Ribchester very hard to beat so long as he runs his race
Queen Anne Stakes | Group 1 | 1m straight | 4yo+ | ITV/RUK
Richard Fahey has done his bit, and now it's down to Ribchester to do his.
The first of five theoretical Royal Ascot bankers that punters have latched on to, the four-year-old proved overwhelmingly dominant in an unexpected front-running role when beating Queen Anne second favourite Lightning Spear in the Lockinge at Newbury and Fahey, like the rest of us, knows a reproduction of that form will make him very hard to beat. What could go wrong?
For a start, Ribchester's draw in stall one, wide on the far side and nine berths away from his intended pacemaker Toscanini, would not have been Fahey's first choice in such a big field. Second, quicker ground, though not a problem in itself, is widely expected to bring Lightning Spear closer, at the very least. There is also significantly more strength in depth here.
But if there are any concerns on either score for Ribchester, who was an impressive winner of the Jersey 12 months ago, Fahey is playing them down.
He said: "I'm very happy with Ribchester. We just want him to go there and perform, and if he performs he'll run a big race."
He added: "Winning a Group 1 by over three lengths was a huge performance – we were delighted with him and he now has a rating of 125 and quite a good speed rating as well.
"We have a pacemaker, Toscanini, but I'm not particularly bothered whether Ribchester goes to the front again or takes a lead. I'm comfortable with him as he's relaxing at home now. The ground is different from last time but he has form on fast ground as well."
Success in the Queen Anne would be massive not just for Fahey but also for Godolphin, whose chief executive John Ferguson quit a fortnight ago.
It will also not be lost on those with an interest in Middle East politics that this is the first of a series of very public clashes between the feuding United Arab Emirates, represented by Mutakayyef and Dutch Connection as well as Ribchester, and Qatar, represented by Lightning Spear.
This is Royal Ascot, though, so don't expect the fireworks on course to spill over to the winner's enclosure.
Pros Convincing in the Lockinge and connections seem confident
Cons His draw and the ground he encounters would not have been at top of wishlist
David Simcock would be the last person to underestimate Ribchester, who beat Lightning Spear nearly four lengths into second on soft ground in the Lockinge and also had him a place behind when the pair chased home Minding over the Queen Anne course and distance in last year's Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.
However, he agrees the six-year-old will enjoy advantages here that did not apply in either of those races. He is therefore hopeful, if far from confident, of a belated Group 1 breakthrough for last year's Celebration Mile winner, who has the assistance of a pacemaker, Dutch Uncle, and on whom Jamie Spencer replaces the suspended Oisin Murphy.
Simcock said: "We're up against it, no question, but we go there in good shape and the ground is certainly a positive. Although he's got good form on all types of ground and is pretty adaptable, we've always felt he'd be better on fast ground than on softer.
"But the likelihood is that Ribchester could be equally as good on fast ground as he is on soft."
Dutch Uncle, bought out of Ed Dunlop's stable for 36,000gns at the beginning of May and now in training with Robert Cowell, is an 88-rated 1m2f handicapper and not obvious pacemaking material for a race like this, but Simcock is glad of his assistance.
He said: "The pacemaker wasn't my idea, but Lightning Spear will definitely be better coming off a strong pace and at this stage of his career we can't afford for him to be beaten by lack of pace.
"Jamie [Spencer] has ridden him plenty of times and knows him well. He could be slightly tricky, but he's settled down as he's got a little bit older and he's become a pretty uncomplicated ride."
Pros Ground in his favour and race might work out better tactically than in Lockinge
Cons No blatant reason why he should turn the tables on Ribchester
Melbourne Cup winner Michelle Payne is under no illusions about the task she faces on outsider Kaspersky, but she is excited about her first ride at Royal Ascot and knows it will be valuable experience for her return in August for the Shergar Cup.
Payne knows better than anyone improbable dreams can come true, after Prince Of Penzance was a 100-1 shot at Flemington in 2015 when propelling her to international fame in the wider media as well as on the racing pages.
And the Jane Chapple-Hyam-trained Kaspersky, who will head to Australia in the autumn, is not quite a 100-1 chance. He has won 12 of his 21 starts, including Group races in Italy and Germany, and put up one of the best handicap efforts of the season so far when second off 109 at Nottingham.
