Racing: Ashkalani can restore the Aga's winning glow

ROYAL ASCOT: The meeting's opening day features the British, Irish and French 2,000 Guineas winners seeking supremacy
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The Independent Online
While the turf's Flat season began in the cold rain of Doncaster in March the flash season opens today at sun-blessed Royal Ascot. Berkshire leads the extravaganzas of "the season" that empty our council estates, followed by Wimbledon and Henley.

There will be morning (most will have to insert a "u" into the word at end of play) suits aplenty in the presence of Her Majesty this afternoon and decorative figures for the social commentators to get excited about. There might even be a few folk who know what a horse looks like.

As the old cliche goes, Royal Ascot is the occasion when the meat-market victims are the humans rather than the horses. But the racing is religously excellent and has not gone agnostic this year. There are no excuses for not paying attention.

The apex is the St James's Palace Stakes, which has attracted the winners of Europe's three main 2,000 Guineas. Double Diamond, who won the Swiss version at Zurich, has sensibly decamped to the less demanding Britannia Handicap later in the card.

The locals, with their puffed-out robin chests, will hope Mark Of Esteem does his bit for the Newmarket Guineas form (something others from the Classic have yet to achieve). However, the Godolphin colt has spent much of the time since charging up the Rowley Mile with a thermometer in his mouth and looks one to avoid.

More attractive is the French pairing of Ashkalani and Spinning World. The latter will be steered by Cash Asmussen, who invariably tries to arrive last of all on the scene. If the American was a commuter he would be the passenger at Waterloo running along the platform after the moving train in an attempt to vault onto the last car. On either the racecourse, or at the station, this looks hugely impressive when it succeeds but pretty dumb when it fails.

There were some who felt Asmussen was close to the chump end of the equation in the French Guineas, when he finished fast after finding roadblocks to be beaten less than a length by today's main rival, Ashkalani. Certainly he went on to finish further ahead of third-placed Tagula when gaining compensation in the Irish Guineas. Longchamp, though, was the second occasion on which he had finished behind Ashkalani.

The latter is the property of the Aga Khan, who has made more impact in racing's courtrooms than on its race-tracks in recent years. When you are the spiritual leader of the Ismaili Muslims throughout the world it must be a bit galling to be told your filly has been disqualified from the Oaks just because she may have eaten a bad batch of nuts, but that is what happened to the Aga and Aliysa in 1989. The owner-breeder disappeared for a while after that, from Britain and also largely from the big-race winning enclosures of France and Ireland as his fortunes dwindled.

But ASHKALANI (nap 3.45) looks ready to join the greats and is considered to have improved since his Guineas win. Gerald Mosse, his regular partner, thinks the colt the best he has ridden and the Frenchman does not ride animals with sombreros over their ears.

Mosse does not compete this afternoon as he is suspended and the mount goes to Michael Kinane, who had a good book of rides even before he came in for Ashkalani and some Godolphin mounts following the injury last week to Lanfranco Dettori.

The form book suggests the Irishman must take both the Queen Anne Stakes with Charnwood Forest (2.30) and the Coventry Stakes, in which he partners Deadly Dudley (4.20).

There are plenty of trainers' tips flying around for the Prince Of Wales's Stakes. Michael Stoute fancies Pilsudski as the best prospect of his possible 16 runners this week, but the one here may be Lucky Di (next best 3.05), who had endured training problems before running Pilsudski close at Sandown recently.