Never mind the weather. On the Turf, this is already proving a vintage summer, and Royal Ascot this week promises its own contribution in jubilee year. The monarch herself has a fine chance of a first Group One winner since 1977, when Carlton House lines up for the Prince of Wales's Stakes tomorrow. And the meeting is book-ended by two unbeaten champions – Frankel and Black Caviar – saluted by some, in their respective hemispheres, as the best of all time.
Black Caviar, the Australian speedball, promises a suitable climax on Saturday, while the immaculate Frankel raises the curtain in the opener today.
He will be expected to do so in suitably ceremonial fashion, having long established himself as without peer over a mile on turf. Once again, Excelebration looks best of the rest in the Queen Anne Stakes, and Frankel has already thrashed him four times. The sport is increasingly impatient, in fact, to see Frankel embrace a fresh challenge – but must evidently wait until he tries a longer trip, at York in August. Even in mere procession, however, Frankel (2.30) offers an increasingly arresting spectacle, such is the buoyant virility of his maturing physique.
Options seem pretty short even for those seeking an each-way intrusion upon Frankel's persecution of poor old Excelebration. Strong Suit certainly has the class to get involved, having won here at both two and three, but must confirm his stamina over the eighth furlong. Worthadd could offer some value, in the betting without Frankel, as he may simply have failed to handle Epsom last time.
The meeting is certainly front-loaded with quality – perhaps culpably so, diluting the four days to follow – and things duly look far more competitive once Frankel has done his stuff. Ortensia could easily lay down a marker for Australia in the King's Stand Stakes, but her trainer fears that slow ground may stifle her acceleration. Admittedly, the straight course drains quickly nowadays, but in principle conditions must also be a concern for the leading home candidate, Bated Breath. Wizz Kid (3.05) handles cut underfoot and performed exceptionally against older rivals last season, when still immature. The turn of foot she showed last time suggests a new peak is imminent.
There could be traffic trouble in the St James's Palace Stakes, contested by a big, closely matched field over the turning mile. Fencing (3.45) is ridden by one of the great Ascot masters in Frankie Dettori, fired up by his bizarre treatment by Sheikh Mohammed – who has fast-tracked a relative greenhorn, Mickael Barzalona, at a time when his stable lacks good horses even for one top jockey. Fencing, a physically striking, superbly bred colt, looks value at 12-1. He did not stay 10 furlongs in the Dante Stakes at York last month, and had previously done well to finish sixth in the 2,000 Guineas after missing his trial with a setback.
Power, the favourite, has an awkward draw but won the Coventry Stakes at this meeting last year and confirmed his class in the Irish 2,000 Guineas. Born To Sea also finished off that race well, and could be about to come good, but both may have been flattered by the way a hot pace collapsed that day. Cogito and Most Improved remain eligible to progress for Manton, while Gabrial could make much of the significant improvement required. All in all, a fascinating race.
This time round, the Coventry sees Cristoforo Colombo and Dawn Approach forfeit their status as the two Irish bankers for the week by running against each other. There is also the small matter of Sir Prancealot, so impressive at Sandown, albeit that was another occasion when the leaders went off too hard.
With so many other improvers in the field, perhaps you should simply rely on the seasoned judgement of Jim Bolger, who could have run Dawn Approach (4.25) over another furlong here on Saturday.
The other juvenile race, the Windsor Castle Stakes, is little easier but Pay Freeze and Trinityelitedotcom (5.35) represent solid and bold picks respectively. The latter hails from a stable finding a bit of form and, after shaping well in bad ground on his debut, showed abundant speed until collared by a smart prospect next time.
The first handicap of the week, meanwhile, could rest between a pair from leading jumps yards. Veiled won this emphatically last year, and remains feasibly handicapped, but is drawn wide on slower ground this time and Simenon (5.00) makes his first start on the level since taking off for Willie Mullins.
Chris McGrath's Nap: Wizz Kid (3.05 Ascot)
Next best: Simenon (5.00 Ascot)
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