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Royal Ascot Day 1 Preview – Will we bear Witness to a Star victory?

June 14, 2011

The world’s most historic racing carnival, Royal Ascot, is here once again with a stunning opening day setting the scene for a remarkable 300th carnival.

Just Horse Racing’s Andrew Hawkins has been studying the form for months.

Every day this week, he will give you the Australia’s most in depth preview for Royal Ascot.

Here are his thoughts on Day 1 of Royal Ascot:

Race 1 – Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes (1m)

What a great race to start one of the world’s greatest racing carnivals. This race dates back to 1840 and is named for the monarch that instigated racing at Ascot. We definitely have to thank Queen Anne this year as we celebrate 300 years of Ascot racing! And looking at the last 12 or so runnings of the race, you can see it is takes one hell of a miler to win. The last 11 winners have been Cape Cross, Medicean, No Excuse Needed, Dubai Destination, Refuse to Bend, Valixir, Ad Valorem, Ramonti, Haradasun, Paco Boy and Goldikova. WOW! I thought last year was good – dual Breeders Cup Mile winner (at that time) Goldikova taking on the previous year’s winner in Paco Boy. Goldikova prevailed. However, this year eclipses last year’s running in my humble opinion.

This year, Goldikova comes to Royal Ascot a triple Breeders Cup Mile winner. She’s now won 16 of her 22 starts, 13 at Group 1 level. She has only missed a place once, and that was two years ago. However, she has a worthy adversary in Canford Cliffs. Trained by Richard Hannon, who also trained Paco Boy, he’s electric on his day. He’s a last start winner of the Lockinge Stakes and has also won the Sussex Stakes and the St James Palace Stakes. This is undoubtedly his toughest test to date but connections are confident. This is a salivating clash, with betting continuing to shift between the two. I reckon the incredible thing is that everyone has written off Cape Blanco as a chance. I can’t have him either, but he’s a classy commodity. Two starts ago he was fourth, beaten a length, behind Victoire Pisa in the Dubai World Cup. He was a dominant winner of the Irish Champion Stakes last year, also won the Irish Derby and did beat Workforce by just over three lenghts in the Dante Stakes. He hasn’t raced over anything shorter than a mile and a quarter (2000m) since his two year old days, so he is a major query at the shorter distance. But still, the fact that he’s hardly given a chance shows just how classy the top two are. It’s almost “toss of a coin” territory to decide who to go for, but I’m going to stick with GOLDIKOVA. She’s a freak and I think she can win again. I think CANFORD CLIFFS is a better horse than Paco Boy and he’ll really stick it to her. If he’s at his best, and she’s not, he can win easily. So it’s really a tussle between those two. CITYSCAPE is very lightly raced for a five year old and he’s shown that on his day he’s a very good horse. He wasn’t beaten far behind Dick Turpin last start, but Dick Turpin was beaten easily by Canford Cliffs and Goldikova at his next two starts respectively. I still reckon he looks more suited at a mile than Cape Blanco, so I’ll have him third. CAPE BLANCO is a good galloper but totally unsuited by the drop back to a mile. Class should get him into the top four though.

7 – Goldikova
1 – Canford Cliffs
3 – Cityscape
2 – Cape Blanco

Race 2 – Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes (5f)

This is the race most Australian racing fans think of when they think about the Royal Ascot carnival. Can you believe it is only eight short years ago that Choisir crashed through the frontier to win this race? Since then, we’ve had Takeover Target, Miss Andretti and Scenic Blast fly the flag for Australia. The last time that Australia wasn’t represented was 2005, when “Royal Ascot” was run at York. Intriguingly, this race dates back to 1860 and an unusual beginning – the Royal Stand Plate was to be run over 2 miles but heavy rain meant that most of the course was unusable. Hence, they shortened the race from 2m (3200m) to 5 furlongs (1000m), where it has remained ever since. Rather intriguing. Outside of the Australian winners, other notable recent winners include Dayjur, Lochsong, Piccolo, Pivotal and Equiano.

