The big guns have been declared for the St James's Palace Stakes and King's Stand Stakes, while Aidan O'Brien relies on Le Brivido in the Queen Anne.
14.30 - Queen Anne Stakes
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Royal Ascot gets under way with no fewer than eight Group 1 performers crossing swords in the £600,000 Queen Anne Stakes, which forms part of the Mile Category in the QIPCO British Champions Series.
The first two home last year, Accidental Agent and Lord Glitters, meet again, with the former joined by Barney Roy, Dream Castle, Mustashry, Olmedo, Romanised, Laurens, and One Master as being a winner at least once at the highest level.
The most prolific of the bunch has been the Karl Burke-trained Laurens, who has five Group 1 wins to her name. She made a highly encouraging return when chasing home the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Mustashry in the Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes at Newbury last month, a race which Accidental Agent (third), Romanised (fourth), Le Brivido (fifth), Sharja Bridge (tenth), Beat The Bank (eleventh), Mythical Magic (twelfth) and Lord Glitters (thirteenth) also contested.
PJ McDonald, 37, regular rider of Laurens, was delighted with that effort as it provided confirmation that a below-par run on her final outing last year, at Ascot on QIPCO British Champions Day, was not an indicator that she had lost her renowned fighting spirit.
“After she flopped on QIPCO British Champions Day you are always worried ‘does she come back?’ because she’s had to battle every time she’s raced,” he said. “She’s never had an easy race. She has had to knuckle down and battle every day she has been on the racetrack, even when she won her maiden. That can take its toll on horses. Some just don’t have the constitution to deal with that time and time again.
“We were confident on her homework that she’d trained on and still wanted to do it, but until you go to the races you never know. When she hit those lids, travelled with such enthusiasm and picked up and looked like she was going to win, it dispelled those fears. She felt every bit as good to me.”
McDonald says Laurens will improve for her Newbury exertions, not least because the imposing filly is difficult to get fully fit at home because she finds her homework so easy.
“I sat on her Tuesday morning and she did a nice piece of work. She’s come out of the Lockinge well and we couldn’t be much happier going into the race. She looks amazing, feels amazing and is going into Ascot as well, if not better, than when she has gone into any of her previous races,” he said.
“It’s very competitive and she’s taking on the boys again. She will have to find a bit with Mr Stoute’s horse [Mustashry] and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him improve again – he’s trained by an absolute genius – but I’d be very confident our filly will improve from the Lockinge.
“She was fit enough to go and have her run but there is only so much you can do with them at home and she finds her work so easy that she’s never really in the red zone. There is nothing that can take her there or lead her there.”
Laurens, owned by John Dance, has developed a growing fan club and McDonald said: “Everybody loves a battler; she wears her heart on the sleeve. I feel privileged to have ridden a horse of her calibre and even if she never wins again she owes us nothing and been an absolute inspiration to all of us.”
Sharja Bridge disappointed in the Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes, but showed his liking for Ascot when a smooth winner of the Balmoral Handicap on QIPCO British Champions Day in October.
Roger Varian, his trainer, said: “It was just too firm for him in the Lockinge – he didn’t let down. He’s capable of a big performance. If the meeting starts on good to soft that would see him very comfortable, and when gets his conditions he’s got an awful lot of ability.”
William Haggas relies on last year’s Qatar Prix de la Foret winner One Master and says she should be excused her comeback defeat at the Curragh. “She got tired, as I knew she would do, but she’s had a race and is better for it,” he said. “She’s got a bit to find but it’s anybody’s race and it will be luck of the draw. She will enjoy a bit of cut in the ground and although she’s a big price she ran well in the Breeders’ Cup and Hong Kong, considering we rode her wrong.”
Matterhorn, Hazapour, fifth in the Investec Derby at Epsom last year and the mount of Frankie Dettori, and globetrotting Stormy Antactic complete the line-up. The last-named was fourth to Roaring Lion in the QIPCO-sponsored Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot on QIPCO British Champions Day in October and has raced in no fewer than seven countries.
15.05 - Coventry Stakes
Arizona leads a team of four for Aidan O'Brien as the trainer bids for a remarkable ninth success in the Coventry Stakes.
Arizona was beaten first time out but went one better with an eight-length romp at the Curragh late last month and he's set to be joined by King Of Athens, Royal Lytham and Newbury runner-up Fort Myers.
Mark Johnston has opted not to run impressive Newmarket winner Visinari and instead relies on Monoski and Makyon, while Richard Hannon's Threat is another near the top of the market following his taking debut win at headquarters on May 5.
Archie Watson runs Guildsman and Michael Bell sends out the well-regarded Maxi Boy, with Godolphin leaving in the Charlie Appleby-trained Well Of Wisdom who was third in the same Newbury race Fort Myers contested.
