While one sporting carnival got underway at Brazil on Thursday, another kicks off at Berkshire on Tuesday. Royal Ascot is arguably the best Flat meeting in the calendar year and a quick look through the entries for the week ahead substantiates this notion.
It has been an exciting season thus far and we have seen some very smart horses- some of which will be on show this week.
There are several key battles at Ascot this year. Here are three to whet the appetite!
1. Channel 4 Versus The Critics
Frankie Dettori is set to be part of the Channel 4 Racing team, starting at Royal Ascot on Tuesday. Social media was buzzing with reaction to the news and it is safe to say that opinion was divided.
It has not been an easy few years for the Italian, having lost his job as stable jockey to Godolphin and failing a drugs test in 2013. He has landed a top role with Sheikh Joaan Al Thani and is expecting a successful season. While not the same as riding an Ascot Gold Cup winner, this could be a good move for the former Champion Jockey. However, it could be an even better coup for Channel 4.
Channel 4 Racing has struggled in recent months with viewing figures dropping significantly since the BBC ended its racing interest. Last weekend’s Epsom Derby was watched by 1.55 million people. In 2013 the figure was 1.95 million. The appointment of Dettori could give the station the boost it badly needs.
So, what does the Derby-winning rider offer viewers of Channel 4?
Dettori is obviously one of the best horsemen we have seen this century. He has the big race experience and has ridden winners all over the globe. He is passionate about the sport and is probably the most famous jockey on the planet. He is also a very charismatic figure and that is probably his biggest asset.
It is fitting that the jockey makes his debut as a presenter at the track which gave him his greatest moments in the saddle- 47 Royal Ascot winners and a magnificent seven-timer in September 1996!
With a CV like that, Lanfranco Dettori should still very much be in demand. Which begs the question; how is he going to ride the Berkshire track and present a TV show at the same time?
Either way, the Dettori signing can win over some of the doubters. He may even give a flying dismount!
2. Classic Combat in the Palace
The St. James’ Palace stakes was a great duel in 2013 to say the least. This year’s renewal looks very strong also, and this looks to be fought out between Night Of Thunder and Kingman.
Night Of Thunder took the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket and although a 40/1 shock, that race is working out extremely well.
The minor placings at HQ that day were filled by Kingman- a subsequent Irish Guineas winner- and Australia, who landed the Derby at Epsom. The Grey Gatsby finished well down the field at Newmarket but has won twice since at Group level, bagging the Dante and the French Derby. That is some form, to say the least.
Sure, the field split at Newmarket but the winner drifted across the track in the dying strides. Taking the manner of how the race unfolded and the horses behind coming out and winning top quality races, it is fair to say that the winner is a serious animal.
Toormore takes his chance here and he cannot be discounted, despite being well-beaten at HQ. His win over the Grey Gatsby looks very good now. It looks like Richard Hughes will reject him to ride Night Of Thunder and Ryan Moore will be on board the son of Arakan. At 8/1 he will be an attractive bet for each way thieves.
Last year’s impressive Coventry winner War Command deserves the utmost respect. He will likely improve for his run in the Guineas and back at the track he conquered last season, he can go close.
It looks set to be a rematch between Night Of Thunder and Kingman, with the difference being that the former will not be 40/1 this time around. With the ground set to be quick, Night Of Thunder can show that his 2000 Guineas success was no fluke and be king in the St. James’ Palace. Write off War Command and Toormore at your peril, though.
3. Treve Versus The Best Of Britain & Ireland
The Prince Of Wales Stakes is one of the most intriguing races of the meeting and last season’s star horse- the French filly, Treve- is set to take her chance here. Although beaten first time out this season, the Criquette Head- Maarek trained four year old is expected to bounce back in the hands of Frankie Dettori on Wednesday.
The daughter of Motivator was unbeaten until this season and was a mighty impressive winner of Europe’s premier race- the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe- in 2013. She has an unbelievable turn of foot and looks very special, indeed.
Treve finished second on her seasonal appearance in France but was beaten only by a whisker. She found only Cirrus Des Aigles too good that day at Longchamp and that horse has since gone on to win a Group 1 at Epsom.
As for Wednesday’s highlight, Treve has the beating of them all on ratings and also gets a valuable 3lbs allowance from the boys. However, it may not be that straightforward.
Irish Champion Stakes winner, The Fugue, is also set to run. She was second in the Breeder’s Cup Turf last season and could be a major player in this race. Dank is another smart filly in the field and warrants respect.
Trading Leather is also entered here and despite meeting with defeat last time out, he was the most consistent horse in training last year. Jim Bolger’s colt is flying the flag for his stable this season and as long as he does not pull as hard as he did at Newmarket, he should make the top three.
Mukhadram was another consistent performer and will likely be ridden up with the pace. He finished runner up in the Dubai World Cup but has not been seen since.
Magician looks set to run and is a Classic winner. He coupled that win with victory in the Breeder’s Cup Turf 2013. The Aidan O’Brien trained colt was beaten on soft ground at the Curragh last month but with conditions likely to be in his favour this time, he will be expected to put it up to the French invader.
The Prince of Wales Stakes looks a cracking race and it is fantastic that Treve will run at Britain’s biggest summer meeting. She was scintillating in the Arc in Paris and will have to be just as good to get by this lot on Wednesday. Any rainfall will be welcomed by her trainer, however. Fast ground could see Magician thrive and he and Trading Leather can trouble the French filly.
Regardless of who wins theses three battles, punters will be hoping they can very much win the war.
Jordan McCarthy, Pundit Arena.