Royal Ascot: Distinction's class stands out in Gold Cup

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Having shouldered the burden of romantic expectation on his own last season, this time round Sergeant Cecil has been rendered more or less redundant by the adventures of Speciosa, Sir Percy and now Takeover Target. Even so, the most valuable staying prize in the northern hemisphere can still be billed as a clash between prince and pauper.

Last year Sergeant Cecil emerged from West Country obscurity to complete an unprecedented treble in those historic staying handicaps, the Northumberland Plate, Ebor and Cesarewitch. His stamina had previously been unexplored and a promising trial in unsuitably soft ground last time confirmed that he now belongs in the top echelon of stayers. Back on fast ground, he will surely mount a bold bid for the Gold Cup for his excellent trainer and jockey, but he faces a regal opponent from a much more powerful stable. Sent off at 33-1 for this race at York last year, Distinction pulled five lengths clear in going down narrowly to the outstanding Westerner.

He went on to win the Goodwood Cup, and exceeded expectations when thought to need his reappearance at Newbury. With due deference to a touch of quality in Reefscape, and the questionable stayer, Yeats, none of his rivals this time have the same flair as the retired French champion, and Distinction (3.50) can outclass the field.

There is no mistaking the romantic story in the Ribblesdale Stakes, in which Novellera gives Henry Cecil his only chance of the week to add to his extraordinary record of 70 Royal Ascot winners.

Her chances have been subdued by the fast ground, however, and the short list instead comprises Quenched, who recorded a fine time at Lingfield, and Alessandria (3.10), who has already stretched her speed over this distance with an impressive win at Kempton. Her rider, Jamie Spencer, also has good prospects on Hoh Mike (2.35) in the opening Norfolk Stakes. There are some lightning bolts in opposition here but this colt made an indelible impression when breaking the juvenile track record at Windsor on his second start.

For betting purposes, however, the champion jockey's most attractive mount of the day is Sir Gerard (next best 4.25) in the Britannia Handicap. This is always a frantically competitive race, and Military Cross and Motaraqeb both merit particular respect, but Sir Gerard is flourishing for a trainer who has few peers in prompting improvement from his horses. Though raised 5lb in the weights for his unlucky defeat at Haydock last time, he retains scope for more progress and is ideally drawn in stall two in the 30-runner field conveniently near the favoured stands' rail.

The same good fortune has been shared by Grey Boy (5.30) who only two away from the rail in the other handicap, the 29-runner Buckingham Palace Stakes. Having also been lucky to scrape into the race in the first place, he can continue to thrive for his new stable.

There will be few more handsome specimens on view this week than IVY CREEK (nap 4.55). So unlucky at Chester, he remains potentially one of the stars of his generation and sets a clear standard in the Hampton Court Stakes.

Chris McGrath

Nap: Ivy Creek

(Royal Ascot 4.55)

NB: Sir Gerard

(Royal Ascot 4.25)