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World Cup sidelined as royal gala kicks off with pulsating equine encounters

Richard Forristal on an afternoon to savour for racing fans

Rhododendron (near) will again face her Lockinge victim Lightning Spear in the Queen Anne
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The day in a nutshell

Royal Ascot might be the definitive international Flat racing festival but, despite our best efforts, we’ve failed to establish so much as a tenuous link between Tuesday’s card and the World Cup group games that feature Colombia, Japan, Poland, Senegal, Egypt and Russia. Never mind. We’ll just have to concentrate on the racing.

To be frank, notwithstanding the prospect of the Egyptian king Mo Salah tormenting the home nation later in the evening, proceedings on day one of the royal fixture should have the stage to themselves. The slight lull in World Cup hysteria is more than compensated for by what promises to be a pulsating afternoon of elite equine encounters.

With Rhododendron bidding to replicate her last-gasp Lockinge mugging of the re-opposing Lightning Spear in the curtain-raising Queen Anne, the group stages are being bypassed. This is proper knockout fare.

It says plenty that the Coventry Stakes might constitute a chance to draw breath, before Battaash and Lady Aurelia burn it up in a King’s Stand Stakes that should leave us with a good idea of who is the fastest horse on the planet. Then there is the St James’s Palace Stakes.

The 2,000 Guineas runner-up Tip Two Win features, as does the Irish 2,000 Guineas giant-slayer Romanised. US Navy Flag, one of those slayed giants and a dual Group 1-winning two-year-old, is also in the mix.

It stands to reason, then, that one of those three might head the market, right? Wrong. Step forward Without Parole, the unbeaten Frankel colt who landed a Sandown Listed race under Frankie Dettori last time.

At least we can always rely on the Italian legend to provide an easy World Cup segue. Oh, wait …

Irish raiders not here just to take part

Irish football’s relationship with the World Cup is a fusion of brevity (three appearances), bedlam (Italia ’90 and USA ’94) and the utterly bizarre (Keane, Saipan ’02).

Apres Match, the parody sketch that has become a staple of the sport’s major international tournaments on the national broadcaster RTE, last week produced another ingenious ditty entitled “We’re Not There” to the tune of the Zombies' 1965 hit She’s Not There.   

Well, Martin O’Neill’s men might not be there, but the cross-channel raiders will be out in force at Ascot, same as ever. Aidan O’Brien’s esteemed squad will spearhead the challenge as the Ballydoyle maestro bids for a ninth leading trainer award.

In total, 23 of the 29 non-British contenders on Tuesday’s spread cross the Irish Sea, with 2016's record of ten Irish winners the high watermark.

The six other international runners comprise three each from France and the United States.

Lady Aurelia returns to Royal Ascot in a bid to win at the meeting for the third year in a row
Wesley Ward initiates his annual transatlantic foray with the hat-trick-seeking Lady Aurelia in the King’s Stand, while in the Queen Anne Bill Mott’s Yoshida and Carlos Laffon-Parias’s Recoletos feature.

Henri-Alex Pantall’s Wootton, fourth when sent off favourite in the Poule d’Essai des Poulains, will need to settle better in the St James’s Palace, while there is maybe no more intriguing foreign raider than Finsbury Square.

Originally entered for the King’s Stand in April before relocating to the Chantilly stable of Spanish-born Mauricio Delcher-Sanchez, he was then scratched from the five-furlong cavalry charge in May. The net difference between the total £47,150 outlay, including supplementary fee, and the regular cost of entry is an eye-watering £40,900. Ouch.

Century Dream and Chilean have also been supplemented for the Queen Anne and St James’s Palace respectively as trainers Simon Crisford and Martyn Meade bid for a breakthrough winner at the meeting.

Parole out to Justify favouritism

Justify might be the world’s most famous horse right now but it says much of Royal Ascot’s prestige that the man who bred the Triple Crown colossus has stated that it would mean more to see Without Parole, ahem, justify favouritism in the St James’s Palace.

John Gunther, who bred both horses at his Glennwood Stud in Kentucky, still owns the exciting three-year-old along with his daughter Tanya.

“It would be better,” he told the Racing Post last week when asked how victory for Without Parole would compare to breeding a Triple Crown winner. “To be at Royal Ascot and win the St James's Palace Stakes would be the biggest experience of my life, believe me.”

Power thinks Winx might have been evens

Winx’s besotted fans spent much of the winter pondering the prospect of her contesting the Queen Anne Stakes, but connections took the decision in March to abort that grand plan.

October's Cox Plate, which she has won three times already, is now the target for her 26th successive win, and a 19th at Group 1 level. Lest you be wondering still, Paddy Power reckon she would be trading around evens for Tuesday's opener had she gone global and turned up.

“If Winx had travelled, racing fans would be in heaven as she’s looked an absolute superstar at home,” said the firm’s spokesman Paul Binfield.

“But while some of our traders were more inclined to go 1-2, arguing that this year’s Queen Anne doesn’t look the strongest on paper, she still would have to overcome travelling to Europe for the first time, and the probable fact that our milers are better than those she’s vanquished down under, so we settled on evens.”

One channel not enough for royal fare

Armchair viewers are reminded that ITV’s coverage of the Poland v Senegal World Cup match means that its Royal Ascot broadcast is split across two channels.

The four-and-a-half-hour show starts at 1.30pm on ITV, and runs on the main channel until 3.25pm, taking in the Queen Anne and Coventry, before ITV4 picks up the reins for the remaining four races until the broadcast finishes at 6pm.

The Opening Show is also on ITV4, for an hour from 9.30am.

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It stands to reason, then, that one of those three might head the market, right? Wrong
E.W. Terms