Three European 2,000 Guineas winners, plus a moral fourth, will go head-to-head in the St James's Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot tomorrow. Haafhd (hero on the Rowley Mile), Bachelor Duke (successful at the Curragh), Brunel (who took the German version of the Classic in Cologne) and naughty Antonius Pius (who threw away certain victory at Longchamp by diving into the rails) are among 11 confirmed yesterday for the decider, the last top-level opportunity for three-year-old colts to establish their pecking order over a mile before taking on their elders.
Haafhd, trained by Barry Hills for Sheikh Hamdan, is likely to start favourite, but history is not on his side. In the last half-century only five winners of the senior Guineas have followed up at the Royal meeting, most recently Rock Of Gibraltar two years ago and before him To-Agori-Mou in 1981, Brigadier Gerard (1971), Right Tack (1969) and Darius (1954).
Bachelor Duke, who carries the colours of his late namesake, the 11th of the Devonshire dynasty, may be the one on a roll. Only seventh to Haafhd at Newmarket on his seasonal debut, he progressed to break his maiden in the Irish Guineas and the faster the ground the better. The going is currently good to firm - maintained by watering yesterday - with dry weather and high temperatures forecast for at least the first half of the week. "He never left an oat after the Curragh," said trainer James Toller yesterday, "and is undoubtedly improving all the time. Right now he's as good as we can get him."
Aidan O'Brien has won three of the last four St James's Palace Stakes (Black Minnaloushe and Giant's Causeway preceded Rock Of Gibraltar) and will be double-handed tomorrow. The task of trying to keep Antonius Pius on the straight and narrow has been given to Newton, in his role as hare.
Other rivals include Diamond Green, regarded by trainer Andre Fabre as the worst sufferer from Antonius Pius's antics in France, and Byron, one place behind him there in third. Azamour, third at Newmarket and second at the Curragh, tries his luck again, and the dark horse is Madid, supplemented as a back-up to Haafhd. Though racing is traditionally referred to as the Sport of Kings, it was the nobility, rather than royalty, that kept it going through its first two and a half centuries.
Nowadays it is the preserve of sheikhs and shakers, but dukes have made a comeback this year, with the Bachelor's victory sandwiched by a 1,000 Guineas for Guy Roxburghe's Attraction and an Oaks for Edward Derby's Ouija Board. Attraction was the first Classic winner for a member of the highest aristocratic rank since 1941, when Lambert Simnel won the 2,000 Guineas for the 2nd Duke of Westminster.
The brigade of older milers lying in wait for the top three-year-olds (Attraction was yesterday one of 19 left in Friday's Coronation Stakes, the filly equivalent of the St James's Palace Stakes) strut their stuff tomorrow in the second Group 1 race of this week's five-day, £3.2 million extravaganza, the Queen Anne Stakes. The favourite, the brilliant French four-year-old Six Perfections, will have 16 rivals while the Godolphin team will be three-handed, with Frankie Dettori opting for last year's 2,000 Guineas winner Refuse To Bend.
The ill-luck haunting Ballydoyle this season continued yesterday, when Baraka was an 11th-hour withdrawal from the Prix de Diane at Chantilly while stablemate Russian Blue misses tomorrow's Coventry Stakes. The Co Tipperary operation, which has taken the Group 2 two-year-old feature three times, now rely on just Oratorio.
The Diane, the French Oaks, went to locally-based favourite Latice, brought with a typically flamboyant late surge down the centre of the course by Christophe Soumillon. The unbeaten chestnut daughter of Inchinor, a Classic beginning for trainer Jean-Marie Beguigne, produced a remarkable turn of foot to catch Millionaia and win, going away, by three-quarters of a length with her rider standing high in the irons. Alexander Goldrun (Jim Bolger) did best of the raiders, staying on into fourth.
Earlier Kieren Fallon, 5-2 joint-favourite with Dettori to be the leading jockey at Royal Ascot warmed up by taking the Group 2 Grand Prix de Chantilly on Policy Maker.