By starting yesterday with three consecutive Group One races, Royal Ascot sets itself an impossible standard for the rest of the week. The one elite prize offered today, moreover, owes its highly competitive nature to the lack of a truly outstanding operator at this level. Timeform, for instance, rates no fewer than eight of the runners within 4lb of each other, and their marginal best, Twice Over, managed to find three to beat him in a similarly tight field last year.
In fairness, his trainer, Henry Cecil, felt Twice Over blossomed later in the summer, after being dropped in class for a couple of confidence-boosting wins, and he ended up faring best of the European raiders when third in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Nor should too much be read into his failure to replicate that form when resurfacing in the Dubai World Cup, caught wide after running too fresh and keen.
At the business end, however, Allybar was running the race of his life for the local heroes, Mahmood Al Zarooni and Ahmed Ajtebi, just nailed in a three-way photo. He was clearly thriving on the Tapeta surface in Dubai, but it's hard to know whether he can sustain his improvement in this very different environment.
The other Godolphin runner, Cavalryman, in contrast only just looked to be finding his feet on his return to Europe for the Coronation Cup at Epsom. He ran well, short of room in the straight, but is turned out perilously soon over a trip that does not suit him so well. Glass Harmonium looks ready for a longer trip now, as well, while Mawatheeq can be expected to build late in the season upon any foundations he lays with this comeback.
Presvis is always capable of pulling off a task like this, if only he gets going in time. Failing that, the prize is perhaps destined for France for the third time in four years. The progressive Byword is favourite after reaching a new peak against Goldikova at Longchamp last month, rallying to within half a length after initially being brushed aside. Admittedly, the winner is probably at her very best over shorter distances, and was entitled to idle or tire, but Byword opened up a gap of fully 10 lengths on Wiener Walzer.
Byword will certainly ensure that his impressive young jockey Maxime Guyon introduces himself to Ascot with a prominent role. In terms of value, however, preference is for Shalanaya (3.50) at 10-1.
This filly is blessed with the same qualities as Byword, being rapidly progressive in her second season and having resumed with a terrific effort against a top-class rival, in Cutlass Bay. But she also introduces a turn of foot to the equation, having scythed through from last to first in a Group One at Longchamp last autumn. Having previously won only at Listed level, that showed her to be breathlessly on the upgrade and, bred to stay well, she will see out every yard today – no matter how stern the pace. Her trainer, Mikel Delzangles, has of course already confirmed himself a new force on the international stage with Makfi.
The Queen Mary Stakes also looks vulnerable to export, this time to Ireland through Meow (5.0). This filly has a mighty pedigree – by Storm Cat out of a very fast Cheveley Park Stakes winner – and pulverised her rivals by no fewer than seven lengths on fast ground at Tipperary last month. With her molten pace she looks an ideal type to emulate her trainer's breakthrough star, Damson, who won this in 2004. The home defence contains many unexposed alternatives, needless to say, but there is a particularly persuasive word for Maqaasid.
The other Group race for fillies, the Windsor Forest Stakes, features a swift return to the fray for Antara, impressive on her debut for Godolphin at Epsom this month. There is an obvious danger that she could recoil from that effort, however, and Shamwari Lodge (3.05) remains relentlessly on the upgrade.
The Jersey Stakes looks terribly difficult, not least because Godolphin take the same risk with Shakespearean as they do with Antara. One of their discarded inmates, Rainfall (2.30), has made a bright start for his new stable and at least retains scope for improvement.
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