Get ready, everyone! The most prestigious race meet in England is set to begin on June 16th, that being the eagerly-anticipated Royal Ascot meet at Ascot Racecourse. The opening-day card features six exceptional races full of talented horses and competitive fields, and there are even a couple of U.S.-based runners scheduled to compete. Here are some thoughts on each race!
Race 1: Queen Anne Stakes (Eng-I)
8 furlongs for 4yo+
The Royal Ascot meet will start off with a bang as the multiple group I-winners Able Friend and Solow face off in the prestigious Queen Anne Stakes. The meeting of these talented milers will be one of the major highlights of the meet, and while Solow is favored and should have an advantage thanks to his familiarity with European-style turf courses, Able Friend has been spectacular while winning six straight group I and group II stakes races in Hong Kong, and possesses a stellar turn-of-foot. The race will likely come down to a battle between these two, but it might be wise to keep an eye on Night of Thunder and Toormore, the 1-2 finishers in the Lockinge Stakes (Eng-I) at Newbury on May 16th. Both are very capable milers with experience at Ascot, which could potentially give them an advantage over Able Friend and Solow, both of which will be making their Ascot debuts.
Race 2: Coventry Stakes (Eng-II)
6 furlongs for 2yos
A huge field of eighteen will head to post for this six-furlong race, in which Godolphin Racing’s unbeaten colt Round Two is favored to win. The colt won his debut going six furlongs at Naas racecourse on May 13th, then came back ten days later to win the Marble Hill Stakes at the Curragh by two lengths. However, he is likely to encounter a firmer turf course at Ascot than he is accustomed to, which could potentially give an edge to his stablemate Buratino. The experienced colt has already started five times posted three victories, including a six-length romp in the six-furlong Woodcote Stakes at Epsom. With plenty of practice over good and good-to-firm going, he shouldn’t have much trouble with the conditions at Ascot, and is likely to offer better odds than his unbeaten stablemate.
U.S. racing fans will want to keep an eye on Finnegan, a Wesley Ward-trained colt that won a five-furlong maiden special weight at Pimlico on Preakness day by seven lengths in the sharp time of :56.78 seconds. The son of Unbridled’s Song possesses terrific early speed and should be on or near the lead early on in the Coventry, and from there, he should be difficult to catch.
Race 3: King’s Stand Stakes (Eng-I)
5 furlongs for 3yo+
Another huge field of nineteen is set to run in the King’s Stand, led by the tough-as-nails Sole Power. The aging veteran has run four times in the King’s Stand, winning the race in 2013 and 2014, and will go for a three-peat this year. Two starts back, he ended a four-race losing streak by scoring a thrilling win in the Al Quoz Sprint (UAE-I) in Dubai, and although he could only finish sixth in the Greenlands Stakes (Ire-I) at the Curragh on May 23rd, the good-to-yielding conditions of the turf may have played a role in his defeat, and with that prep race under his belt, Sole Power should be ready for an improved effort in the King’s Stand.
One of Sole Power’s primary challengers is Shamal Wind, who ships in from Australia after scoring an upset victory in the Oakleigh Plate (Aus-I) at Caulfield last time out. The five-year-old mare will have to transfer her fine Australian form to the course at Ascot, but must be respected thanks to her extensive experience sprinting (all of her 24 starts have come at distances from five to six furlongs) and her overall consistency.
Other well-regarded contenders include Mecca’s Angel, who has won five of his last six starts including a pair of group III stakes; G Force, winner of the Betfred Sprint Cup (Eng-I) at Haydock last September; and Muthmir, winner of the Prix du Gros-Chene (Fr-II) at Chantilly last time out.
Race 4: St James’s Palace Stakes (Eng-I)
8 furlongs for 3yos
Aidan O’Brien’s top miler Gleneagles would be riding a seven-race win streak if not for being disqualified from victory in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere (Fr-I) last October, and he has already posted two impressive victories in group I company so far this year. In his seasonal debut, he won the QIPCO 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket by 2 1/4 lengths, and followed that up three weeks later with a 3/4-length win in the Tattersalls Irish 2,000 Guineas at the Curragh despite a slightly troubled trip. Given the talent that Gleneagles has demonstrated so far, it would be a major surprise–indeed a shock–if he loses the St James’s Palace Stakes.
But that said, he is facing a quality field that includes impressive Poule d’Essai des Poulains (Fr-I) winner Make Believe, as well as last year’s Dubai Dewhurst Stakes (Eng-I) winner Belardo, who most recently finished a good fourth in the Irish 2,000 Guineas. If he can take another step forward in his third start of the season, Belardo could potentially provide Gleneagles with a stiff challenge, and his recent defeats should leave him at a very goood price in the wagering.
Race 5: Ascot Stakes (Handicap)
20 furlongs for 4yo+
A field of twenty will start in this twenty-furlong handicap, which should be a great race to watch and wager on. The highweight at 136 pounds is Hurricane Higgins, winner of a hurdle race at Aintree last time out, but the favorites in the wagering are Fun Mac (who will carry 133 pounds) and Ray Ward (who will tote 129.) I must admit that I haven’t had much practice handicapping long-distance British handicap races, but at first glance, I am intrigued by the chances of Godolphin’s Statutory, the second highweight at 134 pounds. The five-year-old gelding has plenty of experience at extended distances, having won a pair of races at 18 furlongs, and will hopefully see out the distance as well or better than the majority of his rivals.
Race 6: Windsor Castle Stakes
5 furlongs for 2yos
The final race on the opening day of the meet will feature an incredible 27 young horses vying for victory in this five-furlong sprint, including Wesley Ward’s promising filly Ruby Notion. The daughter of Great Notion won a 4 1/2-furlong maiden claiming race at Churchill by 3 1/4 lengths in her lone start to date, defeating seven rivals in the good time of :52.59 seconds. But to win the Windsor Castle, she’ll have to defeat Aidan O’Brien’s promising colt Washington DC (runner-up to Coventry Stakes favorite Round Two in the Marble Hill Stakes), as well as the unbeaten Soapy Aitken, who has won both of his starts in fairly easy fashion.
All told, it promises to be a terrific first day of racing at Royal Ascot!