Regal Presence Opens the Royal Meeting

Smaller crowds will return to Royal Ascot in 2021 as the meeting opens on Tuesday | Emma Berry

While it is expected that The Queen will be at Royal Ascot on Tuesday, the fact that the monarch is not going to attend each day and that there will be no royal procession means that as far as normality is concerned we are far from out of the woods.

In an upgrade on the atmospheric void that was 2020, there will be 12,000 in attendance to create some buzz at Flat racing's magnificent summer showcase which still boasts a strong, if slightly diminished, international element. While French entries have suffered the most this year, it is debatable whether they would have supplied anything to hamper the opening race's star turn Palace Pier (GB) (Kingman {GB}). One of if not the key protagonist of this year's meeting, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum's 'TDN Rising Star' has all the ingredients of a “banker” with Frankie Dettori in the saddle looking for an instant addition to his 73 Royal Ascot winners.

Heading 11 declarations confirmed on Sunday for the mile contest, last year's G1 St James's Palace S. hero who has since also captured the G1 Prix Jacques le Marois at Deauville and the May 15 G1 Lockinge S. at Newbury comes here with an air of invulnerability. “He's a lovely horse and has done everything right in his life,” John Gosden said last week. “We're happy with him and there's plenty to look forward to with him.”

As usual, Wesley Ward is looking strong and he kicks off the 2021 expedition with Gregory Kaufman's Kaufymaker (Jimmy Creed), who bids to become the first filly since Diadem in 1916 to win the G2 Coventry S. There is also a North American flavour to the G1 King's Stand S., in which the elite sprinter Battaash (Ire) (Dark Angel {Ire}) faces 15 rivals including the Mar. 27 G1

Al Quoz Sprint hero Extravagant Kid (Kiss the Kid) and Wesley Ward's Maven (American Pharoah). Frankie Dettori has been snapped up by Brendan Walsh for Extravagant Kid after Ryan Moore was committed to Doreen Tabor's Keep Busy (Ire) (Night of Thunder {Ire}) and that is not the only notable spare ride for the 50-year-old with Joseph O'Brien booking him for Thunder Moon (Ire) (Zoffany {Ire}) in the G1 St James's Palace S. Last of 14 in the G1 2000 Guineas at Newmarket May 1, Chantal Regalado-Gonzalez's G1 Vincent O'Brien National S. winner bids to bounce back along with fellow flops Wembley (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) and Battleground (War Front), with Ryan Moore picking the latter this time.

Of the 13 declared for the St James's Palace, the Guineas hero Poetic Flare (Ire) (Dawn Approach {Ire}) is the current favourite for a wide-open affair with Jim Bolger happy to go again after the homebred was subsequently sixth in the G1 Poule d'Essai des Poulains and runner-up in the G1 Irish 2000 Guineas. “It's been an extraordinary season, with just one real hiccup and another that was self-inflicted at The Curragh,” his owner, breeder and trainer said. “Nothing went right in the race at Longchamp and we've drawn a line through it. He came back very quickly to finish second at The Curragh, so he's very, very hardy–you couldn't do that with every horse. The biggest trouble I have is keeping the weight off him. He's a great doer and he still has to do plenty at home, despite the schedule.”

Dawn Approach was pretty hardy too and took it well, but he wouldn't have been the same as Poetic Flare,” Bolger added. “I might have had one or two others like him and I remember when I won the 4-year-old hurdle at Aintree in 1978 with Beparoejojo she had to have a blow-out on the morning of the race, but I've never had a colt of his quality who needed as much work as he does. He's very well and I think he has a big chance–the bookmakers seem to think so too. He goes on any ground too, which is a big advantage. It was good-to-firm when he won at Newmarket, but personally I'd prefer it if there was no firm in the description as horses last longer that way.”

In recent times, it seems almost impossible that the meeting can escape significant rain and there is also a very real threat of thunderstorms in the middle of the week this time. Tuesday's action is certain to start on a lively surface, however, as Ascot's Clerk of the Course Chris Stickels ponders the watering policy. “Going wise we are good, good-to-firm in places and in the middle of a watering cycle,” he explained on Sunday. “It's a very warm day today–29 degrees as the afternoon goes on and we are expecting a warm, dry day tomorrow too. The track is in lovely condition. We'll end up with good-to-firm ground by the middle of the afternoon on Tuesday.”

“The question then comes what do we do in the evening after racing, depending on the forecast,” he added. “We'll have to play that one by ear when the forecast for the remainder of the week becomes clearer. We may have to put a bit of water on on Tuesday night to hold it at good-to-firm. There does look like a breakdown in the middle of the week. Certainly Wednesday night into Thursday, when some thunderstorms might develop from northern France. The nature of thunderstorms is they are hit-and-miss, but there is confidence in that forecast after racing Wednesday and on Thursday. This far out on Sunday, talking about Wednesday night, it's very difficult to imagine what is going to happen at this stage.”

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