The Queen, the fashion, the glorious sunshine (fingers crossed) and, of course, top-class racing... these are just some of the favourite things enjoyed by Royal Ascot patrons who have swarmed to the Berkshire venue for more than 300 years.
And in recent times we can add to that list the thrill of seeing several of the best thoroughbreds in the world, their connections lured by the £5million-plus prize money up for grabs.
Royal Ascot may be quintessentially English, but it’s an English fascination with the exotic that will make the likes of Able Friend (Hong Kong), California Chrome (US phenomenon) and Brazen Beau (Australia) the centres of attention this week.
In 2012, a pack of Melbourne photographers snapped Black Caviar as the “Wonder from Down Under” was hoisted on to a plane for a 30-hour flight to England to contest the Diamond Jubilee Stakes.
It was a risky and expensive venture (A$50,000, first-class) and it only just paid off after rider Luke Nolen took things a shade too easily when he thought his race was won and realised his mistake only just in time, but the fact that the mare turned up at all was cause for great celebration.
Brazen Beau doesn’t perhaps have the charisma of Black Caviar, who within a year had retired to the paddocks unbeaten from 25 starts, but he’s the latest in a long line of 21st-century Aussie sprinters taking up the challenge.
Brazen Beau has been entered for Tuesday’s King’s Stand Stakes over five furlongs (won four times by Australia this century), but is more likely to wait for Saturday’s Diamond Jubilee.
The speedy three-year-old impressed onlookers at Newmarket this week and has settled in serenely in his new surroundings. And though comparing form from two hemispheres is difficult, we know for sure that Australian sprinters are to be taken extremely seriously.
California Chrome is, quite literally, a Hollywood script in the making, the sort of rags-to-riches story Americans can’t get enough of. The “DAP” he wears on his silks and blinkers stands for Dumb Ass Partners, the put-down small-time breeders Steve Coburn and Perry Martin overheard when buying this supposedly useless dam for just $8,000.
Winner of both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes (two-thirds of the American triple crown) and the 2014 US Horse of the Year, California Chrome has repaid the outlay and the insult almost a million-fold.
Coburn and Perry might view the 10/1 odds as another insult, but trainer Art Sherman appreciates the difficulty of the assignment against a powerful home contingent headed by Free Eagle (Ireland), Ectot (France) and The Grey Gatsby (England). “The horse has never been clockwise before in his life,” he said. “But he’s doing good.”
The action begins on Tuesday with arguably the race of the week, the Queen Anne Stakes, in which Hong Kong superstar Able Friend clashes with France’s Solow and Richard Hannon’s duo, Night Of Thunder and Toormore.
Described as a “monster” by connections, he was an easy winner at Sha Tin last month, his third Group 1 victory of the year. However, his trainer, John Moore, is properly respectful of the opposition, Solow, in particular – “they’re going to make sure he really is the champion” – while jockey Joao Moreira is concerned by the travel aspect. Even so, both are quietly confident that their five-year-old can prove himself the best miler in the world.
The best of British includes the exciting Muthmir, who looks to hold the best chance of dethroning the amazing Irish-trained Sole Power in Tuesday’s King’s Stand Stakes.
Euro Charline, who went close at this meeting last year, may get the better of Integral in Wednesday’s Duke of Cambridge Stakes, while Newmarket trainer Luca Cumani looks in for a good week with a strong team that includes Mizzou in Thursday’s Gold Cup and Postponed in Saturday’s Hardwicke Stakes.
The Commonwealth Cup (Friday) is a new race, a Group 1 for three-year-olds over six furlongs, a launching pad for future champion sprinters. Limato is favourite but I’m sweet on outsider Tendu, who might just pick up the pieces when the speedballs have burned themselves out.Reuse content