Get ready for the fast show. Three of the seven Group One races scheduled at Royal Ascot will be run within the first 80 minutes of the meeting – and the fortunes of bookmakers and punters next week may well be irrevocably determined within that same, breathless span.
One way or another, sparks are bound to fly next Tuesday. Already the clerk of the course is talking anxiously about the ground becoming “desperately quick”, a prospect that prompted him to commit to further watering on Monday and Tuesday this week. Firmer conditions not only suit Animal Kingdom and Magician – now both odds-on with Coral for their respective engagements on the first afternoon – but also the South African speedball, Shea Shea, who is sandwiched between the pair in the King’s Stand Stakes, a stampede over the bare five furlongs.
Much like Frankel last year, Animal Kingdom arguably tops the bill in terms both of chronology and prestige. The American champion is a best-priced 10-11 favourite for the Queen Anne Stakes, and yesterday Magician was cut to the same price for the St James’s Palace Stakes. The Ballydoyle colt handled softer ground when winning at Chester last month but has since impressed with an emphasis on speed in the Irish 2,000 Guineas, when dropped in trip on fast going.
David Stevens, spokesman for Coral, predicts that Animal Kingdom and Magician will prove the foundation of many multiple bets. “The nearest rival to both favourites, in the betting, must bounce back from a disappointing run,” he noted. “Declaration Of War flopped in the Lockinge, while Toronado is reportedly to be tried in a special bit after displacing his palate in the Guineas.”
Among many trainers conversely hoping for rain is Dermot Weld, who has conversely warned that his fragile Gold Cup favourite, Rite Of Passage, will not be risked if the going is at all firm. He also wants easier conditions for Big Break in the Coronation Stakes on Friday week, feeling that fast ground contributed to her defeat – honourable as it was, first time out – in the Irish 1,000 Guineas.
“Also she started from stall 16, which is a disadvantage when the going is good to firm at the Curragh,” he said. “Pat [Smullen] was trying to get her a bit of cover, but she got involved in a bit of a barging match and he was never really able to get her settled. She ended up doing a bit too much early, and while she looked the winner two [furlongs] down, she tied up in the last hundred yards. She was only beaten a head and a neck for second, even so, and I’d hope there would be improvement in her.”
In the United States, speculation that the Breeders’ Cup may ultimately find a permanent home at Santa Anita increased when organisers announced that the great carnival will be staged there for a third consecutive year in 2014. Its history and environment together mean that few Europeans would object to going to California every autumn, albeit American professionals in Kentucky and on the East Coast may take a different view.
CHRIS McGRATH’S NAP: Tight Fit (4.05 Salisbury)
Looked equal to this kind of mark when contributing to a strong pace in better company last time and likely to enjoy drop in trip.
NEXT BEST: Emperor’s Hope (2.00 Salisbury)
Too green to justify strong support on her debut last week but can be expected to improve considerably.
ONE TO WATCH: Soryah (Luca Cumani) ran green before regrouping nicely at Kempton the other day and looks worth monitoring.
WHERE THE MONEY’S GOING: Animal Kingdom is 5-6 from evens for the Queen Anne Stakes at Ascot next Tuesday