In the build-up to Royal Ascot 2017, two overarching storylines have emerged. One is familiar – the strength of Aidan O’Brien’s yard as he seeks an eighth training title at this historic meeting. The other is a new trend – the increased American presence one year after the exploits of Tepin and Lady Aurelia.
The weather forecast is favorable all week, portending sunny skies, and a quick surface that may tend to keep results formful instead of the soft-ground puzzlers.
Let’s look at how Royal Ascot is shaping up, day by day. The races are listed in chronological order, and you can find all Royal Ascot post times here.
The opening Queen Anne (G1), the straight mile contest that Tepin conquered last June, features a heavy favorite in multiple Group 1 performer Ribchester. Trained by Richard Fahey for Godolphin, Ribchester comes off a daylight victory in the key stepping stone, the Lockinge (G1). His opponents include Lockinge runner-up Lightning Spear, who had been third to Tepin a year ago; Mutakayyef, a sharp winner of the 2016 Summer Mile (G2) on Ascot’s round course and third to Tepin in the Woodbine Mile (G1); O’Brien’s duo of Belmont Derby (G1) hero Deauville and Cougar Mountain, third to Solow in the 2015 Queen Anne; and American contenders Miss Temple City and American Patriot.
O’Brien, an eight-time winner of the Coventry (G2) for juveniles, may have his best chance of adding to that haul with Declarationofpeace. A $2.6 million Keeneland November weanling, this War Front half-brother to champion Honor Code just galloped in a Dundalk maiden. But stablemate Murillo was impressive in his maiden victory as well, and both have a few Royal Ascot options. Declarationofpeace is vying for favoritism in the early betting with the Jessica Harrington-trained Brother Bear, who remained perfect in the Marble Hill. Wesley Ward sends out Arawak, an Uncle Mo colt coming off a romp in the Belmont mud. Richard Hannon’s duo of De Bruyne Horse and Denaar are also garnering support in the six-furlong affair, which will crystallize once final declarations are announced Sunday.
[Sunday update: Declarationofpeace isn’t in the Coventry after all, but was rerouted to Tuesday’s last race, the Windsor Castle.]
Ward star Lady Aurelia, who spread-eagled the field in last year’s Queen Mary (G2) over course and distance, now steps up against older horses in the King’s Stand (G1). Distaffers are prominent in the five-furlong dash, with Prix de l’Abbaye (G1) heroine Marsha now edging closer to favored Lady Aurelia in the antepost market. Priceless, who just beat 2015 King’s Stand victor Goldream in the Temple (G2), is another female with solid credentials. Unlike sophomore Lady Aurelia, Marsha and Priceless are both four-year-olds. Other top contenders are Prix Maurice de Gheest (G1) winner Signs of Blessing; defending champion Profitable; Muthmir, third in the 2015 edition; and O’Brien’s Washington DC.
The St James’s Palace (G1) for three-year-old milers is the stage for O’Brien’s leading opening-day player, Churchill. The once-beaten champion has stamped himself as the best of his generation with a classic double in the 2000 Guineas (G1) at Newmarket and the Irish 2000 Guineas (G1) at the Curragh. Coolmore’s global rival, Godolphin, has had to settle for runner-up honors on both occasions. Barney Roy, a badly troubled second at Newmarket, arguably has a better case for turning the tables than Thunder Snow, who couldn’t upend Churchill at the Curragh despite the yielding ground that should have aided his cause. Not to be overlooked is William Haggas’ Rivet, the Racing Post Trophy (G1) hero who’s eligible to improve back on British soil after two losses in French classics.
Rounding out the Tuesday action are a 2 1/2-mile mile handicap, the Ascot Stakes, and the five-furlong Windsor Castle for juveniles, where Ward’s pair of Nootka Sound and Elizabeth Darcy topped the market until Declarationofpeace entered the fray..
Continued in Wednesday’s Royal Ascot forecast…