The opening race of Royal Ascot 2013 sees, arguably, the most versatile horse in the world Animal Kingdom (2.30) make his British debut on what is likely to be his final start before he embarks on a career at stud; nice work if you can get it.
The winner of the 2011 Kentucky Derby and 2013 Dubai World Cup he put up a very good performance against a sub-standard field in Meydan and whilst he has never won over a straight mile on turf he looked to have the necessary pace and class when a fast-finishing second to Wise Dan in the Breeders' Cup Mile at Santa Anita last autumn.
His draw in stall 13 is not ideal but I, for one, would be disappointed if he were not able to beat what doesn't look like a vintage European challenge of which the filly Elusive Kate (8/1 at BetVictor) can reward each way support. Favourite backers will wish to get off to a good start and Animal Kingdom (8/11 at BetVictor) will be many punters' banker of the whole meeting.
If the South African sprinter Shea Shea is in the same mood as he was when also winning at Meydan on Dubai World Cup night he, too, will be very hard to beat in the King's Stand Stakes over the flying five furlongs. He broke the track record on that occasion and must be the one to beat but at 15/8 I reluctantly overlook him in favour of Pearl Secret (3.05) each way at 14/1 with BetVictor.
The selection would not want the ground too firm but there are showers forecast and Clerk Of The course Chris Stickels reports the ground as good on Sunday morning; trained by David Barron in Yorkshire the selection met with defeat only once in five starts last season although that was on his last start when stepped up to Group 1 company for the first time. I am convinced that wasn't his true form and I hope he can at least run into a place.
The third Group 1 of the day sees the English Guineas winner Dawn Approach (11/8) lock horns with the Irish Guineas winner Magician (2/1) in a wonderful renewal of the St James's Palace Stakes; Dawn Approach (3.45) did blot his copybook at Epsom in the Derby but he showed at Newmarket that he is a miler pure and simple and, with pacemaker Leitir Mor in the field, he can return to winning ways in what many believe is the race of the meeting.
We are refunding all losses on each race at the meeting up to £25 as a free bet if Champion jockey Richard Hughes finishes in the frame and he really should finish no worse than third aboard Toronado in the previous race and he also has an outstanding chance with Championship (4.25) in the first juvenile race of the meeting the Coventry Stakes won last year by non-other than Dawn Approach.
The selection won his only start at Newbury and whilst that form is not working out too well he could do no more than win and is sure to come on for the experience. Aidan O'Brien saddles three of the 16-strong field including 5/2 favourite Stubbs who looked a picture when scoring at Naas last time!
Frankie Dettori has made a low-key return to the saddle following his lengthy ban for testing positive for cocaine but a winner at the Royal meeting would be the fillip he needs to get his career back on track; Homeric (5.00) might just be able to do that for Ed Dunlop in the Ascot Stakes over the marathon trip of 2m 4f. A winner over 2 miles here last month the selection promises to get the extra half-mile and gets a tentative vote at 10/1 with BetVictor. Midnight Oil and Just Justification lead a strong Irish challenge with the firmer especially interesting representing the stable of Willie Mullins who won the corresponding race last year with Simenon. Lady Cecil saddles the 9/2 favourite Tiger Cliff and her late husband long had this race in mind for the horse.
The first day closes with the Windsor Castle Stakes which can go to Ballydoyle's Fountain Of Youth (5.35); beautifully bred this son of Oasis Dream out of the Guineas' winner Attraction easily landed the odds in a Tipperary maiden last time and while everyone knows it is a long way from Tipperary to winning at Royal Ascot he will love the ground and is another each way selection.
The unbeaten Anticipated represents the powerful Hannon yard and is the pick of stable jockey Richard Hughes; he looks the best of the home challenge.
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