Long cherished as a definitively British occasion, Royal Ascot is nowadays the most international meeting in the European calendar. Since the pioneering success of Choisir in 2003, overseas raiders have discovered a particular deficiency in the indigenous sprinters. Last year Wesley Ward arrived from California to press home the same advantage in the juvenile division.
The Americans are back for more next week, notably with Noble's Promise, the Kentucky Derby fifth, who contests the St James's Palace Stakes on Tuesday. Their stories will repay more detailed consideration but yesterday the focus was on the Australians, who have dominated the Global Sprint Challenge since its inception in 2005.
They have been joined, for the first time, by their outstanding trainer in David Hayes. He reckons Nicconi the best sprinter he has trained and has booked Frankie Dettori for the King's Stand on Tuesday. "I've been dying to put a visor on the horse for two years," Hayes said. "And he'll be wearing one for the first time next week. History's in his favour, but he is coming off two unplaced runs. When he wins, he wins well, but he can have a shocker, too so you can't be too confident."
Nicconi was one of several Newmarket lodgers to breeze during a media open morning. A dual Group One winner on home soil, Nicconi is excused those two recent failures by his trainer. "The first race was run in shocking conditions," Hayes explained. "There was a storm, and not one horse passed another in the final 600 metres – a herd mentality took over. Then I ran him back too quick, just two weeks later. He has won our premier sprint, he's undefeated first time up, and undefeated over five furlongs. I think the race will get more publicity in Australia than here. It has created a lot of interest, and people will be staying up all night to watch it."
Lining up alongside will be Gold Trail, trained in Sydney by Gary Portelli. He was fourth over an extra furlong in Singapore on his way here. "I lost my voice watching that race," explains Portelli. "Rocket Man is probably the best sprinter in the world and he dropped him off the bend, but I was brought back to earth by the 100-metre pole. He has not raced over the trip before but I think it will suit him."
The leading home candidate is probably Kingsgate Native, whose team continues in great form after Workforce's spectacular Derby performance. Sir Michael Stoute had another double at Newbury yesterday, and Ryan Moore rode another pair for Jeremy Noseda and John Gosden.
The French have a formidable hand for next week's meeting and Byword, trained by Andre Fabre, is favourite for the Prince of Wales's Stakes on Wednesday. Rip Van Winkle was also among the 13 acceptors, but is thought more likely to go for the Queen Anne Stakes on the opening day. His trainer, Aidan O'Brien, resisted any temptation to leave Fame And Glory in the race after his hard race to win at Epsom last Friday.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Plume (9.0 Goodwood) Hinted that she is on a very indulgent mark when hacking through the race before running green on her reappearance over 7f, and looks sure to appreciate this drop back in trip.
King's Masque (8.40 Chepstow) Flourishing for his new stable and gave the impression he had plenty in hand over course and distance last time, having gone well through the race, so a 6lbs higher mark should prove manageable.
One to watch
Verdant (Sir Michael Stoute) Got the Workforce team off to a frustrating start on Derby day, hampered and having to go back down the gears before finishing powerfully for third.
Where the money's going
Dandy Boy, a winner of one big Ascot handicap this season, is 8-1 from 9-1 with Sky Bet for the Hunt Cup next week.