Thursday, May 23, 2013

Royal Ascot 2013

Royal Ascot

By Stephen Dwyer

Situated just six miles from Windsor Castle, a royal residence for over nine centuries, Ascot racecourse had had regal connections since it was founded by Queen Anne in 1711. The five day Royal Ascot meeting staged each summer attracts over 300,000 visitors and has long been a highlight of the racing calendar. It is considered among the most important and prestigious flat meetings throughout the world. 

Beginning on Tuesday 18th June with a Royal Procession, the Queen’s horse-drawn carriage will rumble down the centre of the racetrack to commence proceedings. Ascot is now the United Kingdom’s only remaining racecourse that is still owned by the Crown. From an industry perspective, Royal Ascot turnover is on the increase and Spokesperson for William Hill Lucy Rhodes reveals "Royal Ascot is the biggest week in Flat racing, and with the British public revelling in royal raptures, we're looking forward to a busy five days.”. Interestingly, William Hill have been offering bets on the colour of the Queen's Hat at Ascot since 1973 and this is often the subject of national debate.

For the first time in its history, Royal Ascot will feature prize-money in excess of £5,000,000 in 2013. This represents a total increase in the total prize-money of £500,000 (an 11% increase from 2012). The racing on offer is highly impressive with sixteen Group races and at least one Group One event on each of the five days. Day One features The Queen Anne Stakes which was won in great style last year by Frankel. There was recent confirmation from connections that Animal Kingdom, winner of the Kentucky Derby and Dubai World Cup will conclude his racing career in The Queen Anne. 

Winner of over $8.3 million in prize money, Animal Kingdom will race over the mile distance and the stiff test should play to his strengths. He is the current 3/1 favourite and sure to contract with the hype surrounding the horse although it will be his first time running in the UK. Aidan O’ Brien has a strong entry in the race with Declaration of War who was bred in Kentucky by Joseph Allen. Winner of five of his six races, Declaration of War comfortably won the Heritage Stakes at Leopardstown in May on his seasonal reappearance. Aidan O’ Brien has won The Queen Anne twice in the last seven seasons and boats a good record but Declaration of War might not be in the same class as Animal Kingdom.

The feature race of the day is The St James’s Palace Stakes which also features increased prize money this year. This race features the best male milers from the Classic generation and attracts horses that have run in the English, French and Irish 2,000 Guineas. Style Vendome, trained by Nicholas Clement is considering St James’s Palace as the most likely route after his recent win in the French 2000 Guineas. The other highlight of Day One is the King's Stand Stakes run over 5f which is part of the Global Sprint Challenge and has attracted more than its share of international winners.

The Prince of Wales's Stakes is among the feature races on Day two of Royal Ascot. Won by So You Think in 2012 it is the richest race at the Royal Ascot meeting and has a prize fund of £450,000. Among the list of entries include 1,000 Guineas and Irish and Epsom Derby winner Camelot. Described by Aidan O’ Brien as the best horse he has ever trained, Camelot underwent colic surgery over the winter and is has this race as his main seasonal target. Another horse who had surgery over the winter, this time for a chip on his ankle, Godolphin are all set to run Farhh who finished third in this race last year. Never out of the first three, Farhh is a very consistent sort and finished second in his last four runs in Group One races. It is sure to be an intriguing contest and supported on the day by The Windsor Forest Stakes, for older milers and The Group 2 Queen Mary Stakes, for the best up-and-coming two-year-old fillies.

The midpoint of Royal Ascot is on Thusday June 20th with the prestigious Gold Cup. This is run over the extended trip of 2 miles and 4 furlongs. The Gold Cup is the first leg of Britain's Stayers' Triple Crown, followed by the Goodwood Cup and the Doncaster Cup. It has been won many times by the same horse including Yeats, Royal Rebel, Ardross and Sagaro. Rite Of Passage trained by Dermot Weld heads the market at 6/1. He is a dual Ascot winner and handles any type of ground. Runaway winner of the Ormonde Stakes, Mount Athos also takes his chance in the Gold Cup for Luca Cumani as does Aiken for John Gosden. Although Rite Of Passage is a nine year old (the last 9 year old to win a Gold Cup was Beeswing in 1842) he did set a track record winning the 2010 Ascot Gold Cup and older horses can run well. Whether he can still stave off younger legs however, remains to be seen but it is a fascinating renewal.

Friday 21st June is midsummer and the feature race at Royal Ascot is the Coronation Stakes. This race traditionally brings together the leading three-year-old fillies in Europe. Also on the card is the King Edward VII Stakes, which was formerly known as the ‘Ascot Derby’, as its conditions mirror those of the Epsom Classic. The Sir Henry Cecil-trained Hot Snap was removed from the Oaks following a disappointing run in the 1,000 Guineas and is entered in the Coronation Stakes. She is a full sister to Midday and a former winner of the Nell Gwyn Stakes. Flotilla, a brilliant winner of the French 1,000 Guineas may also run in the race for trainer Mikel Delzangles. At Longchamp Flotilla defeated favourite Esoterique, getting up in the last few strides, with four lengths back to the third, she is an exciting prospect for her young trainer.
Concluding the 2013 Royal Ascot meeting is The Diamond Jubilee Stakes.   

As the second British leg of the Global Sprint Challenge, it is also UK’s joint most valuable sprint race, alongside the Darley July Cup at Newmarket. This is the last of the seven Group One races run at the meeting and was won last year by Black Caviar. Yet another name in the peerless roll of honour of Royal Ascot which is set to continue this June as the flat season reaches its pinnacle.

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