Roll on Royal Ascot!

Ryan Moore riding Love (right, blue/orange) to victory in the Qipco 1000 Guineas Stakes at Newmarket

Ryan Moore riding Love (right, blue/orange) to victory in the Qipco 1000 Guineas Stakes at Newmarket Racecourse - Credit: PA

With Newmarket having staged the Guineas Festival at the weekend, all eyes now turn to Royal Ascot next Tuesday (June 16).

Kameko ridden by Oisin Murphy prior to the Qipco 2000 Guineas at Newmarket Racecourse.

Kameko ridden by Oisin Murphy prior to the Qipco 2000 Guineas at Newmarket Racecourse. - Credit: PA

There will be no royal procession, no singing around the bandstand and no betting ring, as the action takes place behind closed doors, and many races will be very different from the norm.

The traditional big field cavalry charges such as Royal Hunt Cup will be smaller this year due to the current maximum field restrictions in the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, with the BHA stating all races at Royal Ascot, including the handicaps, will be restricted to a maximum of 24 runners.

There will be more races than usual, though, with six extra races added to the card over the five days, but it doesn’t get any easier for us punters.

The financial strain on racetracks from the lockdown is clear to see with the prize-money dropping by more than half this year with £3,680,000 in the kitty for 2020 spread across the 36 races compared to £7.3m last year spread over 30 heats.

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Truth be told I am now looking forward to it as the meeting draws closer, but with caution. With very little form to work with from this season and no way of really knowing who has been doing what at their respective yards it is, in my opinion, not a week to be lumping on.

We have seen in the UK and in France, after they resumed racing, many horses ran below what might have been expected first time out. But it is Royal Ascot, not as we know it, but there are still some big races up for grabs.

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At the time of writing just over a week before the meeting I am yet to have a bet, unheard of in years gone by, but these are strange times in which we live.

We can be fairly sure where some horses will run, and the following is a list of the ones to keep an eye out for if nothing else.

A couple of things to note. The Group Two Ribblesdale Stakes for fillies and Group Two King Edward VII Stakes for colts over 1m 4f at Royal Ascot are often the next port of call following a run in either the Oaks or Derby earlier in the month.

This year they become trials for the big races with the rearranged fixture list having the Group Ones at Epsom much later in the calendar on Saturday July 4.

The races have in fact been deliberately placed on day one of the Royal meeting in order to maximise the gap between them and Derby and Oaks Day. It will be interesting to see who shows up.

Amongst the other changes to the regular programme are the movement of the one-mile Group One St James’s Palace Stakes and one-mile Group One Coronation Stakes to the final day, to maximise the time between them and the rearranged Guineas at Newmarket which were run on the first weekend of June rather than as usual in May.

Stradivarius will surely be back to defend his crown in the Group One Gold Cup on the Thursday having won the race the last two years.

Kew Gardens got the better of the Champ in the Long Distance Cup at Ascot in October last year to inflict his first defeat in two years but the 2m4f of the Gold Cup plays to the strengths of Stradivarius and he had a nice warm-up to blow the cobwebs away when third in the inadequate test of the 1m 4f of the rearranged Coronation Cup at Newmarket recently that should have put him cherry ripe for the Royal meeting.

Talking of Kew Gardens he will likely be back at Ascot and I would expect to see him run in the Group Two Queens Vase on Friday over 1m 6f that he won nicely in 2018. You would think his main target for the season will be the Irish St Leger in September and it is an obvious stepping stone to me.

Battaash will surely be aimed at the 5f Kings Stand again, especially with Blue Point, the winner of the last two years, now retired. But, and it’s a big but, he can be a monkey and I wouldn’t back him at the likely short odds,

Japan will almost certainly be aimed at the Group One Prince of Wales’s Stakes over 1m 2f on the Wednesday and would have to be on any short list especially with super mare Enable not likely to run until July his task has been made a little easier.

It is an interesting race, though, with Godolphin pair Barney Roy and, I would suggest most dangerously, Ghaiyyath both possible runners. That said at this stage none are sure to run.

Wesley Ward is a regular visitor from across the pond from his Kentucky base and will be sending horses again this year, if not visiting himself.

Apparently, there are a number of staff who worked with him last year in the UK so the horses will be sent over into their care. One he is likely to send is Kimari, second in the Queen Mary Stakes last year on ground perhaps too soft, to run in the Group One Commonwealth Cup on the Friday.

It could be a cracking race as Godolphin have the unbeaten in five runs as a two-year-old Earthlight to consider for the race, the colt having missed a possible tilt at the French Guineas with a fetlock sprain.

The questions are will they send him over from France and will they keep him at sprint distances now that stablemate Victor Ludorum won the Poule d’Essai des Poulains and Pinatubo of course was third in the 2,000 Guineas? They don’t need another three-year-old miler, do they?

I liked the way he showed real speed and a liking for a battle when winning his two Group Ones in the Autumn: both good attributes for a top-class sprinter and 8-1 is available about the Andre Fabre-trained colt but no plans have been confirmed yet.

My advice is keep an eye out for any news as if it becomes clearer that this is where he will run, that price will shrink quicker that your best silk shirt in the boil wash!

Remember to visit and the Royal Ascot page every day for updates. Stay safe and most of all be lucky!

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