Five potential big breeding stories at this year's royal meeting
Martin Stevens pinpoints the sires and dams who could make news
Royal Ascot: where colts earn their qualifications to stand at stud; where future broodmares will advertise their potential in the most exclusive shop window in racing; where stallion owners will be desperate for their freshman charges to gild their profiles with winners of the two-year-old races; where international bloodlines will be tested against one another as at no other meeting in Europe.
For those who work in the bloodstock industry and pedigree enthusiasts alike, the royal meeting is peppered with intrigue.
Some exploits will have an immediate impact, such as the three first-crop winners for Zoffany that sent his profile soaring into the stratosphere two years ago, while others will be slow-burning stories that take longer to unfold. One particularly pertinent example is the victory in the 2010 Wokingham Handicap on her final start of Laddies Poker Two, now the dam of dual Guineas heroine and Coronation Stakes hot favourite Winter.
It would have been difficult to predict Zoffany making quite such a brilliant start at Royal Ascot, or Laddies Poker Two, who never gained black type, producing a filly of such brilliance.
But, undeterred, here is a stab at five breeding angles to look out for over the next week.
Darley stallion riches
It has become almost axiomatic that Sheikh Mohammed's refusal to patronise Coolmore stallions, in particular Galileo, is to blame for the downturn in the fortunes of Godolphin.
I'm not so sure about that. Galileo is unquestionably the greatest sire of our age but he is not the only one able to supply top-level winners. Sheikh Mohammed's stallion boxes contain plenty of others – Dubawi, New Approach, Shamardal and so on – and the bigger question is why it is not Godolphin who regularly campaign the best representatives by those sires when they have the pick of the progeny.
The upward trajectory of the Darley stallion business as the racing operation has stalled is an element not given enough weight when Godolphin is dissected. Taken together with the many broodmares of immense potential the operation have either bought or nurtured, that quality of raw material available points to deficiencies away from the breeding side but elsewhere in the production line to the racecourse.
Such strength in depth of stallion talent has, of course, been achieved with unparalleled spending power and Royal Ascot promises to anoint the stud credentials of more colts bought to join Godolphin.
Ribchester, odds-on for the Queen Anne Stakes, and Profitable, who has a fair chance of making it back-to-back victories in the King's Stand Stakes, have already more than earned their places on the Darley roster. Barney Roy, who appears to present the fiercest opposition to Churchill in the St James's Palace Stakes, and Blue Point and Harry Angel, among the leading fancies for the Commonwealth Cup, are not far from having secured a spot, either.
Last year's Eclipse hero Hawkbill, who could run in the Prince of Wales's Stakes or Hardwicke, has clear stallion potential and being by Kitten's Joy it will be intriguing to see in which market he is pitched.
Going to War again
What to make of War Front? The Kentucky sire, who splits opinion in Europe as few others do, is an outstanding source of two-year-olds but one or two too many in Europe have failed to demonstrate they trained on at three: most notably Air Force Blue, Faydhan and War Command.
Last year War Front supplied another ten black-type juveniles in Europe, all of whom had top-notch pedigrees, which made 2017 a crunch year for him. Surely one of his three-year-olds has to deliver the goods in elite company?
Well, the best result for the sire's Classic crop this side of the Atlantic has been an ineffectual second for Roly Poly in the Irish 1,000 Guineas, victory for Whitecliffsofdover in the European Free Handicap but subsequent defeat at odds-on in a Listed contest, and a narrow success for Homesman in the Group 3 Gallinule Stakes.
Far from compelling evidence that War Front can be an effective Classic sire in Britain and Ireland, then. But here comes another flashy two-year-old talent by the sire at Royal Ascot: six-length Dundalk winner Declarationofpeace, contesting favouritism for the Coventry Stakes.
And he is joined at the meeting by American Patriot, who comes from America to run in the Queen Anne Stakes and show us that War Front has no problems supplying older talent at home. The Todd Pletcher-trained four-year-old won the Grade 1 Maker's Mile on his last start in April.
Homesman, Intelligence Cross, Roly Poly and others could also run big races at Ascot despite not being obvious picks, along with several others.
The temptation is always to give War Front one more chance.
