Royal Ascot – Thursday preview
2:30 Norfolk Stakes (Group 2) 5f
3:05 Tercentenary Stakes (Group 3) 1m2f
3:45 Ribblesdale Stakes (Group 2) (Fillies) 1m4f
4:25 Gold Cup (British Champions Series) (Group 1) 2m4f
5:00 Britannia Stakes (Heritage Handicap) (Bobis Race) (Straight course) 1m
5:35 King George V Stakes (Handicap) (Bobis Race) 1m4f
Gold Cup (British Champions Series) (Group 1) 2m 4f
(4yo+, 2m 4f, Class 1, 15 runners)
Winner £212,662 2nd £80,625 3rd £40,350 4th £20,100 5th £10,088 6th £5,062
The sheer delight on the Queen’s face when Estimate won the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot 12 months ago (picture at foot of email) was an abiding memory of the racing year and the dream of a famous repeat lives on tomorrow.
The Sir Michael Stoute-trained mare galloped into history in the hands of Ryan Moore, becoming the first horse since the race was first staged over 200 years ago to win the two-and-a-half-mile feature in the colours of a reigning monarch.
She was unable to make a significant impact on her only subsequent start in 2013, finishing seventh in Ascot’s Long Distance Cup on Champions Day in October, and has not been seen in competitive action since.
Connections freely admit Estimate’s early-season preparation for the defence of her crown has not been ideal, although confidence appears to have grown in recent weeks and the five-year-old thrilled in her work on Saturday morning.
Her Majesty’s racing manager John Warren said: “Estimate had a slow start in her preparation due to some tweaked muscles that prevented her from running in the Sagaro Stakes.
“It has been a little frustrating not to get a prep race into her, but she’s trained by Sir Michael Stoute and if there is anyone who can get her there without the benefit of a prep race he’s the man to do it.
“In my mind I’ve got her finishing third, there are two other very good horses in there, but if the ground keeps drying out – she likes top of the ground – and if it helps her maybe use her stamina better than the others, then things can happen.
“Sir Michael seems upbeat and confident that she can put up a bold show. If she shows the same form as last year, and as she’s a year older she might improve a pound or two, then hopefully she can be right up there.
“She has been working extremely well and Sir Michael is confident that he has got her ready for the challenge ahead.”
Warren insists the Queen will not head to Ascot expecting Estimate to win, having had plenty of experience of the highs and lows of racing.
“The Queen never expects anything, that’s why she’s so extraordinary. She’s the best loser you could hope for, she’s a realist. If you’ve owned horses for as long as she has, you’ve been through every hiccup,” said Warren.
“She’s most interested in the reasons, her pleasure is putting the jigsaw together. It’s a jigsaw puzzle in her mind, and she’s looking for the last piece to finish it.
“I remember speaking to her after Carlton House had won a Group Three at Sandown and she was much more interested in a race she had watched with one of her horses running somewhere else, like Pontefract.
“The horse had gone round the bend on the wrong leg and the jockey had the whip in the wrong hand. She was much more interested in that than winning a Group Three.”
The horse most likely to upset the Royal celebrations is the Aidan O’Brien-trained Leading Light.
The four-year-old has won six times from just eight career starts, claiming the Queen’s Vase at last year’s Royal meeting before going on to clinch Classic glory in the St Leger at Doncaster.
He appeared better than ever when making a winning return in the Vintage Crop Stakes and is favourite to give O’Brien a sixth Gold Cup victory following extraordinary four-time winner Yeats and 2011 hero Fame And Glory.
The trainer’s son Joseph will be on board and he said: “You’d have to imagine he does (have similar qualities to Yeats and Fame And Glory). He gets into a great rhythm and is very laid-back and has a great constitution and can quicken when you need him. He seems to have everything, he ticks all the boxes.”
Norfolk Stakes (Group 2) 5f
(2yo, 5f, Class 1, 9 runners)
Winner £45,368 2nd £17,200 3rd £8,608 4th £4,288
The Great War puts his lofty reputation on the line in the Norfolk Stakes at Royal Ascot on Thursday.
Ante-post favourite for next year’s Qipco 2000 Guineas on the back of two wins in as many starts, the Aidan O’Brien-trained colt is a son of fashionable stallion War Front and is an imposing individual.
Both his wins have come at five furlongs, most recently in a Listed race at the Curragh in May, and connections opted to stay at the minimum trip rather than the six furlongs of the Coventry Stakes on the opening afternoon.
A recent planned outing on Irish Guineas weekend was sidestepped due to the rain-softened ground.
Rider Joseph O’Brien said: “It didn’t make sense to run him on Guineas weekend on that ground. He hasn’t come off the bridle yet.
“He probably hasn’t beaten great horses yet, but you couldn’t have asked him to do it any easier than he has.”
Leading the opposition is the Richard Hannon-trained Baitha Alga, the mount of Frankie Dettori in the Al Shaqab Racing colours that have already been prominent this week.
The Fast Company colt has won his last two starts and was impressive at Epsom on Derby day.
Mukhmal for Mark Johnston will command plenty of attention after defying a wide draw to win in some style at Chester’s May meeting, while the once-raced Snap Shots is held in some regard by the Tom Dascombe team.