The international challenge is what makes Royal Ascot so special as the best that Ireland and England have to offer take on the French, the Yanks and anyone else who wants some.
A winner’s a winner though no matter where you’re from and we’ve asked John ‘Big Mac’ McCririck and Matt ‘Yeehaa’ Chapman to go head-to-head over the five days to help us pay for the champagne and caviar – or whether we’re back to chip butties and cans of Tennents come Saturday night.
JMC: It is a mouth-watering prospect to see Freddie Head’s grey Solow take on the super-dominant world miler Able Friend, a world-class horse who makes his first trip out of Hong Kong and races a straight mile for the first time.
The British Challenge starts with Richard Hannon’s Lockinge winner Night Of Thunder but he needs to step up on what he has produced so far to challenge the front two in the market.
Toormore may prefer more rain to be seen at his best and the each-way value has to be Peter Chapple-Hyam’s Arod who won under a ‘hands-and-heels’ ride to win the Diomed Stakes at Epsom last week. He looks to have plenty more progression in him yet.
MAC’S PICK: ABLE FRIEND
MC: Royal Ascot. A class meeting, That suits someone like me so I am confident in this head-to-head to the bitter end.
Tuesday is always the best day of the week for action, and the Queen Anne is a sizzler. Able Friend has the top rating, but he’s only ever gone round a sharp bend at Sha Tin.
I am all over Solow, who once ran over 1m7f (!) but has plenty of pace and is now looking a super star for Freddie ‘Goldikova’ Head. He looked brilliant in Meydan and did well when in the wrong position tactically last time. Lump on.
CHAPMAN’S PICK: SOLOW
JMC: This looks wide open and Dermot Weld’s lightly-raced, Free Eagle has not been seen since October when third in the Champion Stakes over course and distance. He’s class.
He prefers quicker ground although I’m not sure I would have him as favourite. Kevin Ryan’s Grey Gatsby never seems to get the credit he deserves but he has a strong chance. American wonder horse California Chrome is the star attraction though. He was nearly unbeatable at home last season and was second to Prince Bishop in the Dubai World Cup in March.
Ectot is the forgotten contender after blotting his copybook badly in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp last October finishing well down the field behind Treve while Epsom Derby winning trainer John Gosden won this last year with The Fugue and his Western Hymn has had two perfect prep-races at Sandown.
He’ll be popular if Frankie Dettori’s on board trying to follow up his Derby win on Golden Horn.
MAC’S PICK: WESTERN HYMN (each-way)
MC: On Wednesday the Prince of Wales’s Stakes always serves us up a dish to savour and all eyes will be on the hugely promising but lightly raced Free Eagle. It will be a huge achievement to win this on the seasonal debut but he has the talent.
It’s a truly international field, but the one I like each-way is The Grey Gatsby. He could have been closer to Al Kazeem last time, but he’s a decent tool and of course beat Australia last season in Ireland. He’s hard to keep out the frame and could easily win.
Western Hymn is the other I think will run well at decent odds.
CHAPMAN’S PICK: THE GREY GATSBY (each-way)
JMc: It all revolves around Forgotten Rules who has swept all before him in his short career. A winner at the course over two miles on heavy ground on Champions Day, he stayed on like a train to beat a class field suggesting the extra half mile here will be no problem.
Clever Cookie finally gets his chance at Ascot after dominating races at York, Kelso and Musselburgh for the past two seasons, he has stepped up again this year with wins at Chester and York.
Luca Cumani’s Mizzou is improving but the one I like is Aidan O’Brien’s Kingfisher who finished second in last year’s Irish Derby and looked as good as ever when winning at Leopardstown last week over 1m 6f.
It’s a journey into the unknown trip wise but we thought the same about his stablemate Leading Light who won this last year.
MAC’S PICK: KINGFISHER (each-way)
MC: The biggest race of the meeting is the Ascot Gold Cup on Thursday, and this year’s renewal is a hot one once again. There may not be a Yeats, but there are plenty of decent horses to choose from.
Ground will be key, as it may not be soft enough for Forgotten Rules who promises so much.
Tac De Boistron is an eight-year-old, so many will rule him out on age, but he’s a strong stayer and classy. He’s also a previous Ascot winner. Tac de Boistron was far from disgraced behind Clever Cookie under a penalty at Chester last time, and that form was given a boost by the winner at York next time.
CHAPMAN’S PICK: TAC DE BOISTRON
JMC: Ballydoyle have waited for Royal Ascot with Found (who had Classic entries) but she seems to lack the spark she showed last year when winning a Group One at Longchamp.
Fellow Irish raider Lucida went off favourite for the 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket but ran into Legatissimo who franked the form when a close-up second in the Oaks at Epsom. The quicker conditions at Ascot look sure to suit Jim Bolger’s filly and she is a major threat to the favourite.
The French challenger Ervedya won a Group 1 at Longchamp last month easily and the race looks to be between these three.
MAC’S PICK: LUCIDA
MC: On Friday it’s all about the fillies, so never a bad day to go if you are a bloke! The Coronation is the feature, and sees a clash of Classic fillies in the shape of Found, just touched off in Ireland, and Ervedya, who was impressive when defeating Irish Rookie in the French equivalent.
I like French raiders in this event, as it often goes to a horse with a turn of foot, so I’m with the Aga Khan inmate. Ervedya recently beat Ameenah who is a decent animal and keeps winning so the form is strong. Going to take some beating.
I’m not sure about Found, but she was definitely better last time than on her debut.
CHAPMAN’S PICK: ERVEDYA
JMC: The Aussie challenger Brazen Beau is the horse-to-beat and he’s excelled over 6f winning four Group races and destroyed a Group 1 field at Flemington last time. He’s a class act.
Australian Guineas winner Wandjina’s form over less than a mile is not as impressive but connections must feel they will be competitive to travel so far.
Last year’s Jersey Stakes winner Mustajeeb looked like the drop back to 6f suited him when he won the Group 2 Greenland Stakes at the Curragh. However, the faster ground may be against him.
David O’Meara’s G Force looked a sprinter going places last year but he needs to re-discover his form to challenge.
Due Diligence was runner up in this last year despite having a bad draw (high) and being hampered in this last year. A low draw and clear run could see him run well again.
MAC’S PICK: BRAZEN BEAU
MC: It’s the big sprint, the Diamond Jubilee, on the Saturday of Royal Ascot, and I have to be honest it’s a hard race to predict in advance with runners from the King’s Stand Stakes possibly coming on to this event from earlier in the week.
However, at this stage the one I like is Irish raider Mustajeeb, who brings in Classic form from his three-year-old days. He wasn’t far off the best at a mile, and Pat Smullen is certain this horse has always been a sprinter. He was hugely impressive at the Curragh last time, and while there are strong foreign raiders, he could just be really good for the legend DK Weld.
CHAPMAN’S PICK: MUSTAJEEB