June 29, 2022

Royal Ascot 2019: Three things to watch

Royal Ascot comes to a glorious close on Saturday (Horsephotos.com)

by J. Keeler Johnson

Time to celebrate, racing fans! Royal Ascot, the eagerly-anticipated five-day race meet at Ascot Racecourse in England, kicks off on Tuesday with an action-packed card of high-class racing.

No less than 19 of the 30 races to be contested at Royal Ascot are group stakes events, including eight Group 1 tests. Four races are part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series, including the opening-day Queen Anne (G1), a prestigious one-mile test that offers the winner a free berth to the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1).

With post time less than 24 hours away, here’s a quick primer of what to watch for throughout the meet:

International Intrigue

Royal Ascot is becoming an increasingly international affair. In addition to the traditional raiders from Ireland and France, Deirdre—winner of the 2017 Shuka Sho (G1) at Kyoto Racecourse—will attempt to give Japan its first-ever winner at the royal meeting when she contests the Prince of Wales’s (G1). Furthermore, Singapore’s Lim’s Cruiser has his sights set on the Diamond Jubilee (G1), while Houtzen of Australia has taken aim at the King’s Stand (G1), where he’ll be joined by Enzo’s Lad of New Zealand.

In addition, a hefty American contingent has traveled to Royal Ascot, including eight contenders (seven of them juveniles) conditioned by Wesley Ward. A 10-time winner at Ascot, Ward’s brigade is led by Bound for Nowhere, who will target the Diamond Jubilee (G1) after finishing third in the 2018 renewal of the race. Maven, a son of American Pharoah, and Kimari, a 15-length debut winner at Keeneland, are among Ward’s most prominent two-year-olds.

O’Brien, Moore Back for More

Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien and his go-to rider, Ryan Moore, led the trainer and jockey standings at Royal Ascot in 2018, and repeat titles appear well within reach. O’Brien’s sizeable contingent includes the English and Irish 1000 Guineas (G1) champ Hermosa, an overwhelming favorite to win Friday’s Coronation (G1), and his juveniles figure to nab a victory or two. O’Brien won four races at Royal Ascot in 2018 during a quiet year overall for his stable, so it’s not unrealistic to think he could win five or more this year. John Gosden and Charlie Appleby, the latter training for Godolphin, should also score multiple victories during the meet.

Since Moore rides the majority of O’Brien’s best horses, he has to be considered the favorite to win the jockey title, though it might be unwise to overlook Frankie Dettori and Jamie Spencer. Dettori boasts 60 lifetime winners at Royal Ascot, while Spencer has averaged better than four victories per year since 2014. Both have high-quality assignments lined up and should reward their backers with a few nice winners over the course of five days.

Rainfall Could Impact the Course

Rainfall has left the course at Ascot labeled “good, good-to-soft in places,” with the second of three turns on the round course being softer than the first turn, the final turn, and the one-mile straight course. But take note, additional rain is in the forecast for Tuesday and Wednesday. Depending on how much rain falls, we could see course conditions deteriorate early in the meet, so keep an eye on how the track is playing. In particular, watch out for biases on the straight course—one side of the course might come up firmer than the other, giving a substantial advantage to horses racing over to the firmer side.

Enjoy Royal Ascot!