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The early season highlight Flat festivals wise is undoubtedly Royal Ascot. With horses coming from all over the world, including an increased representation from the US with the likes of George Weaver and New York-based Englishman Tom Morley sending runners over it felt like a truly international affair.
Add in the usual array of top class Aussie sprinters in Artorius, Coolnagatta and Cannonball plus Hong Kong’s Wellington and the meeting really did showcase British racing on the world stage.
While I don’t want to dwell on the negatives too much I figured I’d best get them out of the way early with the lack of international participation over a mile to a mile-and-a-half very disappointing.
In the past we’ve had US runners in the Queen Anne, ex-Australian performers in the Prince Of Wales’ Stakes and also runners from the Far East at times too.
The Japanese runners have been winning with regularity at the big meetings in the Middle East in the early part of the year and the love of watering UK courses from the clerk’s has been put forward as a reason why most head back to Japan rather than come to race at Ascot.
Given that the likes of Equinox and co are currently judged to be the best middle distance performers it’s disappointing that the racecourse doesn’t do more to try and lure them to the track for what is arguably it’s biggest meeting of the year.
While a number of the big US contenders disappointed and the big match on Tuesday that was the subject of much discussion on social media, River Tiber vs Asadna failed to materialise, it’s important not to dwell on those as there were some potentially top class two-year-old’s on display.
Aidan O’Brien has made a habit of taking Tuesday’s Coventry Stakes with River Tiber’s win in the race, the handlers tenth having first taken it back in 1997 with Harbour Master.
The O’Brien winners are generally top class youngsters who often don’t train on, there’s the odd exception with Landseer and Henrythenavigator both going on to have success at a mile at three while Caravaggio was a high class sprinter who took the Commonwealth Cup at this meeting at two.
Only time will tell whether River Tiber makes up into a top three-year-old but there looks to be plenty of races to be won with him at two before then.
Of the fillies it’s hard to knock Donnacha O’Brien’s Albany Stakes winner Porta Fortuna who is now a dual Group 3 winner and unbeaten in three outings.
Being a daughter of Caravaggio there’s no guarantee that she will stay a mile and she may well end up best as a sprinter.
There was much talk about the Paddington vs. Chaldean clash in the St James’ Palace Stakes on Tuesday and that looked a very one-sided affair with Paddington drawing over three-and-a-half-lengths clear of his main rival to record a comfortable victory.
Chaldean weakened in the closing stages and while he seemed fine with the mile when winning at Newmarket he may well prove better over slightly shorter.
As for Paddington this was an impressive performance from a horse who shaped as if he would stay further and with that in mind a race like the Irish Champion Stakes must come under consideration.
The fillies’ equivalent saw Tahiyra cement her place as the top miling filly and land many tips for Ascot with an impressive odds-on win in the Coronation Stakes.
Jockey Chris Hayes talked about the possibility of stepping her up in trip following the race and while the defection of her 1000 Guineas conqueror Mawj took some shine off the race she looks like a superstar for the Aga Khan and Dermot Weld and whether her future lies over a mile or over a mile-and-a-quarter only time will tell.
Little Big Bear was all the rage for the Commonwealth Cup having made amends for his Guineas flop with an impressive victory at Haydock.
However he had no answers to the slowly away but strong finishing Shaquille in Friday’s sprint feature.
Shaquille is now the winner of six of his seven starts with the sole defeat coming over seven furlongs at York last year and he is likely to head to Newmarket for the July Cup.
Last years Coventry Stakes winner Bradsell performed well to register his first victory since taking the Kings’ Stand Stakes on the Tuesday of the meeting.
Placed third behind Little Big Bear at Haydock it was the colts first start over the minimum distance and he is sure to be a leading contender for the Nunthorpe at York in August.
The absence of horses from the Far East no doubt took some shine off the older horse Group 1 races but it was hard not to be pleased for connections of Triple Time who took the Queen Anne Stakes on the opening day of the meeting.
Trained by Kevin Ryan the victory was the four-year-old’s first success away from Haydock and marked him out as a horse to look out for in Group 1 mile contests this year.
Vauban took the closing race on day one in impressive fashion and having shown he is up to performing at the top level over hurdles connections must be thinking that doing similar on the flat is a distinct possibility with the Melbourne Cup no doubt going to come under consideration for the gelding.
Mostahdaf impressed when delivering a four length victory in the Prince Of Wales’ Stakes on the second day of the meeting.
The five-year-old had chased home Japanese start Equinox in Dubai earlier in the year and had plenty of classy performers well beaten in behind here including Luxembourg and Adayar.
The King George must surely come under consideration for an entire who has run well over the trip in the past.
Courage Mon Ami was making just his fourth career start when delivering a victory under Frankie Dettori in the big race of the week, the Gold Cup.
With improvement possibly and being just a four-year-old he could be back in years to come to attempt to emulate the likes of Yeats in winning multiple Ascot Gold Cup’s.
The stewards were again in the news thanks to the various cameras in the stewards room and the decision not to reverse the result of the Hardwicke Stakes in which the winner Pyledriver hampered his rivals.
While the sport undoubtedly could be on a better footing currently this was a tremendous meeting and a big one given it was the first year without Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.