As we look ahead to a week of top-class racing, albeit without any racegoers, some of those involved reveal to our racing editor Hannah Lemieux, their selection of horses worth watching...
Racing fans rejoiced at the news the sport would make a return to racecourses on 1 June, the first equestrian discipline to emerge from the dark depths of lockdown, owing to the coronavirus pandemic.
The equally good news was that Royal Ascot would remain in its scheduled week in the calendar, 16 to 20 June, albeit behind closed doors – an event not open to members of the public.
The grandstands will fall silent this year; there will be no pomp and pageantry or the much-anticipated vision of The Queen arriving in her royal carriage. There will be no sartorial elegance, bright colours or eccentric headwear on display.
However, we can all celebrate the fact that Flat racing’s highlight goes ahead, and perhaps we can revel in our own ways at home, pop open the champagne and throw out the picnic rug. Here’s the lowdown…
Trainer Charlie Appleby
The Newmarket handler, who trains for Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin operation, is hoping stable stars Pinatubo and Barney Roy will head to Royal Ascot and shine.
Pinatubo, a three-year-old son of Shamardal, finished third in the Group One QIPCO 2000 Guineas and his connections will make a decision this week about whether he runs. Last year, he won the Chesham Stakes under James Doyle.
“The 2000 Guineas was the first hurdle to get out the way and if we’re happy with him, he’ll be aimed at the Group One St James’s Palace Stakes,” says Charlie.
The Group One Prince of Wales’s is the main target for six-year-old Barney Roy.
“He’s been in great form, and won his last start at Meydan on 7 March. In 2017, he won the St James’s Palace Stakes so he has course experience at Ascot, and I have been pleased with his preparation,” adds Charlie.
“Other horses who will also head to Ascot include Moonlight Spirit – he’s a staying type and ran well in France in the autumn. He will be aimed at the Ascot Gold Cup.”
Charlie reveals that three-year-old colt Al Dabaran is a dark horse to keep an eye on, and he’s yet to be out of the top three in his four starts.
“His last two runs were in France and he should be a player at Ascot, where he will step up in trip,” says Charlie.
Jockey Tom Marquand
“It is great to be back racing, despite it being a strange, new experience. I don’t quite yet know what horses I’ll be riding at Royal Ascot, but there are a couple I am looking forward to seeing out again,” says the up-and-coming jockey.
“Three-year-old colt Threat is a high-profile horse and he has been on great form at home,” adds Tom, who rode the Richard Hannon-trained colt three times in 2019, including a win on his Newmarket debut.
Tom is also looking forward to seeing “old favourite” Stradivarius, who finished third at Newmarket at the weekend. The John Gosden-trained six-year-old is a four-time winner at Ascot, including landing the Group One Gold Cup for two consecutive years, in 2018 and 2019, under regular jockey Frankie Dettori – and will be aiming for the hat-trick.
“It will be brilliant to watch Stradivarius at Ascot again,” adds Tom. “He always strikes deep with racegoers, he returns each year to Royal Ascot and thrills his many fans.”
Tom’s girlfriend and fellow Flat jockey Hollie Doyle will also have rides at Royal Ascot, most likely in the two-year-old races for trainer Archie Watson.
Trainer Andrew Balding
“It has been a strange year and I have about six horses going straight to Ascot without prep runs,” says Andrew, who also trains QIPCO 2000 Guineas winner Kameko.
“The horses have had different preparations this year, but we have been making the most of racecourse gallops at tracks like Kempton Park.”
Out of the team heading to Royal Ascot from Andrew’s Park House Stables in Kingsclere, he highlights Fox Tal, Fox Chairman and Shine So Bright as his most exciting prospects.
He adds: “Fox Tal was lightly raced last season, finishing fourth in the Group One QIPCO Champion Stakes at Ascot in October, where he came up against some of the best horses in Europe. I think he will improve a lot this year.
“Fox Chairman is also a smart horse. He finished second in the Hampton Court Stakes at Royal Ascot last year, but experienced some ‘traffic’ problems during the race, so I’m hoping he has a better run in his race this time.
“Shine So Bright will be targeted at the Group One Diamond Jubilee Stakes.”
Jockey Silvestre De Sousa
The three-time champion Flat jockey is looking forward to riding a team of horses trained by Andrew Balding, among his hopeful mounts at Royal Ascot.
“Andrew has some nice horses going to Ascot, so fingers crossed they all stay well and sound between now and then,” says Silvestre. “I will probably have around 20 rides during the week. Shine So Bright is a nice four-year-old and if all goes to plan, he will be an exciting horse.
“I have been riding out over the past few weeks and keeping myself fit.
“It is great to be back racing, but wearing face masks during the hot weather has been a bit of a struggle.”
Racing behind closed doors
The British Horseracing Authority has developed strict protocols in consultation with the government and public health officials to allow racing to return safely behind closed doors and safeguard everyone’s health and wellbeing. The measures include a three-stage health check that all attendees on course will have to pass, including temperatures being taken on arrival, strict social distancing rules, plus detailed guidance for all participants on how they will have to do things differently on course. Jockeys have been wearing face masks and are required to socially distance while getting changed.
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The countdown is on for Royal Ascot 2018 (19-23 June) — five days of glamour, high drama and top class