Royal Ascot - Day One

Courtesy of Becky Johnston

There are annual events in one's life that will cause you to take a moment and be grateful for the experience in a life that is limited by it's duration.  Your birthday, your children's birthdays and holidays are some such events.  For sports fans, there are numerous annual events that should be taken in and cherished every year.

This week is one of those events for me.  I look forward to Royal Ascot every year.  Just as the NCAA tournament signals the end of winter and the Masters brings forth spring,  Royal Ascot is my sign that the first half year of racing is behind us and summer racing has arrived.  The preliminaries are over.  Championship season is upon us.

Here is my Day One Preview:


Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes

The first race of the meet will kick off at 9:30 AM eastern time, but check in early to see the royal procession.  The Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes for four-year-olds and up going a grueling straight one-mile is first up.  It looks promising for the Godolphin team.  This race was initiated in 1840, but the name was changed in 1930 to honor the Royal that first established racing at Ascot, Queen Anne, in 1711.  Horses that have won this race include Whisk Broom in 1910, Warning in 1989, Barathea in 1994 and Cape Cross in 1999.  Cape Cross is the sire of this year's Epsom Derby winner, Sea The Stars.

Last year, the Australian invader Haradasun won the race over the game filly Darjina for trainer Aidan O'Brien, but it has been Godolphin that has ruled the race of late.  They have won seven of the last twelve runnings for trainer Saeed bin Suroor.  This doesn't appear to be nearly as strong a race as last year and Godolphin looks to take number eight in 2009 with a strong hand including the early favorite, the American-bred four-year-old colt Gladiatorus (Silic(FR)-Gmaasha (IRE) by Kris (UK).

(Watch Gladiatorous' impressive win over an all-world cast in the Group 1 Dubai Duty Free)

The son of the 1999 Breeders' Cup Mile winner, Silic, has won nine of his 12 starts and he will keep jockey Ahmed Ajtebi rather than Godolphin's regular top rider, Frankie Dettori.

Godolphin also brings the third place finisher in the Dubai Duty Free, Alexandros (GB) (Kingmambo (USA)-Arlette (IRE) by King of Kings (IRE).  He has run once since in last month's Group 1 Juddmonte Lockinge Stakes at Newbury.  He lost by a nose under Dettori to the John Gosden trained Virtual.  This four-year-old colt holds steady in the 8-1 range in early wagering.  Alexandros is also trained by Saeed bin Suroor.

Juddmonte enters Main Aim (GB) (Oasis Dream (UK)-Orford Ness (UK) by Selkirk (USA) who has odds of 4-1 to 9-2.  The four-year-old colt will have the services of media-shy jockey Ryan Moore, whom it took 80 tries to become a winner at Royal Ascot.  Main Aim's trainer Sir Michael Stoute never lost confidence in the English champion rider.  If this colt, who has never attempted this distance, can stretch out from his last two wins at six and seven furlongs, the latter a Group 3 event at Haydock, it will be in large part due to Moore holding him together.  He has ridden him in every race, winning five of eight starts.


The others:

Paco Boy (IRE) Desert Style (IRE) - Tappen Zee (UK)  (Sandhurst Prince (UK) whom trainer Richard Hannon says will not run if the ground is too firm.  The four-year-old colt didn't seem to like the soft ground last out either when he ran a fourth behind Virtual and Alexandros.  He will be ridden by Richard Hughes if the ground is to his trainer's liking.

Aqlaam threw in a dud in his only start of the yeart, a tenth place finish behind Virtual and Alexandros, did score at this meet last year in the Jersey Stakes and is likely to improve with another start.  Arabian Gleam seems overmatched and eight-year-old Cesare has been on the sidelines for almost a year.  The grey Dream Eater is a Balding trainee and a Balding usually wins something at this meet. The son of Night Shift  has only one win in 12 starts.  Lastly, Mac Love another eight-year-old who is 0 for 3 over the course but did win a Group 3 at Epsom last out.


My picks:



Dream Eater


Group 1 King's Stand Stakes

For fans of speed, this is your race.  Five furlongs and some of the fastest sprinters in the world will face off in this race.  Many will return on Saturday to contest the Group 1 Golden Jubilee at six furlongs.  Takeover Target won this race in 2006 and is scheduled to run Saturday while Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Sheikh Albadou won the 1992 installation and Dayjur who was second in the Breeders' Cup sprint won the race in 1990. 

