Numerous Spring Racing Carnival (SRC) contenders are set to emerge from Royal Ascot’s world-famous festival, which gets underway this evening and features eight Group 1 races across five days of elite equine action.
Steeped in history and labelled by Gai Waterhouse as the “mecca of racing,” Royal Ascot has again attracted gallopers from across the globe to its immaculate turf, including several that Racing Victoria (RV) is keen to recruit for this year’s SRC.
The meeting, which as usual will be attended by Her Majesty the Queen, is considered the pinnacle of British flat racing and will this year offer record prizemoney of £7.305 million (AUD$9.63 million), an increase of ten per cent on 2017.
Racing has been held at Ascot Racecourse for more than 300 years, and in that time the turf has witnessed some historic performances including by legendary Australian horses such as So You Think, Choisir, Takeover Target and, perhaps most famously, unbeaten mare Black Caviar, the winner of the 2012 Diamond Jubilee Stakes (1200m).
Saturday’s renewal of the Diamond Jubilee Stakes, the final Group 1 of the meeting, could be the highlight of the week with Lindsay Park’s globetrotting speedster Redkirk Warrior set to take on Australian-bred Group 1 winner Merchant Navy and the Clive Cox-trained Harry Angel, a rising star of the sprinting ranks.
The marquee races on the opening day are the Queen Anne Stakes (1600m), the King’s Stand Stakes (1000m) and the St James’s Palace Stakes (1600m), a trio of Group 1s featuring some of the world’s finest horses.
Of particular interest is the Queen Anne Stakes, which for some time had occupied the thoughts of trainer Chris Waller, who ultimately decided against sending his stable star Winx to the other side of the world and will instead set the mighty mare on a path which connections hope will culminate in an unprecedented fourth straight Group 1 Ladbrokes Cox Plate (2040m) success.
Officials at the Moonee Valley Racing Club will nonetheless be keen observers of the opening feature, with no fewer than three Cox Plate invitees set to thunder down Ascot’s famous straight at 11.30pm AEST tonight (Tuesday, 19 June).
Godolphin galloper Benbatl, trained by Saeed bin Suroor, and French raider Recoletos, who will be ridden by Olivier Peslier, are second and third favourites respectively, whilst their fellow Cox Plate invitee Yoshida will fly the flag for America.
Pre-race favourite Rhododendron, a four-year-old trained by Aidan O’Brien will be ridden by one of the world’s foremost jockeys, Ryan Moore, who in tandem with O’Brien became the first overseas winner of the Cox Plate in 2014 with Adelaide.
On Wednesday, 20 June, the Group 1 Prince of Wales’s Stakes (2000m) is the key race from a SRC perspective, with Cox Plate invitees Cracksman and Poet’s Word set for a mouth-watering clash.
Connections of Cracksman, Europe’s highest-rated horse, have indicated that the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe is their more likely target, but there is a very real chance that the Cox Plate could feature Poet’s Word, who is trained by the most successful trainer in Royal Ascot’s illustrious history, Sir Michael Stoute.
O’Brien is also giving serious thought to sending Cliffs of Moher to Australia, particularly if he were to defeat odds-on favourite Cracksman in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes; and the same could be said for Hawkbill, whose trainer Charlie Appleby is no stranger to success Down Under.
Thursday’s feature is the Group 1 Ascot Gold Cup, the 4000m marathon which will be closely monitored by the Victoria Racing Club (VRC).
Early favourite Order of St George has been assigned topweight for the past two editions of the Lexus Melbourne Cup, and whilst Europe’s pre-eminent stayer is yet to visit Australian shores O’Brien has not ruled out a tilt at the ‘race that stops a nation’TM with either him or his stablemate Idaho.
Willie Mullins’ grand old warrior Max Dynamite, who finished third in last year’s Melbourne Cup, will also contest the Gold Cup alongside second-favourite Stradivarius, ridden by enigmatic Italian jockey Frankie Dettori.
On Friday, 22 June, Australian jockey James McDonald has been booked by trainer Charlie Hills to partner Equilateral in the Group 1 Commonwealth Cup (1200m), in which O’Brien saddles the early favourite Sioux Nation.
The winner of Saturday’s Group 2 Hardwick Stakes (2400m), meanwhile, will be exempt from the ballot for the 2018 Stella Artois Caulfield Cup.
Crystal Ocean, representing the formidable trainer-jockey combination of Stoute and Moore, is the red-hot hot favourite, but it would be little surprise to see Barsanti upset the odds for Roger Varian.
Other horses of note in the race include Barsanti’s stablemate Defoe and the classy Rare Rhythm, another potential Spring Carnival raider for Appleby.
Paul Bloodworth, RV’s General Manager, International and Racing Operations, will be keeping a close eye on proceedings at Ascot, and is confident that the prizemoney and prestige of the SRC will tempt a number of trainers to send their horses to Melbourne in late September 2018.
“Royal Ascot is always an exciting time for punters and racing enthusiasts across the world, and with the record prizemoney on offer during this year’s Spring Racing Carnival, we expect to see some of the stars of the show this week testing themselves against our best horses in Victoria later this year,” Bloodworth said.
“The Cox Plate, Caulfield Cup and Melbourne Cup are all world-renowned races, so I’m sure they are firmly on the radar for many connections at Ascot.”
Racing.com will broadcast all five days of Royal Ascot on free-to-air channels 78 (metropolitan) and 68 (regional), and via their live digital streaming service, with coverage starting from 10.30pm AEST tonight.