Below is a quick snapshot of the six races on the card for the first day of the 2011 Royal Ascot meet.
As of Monday evening, the ground at Ascot is rated "Good to Soft", but officials believe it will be "Good" by Tuesday.
Royal Ascot 2011 - Day 1 Fields (via The Racing Post)
Race 1 - Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes, 4up, 8.0f
Not only the feature race on the day, but likely the feature race of the entire Royal Ascot meeting; three-time Breeders' Cup Mile champion Goldikova (IRE) squares off against Canford Cliffs (IRE) in the one mile Queen Anne Stakes. The French-trained mare began the 2011 in style by winning the Group 1 Prix d'Ispahan at Longchamp on May 22nd. That race was at nine furlongs (not her best distance) and should provide a good amount of stamina to her form as she heads to Ascot. Goldikova won the Queen Anne last year.
Canford Cliffs finished 3rd to Makfi in the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket in 2010, and then proceeded to run off and win four straight Group 1 races. He made his seasonal debut in the Group 1 Lockinge Stakes at Newbury on May 14th, winning by a comfortable 1 ¼ lengths at the wire. How good is Canford Cliffs? Good enough that many U.K. bookmakers have him as a slight favorite in this race over Goldikova.
The course condition could have a say in how this race unfolds as neither Goldikova nor Canford Cliffs really prefer soft ground. Canford Cliffs has tried ground rated "Good" or worse four times in his career and has two wins and a place. Goldikova has tried similar conditions eight times in her career, with six wins. Both would prefer "Good to Firm", but it's unlikely they'll get that on Tuesday. That being said, it's doubtful that the going will allow a horse other than the top two into the winner's circle; Goldikova and Canford Cliffs are the clear standouts.
While the early betting has fallen slightly to Canford Cliffs, I think Goldikova is still the one to beat. I think she's a bit better at handling softer ground (if the course stays as it is) and she should be ready to improve off of her seasonal win at Longchamp. But regardless of which horse wins, the Queen Anne should be a fantastic horse race.
The Queen Anne Stakes will be run on the straight mile.
Race 2 - Group 1 King's Stand Stakes, 3up, 5.0f
The King's Stand Stakes is a five furlong sprint run on the straight featuring a mammoth field of 19 horses. American trainers Todd Pletcher and Wesley Ward will each saddle a horse in the King's Stand; Bridgetown will run for Pletcher, while Holiday for Kitten will run for Ward.
Bridgetown did some nice work last summer in turf sprints around North America when he won a listed stakes at Monmouth Park and Saratoga before finishing fourth to Chamberlain Bridge in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint at Churchill Downs. He started 2011 in fine fashion by winning the Turf Dash at Tampa and an allowance race at Gulfstream Park. This race is a bit higher up the class ladder than he's used to, but he's a solid turf sprinter and if there's one thing American horses can usually do, it's sprint.
Wesley Ward's Holiday for Kitten (a three-year-old daughter of Kitten's Joy owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey), is a bit more of an unknown in this spot. She broke her maiden in a 8.5f Maiden Special at Churchill last fall before finishing 2nd in the Grade 3 Miesque Stakes at Hollywood Park in late November. After a poor race to start 2011, Ward cut this filly back to sprint distances where she picked up back-to-back victories at Gulfstream and Keeneland. The Keeneland win came on the Polytrack in the listed Giant's Cuaseway Stakes. The Gulfstream race was an allowance race on the lawn.
Non-American horses to keep an eye on in the King's Stand are 5-Kingsgate Native (IRE), 10-Sole Power (GB), and 11-Star Witness (NZ). Kingsgate Native showed a lot of class earlier in his career but has been on a bit of a slide since May of 2010. Sole Power beat Kingsgate Native by ¾ of a length in his last start, the Group 2 Temple Stakes at Haydock on May 21st. And finally, Star Witness comes over from Australia where he kept running into the fantastic sprinter, Black Caviar (AUS), time and time again. At a minimum, this race should tell us a bit about the strength of those races Down Under.
