To score at Royal Ascot, one of the sport's international showcases and by far Europe's richest meeting, with prize money of more than £2.5 million on offer, is crucial to the pride and business plans of racing's superpowers. But there is room for sentiment, too, and a filly called Shiny could provide a three-hanky heartwarmer.
Her trainer, Clive Brittain, is no stranger to success at the fixture, nor to providing a bit of a yarn. His 14 wins have included the 1976 Queen Anne Stakes with Radetzky, who had won the St James's Palace Stakes two years earlier, returned from an unsuccessful spell at stud only six weeks before Ascot and was so temperamental that only his trainer could ride him at home; the 1985 Hunt Cup with Come On The Blues, who acted as Pebbles' security blanket and is currently, at the age of 22, enjoying his well-earned retirement at the stables where he has lived since he was a yearling; the King Edward VII Stakes with 66-1 no-hoper Amfortas; and, last year, the Coronation Stakes with the iron filly Crimplene.
But all these would pale beside the story of Shiny. Brittain and his wife, Maureen, owned and bred both her sire, Shambo, and her dam, Abuzz. Though she could finish only seventh in her Queen Mary, Abuzz produced the 1995 Chesham Stakes winner, World Premier, for her devoted owners and had become a broodmare of some note. But when dear old Shambo, an honest, one-paced stayer, retired, the Brittains let him cover Abuzz as a reward. The result was speedy two-year-old Shush; a repeat of the mating produced Shiny, who blitzed home in the National Stakes at Sandown 19 days ago, shortly after Abuzz died foaling a Mtoto filly.
"Shiny is my pension," said Brittain. The big, handsome filly is entered in both the Coventry Stakes, where she gets the 5lb allowance from the colts, on Tuesday and in the Queen Mary Stakes against her own sex on Wednesday.
Milers take centre stage on Tuesday, with the Queen Anne Stakes for older horses and the St James's Palace Stakes, the day's Group One feature, for the Classic generation. The meeting's leading trainer, Henry Cecil, can bring his total to 69 winners with Shibboleth, who has been burning up the gallops, at the expense of his nearest pursuer, Sir Michael Stoute (37 winners), whose Lockinge Stakes winner Medicean has to carry a Group One penalty in this Group Two race.
The first three in the French Guineas, Noverre, Vahorimix and Clearing, the first and third in the Irish Guineas, Black Minnaloushe and Minardi, and the Newmarket runner-up Tamburlaine are set to clash in the St James's Palace Stakes, plus the progressive, unbeaten Dandoun. If the ground remains lively, Tamburlaine can confirm the worth of his 2,000 Guineas run behind Golan and avenge his Curragh defeat by Black Minnaloushe.
Wednesday's race of the day and possibly of the week is the Prince of Wales's Stakes. Last year's World Series winner Fantastic Light, who set the standard for middle-distance seniors with his dogged defeat of Golden Snake in the Tattersalls Gold Cup in Ireland last month, will renew rivalry with third-placed Kalanisi, victorious in the Champion Stakes and Breeders' Cup Turf. But both, and another dual Group One winner, Observatory, may be upstaged by Endless Hall, who has top-level wins in Italy and Singapore.
The Royal Hunt Cup, one of the most competitive mile handicaps of the year, can be left to the heavily-backed ante-post favourite Tough Speed, another who has been scorching the grass in Newmarket.
The retirement of Godolphin's dual Gold Cup winner Kayf Tara, the best Cup horse since the golden era of Le Moss and Ardross in the late Seventies and early Eighties, has left a void in terms of ability and public acclaim, and none of the candidates for his crown has yet caught the imagination.
Persian Punch could put his trainer, David Elsworth, in a club so exclusive that so far it has just one member, the legendary Vincent O'Brien being the only man to have trained the winners of both the Ascot and Cheltenham Gold Cups. The eight-year-old is as well as ever but his record (12th, 6th, 12th, 6th) in previous Gold Cups tempers confidence. Mbele, hampered when fifth in the Henry II Stakes, is worth each-way consideration.
Friday's Group One, the Coronation Stakes, seems a showdown between the 1,000 Guineas heroine Ameerat and fourth-placed Crystal Music, who later franked the Newmarket form with a fine second to subsequent Oaks winner Imagine in the Irish Guineas.
Whatever the fate of David Loder's two-year-olds earlier in the week, one of the meeting's bankers must be Steadfast And True in the Windsor Castle Stakes. The trainer admits he was wrong in sending the colt over six furlongs at Yarmouth, and a return to five will produce the desired result.Reuse content