Royal Ascot. Where top class equine talent intermingles with high-end fashion and provides five scintillating days of thrills, spills and silly hats. Stars will emerge and champions will falter, but what are the six key ingredients that could make Royal Ascot 2017 one to really remember? 1) Scorching sunshine!# The weather is set fair for the duration of the meeting with wall to wall sunshine, meaning more drinking and less clothing for the crowd, and seriously fast ground for the horses. Even with the regular watering that will take place between now and then the Ascot track is known for producing some of the quickest ground in the country. It looks like it will be the horses who prefer running on a surface akin to a road who come to the fore this time.
2) Churchill v Barney Roy – The rematch
Fresh from wins in both the English and Irish 2000 Guineas, Churchill is this year’s superstar Ballydoyle colt and next stop for him looks set to be the St James’ Palace Stakes and a rematch with Newmarket runner-up Barney Roy. Aidan O’Brien’s runner is understandably a clear favourite but this track may suit Richard Hannon’s challenger better than Newmarket and he is a clear second best in the betting as he bids to turn the tables.
3) Short priced favourites! The bookies are already bleating on about the damage it will do them should the most popular short priced favourites all win and there are certainly a few to capture the imagination, beginning on Day 1 with recent impressive Lockinge winner, Ribchester, in the Queen Anne Stakes and Churchill in the St James’ Palace. Order of St George is sure to be popular at around even money to win his second Gold Cup on Thursday, whilst 1000 Guineas winner, Winter, will be banker material for plenty of folk in Friday’s Coronation Stakes. Another sprinter with the world at his feet is the unbeaten Caravaggio and he completes a quartet of Ballydoyle horses with races seemingly at their mercy.
4) US Speedballs
What makes American 2-year-old fillies that much quicker than ours? That’s seemed to be the case for the past few years anyway with, first, Acapulco in 2015, and then Lady Aurelia last year, blitzing our 2-year-old fillies out of their comfort zone with astounding early pace. Maybe it’s the fact they have 4f furlong races in The States or because they run on rock hard ground so often but either way both those two are back this year to do battle in the King’s Stand Stakes over 5f. Acapulco, now with Ballydoyle and currently in foal to Galileo, might have to play second fiddle this time.
5) Another Gold Cup for Ballydoyle?
With seven wins in the last eleven years, it’s wise to take Aidan O’Brien very seriously when talking about the Ascot Gold Cup. Last year’s winner Order of St George is back to defend his crown this year and he’s a short price to get the job done again. What both he and previous Ballydoyle winners, Leading Light, Fame and Glory and the mighty four-time winner Yeats, all have in common is that absolute beast of a sire, Sadler’s Wells. Research has shown that with the perfect blend of speed and stamina to be effective at this 2m 4f trip, Ballydoyle has a bloodline that can continue dominate this race for many years to come.
6) Returning Champions
It’s never easy to go back and regain what was once yours when your legs are getting older and your mind is getting wiser and memorable moments like Kauto Star regaining the Cheltenham Gold Cup or Sprinter Sacre last year in the Queen Mother Chase don’t happen too often. When they do they deserve to be celebrated and this year there are a few trying to do just that. In the King’s Stand Stakes Goldream is back in good form two years on from his 2015 win in the race and will enjoy the ground, but unfortunately for connections of last year’s winner Profitable, he’s likely to rule out, or at the very least, highly inconvenienced by such quick ground conditions.