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The Roar: Royal Ascot Day 1 Preview – can Shamexpress win for Australia?

June 18, 2013

The opening day of 2013 Royal Ascot is a unique raceday at the start of a unique festival.

What sets it apart from other race meetings and festivals is that three of the best races of the whole carnival are races one, two and three of 30 races to come over the next five days.

Imagine having the Victoria Derby, Mackinnon Stakes and Coolmore Stud Stakes as the first three races on the 10 race Derby Day card at Flemington. It’s simply unfathomable.

Like the Melbourne Cup Carnival, though, there is a headline race each day.

Today, it is the Queen Anne Stakes for the top milers (although the King’s Stand Stakes for the speedsters and the St James’s Palace Stakes for the three year old milers also vie for headline status), while tomorrow sees the Prince of Wales’s Stakes for the best middle distance gallopers.

Thursday sees the stayers slog it out in the Ascot Gold Cup, Friday is headlined by the Coronation Stakes for three year old fillies and Saturday is a day for sprinters with the Diamond Jubilee Stakes the feature.

Each night, the action gets underway at 11.30pm AEST, with the last race at 2.35am AEST. It is well worth staying up to watch some of the world’s best racing action.

As I’ve also written today, Australian interest spreads far beyond our two – or perhaps three, if Animal Kingdom is included – runners.

But today is a day where we focus on those horses who are Australian-trained (Shamexpress) or Australian-owned (Animal Kingdom).

Here is my preview of Day 1 of Royal Ascot:

Queen Anne Stakes – Group 1, 1m (a1600m), 4yo+
Looking at the last five editions of this race, this race looks rather disappointing once the favourite is taken out.

Between Haradasun and Coolmore’s controversial team riding tactics, a memorable match up between Goldikova and Canford Cliffs and last year’s spectacular 11-length romp by Frankel, it has been a great race.

This is one of the weaker Queen Annes, and it looks a one act affair on paper.

If Dubai World Cup winner Animal Kingdom arrives at the top of his game, he only needs to handle the undulating Ascot straight to win with a leg in the air.

It may be a concern, given most of his racing has been done on fairly flat tracks.

However, a win in the Queen Anne Stakes would make him incomparable as a Group 1 winner on dirt in the United States, on the Tapeta surface in Dubai and on turf in the United Kingdom.

That’s an enviable resume.

Outside Animal Kingdom, John Gosden looks to have two good chances in Elusive Kate and Gregorian.

The mare Elusive Kate has spent a lot of time in France, winning two Group 1s at Longchamp and Deauville.

This is her seasonal reappearance and if she’s progressed further as a four-year-old, she could give this a shake.

As for Gregorian, he was wayward but dominant in victory at Epsom two weeks ago. He still tends to mix his form but I think his best would be good enough for him to snatch a place here.

Next best, at odds, Trumpet Major, while also keep an eye on Cox Plate invitee Trade Storm.

1. Animal Kingdom
2. Elusive Kate
3. Gregorian

King’s Stand Stakes – Group 1, 5f (a1000m), 3yo+
It has been 10 years since Choisir won this race, ushering in a new era in international racing. Since then, Australia has won with Takeover Target (2006), Miss Andretti (2007) and Scenic Blast (2010).

There has been a great deal of support in the last 72 hours for Shamexpress to become the fifth Australian winner of the King’s Stand Stakes, but I still can’t warm to him.

The last three horses to contest the King’s Stand in the same year as winning the Newmarket Handicap were able to complete the double, but those three horses – Scenic Blast (57kg), Miss Andretti (56kg) and Takeover Target (57kg) – were all up in the weights.

Shamexpress carried 51.5kg, yet as a European four-year-old, has to carry the same weight as Scenic Blast.

I also can’t escape the fact that it was a weaker Newmarket Handicap than what we’ve become accustomed to in recent years, and I feel he faces a huge task.

As parochial as ever, I hope he can win, but I just can’t see it happening at the moment.

I’m with the South African speedster Shea Shea, who blitzed his rivals in Dubai in track record time.

He has a number of queries too – he may not have the stamina for an uphill five furlongs like at Ascot, and the conditions may be softer than what he’s proven to handle.

Still, if he runs up to his Dubai form, I think he wins.

I think Sole Power could be the danger, having finished two and a half lengths behind Shea Shea at two runs in Dubai.

He finished third in this race last year, but he has failed to win at Group 1 level in nine attempts since he beat Starspangledbanner in a 100/1 shock in the 2010 Nunthorpe Stakes.

