Yes, I know that I borrowed Keeneland’s slogan for my title. With all due respect to Keeneland, for at least the next five days, Royal Ascot is truly racing as it was meant to be. The quality of both the horses that will compete and the races that are held will be unmatched anywhere in the world. Imagine a Breeders’ Cup—that runs for five days instead of just two.
Where else in the world would the first day of racing include not one, but THREE group I races (on a six race card)?? Add to that the fact that one gets to see the Queen and all the royal pageantry before the start of each day’s racing. I’m hoping that Wills and Kate, or Harry, will join their grandmother for at least one of the days; after all, they were all at Epsom for the Derby last week.
Tuesday gets started off with a bang with the Queen Anne Stakes (Eng-I), a one-mile contest that features the incredible Goldikova and the talented Canford Cliffs, who will be facing each other for the first time. Goldikova won this event last year, and is seeking to become the first repeat winner since Dean Swift in 1906-1907. Yes, my math is correct…104 years!
Canford Cliffs may not be as well known here in the U.S., but believe me, he is a high-class colt. A winner of six of nine lifetime starts, Canford Cliffs has won four straight group I races, a streak that began with a victory in the 2010 Abu Dhabi Irish 2000 Guineas (Ire-I). The Richard Hannon trainee made a successful return to the races with an easy victory in the JLT Lockinge Stakes (Eng-I) in May.
Richard Hannon also trained Paco Boy, who was runner-up to Goldikova in last year’s Queen Anne, when he came up just a neck short. Hannon has made no secret that he believes Canford Cliffs is even better than Paco Boy, which is quite a scary prospect. ‘Canford’ also is undefeated in two starts at Royal Ascot. He won the Coventry Stakes (Eng-II) as a 2-year-old and captured the St. James’s Palace Stakes (Eng-I) last season.
There are other horses in the field, too, which may come as a bit of a surprise. Cape Blanco is a dual group I winner at 10 and 12 furlongs who will be shortening up to a mile for the first time. It would seem that the Prince of Wales’s Stakes (Eng-I) on Wednesday would be a better fit for the 4-year-old; however, since trainer Aidan O’Brien has been targeting star So You Think to that race, Cape Blanco shows up in this spot.
The field is rounded out by Rio de la Plata, a group I winning son of Rahy owned by Godolphin, Cityscape, a stakes-winning son of Selkirk that races for Juddmonte, and Ransom Note, a colt who was soundly beaten by Goldikova in the Prix d’Ispahan (Fr-I) last time out.
The fabulous Frankel will face eight challengers in the St. James’s Palace Stakes (Eng-I), the third race on the card. The undefeated son of Galileo goes for win number seven, but will have to get past the likes of fellow group I winners Wootton Bassett, Dream Ahead, Zoffany, and Grand Prix Boss.
Perhaps Frankel’s greatest challenge will come not from another colt in the field, but his own temperament. Much has been made about how headstrong the colt is (or seems). From my viewpoint, the colt isn’t headstrong or uncontrollable; he’s so damn talented that he just runs for the sheer joy of it. While I was disappointed that he didn’t run in the Investec Derby (Eng-I), I wasn’t surprised. Sir Henry Cecil (newly-minted title!) is incredibly conservative. Look for Frankel to use this race as a springboard to races such as the Juddmonte International (Eng-I) later this summer.
Of the other contenders in the St. James’s Palace, it would be wise not to throw out Dream Ahead. A dual group I winner last year as a juvenile, Dream Ahead turned in a bad performance in the Dewhurst Stakes (Eng-I) last October. Of course, that performance came against Frankel, but the colt shared championship honors with Frankel last year in England. This will mark his first start of the season, however, which is not something that can be overlooked. His connections have been hoping for the ‘right type of going’ all season; they will likely get that with the rain that has fallen since Sunday.
A possible longshot in the race is Excelebration, who was soundly beaten by Frankel in the Greenham Stakes (Eng-III) in April. Since that time, the son of Exceed and Excel has captured the German 2000 Guineas (Ger-II), although one has to be suspect of the quality of the field that lined up that day.
Sandwiched in between the Queen Anne and the St. James’s Palace is the ‘other’ group I of the day, the King’s Stand Stakes. A five-furlong dash for sprinters, a field of 19 will face the starter. There are a couple of Americans thrown in here, and I fully believe that they are in over their heads.
The American contingent is led by Holiday for Kitten, a 3-year-old daughter of Kitten’s Joy owned, of course, by Ken and Sarah Ramsey. This filly was last seen winning the Giant’s Causeway Stakes, a 5 ½-furlong sprint on the all-weather, at Keeneland. Her best asset is her trainer, Wesley Ward, who has brought over a contingent of eight or nine runners, the majority of them 2-year-olds. She’s drawn stall 19, and with her being up against some of the best older sprinters in Europe, she’s really up against it.
The other American is Bridgetown, a Todd Pletcher trainee. Pletcher is running horses at Royal Ascot for the first time, and Bridgetown will be his first of the meet. I don’t have much to say on this horse; I think his best days are behind him, though.
This race really is wide open; Australia will send out Star Witness, winner of the Coolmore Stud Stakes (Aus-I) over six furlongs last October. Since then he’s run into the buzz saw named Black Caviar, finishing second once and seventh the other time. He’ll probably go off as the lukewarm favorite in this.
Also on the card are the first two 2-year-old races of the week—the six furlong Coventry Stakes (Eng-II) and the listed Windsor Castle Stakes over five furlongs. In the Coventry, Wesley Ward will send out Italo, a gelded son of With Distinction who broke his maiden at Longchamp. He will face 22 other runners in this field, led by Richard Hannon’s four-prong entry, led by Trumpet Major.
Ward will also send out one in the Windsor Castle, Gentlemans Code, who will be the mount of Mike Smith. A slightly mind-boggling 27 will line up in this race.
Whew--are you tired yet? That's just racing on the first day....there's even more great racing to come!