Star power was on full display when the five-day Royal Ascot meeting opened in England on Tuesday.
Queen Anne (G1)
Racing fans were treated right off the bat to a display of dominance from Baaeed in the meet-opening Queen Anne S. (G1), a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the 2022 Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1). The undefeated four-year-old was an odds-on choice to claim top honors and left no doubt about his superiority, tracking the early tempo before charging home on top by 1 3/4 lengths for jockey Jim Crowley and trainer William Haggas.
“It doesn’t get any easier than that. Everything went smoothly. Baaeed got a lovely tow into the race, the ground is beautiful, and I just let him stretch out for the last furlong of the race. It was like clockwork,” said Crowley. “…It’s the pinnacle. You spend your whole life waiting for a horse like this to come along. Everyone says to enjoy it, but there is a lot of pressure. But I love it and I enjoy it. It’s why we do it.”
Victorious in four straight Group 1 races, Baaeed extended his career resume to a perfect 8-for-8 while Real World and 2020 Breeders’ Cup Mile hero Order of Australia settled for minor awards in the one-mile straight test. Chindit, Sir Busker, Lights On, and Accidental Agent trailed the small field.
Baaeed has established his reputation as a miler of the highest caliber, but Haggas indicated stretching out in distance is a future goal.
“He travels well and settles well. That is a really important part if we are going to go further,” said Haggas. “… I think we are all quite keen to give it a go (step up in trip) and that will be at York. It’s whether we slot Goodwood in, in the meantime. It’s potentially Goodwood next.
“He is obviously a good miler and is bred to get further. I think we’d like to try it and I think it would be remiss of us not to. The easy option is to stay at a mile, but I think we will give it a go.”
King’s Stand (G1)
A similarly impressive performance came courtesy of Australian raider Nature Strip in the King’s Stand S. (G1), a five-furlong “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1). The King’s Stand was supposed to feature an exciting showdown between Nature Strip and American challenger Golden Pal, winner of the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, but Golden Pal broke poorly and faded after rushing up into contention, ultimately finishing 16th.
In the meantime, Nature Strip was always a factor on the front end and kicked away readily from his pursuers in the final two furlongs, drawing off under James McDonald to score by 4 1/2 lengths over Twilight Calls and Acklam Express, followed by Mooneista, Equilateral, Saint Lawrence, King’s Lynn, Man of Promise, Lazuli, Tis Marvellous, Existent, Arecibo, Ponntos, Winter Power, Logo Hunter, and Golden Pal. Khaadem broke without his rider well behind the field and was declared a non-runner.
“That was incredible. The team have done a marvelous job,” said McDonald. “I’m so lucky to be on Nature Strip. He is just a freak of a horse and has silenced a few critics with that performance, because it was scintillating.”
A seven-year-old veteran with 21 wins from 38 starts, Nature Strip picked up his ninth Group 1 success in the King’s Stand, cementing his status as a world-class turf sprinter for trainer Chris Waller.
“It means a lot. We don’t get the opportunity very often to come here and take on the English, Irish, French, Americans and even Dubai and Hong Kong runners,” said Waller. “To therefore bring a horse here and not only run, but win, is very special. It was breathtaking—Nature Strip is a very good horse and has been for a very long time. I guess he is in the twilight of his career, but he has learned to be a racehorse.
“Nature Strip was tricky early on in his career, but he has got better with age and it is an honor to train a horse like him.”
St James’s Palace (G1)
Two other Group stakes took place on opening day at Royal Ascot. In the St James’s Palace S. (G1) for three-year-olds racing one mile over the round course, Godolphin homebred Coroebus came charging up the rail to defeat Lusail, My Prospero, Maljoom, and Mighty Ulysses in a driving finish that saw the top five finishers separated by just three-quarters of a length. William Buick guided the victorious Charlie Appleby trainee, who started the season with a win in the historic 2000 Guineas (G1) at Newmarket.
Earlier in the day, Bradsell was a decisive winner of the six-furlong Coventry S. (G2) for juveniles, kicking away under Hollie Doyle to beat Persian Force and Royal Scotsman by 1 1/2 lengths. Trained by Archie Watson, Bradsell previously won his debut at York by nine lengths, so his record following the Coventry stands at a perfect 2-for-2.
Racing continues on Wednesday at Royal Ascot with the Prince of Wales’s S. (G1)—a qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1)—serving as the feature event.