The king is not dead; he is enjoying his second career at Coolmore Stud. But the retirement to prospective fatherhood of Yeats, winner of the Gold Cup for the past four years, has left a vacuum at Royal Ascot that will be hard to fill. He became the first to record four victories in a race that dates back to 1807, but on Thursday a new era must begin.
Although the Gold Cup, over two- and-a-half miles, may be unfashionably long for those in the bloodstock industry looking for a prospective stallion, Yeats's exploits raised not only the race's profile but also the cachet of marathon men among the professionals. And it is gratifying that the great horse has been given his chance alongside the likes of Galileo and Montjeu at Coolmore's flagship Flat farm rather than being shunted straight off for duty as a jump sire.
The favourite to fill his shoes is Manifest, whose trainer, Henry Cecil, knows what a top-class stayer looks like having sent out two of that ilk, Le Moss and Ardross, to win the four Gold Cups from 1979-1982. The four-year-old out of Oaks winner Reams Of Verse advertised his potential with a runaway success in the Yorkshire Cup, but is the least experienced in the field; he has not yet raced at the highest level and Thursday will be only the sixth run of his life.
Those pitted against him are more battle-hardened. Ask, from Sir Michael Stoute's yard, has shown his versatility in top company; he has a Coronation Cup over 12 furlongs to his name (like Yeats) as well as a Prix Royal-Oak over two miles, and has finished close up in a King George and an Arc. Kite Wood, the likely Godolphin No 1, tried his luck unsuccessfully in last year's Derby, nearly won the St Leger and comes to the fray from a victory over two miles in France.
Age Of Aquarius, two places in front of Kite Wood at Epsom last year, has been groomed at Ballydoyle as Yeats's successor, gradually stepping up in trip. Purple Moon, trained by Luca Cumani, has not won for nearly two years but has been plying his trade all over the world, including narrow defeats in the Melbourne Cup, Hong Kong Vase and Dubai Sheema Classic.
From France comes Kasbah Bliss, as good over hurdles as on the Flat and beaten inches in the French equivalent of the Gold Cup last year, and from Ireland Rite Of Passage, last seen finishing third at the Cheltenham Festival. His trainer, Dermot Weld, is another with previous at recognising a top-class Flat stayer, having handled two Melbourne Cup winners in Vintage Crop and Media Puzzle, and the legendary Vinnie Roe.
Gripping though the Gold Cup narrative is it is not the richest of the seven Group One contests of a meeting with £4.025 million on offer over five days. That kudos is shared by Wednesday's Prince Of Wales's Stakes and Saturday's Golden Jubilee Stakes at £450,000.
The last-named is potentially worth much more; it and Tuesday's King's Stand Stakes are part of the Global Sprint Challenge, with a $1 million (£685,000) bonus to any horse who can win legs in three different countries.
A bet a day
Tuesday: Oor Jock (5.35, Windsor Castle Stakes)
Wednesday: Acrostic (4.25, Royal Hunt Cup)
Thursday: Red Badge (5.0, Hampton Court Stakes)
Friday: Radharcnafarraige (2.30, Albany Stakes)
Saturday: Harbinger (3.05, Hardwicke Stakes)Reuse content