However, his consistency should see him finish somewhere around the mark.

I’ve thrown in Shamexpress for third, but only because the parochial Australian in me thinks even our weaker sprinters are good enough to place in a race like this.

1. Shea Shea
2. Sole Power
3. Shamexpress

St James’ Palace Stakes – Group 1, 1m (a1600m), 3yo colts
This could go down as the race of the week, with 2000 Guineas winner Dawn Approach taking on Irish 2000 Guineas winner Magician.

Toronado, Mars and Dundonnell also make it a terrific race.

To be fair, queries about Dawn Approach and Magician only make it a more fascinating contest.

For Dawn Approach, he’s coming back from a failure in the Derby just three weeks ago. If he came out of the Derby alright, then he shapes up as the one to beat. I think the mile will prove to be his best distance.

As for Magician, he’s been under an injury cloud the last few days.

As is often the case with Coolmore, not much is known about the extent of the injury – reported to be minor bruising from a knock – but one can presume he’s fit if he reaches the gates.

He was dominant in the Irish 2000 Guineas and a repeat of that performance would see him challenge Dawn Approach if both were at their best.

It is going to be a question of which horse is fitter, primed for this race.

Given there have been no reported problems with Dawn Approach after the Derby, I have to have him on top, but Magician is very close to the mark. It looks a race in two.

For third, I’m putting in Mars who I think is better than he has shown at two runs this preparation. A mile and a quarter may prove his best distance in time.

I think Toronado, a general third favourite around the traps, will struggle at the mile as seemed to be the case in the 2000 Guineas. As such, I’m happy to risk him.

1. Dawn Approach
2. Magician
3. Mars

Coventry Stakes – Group 2, 6f (a1200m), 2yo
This is as much a guide to the future, from both a racing and breeding viewpoint, as the Golden Slipper is to Australian racing.

Dawn Approach last year was the latest in a long line of great horses to win this race.

Perhaps I should be sticking with my namesake of sorts in Sir John Hawkins. However, I was taken with Championship’s maiden victory at Newbury and so I have to have him on top.

That day, he came from the rear and he struggled to get a clear run until inside the final 200m when he quickened nicely.

I believe he’ll put himself into next year’s 2000 Guineas picture with a win here.

I do have to include Sir John Hawkins, also a debut winner who is likely to improve here.

Next best is Mawfoor, while Stubbs also has claims.

1. Championship
2. Sir John Hawkins
3. Mawfoor

Ascot Stakes – Class 2 Handicap, 2m 4f (a4000m), 4yo+
This is probably best described as a jumper’s flat, a lead up race to Saturday’s Queen Alexandra Stakes – the longest flat race in Britain.

It is a clash between some of the best flat trainers, like Aidan O’Brien, Sir Michael Stoute and Ed Dunlop, and some of the best jumps trainers, like Jonjo O’Neill and Nicky Henderson.

It’s a tough race to assess, and it is very much a lottery.

I’ve gone with Sir Michael Stoute’s Mawaqeet, who is second up after a poor run first up. He was consistent but struggled to break his maiden. After breaking his maiden, he ran second to the Group 3 placed Sir Graham Wade.

He’s yet to step up to this trip but I think he’ll give a sight at odds.

Jumpers Well Sharp and Lieutenant Miller have no problems stamina wise, and perhaps they could be some chance back on the flat.

It’s probably a better race to watch.

1. Mawaqeet
2. Well Sharp
3. Lieutenant Miller

Windsor Castle Stakes – Listed, 5f (a1000m), 2yo fillies
This race has been known to throw up a winner at a big price, with winners at 14/1, 33/1 and even 100/1 the last five years. The other two winners were favourites, though.

It looks an open race this year, so perhaps it could throw up a rough result.

I’m going with Sacha Park, the second stringer for Richard Hannon who also has the favourite Anticipated. She’s finished second at her first two starts but I rate her and I think she can get her head in front today.

Aidan O’Brien’s Fountain of Youth was very impressive at Tipperary last start, and while this is a big step up, she looks to be a very nice filly with scope.

For third, we have to throw in the favourite Anticipated, who is unbeaten from two starts and looks a professional type.

Next best is Justice Day, who was beaten as an odds on favourite at Musselburgh last start but has form around Anticipated, while Steventon Star also looks a chance.

1. Sacha Park
2. Fountain of Youth
3. Justice Day

Best of the day: Shea Shea
Most interesting runner: Animal Kingdom or Dawn Approach
Horse to watch for the Melbourne spring: Trade Storm

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