Inglenook ready to become giant slayer

Royal Ascot: The opening-day centrepiece can be won by a colt with impressive firepower whose racing career began just two months ago
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The Independent Online

In a poll two weeks ago on the subject of the royal family, fewer than half those questioned said that they believed the country would be worse off without them, while almost a third were completely indifferent. For the next four days at least, however, many punters will be at least vaguely pro-Royal, if only because their attendance at Ascot is an excuse for betting, drinking and all-round carousing on an industrial scale.

In a poll two weeks ago on the subject of the royal family, fewer than half those questioned said that they believed the country would be worse off without them, while almost a third were completely indifferent. For the next four days at least, however, many punters will be at least vaguely pro-Royal, if only because their attendance at Ascot is an excuse for betting, drinking and all-round carousing on an industrial scale.

The snobbery, though less exaggerated than it was even 10 years ago, remains fairly stifling, and so too some of the rules. Don't, for instance, dream of going outside without your jacket on, no matter how high the mercury rises. Why not? Apparently because The Queen might see you, though you have to wonder whether a mother of four in her mid-70s can really be so easily shocked.

But while such irritations remain, so too does the finest Flat meeting in the world. Each new morning promises to enrich us, both spiritually and financially, as the best horses in Europe converge to sort out their differences. Last year, half of the 24 races were won by a length or less, and most of the others by precious little more. The only certainty as the four-day spectacle starts again is that the excitement will be unrelenting.

Nor could there be a better centrepiece on the opening day than the St James's Palace Stakes, save possibly if King's Best, the 2,000 Guineas winner, were attempting to put his contemporaries in their place as emphatically as he did at Newmarket. In his place, Giant's Causeway, who looked likely to win the Guineas until King's Best whizzed past in the final furlong, represents the English form, while Bachir arrives in the ring preceded by the equivalent belts from Ireland and France.

As ever at Ascot, though, the three-year-olds who were ready to race in early May are now challenged by the later developers. Four of today's field, Fanaar, Medicean, Inglenook and Shibboleth, made their racing debuts at Newmarket's Craven meeting in mid-April. Barely two months later, they are lining up for a Group One, and not one of them looks out of place despite the immense importance of today's contest.

And nor can anyone overlook China Visit, who does not quite fit into either category, having contested the Kentucky Derby and won the UAE Derby (with Bachir well beaten) already this year. This is his first race on British turf, however, and he has hardly had a standard Ascot preparation.

There are form-lines here which no amount of effort can interweave, and whether the proven form of the Classics or the potential of the Craven set will be superior will become clear only at 3.45pm. Since the best of the early three-year-olds is missing, though, and neither the Irish nor French Guineas seemed anything more than an average renewal, the rising stars may prevail.

Shibboleth and Inglenook (next best 3.45) make most appeal, and at the odds available, the choice must be Inglenook. John Dunlop paid £20,000 to get him into the race, on the basis of two progressive victories since his good effort in the Wood Ditton, and yet he remains a 16-1 chance this morning, odds which must be taken.

The Queen Anne Stakes which launches the meeting once had a reputation for leaving punters with catching up to do, but since Godolphin started winning it four years ago, it has given the bookies a painful start. Aljabr, their principal contender as they attempt a five-timer, will be a popular choice, but his Group One penalty is quite an obstacle to overcome. Dansili and Kalanisi (2.30) have the ability to take advantage, with Sir Michael Stoute's four-year-old, the sort he handles so well, narrowly preferred.

A huge field for the King's Stand Stakes includes Agnes World, the Japanese winner of last year's Prix de l'Abbaye, as well as Imperial Beauty (3.05), the runner-up at Longchamp. On today's faster ground, the placings may be reversed, while Cd Europe is a hopeful choice for the Coventry Stakes.

Stoute's Dalampour (4.55) has a similar profile to Maridpour, his Queen's Vase winner two years ago, and the trainer will saddle a hot favourite for the finale in National Anthem. Success would give him a hat-trick in this race, but there is more value to be had in GALLERY GOD (5.30), who put up his best performance last time.

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