Race 3 - Group 1 St James's Palace Stakes, 3yo colts, 8.0f
If the Queen Anne Stakes is all about Goldikova and Canford Cliffs, then the St James's Palace is all about Frankel (GB). The 2,000 Guineas winner is making his first start since he demolished all who dared oppose him at Newmarket. His connections pondered (briefly) a run at the Epsom Derby, but decided that this colt's future lies with middle distance races.
Frankel's Guineas run was a simply devastating display of raw thoroughbred speed. He broke away from the pacemakers within the first quarter mile and essentially had the field beaten before they approached the halfway mark. From that point, Frankel simply paraded in front of the stands at Newmarket, to the delight of the crowd.
Frankel ran at Ascot last fall in the Grade 2 - Royal Lodge Stakes, and put up his usual impressive performance. That race came against a small field, something at the time that made it difficult to determine the strength of the race. The Royal Lodge also came over a course rated "Good to Soft", while his Guineas triumph occurred of going of "Good to Firm". In short, it's doubtful the ground will matter much because Frankel is King.
The St James's Palace Stakes is a mile race that will run on the round.
Race 4 - Group 2 Coventry Stakes, 2yo, 6.0f
Juveniles get into the act in the fourth race of the day, including another American entry, 11-Italo, trained by Wesley Ward. Italo is a two-year-old son of With Distinction out of a West By West mare (Dance For the Green). Wesley Ward chose to debut Italo in France instead of during the Keeneland spring meet where he debut's so many of his promising juveniles. Italo won a maiden race at Longchamp on May 26th, over a course raced as "Good". He beat eight rivals that day with a gate-to-wire performance, a trait of many Ward two-year-olds.
Wesley Ward is an exceptional trainer with speed and with juveniles, two factors that suggest Italo might have a big chance in a race like the Coventry Stakes.
Race 5 - Ascot Stakes, 4up, 20.0f
We tend to think of races like the Belmont Stakes and the Breeders' Cup Turf as tests of stamina due to their mile and a half running distance. I'm not sure what we'd do with a 2 ½ mile race.
The Ascot Stakes will feature a field of 20 that will run 2 ½ miles, or 20 furlongs. On paper, the race looks like it will be a wide-open all the way around the course. 1-Junior (GB) and 12-Zigato (GB) have taken a lot of the ante post action with U.K. bookmakers, with 15-Veiled (GB) running a close 3rd. Zigato comes into this race in good form after winning a handicap at Ascot in early May.
18-La Estrella has simply dominated every race over the All-Weather track Southwell during the past few years and is looking to make a splash at Royal Ascot. This gelded son of Theatrical (IRE) sports a 21-13-2-1 record over synthetic surfaces, but is only 14-1-0-0 when running on flat turf. He'd be a nice story if he were to win, but he's going to need to find a lot better turf form in a hurry.
Race 6 - Windsor Castle Stakes, 2yo, 5.0f
The final race on opening day is the listed Windsor Castle Stakes and will contain another Wesley Ward runner, Gentleman's Code, ridden by Mike Smith. Gentleman's Code began his career in a Maiden Special Weight at Belmont in early May and finished 2nd while racing through a muddy track. Following his debut, Ward then saw fit to bring him to England where he won a maiden stakes at Folkestone on May 26th against a field of just three horses. It's hard to get much of a read on a horse when they run against such small fields, but when you are dealing with Wesley Ward and a juvenile runner, it's hard to ignore his ability to generate successful results.
The Queen's Hat
And now for the truly important betting action, what color hat will the Queen wear on opening day? Current odds from Paddy Power are below:
200/1: Union Jack design
500/1: Princess Beatrice's Pretzel Hat
Additionally, you can bet on which color hat the Duchess of Cambridge will wear on opening day.
200/1: Union Jack design
My bets: I'll take 6/1 on the Queen wearing a purple hat, and back that up with 4/1 on a grey hat from the Duchess of Cambridge.