The weekend rain has continued to fall just outside of London and the forecast for this week’s prestigious Royal Ascot meeting at Ascot Racecourse in Berkshire calls for unsettled weather all week through Friday. Course conditions are expected to be “good to soft” each day and the skies are expected to continue to contribute significantly to the nearly 1 1/2 inches of rain that’s already fallen. Both of the track’s straight and round courses may end up being softer than they have been in the history of the Royal Ascot meeting.
Royal Ascot’s Clerk of the Course Chris Stickels indicated the middle of the course may hold more water for the afternoon racing, with the rail not affected much with a bias one way or another.
Of the six races carded for Tuesday’s opening day, three are Group 1s and another is a Group 2. The first race and co-feature of the day is the Queen Anne Stakes (GI), which was named for the founder of Ascot Racecourse and boasts an amazing list of winners over the history of the about one-mile event, including the legendary Frankel, Goldikova, Cape Cross, Kalanisi, Intikhab, Barathea, Warning and so many more.
The Queen Anne marks the European debut of American champion Tepin. Robert Masterson’s 5-year-old daughter of Bernstein has been nothing short of brilliant over the better part of the last 18 months in America and has earned her chance at taking on the best turf milers in Europe. The Mark Casse-trained mare shipped across the pond last week and, according to her connections, has settled in nicely. She was honored as last year’s American champion turf mare after defeating males in Breeders’ Cup Mile (GI) and, while this will likely be the toughest race of her career, her best makes her dangerous from the 12-hole in the gate.
Last year’s Coronation Stakes (GI) winner Ervedya returns to the scene of the crime and is the local’s favorite after winning the 2015 Prix du Moulin (GI) at Longchamp, which was followed by an nice winter break and a runner-up finish in the Prix de Muguet (G2) in her first start of the year nearly two months ago. Regular rider Cristophe Soumillion returns aboard the Aga Khan colorbearer with trainer Jean Claude Rouget looking for his first win in the event.
Godolphin has won this race seven times as an owner and seeks an eighth with Belardo, the Roger Varian-trained winner of the Lockinge Stakes (GI) five weeks ago. Almost all of his wins have come on soft turf, so he’s a good one to post the mild upset.
Other notable names who will contest the Queen Anne are Endless Drama, Arod, Esoterique and Toormore.
Post time for the Queen Anne has been set for 9:30 a.m. EDT.
Overflow Field for King’s Stand Stakes
An overflow field of 21 is expected to go postward in the five-furlong King’s Stand Stakes (GI), which has been carded as the afternoon’s third race with post time of 10:40 a.m. EDT. Like all Royal Ascot stakes events, the King’s Stand Stakes is rooted in history and counts a number of global champions as previous winners, including two-time winner Sole Power, Scenic Blast, Takeover Target, Choisir, Pivotal, Sheikh Albadou and Last Tycoon.
Despite losing to Profitable by a neck at Haydock Park in the Temple Stakes (GII) three weeks ago, Mecca’s Angel is the early favorite to win the straight sprint. The gray daughter of Dark Angel likes to win and also the giving turf, and though she will be making her first start over the Ascot course, is well-traveled and has successfully handled multiple venues over her 15-race career.
Four-year-old Profitable has won his first two races of the year on soft going, including beating the favorite in his last, and has a solid chance to win another here. This is the son of Invincible Spirit’s distance, having four wins, four seconds and a third from 12 starts at five grassy furlongs. He’s in tough, but he’s also got the talent to pick up a win.
American racing fans will recognize the name Mongolian Saturday in here since the son of Any Given Saturday won last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (GI) in upset fashion. The six-year-old gelding has faltered in two subsequent starts on the international racing stage, but this five-furlong distance is his favorite (9-4-2-1) and he also reunites with the hot American-based French jockey Florent Geroux, who handled him expertly in the Breeders’ Cup. How he’ll handle the soft Ascot turf is a question, but he may have the talent to be a factor in here.
St. James Palace Stakes Boasts Top Sophomore Colts
The St. James Palace Stakes (GI), named for a royal residence during the Tudor era and currently still a residence for some members of the royal family, historically features graduates of the Poule d’Essai des Poulains (French Guineas) (GI), Irish 2,000 Guineas (GI and English 2,000 Guineas (GI) and this year a field of eight will line up and face the starter before racing the about one-mile distance. This race is restricted to entire colts only, which is common in Europe and not so much in North American Racing.
The “who’s who” list of runners to have captured this event reads like a historical racing novel about the top names in English turf history and boasts names like Brigadier Gerard, Thatch, Kris, Marju, Kingmambo, Dr Fong, Giant’s Causeway, Rock of Gibraltar, Shamardal, Henry the Navigator, Frankel and Gleneagles, just to name a few.
Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum’s Awtaad drew the innermost post position and is riding a four-race win streak, including the Irish 2,000 Guineas at The Curragh in his latest. The Kevin Prendergast trainee handles the off turf well, as well as the distance, and will be a tough customer under regular rider Chris Hayes, especially if he duplicates his last effort where he won by 2 1/2 lengths with his rider never really asking for run. He’s a legitimate favorite to be a top two runner at the wire.
The Gurkha, depending on definition preference, is named for either for a British soldier from Nepal or a cigar packaged in a metal tube. Regardless, this talented, well-bred son of Galileo will be a tough-to-beat favorite after the field leaves the gate. The colt carries some of Europe’s top racing connections in owners Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith, as well as trainer Aidan O’Brien; Magnier and O’Brien are the race’s most successful owner and trainer, both looking to be represented by their eighth winner each. The Gurkha likes a super soft turf judging by his win in the Poule d’Essai des Poulains last out and has figured out how to win by open lengths. He also will carry top jockey Ryan Moore, who is looking to improve on his modern-day record of nine victories during the meet set last year.
First Selection ran a great second to The Gurkha in France last time out and will try to get the better of him this time. The Simon Crisford trainee hasn’t won since breaking his maiden at Sundown last summer, but has the connections to pull the upset if everything goes his way and the favorites falter.
Post time for the St. James Palace Stakes will be at 11:20 a.m. EDT.
American Juveniles in Windsor Castle Stakes
In the sixth and final race of the day, American-based trainer Wesley Ward will tighten the girth on two runners for the five-furlong Windsor Castle Stakes for juvenile fillies. Silvertoni won the Kentucky Juvenile Stakes and Big City Dreamin’ won a maiden event at Keeneland in early April and are well spotted against a full field. Also, Eoin Harty will send out Drafted in the event after she also won a maiden races over the Keeneland lawn in April.