’s Poetic Flare landed the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket in early May, since when he has finished sixth in the French Guineas and runner-up in the Irish Guineas behind stablemate Mac Swiney.
Bolger, who won both the 2,000 Guineas and the St James’s Palace with Poetic Flare’s sire Dawn Approach in 2013, told QIPCO British Champion Series: “It’s been an extraordinary season, with just one real hiccup (at Longchamp) and another that was self-inflicted at the Curragh (where a tendency to wander under pressure possibly cost him the race).
“Nothing went right in the race at Longchamp and we’ve drawn a line through it. He came back very quickly to finish second at The Curragh, so he’s very, very hardy - you couldn’t do that with every horse. The biggest trouble I have is keeping the weight off him. He’s a great doer, and he still has to do plenty at home, despite the schedule.
“Dawn Approach was pretty hardy too and took it well, but he wouldn’t have been the same as Poetic Flare. I might have had one or two others like him, and I remember when I won the four-year-old hurdle at Aintree in 1978 with Beparoejojo she had to have a blow out on the morning of the race, but I’ve never had a colt of his quality who needed as much work as he does.
"He’s very well and I think he has a big chance - the bookmakers seem to think so too. He goes on any ground too, which is a big advantage. It was good to firm when he won at Newmarket, but personally I’d prefer it if there was no firm in the description as horses last longer that way.”
Mostahdaf has won each of his three starts to date for John and Thady Gosden – completing his hat-trick in the Heron Stakes at Sandown almost four weeks ago.
The Frankel colt beat Charlie Appleby’s Highland Avenue by half a length in that Listed contest and the pair will renew rivalry at Group One level on Tuesday.
John Gosden said: “You’ve got the boys who came through the Guineas, some of whom have had a tough time, and I can see a horse like Battleground coming into play with the change in the ground, while you must never underestimate Jim Bolger. Chindit also interests me.
“Overall, I think it’s a good edition of this race. Our fellow has come the slow route, but that’s not his fault, and this year he won twice on the all-weather before the Heron. He may have been on the better ground in that very soft going, but having said that he ran a great race.
“I think our fellow will be fine on this ground. He’s a lovely horse and we’ve taken this route before. Palace Pier also came an unobvious route, missing the Guineas last year.”
Appleby also saddles Irish Guineas sixth La Barrosa, the mount of James Doyle, who told QIPCO British Champion Series: "He ran very well in the Craven when second to Master Of The Seas and then went for the Irish Guineas on what was obviously quite testing ground.
"He travelled into the race really well there but didn’t quite see it out. I think he’ll be seen to much better effect on quicker ground at Ascot, and on his Craven run he’s entitled to go well in what’s obviously a tough race."
Jessica Harrington’s Lucky Vega also brings strong Classic form to the table, having finished third at Newmarket and fourth at the Curragh.
Aidan O’Brien runs Battleground, Ontario and Wembley, with son Joseph represented by Thunder Moon.
Battleground and Wembley, who both sport first-time tongue ties, plus Thunder Moon all disappointed in the Guineas at Newmarket and Wembley has also since failed to fire in the Irish equivalent.
Bullace (Ralph Beckett), Chindit (Richard Hannon), Maximal (Sir Michael Stoute) and Naamoos (Mark Johnston) complete the line-up.
Last year’s winner Battaash leads the way in Tuesday’s King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot after all 16 horses stood their ground at the 48-hour final declaration stage.
The seven-year-old will be making a belated seasonal debut after suffering an injury during the winter, but he has been successful first time out in all five previous campaigns.
The Charlie Hills-trained speedster took the prize in grand style 12 months ago after finishing runner-up in 2018 and 2019.
He will be a warm order to repeat the dose but is expected to face strong opposition from younger sprinters headed by Tim Easterby’s three-year-old Winter Power.
Roger Teal’s Oxted, winner of the July Cup in 2020, drops down to the minimum trip for the first time in a bid to land a second Group One.
Liberty Beach, third 12 months ago, returns for more on the back of winning the Temple Stakes at Haydock last month.
There are two American raiders in Brendan Walsh’s Al Quoz Sprint victor Extravagant Kid and Wesley Ward’s Maven, while The Queen is represented by King’s Lynn.
Ward has the ante-post favourite, Kaufymaker, in the Coventry Stakes.
The only filly in the 17-runner field, the daughter of Jimmy Creed made a big impression when romping home on her debut at Keeneland two months ago.
Aidan O’Brien relies on The Acropolis to give him a record 10th victory in the Group Two for two-year-olds over six furlongs. Masseto, trained by his son, Donnacha, is the other Irish-trained raider.
John and Thady Gosden have two live contenders in Dhadab and Tolstoy, as does Richard Hannon in Gisburn and Secret Strength.
Jim Goldie’s admirable eight-year-old Euchen Glen heads 14 runners for the Wolferton Stakes.
The Authorized gelding took the Group Three Brigadier Gerard Stakes at Sandown last month and has to carry a 5lb penalty.
A competitive line-up includes Solid Stone, Stormy Antarctic, Felix and Patrick Sarsfield.
If Felix can triumph, he will provide trainer Marco Botti with a second Royal Ascot success after Aljazzi triumphed in the 2018 Duke of Cambridge Stakes.
Felix made significant strides on the all-weather in the winter before taking his form to a new level in Dubai when third to Lord North in the Dubai Turf – the outstanding piece of form on offer in the Listed line-up.
“The Wolferton is the plan, and it has been for a while – he loves good ground, and a mile and a quarter should suit him,” said Botti.
“He seems in good order. We freshened him up since Dubai, and everything has gone well with him. Oisin Murphy will ride. He rode him well in Dubai, and it’s nice he can maintain the partnership.
“He’s arguably got the best piece of form in the race – finishing third in a Group One – but while he’s dropping down into a Listed race, because it’s at Royal Ascot, it will be as strong as a Group Two or a Group Three really.
“It’s a good race, but if he can show the same form he did in Dubai he should have a good chance. We weren’t tempted by the Prince of Wales’s Stakes. We’d like to run in the Arlington Million later in the year if all goes to plan – and because he’s a gelding, we’ll avoid the really top-class horses if we can.”
Willie Mullins is three-handed with M C Muldoon, Rayapour and Royal Illusion as Ireland’s champion jumps trainer bids to win the Ascot Stakes for a fourth time in seven years.
The Alan King-trained Coeur De Lion, winner 12 months ago, is among the 20 final declarations.
King has a leading fancy in top-weight On To Victory in the concluding Copper Horse Handicap. Mullins goes for this mile-and-three-quarter prize with Saldier after 16 horses were declared, plus three reserves.