"I’ve been riding him in work and he's a quality galloper who's in great order. Just trotting off on him you can feel his quality. There are some fantastic horses lined up against him but it will be very exciting to have a go and hopefully he can make his presence felt."
She added: "Who knows what can happen in racing? The possibilities are endless. If you work hard you never know. Royal Ascot is a fantastic occasion and it’s a dream to be involved. Everyone at home is excited for me and setting their alarms to be up early to watch."
THE INTERNATIONAL CHALLENGE
Edgar Prado will not be the only jockey experiencing Royal Ascot for the first time this week, but he will certainly be the oldest, having turned 50 last Monday.
But while Royal Ascot will be a new experience to the Peruvian-born Hall of Fame rider, he has been a fixture on the top table Stateside for 20 years now and with just short of 7,000 winners to his name, including a Kentucky Derby and two Belmont Stakes, he is unlikely to be fazed by the occasion.
She was fourth to Ervedya in the Coronation in 2015 and fourth again, to Usherette, on unsuitably soft ground, in the Duke of Cambridge last year, and with ground conditions to suit she is possibly overpriced at around 25-1.
American Patriot, a more recent Grade 1 firm-ground winner, joins Miss Temple City in a two-pronged bid to follow the example of Tepin, who took this prize back across the Atlantic last year.
He too is a relative outsider but represents Todd Pletcher, who won the Belmont last weekend with Tapwrit, and Frankie Dettori, whose record speaks for itself.
The four-year-old enjoys being ridden with patience and should benefit as much from pacemakers Dutch Uncle and Toscanini as Lightning Spear and Ribchester.
Pletcher said: "He's settled in well and it's all gone smoothly. I think the firm ground will help and a strong pace should suit him also, as I imagine he'll sit a little way off it.
"He's never run on a straight track and having Frankie is a big advantage as he knows the course as well as anyone. We're happy to have him aboard."
German filly Spectre was a Group 3 winner at Maisons-Laffitte at three, but that was over seven furlongs on heavy ground and she has not been at her best yet this year.
She will be a first British runner for trainer Markus Munch, who owns her and also bred her but whose biggest claim to fame in the sporting world is that he helped Bayern Munich to two Bundesliga titles in a football career that witnessed him play there alongside the significantly older Jurgen Klinsmann and Lothar Matthaus under coach Franz Beckenbauer.
US-TRAINED WINNERS AT ROYAL ASCOT
Year Race Horse Trainer
2009 Windsor Castle Stakes Strike The Tiger Wesley Ward
Queen Mary Stakes Jealous Again Wesley Ward
2013 Norfolk Stakes No Nay Never Wesley Ward
2014 Windsor Castle Stakes Hootenanny Wesley Ward
2015 Queen Mary Stakes Acapulco Wesley Ward
Diamond Jubilee Stakes Undrafted Wesley Ward
2016 Queen Anne Stakes Tepin Mark Casse
Queen Mary Stakes Lady Aurelia Wesley Ward
What they say
Aidan O'Brien, trainer of Cougar Mountain and Deauville
Deauville's in good form and we're hoping dropping in trip will suit. Hopefully a mile won't prove too sharp. Cougar Mountain is a solid horse who loves fast ground. He was third in the race two years ago and is in good form.
Charlie Hills, trainer of Dutch Connection and Jallota
Dutch Connection won the Jersey two years ago. He doesn't want soft ground, and that's what scuppered us when he was due to start in the Lockinge, but he's been ready to run for a while and I'm really pleased with him. Jallota was second in the John of Gaunt but I don't think this will come too quick as he can back up well. That was a great effort under a penalty, and although we're probably playing for place money he never lets anyone down.
Robert Cowell, trainer of Dutch Uncle
He's been bought to ensure there's a good, honest gallop in the race.
Roger Varian, trainer of Ennaadd
He missed the Lockinge on account of the soft ground and these conditions – a stiff mile on fast ground – will suit him ideally. He's primed to run a career-best.
Richard Hannon, trainer of Kool Kompany and Oh This Is Us
They're two tough milers and both ran well at Epsom last time, and both have good chances of running well again. They'll enjoy the good gallop and love fast ground.
William Haggas, trainer of Mutakayyef
I left him in the Prince of Wales's in case it fell apart, which it hasn't, but I think he's a miler. He'll love the ground and the fast pace, and I'm looking forward to running him. He's in good shape.