Last year's winner Equiano (FR) (Acclamation (GB) - Entente Cordiale (IRE) by Ela-Mana-Mou (UK) is back, but he has yet to regain entry into the winner's enclosure since the victory in his five starts.  His last-placed effort in Chantilly's Group 2 Prix du Gros-Chene gives little sign that he will reverse the course and duplicate last year's effort.  Equiano is trained by Barry Hills and ridden by Michael Hills.

Australian sprinters seem to do well wherever they land and this year's probable favorite comes in the form of Scenic Blast (AUS) (Scenic (GB) - Daughter´s Charm (AUS) by Delgado (USA).  Scenic Blast's sire, Scenic by Sadler's Wells, has been so versatile in producing sprinters such as this horse as well as the winner of last year's two-mile Melbourne Cup, Viewed.

Scenic Blast, trained by Daniel Morton and ridden by Steven Arnold will make his first trip abroad to take on this big stage.  He won his last race, a Group 1 in Flemington over 21 rivals at six furlongs over a surface rated good, but that race was run March 7th.  This will be his first start in three months.


Here is Scenic Blast in the five-furlong Coolmore Lightning Stakes at the end of January.


Armour Propre (UK) (Paris House (UK) - Miss Prim (UK) by Case Law (UK) has won four of five starts, all at the race distance including a win over this course last year, but never above a Group 3 class.  The Henry Candy trained three-year-old is probably looking for ground on the firm side as he was scratched from a scheduled start at Haydock at the end of May due to soft ground.  Therefore, the three-year-old will come into this race with only one start this year, a victory against older horses in the Group 3 Palace House Stakes at Newmarket.

A funny side story on this horse, his trainer tried to sell him as a two-year-old and in front of the assembled crowd, he ran off the gallops and into the woods.  He did eventually sell to Simon Broke and partners.  He sits at favorable odds of 5-2 to 3-1 and will be ridden by Dane O'Neill.

The seven-year-old Borderlescott (UK) (Compton Place (UK) - Jeewan by Touching Wood (USA) didn't win his first Group 1 race until he was a six, when he took the Group 1 Nunthorpe Stakes at Newmarket over such horses as Kingsgate Native, Dandy Man, Equiano and Captain Gerrard.  He was third behind Amour Propre in his first start of the year and ran second by a neck to the consistent Look Busy in the Group 2 Temple Stakes at Haydock on May 23rd.  He is trained by Robin Bastiman and ridden by Pat Cosgrave.

American bred, owned and trained Cannonball (Catienus (USA) - No Deadline (USA) Skywalker (USA) has been afforded no chance by the Europeans, but I'm going to give him a chance.  With two runner-up efforts in two of the States' best turf sprints, the Shakertown at Keeneland and the Aegon Turf Sprint Stakes at Churchill Downs, Cannonball looks to have found his best surface and his best distances between five and six furlongs.  The four-year-old raced most of his career around two-turns. 


(Watch Cannonball in the Turf Sprint Stakes on May 1st)

The filly Fleeting Spirit (IRE) (Invincible Spirit (IRE) - Millennium Tale (FR)  (Distant Relative (IRE) made her last start in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint last fall and ran a very respectable fourth in a fourteen horse field.  She was running down the hill, around a turn and over the dirt path, all new things and she hugged the rail with Murtagh aboard like she was attached to it down the stretch. 


(Watch Fleeting Spirit in the 2008 Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint)

She ran third in this race last year and she has an outstanding chance to do better this year for jockey Ryan Moore and trainer Jeremy Noseda.

Tax Free (IRE) (Tagula (IRE) - Grandel (UK)  by Owington (UK) seems to be the most consistent in this group having won four of his last five.  The seven-year-old gelding won his last start at Chantilly in the Grade 1 Prix du Gros-Chene (Group 2), a race that saw Marchand D'Or and Equiano fail miserably over the good going, and running last and next to the last.  He has never won a Group 1 race but he has beaten Group 1 winners.  He turned in some poor efforts in this race in 2006 and 2007 behind Australian sprinters Miss Andretti and Takeover Target.  Jockey Adrian Nicholls takes the mount as he has done in 31 of the gelding's 32 starts for his father trainer Dandy Nicholls


The others:

Captain Gerrard has a Group 3 win over the course but it was in 2007.  Dandy Man will carry Godolphin's hopes and Dettori.  He has run in this race three times since 2006 finishing fourth, second and fourth, but he hasn't won any race since April 2007.

Hoh Hoh Hoh has a ho-hum record with only five wins from 44 starts but he ran this distance twice at Ascot in 2007 and produced two second-place finishes.  South African invader Mythical Flight won his first seven starts, the last in May of 2007 and has since failed with five consecutive Group 1 events.  Perhaps a change of scenery could do the trick for this six-year-old gelding.

