What with that football tournament going on in Russia right now, a lot of sporting spectacles around the globe are likely to fly under the radar for the next month or so.
But that won’t halt many of the UK and Ireland’s finest flat horses, jockeys and trainers, who have a date with royalty this week.
Royal Ascot is one of the Blue Riband events in flat racing, and from Tuesday right through until Saturday punters and racegoers are set for a week of cracking action on the track and, if the antics of Glorious Goodwood et al are to be followed, in the stands too.
It gets underway today with a decent card that includes the Queen Anne Stakes and the St James’s Palace Stakes, in which Frankie Dettori – who missed Ascot in 2017 through injury – is expected to pilot Without Parole home for the John Gosden yard.
Indeed, Dettori is expected to be a central figure this week as he takes a number of key rides, and the Italian is likely to be the focus for punters throughout the five days of racing.
No Cracks to Appear in Prince of Wales
At this moment in time, officially the highest rated horse on the planet is Cracksman, the outstanding four-year-old who has now won five high profile races on the spin.
Dettori takes the ride on behalf of Gosden once more, and that pairing has delivered some extraordinary performances in recent times.
He routed the field in the Champion Stakes at Ascot back in October, and that followed August’s eye-catching Great Voltigeur Stakes triumph.
Great to hear from John Gosden in Newmarket yesterday – the top trainer gives us the latest on Cracksman, Without Parole and Stradivarius before their Group 1 assignments at Royal Ascot: pic.twitter.com/bCAZ3zfYSO
— At The Races (@AtTheRaces) June 15, 2018
A win in the Coronation Cup last time out was rather closer – Cracksman got home by a head from Salouen at Epsom – but the undulations of the Downs weren’t necessarily a good fit for this super-charged powerhouse.
Given freedom to power up the slope at Ascot, we would expect Gosden’s charge to gobble up the Prince of Wales Stakes on Wednesday, in which he is a general 8/13 favourite. Competition comes from Poets Word and Cliffs of Moher, but nobody is any doubt that Cracksman should get the job done – Dettori included.
“It’s obvious to everyone he doesn’t like the hills at Epsom,” he said. “I hope that ‘the beast’ turns up, like the Champion Stakes, and we’ll have some fun.”
Going for Gold
One of the standout feature races of Royal Ascot is the Gold Cup, and Dettori will once again be in the saddle of a much-fancied sort.
Stradivarius will lock horns with Order of St George in one of the more mouth-watering clashes of the meeting, and the slightly faster conditions might just play into Dettori’s hands.
A winner of the Yorkshire Cup last time out, the Irish horse was beaten by Order of St George in the British Champions Long Distance Cup on this very track in October, but the going was rather soft that day and a summer showdown should suit the Gosden horse.
At 2/1, it could be double delight for Dettori, but keep your eyes peeled for the French speed demon, Vazirabad, at 5/1. This six-year-old has never raced outside of France, but scouts suggest he has the pace and power to trouble the favourites here.
Aussie Warrior Set for Battle
One of Saturday’s highlights will be the Diamond Jubilee Stakes, and again Dettori looks nicely poised.
He takes the mount of Redkirk Warrior, an Australian horse who has spent much of his career in Hong Kong.
But the seven-year-old is British bred, and heads to Berkshire after winning two high-quality sprint races Down Under.
If you are the kind of punter who enjoys omens, Redkirk Warrior has this week been stabled in the same box as Black Caviar, a former Diamond Jubilee winner!
Harry Angel, the 10/3 favourite, could take some beating, however. The four-year-old has won a couple of Group 1 affairs, although the naysayers will point to a record of four starts, no wins at Ascot.
If you’re looking for an each-way fancy then how about the claims of Blue Point? Charlie Appleby’s charge is a two-time winner at Ascot; including a triumph by one length over Harry Angel last May.