15.40 King's Stand Stakes
The first three home in last year’s King’s Stand Stakes - Blue Point, Battaash and Mabs Cross - meet again in what promises to be an explosive rematch on the first day of Royal Ascot on Tuesday.
The five-furlong feature, which also features two Aidan O’Brien-trained runners and an intriguing American challenger in the prolific Imprimis, is one of three QIPCO British Champions Series races on the card and will be over in about a minute.
Twelve months ago, it was Blue Point who came out on top by a length and three quarters from Battaash, with Mabs Cross, the subsequent Prix De l’Abbaye winner, another neck back in third.
The trio have continued to shine, with Battaash, in particular, being imperious when landing the Group 2 Armstrong Aggregates Temple Stakes on his reappearance at Haydock last month, when he had Mabs Cross behind in third.
Michael Dods, the trainer of Mabs Cross, admits his stable star faces no easy task turning the tables but she had previously got the better of Battaash in the Prix de l’Abbaye and was not helped at Haydock by being burdened by a penalty and other factors.
“She lost a hind shoe at Haydock and at the time I didn’t think it probably cost her anything but she was a bit sore for the next few days,” Dods said. “Also, I don’t think the track at Haydock plays to her strengths. She likes to come with a finish but at Haydock the race is already over by the time she does – we’ve seen that two years running.
“Ascot does play to her strengths because it’s a stiff finish and a bit of juice in the ground will also help her. If it’s good to soft, or on the easy side of good, that will suit as it will bring her stamina into play.
“Battaash was incredible at Haydock and if that horse turns up then he is going to run a massive race. Blue Point has done well out in Dubai, probably at a lower level, but he couldn’t have been more impressive, could he?
“It’s a tough race and we are fully aware we are up against two very good horses in those pair, plus we don’t know what this American horse [Imprimis] is like with Frankie on. Mabs Cross is well and I’m sure she will again perform well.”
It was only two years ago that Mabs Cross was running in handicap company off a rating of 74. Her mark has since soared to 115. “Before she had ever run, I thought she’d be a decent handicapper- an 80 or 90 (rated) horse. Things didn’t go right in her early races, then she won a poor race at Newcastle and things have gone on from there. She’s kept on improving and improving – it’s been unbelievable.”
Paul Mulrennan, the regular rider of Mabs Cross, requires one more winner to reach 1,000 in Britain, so could be in line to achieve a famous double. “I hope he’s done it before Tuesday as he’s riding some of mine beforehand!” Dods said. “It will be a great achievement for him, he’s been out with injury for a while, and I know he’s looking forward to Tuesday. He’s been a vital part of the team for several years.”
Dods, based near Darlington, has yet to savour a winner at Royal Ascot but it has not diminished his admiration of the meeting. “I don’t think there is anything like Ascot, especially the Royal Meeting,” he said. “Anyone who has never been racing should go there – it’s a marvellous place to go and so well organised. I’d say it’s the best week’s racing in the world.
“We won the Abbaye at Longchamp last year but the facilities are nothing like Ascot. We were disappointed – I didn’t think people were well looked after and everywhere was too busy. Ascot do it right, they know how to put on a show. We’ve not managed a Royal winner but hopefully at some stage we will.”
Blue Point, trained by Charlie Appleby, seeks to become the third two-time winner of the King’s Stand in the past decade after Equiano (2008-10) and Sole Power (2013-14). He has warmed up for his defence with three successive wins in Dubai, capped by victory in the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint on his latest start.
Charlie Hills has a second string to his bow in the shape of Equilateral, a neck runner-up to Mabs Cross in the Group 2 Zoustar Palace House Stakes at Newmarket in May.
Three-year-old runners to note include Soldier’s Call, whose exploits last season included winning the Group 2 Wainwrights Flying Childers and finishing third in the Prix de l’Abbaye; Signora Cabello, winner of the Queen Mary Stakes at Royal Ascot last year; and Sergei Prokofiev, impressive winner of the Group 3 Newmarket Academy Godolphin Beacon Project Cornwallis Stakes.
The latter is the principal hope of record-breaking trainer Aidan O’Brien, who is still seeking a first King’s Stand triumph. He is also represented by Fairyland, winner of the Group 1 Juddmonte Cheveley Park Stakes last season.
A strong international challenge is spearheaded by Imprimis, trained by Joseph Orseno, who has won seven of his nine races. Houtzen, trained by Toby Edmonds in Australia, and Enzo’s Lad, only the second New Zealand-trained horse to run at Royal Ascot after Seachange in 2008, will also take part.
Enzo’s Lad is trained by 64-year-old Michael Pitman, who has successfully fought cancer in the past year and has a prosthetic left limb after a car accident that left in hospital for six months as a young man.