A big and very even field ensures that this will be a very competitive race. It’s the type of race where you could see a few horses finishing within a length of the winner. British form analysts have been jumping out of trees to tip Star Witness but I’m not sure it’s that clear cut. Yes, he finished four lengths behind Black Caviar during Melbourne Cup week, but his two runs since indicated to me that it may have flattened him. Well, that was seven months ago now – hopefully, he’s over it. Still, I’m unsure. I reckon there are eight chances among the twenty entrants – those being Bridgetown, Kingsgate Native, Overdose, Sole Power, Star Witness, War Artist, Sweet Sanette and Holiday for Kitten. Now it is about putting them in order. If you forget his first British run last month, then one time favourite OVERDOSE has to be some sort of chance. He needs it to remain good to soft given his injury issues over the years but he isn’t called the Budapest Bullet for nothing. Did win a French Group 1, the Prix L’Abbaye – but the race was declared void due to a barrier malfunction. I really do think Hungary can become the latest winners of Ascot’s most international race. BRIDGETOWN will go close for the Americans. It is always a big asset in this race if you can sit up near the lead and it seems this horse will be near the pace. He’s run some quick times and I think he’s at his best under 1200m. He’ll probably be the one they need to catch with 300m left to run. The parochial side of me cannot leave STAR WITNESS out of the placings. I’m concerned that they struggle to make ground in this race and I can see him getting bottled up, needing an out before flashing home when it is all over. That said, if he strikes his Black Caviar form, he could blow them away – and he could remind us what Black Caviar would be doing to these fields!!! I still reckon he’ll be better for the run and he could be the one to beat in the Golden Jubilee on Saturday. And for fourth, I’ll go with a roughie in HOLIDAY FOR KITTEN. She’s a three year old American filly who has appreciated stepping down in distance from a mile. She may be outclassed but trainer Wesley Ward knows what he is doing and I’m going to be intrigued to see how she goes. And that’s right, I’ve left the Brits out of the top four. I don’t know how they’ll measure up.

8 – Overdose
2 – Bridgetown
11 – Star Witness
19 – Holiday for Kitten

Race 3 – Group 1 St James’s Palace Stakes (1m – Old Mile)

This race is run on Ascot’s Old Mile – meaning it is not run down the straight (as the Queen Anne Stakes) but around a bend. Therefore, barriers are much more crucial. First run in 1834, the initial running featured only one horse! Luckily, this year will be a far more interesting spectacle than that. This is always a great race as it ties in the formlines of the English 2000 Guineas, Irish 2000 Guineas and France’s Poule d’Essai des Poulains – and this year you can add Japan’s NHK Mile Cup to that list. The last 20 years features a mighty impressive honour roll – many which have gone on to be top sires. The likes of Marju, Brief Truce, Kingmambo, Grand Lodge, Dr Fong, Giant’s Causeway, Black Minnaloushe, Rock of Gibraltar, Azamour, Shamardal, Excellent Art, Henrythenavigator, Mastercraftsman and Canford Cliffs stand out. And the incredible thing is, this year’s likely winner could be the best of the lot of them.

I cannot wait to see English 2000 Guineas winner Frankel step out again. What he did in the 2000 Guineas was just mind boggling. He went at a cracking pace out of the stalls and just kept going. If he does that here again, he’ll make a mess of what is a top notch field. You have Japan’s champion two year old and NHK Mile Cup winner Grand Prix Boss, German 2000 Guineas winner Excelebration, 2000 Guineas runner up Dubawi Gold, incredible Middle Park Stakes winner Dream Ahead, Phoenix Stakes winner Zoffany and Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere winner Wootton Bassett. Pretty much, in most years, you could make a case for why any of the above runners could win. But this year, they’ll all struggle to beat the world’s equal top rated horse, FRANKEL. He’s a wonder horse and I can’t see him being beaten again unless something goes drastically wrong. In second, let’s go for the Japanese horse. GRAND PRIX BOSS has shown some amazing form in Japan and the form has held up – Real Impact, third in the NHK Mile Cup, came out and beat the older horses (as well as some top class raiders like Beauty Flash) in the Yasuda Kinen. EXCELEBRATION is by Australian sire Exceed and Excel. Only two horses have finished closer to Frankel than him – Irish 2000 Guineas winner Roderic O’Connor and the unlucky Nathaniel, who has also been narrowly beaten by Epsom Derby runner-up Treasure Beach. His win in the German 2000 Guineas was effortless and a repeat effort should see him go close. And while there are doubts about him at the distance, I like DREAM AHEAD as a horse and he has to be in my top four.