Most stallion masters would be happy to boast of 18 two-year-old winners in a season for one of their headline acts. Tally-Ho Stud flagbearer Kodiac has achieved that before Royal Ascot: a remarkable feat that must give him a chance of breaking his own record of 43 juvenile winners in a season.
Kodiac has been represented by 44 juvenile runners already – another extraordinary figure – but his strike-rate is holding up very respectably at around 40 per cent and there is quality among the quantity too.
Brother Bear, an impressive winner of the Listed Marble Hill Stakes, joins Declarationofpeace at the top of betting lists for the Coventry Stakes, which Natural and Nebo, both convincing winners on their sole starts, could also contest. Although Natural looks more a natural for the other race for which she holds an entry, the Albany Stakes.
The Royal Ascot two-year-old contests have been a happy hunting ground for Kodiac, with Tiggy Wiggy winning the Queen Mary Stakes in 2014 and Ardad and Prince Of Lir giving him a double in the Windsor Castle Stakes and Norfolk Stakes last year.
Royal meeting aside, the titanic tally of two-year-old winners for Kodiac looks like being one of the stories of the season.
Those Kodiac two-year-olds face opposition from the physically forward Wesley Ward battalions, many of whom, I can state from first-hand experience of having seen them at the National Stud this week, are hulking monsters who were busting out of their perfectly spacious boxes. McErin and Fairyland in particular.
So certain North American sires with which we may not be so familiar may, by next Saturday, be hailed as the next Scat Daddy – who Ward catapulted to supersire status at Royal Ascot through Acapulco, Lady Aurelia and No Nay Never.
Fairyland is another for Scat Daddy, which can only increase confidence in her claims this week, but perhaps Arawak, another leading fancy in a white hot Coventry Stakes, could give his sire Uncle Mo, an outstanding young sire at home in the US, a needed foothold in Europe.
McErin, at the head of betting for the Norfolk Stakes, is by Trappe Shot, a Grade 1-placed son of Tapit who stands at only $7,500 and might just do what his illustrious sire who stands at $300,000 has not yet managed: to make his mark on a major race in Europe.
Curiously, another Ward contender could enhance the profile of one of the less expensive members of the Irish stallion ranks. Elizabeth Darcy was bred by Manister House Stud and is by Yeomanstown Stud resident Camacho.
Looking through the record number of American entries in the royal meeting, it will also be interesting to see how the Mark Casse-trained La Coronel fares in the Coronation Stakes. She is by Colonel John, in turn a son of Tiznow – a line that has had little exposure in Europe.
And as for Long On Value, who is set to be saddled by Bill Mott in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes, a good run for him will leave us all reaching for the Racing Post website to research his sire Value Plus.
Future Galileo mates?
Laddies Poker Two illustrates the faith that Coolmore have placed in sending sprinters to Galileo – the formula responsible for Frankel and latterly Churchill, Cliffs Of Moher, Deauville, Gleneagles and, of course, Winter.
There are quite a few independently owned fillies and mares gunning for big-race success at Royal Ascot who you cannot help but think Coolmore would want to add to their broodmare band to repeat the trick, whether privately – as was the case with Mecca's Angel – or by auction, as with Easton Angel and Tiggy Wiggy.
Marsha, for instance, already the winner of the Prix de l'Abbaye and Palace House Stakes and going for more glory in the King's Stand; or her rival in that race, Priceless, winner of the Temple Stakes last time out.
Then there is Diamond Jubilee Stakes hopeful Quiet Reflection, already a dual Group 1 winner, and even another in that race, Dancing Star, who may not be a black-type winner – yet – but, like Laddies Poker Two, has a lofty Racing Post Rating thanks to a big handicap win over the boys, in her case in last year's Stewards' Cup.
Naturally, as precocity and speed are so highly treasured in future broodmares, whoever wins the Queen Mary and Albany Stakes will also step into the cross-hairs of Coolmore and other hawkish spending powers if they are not already carrying their silks.
That said, prising fillies like Marsha and Dancing Star out of the hands of successful breeders the Elite Racing Club and Jeff Smith might not be as easy as all that, especially as both are closely related to cherished horses for each owner – Soviet Song in the first instance and Lochangel and Lochsong in the latter.