Judicial, trained by Julie Camacho, completes the 12-runner field.
16.20 St James's Palace Stakes
Frankie Dettori is hoping Too Darn Hot, the champion two-year-old of last season, can recapture his best form and provide him with a fourth success in the St James’s Palace Stakes.
The £500,000 contest forms part of the Mile category of the QIPCO British Champion and Dettori has previously guided Starborough (1997), Galileo Gold (2016) and Without Parole (2018) to glory in it. The 48-year-old has ridden 60 winners at the Royal Meeting – more than any other current jockey in the weighing-room – and says the magic never wears off.
He said: “This is my 32nd Royal Ascot and, when you think about it, that was before most of the other lads in the weighing-room were even born!
It’s pretty amazing, I think my first ride there was for Clive Brittain in the Hunt Cup and here we are 32 years later, I’m still doing it.
“The importance [of the meeting] feeds down to everyone. It’s the reason why we get up early in the mornings – we try and find those horses who compete at Ascot. You never lose that buzz. It’s five days of tremendous races and for atmosphere and quality of racing it’s second to none.
“Sixty winners is an amazing tally – behind only Pat [Eddery} and Lester [Piggott]. What a great place to be lucky. Thank God it wasn’t Folkestone! May it long continue.”
Dettori spoke about Too Darn Hot when Ascot and World Horse Racing staged their annual International Challengers Press Morning last Thursday. He said: "Too Darn Hot has had a very unfortunate time [this year]. I just feel like I haven't got him where I wanted him to be. Hopefully at Ascot on Tuesday, you see the old Too Darn Hot. I feel he has got more to give and you haven't seen the real him yet this season.”
Too Darn Hot, who will be joined in the line-up by stablemate King Of Comedy, carried all before him as a juvenile and his official end-of-season rating was the same as that achieved by Frankel. However, he has been beaten in both his races this term – including last time when a three-length runner-up to the Charlie Hills-trained Phoenix Of Spain in the Tattersalls Irish 2000 Guineas at the Curragh.
Skardu finished fourth in that Irish Classic, having previously been first home down the centre of the track when third in the QIPCO 2000 Guineas at Newmarket.
William Haggas, the trainer of Skardu, said: “He was a little disappointing in the Irish Guineas but I think he was ridden too prominently. You learn with these horses and it was only his fourth race. I think we will wait a bit this time as he has a good turn of foot. He’s entitled to be there and is ready to roll but whether he’s good enough, we will find out on Tuesday.”
Aidan O’Brien seeks an eighth success in the race with Circus Maximus, who has been supplemented, his principal hope. Sixth in the Investec Derby, he drops back in distance and will be joined by Van Beethoven and The Irish Rover.
Godolphin’s hopes of a fourth win in the race rest with Royal Marine, winner of the Group 1 Qatar Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere last year.
Shaman, runner-up to Persian King in the The Emirates Poule d'Essai des Poulains at ParisLongchamp last month, attempts to become the first French-trained winner since Sendawar in 1999, while front-running Fox Champion has been given the green light to try and follow up his all-the-way win in the German 2000 Guineas. Bell Rock completes the 11-runner line-up.
17.00 Ascot Stakes
Irish contenders Buildmeupbuttercup and Mengli Khan are vying for favouritism in Tuesday's Ascot Stakes following the final declarations.
Buildmeupbuttercup, the mount of Ryan Moore for trainer Willie Mullins, has been drawn out wide in stall 19 while Gordon Elliott's Mengli Khan will break from stall two under Rory Cleary.
The Noel Meade-trained Snow Falcon is another well-known Irish jumper trying his hand on the level, while Coeur De Lion looks to lead the home challenge for Barbury Castle handler Alan King.
Others towards the top of the betting include Elliott's Batts Rock with Frankie Dettori jocked up and Kerosin for Denis Hogan and Oisin Murphy.
17.35 Wolferton Stakes
Elarqam has come in for strong support over the past few days and tops the betting with Sky Bet for the Listed Wolferton Stakes, the 10-furlong contest which brings Tuesday's card to a close.
Mark Johnston's horse was a big disappointment last season his Classic campaign but has looked back to something like his juvenile best with a promising fourth at Newmarket and a taking Listed success at Goodwood.
He had Willie John back in second at Goodwood and Roger Varian's charge reopposes at Ascot with the likes of Addeybb and Star Of Bengal others in the mix with big hopes.
The Irish challenge is lead by Aidan O'Brien's Magic Wand, winner of the Ribblesdale Stakes at the big meeting last year, and she's joined by Latrobe for Joseph O'Brien and Willie Mullins' Riven Light.