LADY AURELIA (photo ex Racing Post)
Geoff Lester: London – You’ll find almost as much ice at Royal Ascot this week as you will in Antarctica as sweltering temperatures are expected to greet the 300,000 racegoers who will flock through the turnstiles for the best five days racing in the world.
Win or lose, the punters, buoyed by the pomp and pageantry that this great British occasion brings, will make short work of the 51,000 bottles of champagne, 25,000 jugs of Pimms and 5,000 lobsters as they celebrate with stars of stage and screen, not to mention The Queen who has not missed Royal Ascot once since her Coronation in 1953.
Prize money is close on £7 million and three of the eight Group 1s come on Tuesday’s opening day, with the Americans – fired up by the five successes for trainer Wes Ward in the last four years – assembling their biggest raiding party to date.
Ward, who has 10 runners through the week, is oozing confidence of a flying start on Day 1 with LADY AURELIA in the Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes.
The vision of Lady Aurelia obliterating her 16 rivals when leaving scorch marks on the turf as she clocked a phenomenal time in winning last year’s Queen Mary Stakes by seven lengths will live long in the memory.
Granted, Lady Aurelia was less spectacular in the Prix Morny (1200m) in France, but she is a flying machine and back over the 1000m will take some pegging back.
The one worry is that she broke a blood vessel when losing her unbeaten record in the Cheveley Park. However, she looked as awesome as ever on her comeback at Keeneland and having been relieved to see his filly scope clean after last week’s final breeze-up on the Ascot straight, Ward won’t hear of defeat. He has persuaded Frankie Dettori to sweat down to his lightest (8st 9lb – about 54.5kg).
Such is the strength of competition that there is no such thing as a “penalty kick” this week, but bookmakers fear first-day favourites could hit them hard.
Recent Lockinge winner RIBCHESTER is rated Godolphin’s best in the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes and Coolmore’s brilliant dual Guineas hero CHURCHILL is unopposable in the Group 1 St James’s Palace Stakes, though Barney Roy did not have the best of runs through at Newmarket and might ensure that Churchill has to dig deeper.
Irish trainer Jessie Harrington, so often the punters darling at the Cheltenham Festival, has never had a winner here. In BROTHER BEAR, who has looked something special in winning his two races so far, she has the Flat boys quaking in their shoes as they try and find something to beat her in the Coventry Stakes, the big two-year-old race of the week.
Willie Mullins, Ireland’s champion jumps trainer, has had four winners here including two in the Ascot Stakes, and he might again have the solution to the 4000m marathon in THOMAS HOBSON, who has been plying his trade over hurdles but did win four races on the level for John Gosden in 2013.
If we have our backs to the walls come the closing Windsor Castle Stakes, no problem. There are only 26 unexposed two-year-olds to thumb through so either tread carefully or keep your powder dry for what promises to be an exhilarating week.