Wi Dud has won only two of 25 starts and Rievaulx World has never competed at this level.  The three-year-old Spin Cycle ran second last year at this meet in the Group 2 Norfolk Stakes behind South Central and while he kept good company last year, he has one race this year in lesser company but it was a bang-up victory over his elders. 

The final entry is that of three-year-old filly Anglezarke who always gives a good account of herself, but her best effort was a Group 2 placing at Doncaster last year.


My Picks: 

Fleeting Spirit

Scenic Blast




Group 1 St. James Palace Stakes

Europeans have a unique attitude in that most owners that have horses specializing in a distance they don't try and run them at trips that are beyond their scope.  One week after the Epsom Derby is run there is still a very talented group of three-year-olds that are better at this one-mile distance. 

This race has been won by such grand horses as Henrythenavigator (2008), great sires like Giant's Causeway (2000) and Kingmambo (1993) and the brilliant Brigadier Gerard (1971).  It was first run in 1834 and in 1881, Iroquois won the race.  He was also the first American-bred to win the Epsom Derby.

Aidan O'Brien sends out three starters in this race with Born to be King by Storm Cat, Set Sail by Danehill Dancer and the star of the Coolmore show, Mastercraftsman (IRE) (Danehill Dancer (IRE) - Starlight Dreams (USA) by Black Tie Affair (UK).  He has five wins in seven starts with his only two losses coming while away from the Curragh.  He ran forth of seven in the Group 1 Grand Criterium last fall at Longchamp and fifth in the Group 1 2000 Guineas at Newmarket behind eventual Derby winner Sea The Stars. A return to the Curragh would see Mastercraftsman take the Irish 2000 Guineas.

Delegator (GB)(Dansili (UK) - Indian Love Bird (UK) by Efisio (UK)  ran second in the Newmarket race, but after producing a good middle move in the Irish 2000 Guineas, folded his tent over the heavy ground behind Mastercraftsman


Watch the 2000 Irish Guineas (Mastercraftsman, Delegator, Soul City)


Mastercraftsman will have Johnny Murtagh in the irons while the Poilin Good owned Delegator trained by Brian Meehan will be ridden by Jimmy Fortune who replaces Jamie Spencer.  Delegator has won two of six starts including the Group 3 Craven Stakes.

Always one to watch is Jim Bolger.  The Irish trainer sends out the American-bred Intense Focus (Giant´s Causeway (USA) - Daneleta (IRE) by (Danehill (USA) for Mrs. Bolger.  Intense Focus ran second last year at this meet in the Group 2 Coventry Stakes at six furlongs.  He won the important Dewhurst Stakes last fall, a Group 1 at Newmarket over Lord Shanakill who ran second.   Delegator has won only two of ten starts, but has been consistently hitting the board with seven of the ten races.

Cheveley Park Stud sends out Evasive (GB) (Elusive Quality (USA) - Canda (USA)  by Storm Cat (USA) trained by Sir Michael Stoute and ridden by Ryan Moore.  He has won two of his four starts including a Group 3 event at Newbury last fall.  He has only started once this year and pressed the pace before tiring in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket behind what is no doubt the best three-year-old in the world, Sea The Stars.  He probably needed that race, but I'm hardpressed to see him challenging the first three mentioned. 


The others:

Lord Shanakill has but one start this season, a 12th place finish in the 2000 Guineas behind STS and being by Speightstown, the jury is still out if he can run a mile against these types.  He was consistent before the latest start with seven in-the-money finishes in eight starts, though he has never won beyond six furlongs.

Orizaba is Goldolphin's hope.  He is by Orpen, son of one of the greatest American milers in history, Lure.  He has a Group 2 win last summer, but his only start this season was in the Group 3 Prix Paul de Moussac, where he ran third on June 7th.    Pure Poetry seems to be a bit over his head and Set Sail ran 15th of 17 in the French Derby, also on June 7th

Soul City was a good two-year-old, having won four of seven starts but has lost to Mastercraftsman, Intense Focus and Orizaba on three different occasions.  His third place finish behind Mastercraftsman in his only race of 2009 was a promising effort and he may figure in minor awards.


My Picks:

Intense Focus


Soul City


The other races:

Group 2 Coventry Stakes

Canford Cliffs

No Hubris




Ascot Stakes Handicap


Ermine Sea

Kayf Aramis


Windsor Castle Stakes

Hearts of Fire

Angel's Pursuit


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