January 30, 2023

Royal Ascot: Circus Maximus, Battaash star in opening-day Group 1 action

Royal Ascot Tuesday Calendar for 2020

The five-day Royal Ascot meet kicked off on Tuesday with a stellar slate of seven races, none of them more exciting than the featured Queen Anne (G1), which saw the improving Circus Maximus dig deep to prevail in in a thrilling finish.

The 4-year-old son of Galileo was favored at 4-1 among British bookmakers thanks in no small part to his gritty victory in the 2019 St. James’s Palace (G1) over the same course and mile trip as the Queen Anne. Though unraced since finishing fourth in the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1), Circus Maximus arrived at Royal Ascot fit and ready to roll for trainer Aidan O’Brien.

With regular rider Ryan Moore in the saddle, Circus Maximus was prominent from the outset, pressing pacesetter Marie’s Diamond for much of the journey. Entering the final quarter-mile, Circus Maximus was briefly out-kicked by the multiple Group 2-winning filly Terebellum, who swept boldly to the lead with a furlong remaining. But Circus Maximus refused to yield and gamely battled back under Moore’s vigorous urging to strike the wire a head in front.

“We were delighted with that performance,” said O’Brien, who conditions the winner for the partnership of Flaxman Stables, Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor, and Derrick Smith. “Circus Maximus is very tough, he travels with a lot of speed, then quickens and then toughs it out. It was unbelievable, really. Ryan gave him an unbelievable ride and we are delighted.”

Marie’s Diamond held on to complete the trifecta, three lengths behind the winning duo. The final time over good to soft going was 1;40.05.

O’Brien indicated Circus Maximus would continue campaigning over a mile, with the Sussex (G1) at Goodwood as a short-term goal. A return trip to the U.S. could be in the cards as well since the Queen Anne serves as a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Mile.

“I think a mile is his trip – the problem is he is lazy and that is why he wears blinkers,” O’Brien said. “It is only when the tempo is really high that he actually races so I think a mile and a quarter and a mile and a half trips don’t allow him to focus. So, I would imagine he would stay at a mile… Like a fighter, if you don’t get his blood up, he doesn’t really bother. The pace of the mile races allows him to get his blood up.”

Later in the afternoon, Battaash left no doubt about his superiority in the King’s Stand (G1). Runner-up behind star sprinter Blue Point in the last two editions of the 5-furlong turf test, Baataash lived up to the old adage that the third time is the charm, sprinting to the front and powering clear in the final furlong to score by 2 3/4 lengths. With jockey Jim Crowley in the saddle for trainer Charles Hills, the 5-6 favorite stopped the timer in :58.64.

“I had to hold him for two furlongs; he was on a bit of a going day and wanting to charge off,” remarked Crowley, who won three races on opening day to top the jockey standings. “My only concern was to try to get the fractions right on him because obviously he was quite keen today. There was nothing quick enough to lead him, and I wanted to save enough for the finish, which worked out.”

The triumph marked Battaash’s third victory at the highest level, following successes in the 2019 Nunthorpe (G1) and the 2017 Prix de l’Abbaye de Longchampion (G1), both over the same 5-furlong trip as the King’s Stand. Bred and owned by Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, Battaash is expected to follow Circus Maximus to Goodwood, where he’ll seek a fourth straight victory in the King George (G2).

Racing continues at Royal Ascot on Wednesday with another seven-race slate, led by the Prince of Wales’s S. (G1) and the Hampton Court (G3). American trainer Wesley Ward will send out his first starters of the meet, saddling Sheriff Bianco and Sunshine City in the Windsor Castle S. for 2-year-olds.