4 – Frankel
5 – Grand Prix Boss
3 – Excelebration
1- Dream Ahead

Race 4 – Group 2 Coventry Stakes (6f)

First run in 1890, it is sometimes the first glimpse we get of a future Guineas horse. Always featuring a large field down the straight, it is a perfect test for a horse that may progress to bigger and better things. Some past winners include Royal Applause, Verglas, Fasliyev, Landseer, Statue of Liberty, Henrythenavigator and Canford Cliffs.

Bit tough to figure this one out with limited form on the board and a number of differing formlines. The early favourite is Sheikh Hamdan’s Teofilo colt Mezmaar, who won impressively on debut at Haydock. Aiden O’Brien’s Power and Mick Channon’s Gabrial are the only other two widely under double figures. There is also interest for Australian breeders with our sires Choisir (Chandlery) and Exceed and Excel (Fulbright) both represented. It is a bit of a lottery so I’m going to go for American raider ITALO. Well, he’s an American raider seeing as he’s trained by Wesley Ward and he’s been trained mostly across the Atlantic. But his one race start came in France, at Longchamp last month when he won convincingly. He’s at good odds here and I’ll give him a go. MEZMAAR was very impressive on debut and if he can go on with the job then he’ll be tough to overcome here. CHANDLERY only won narrowly on debut but he’s in good hands and he’s sure to have improved while ROMAN SOLDIER will improve for more ground in time but could get a place here. Tough race.

11 – Italo
14 – Mezmaar
5 – Chandlery
21 – Roman Soldier

Race 5 – Ascot Stakes (2m 4f)

What a novelty are these 4000m races! Big field here too which makes it all the more interesting, as the Ascot Gold Cup rarely gets a big field. It was first run in 1840 and is a handicap. As with many handicaps, it tends to be a lottery – 2009 winner Judgethemoment was booked on a plane to Melbourne after his win but he never came. Good decision in my opinion as any of these would be too dour to win a Melbourne Cup. Last year’s winner Junior lines up again, this time as topweight.

As mentioned previously, it is a lottery so I’ll just be picking horses after a quick glance at the form. LA ESTRELLA has been running in low class races but it has been a while since he has been beaten, he looks like he’ll stay the trip and he gets in with a light weight. He’s well exposed, now an eight year old, but follow winning form. And he’s at big odds too. ZIGATO is narrowly second favourite but he looks like he will appreciate the trip and must be included. The nationalist in me says I must include AUSTRALIA DAY. I doubt he’ll run the trip but he’ll be up on the pace. He finished only five lengths off Indian Days a few starts back – Indian Days was last seen running in the Coronation Cup behind St Nicholas Abbey. Last year’s favourite JUNIOR must go in for the pure fact that he is proven over this track and distance.

18 – La Estrella
12 – Zigato
5 – Australia Day
1- Junior

Race 6 – Listed Windsor Castle Stakes (5f)

The biggest field of the day (27 runners) is saved for the last race. First run back in 1879, it is one of 2 two year old events. It is probably not as good a future guide as the Coventry Stakes, with it remaining a cavalry charge to the post. Probably the best horse to emerge from the race in recent times is 2007 runner up Kingsgate Native, who went on to win the Golden Jubilee the following year.

27 runners with unexposed form? I won’t be touching the race personally but I’ll give my thoughts. I reckon MAGIC CITY has been ridden upside down at his last two starts. He needs to be near the lead. If I follow my advice from earlier of a horse sticking near the front over 5f, then I’ll go with this horse. Impressive on debut when up near the lead. For second, I’ll go with MONNOYER. I respect Jeremy Noseda as a trainer and Frankie Dettori as a jockey, and with a visor on I expect him to improve a couple of lengths. The fillies WORTHINGTON and LEXINGTON SPIRIT also command respect. But really, this is a race to watch for the spectacle.

14 – Magic City
16 – Monnoyer
27 – Worthington
25 – Lexington Spirit

Coming up tomorrow…So You Think in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes, last year’s Coventry Stakes winner Strong Suit seeks to get his three year old campaign back on track in the Jersey Stakes and the two year old fillies battle it out in the Queen Mary Stakes

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