Every day at Royal Ascot, before racing, there’s the traditional procession, where the supreme ruler, with accompanying entourage, makes their noble way up the straight, admired, appreciated and applauded; and only when Aidan O’Brien has completed his walk can the Queen climb into her carriage.
But two heads – or more – are better than one, as it’s the conflict that makes the tension, and it’s the tension makes the drama, and it’s the drama that makes Royal Ascot. Here are the top five head-to-heads for the week:
As far as head-to-heads go, this is about as good as it gets. There was a length between them in the Guineas, yet there’s only 1 lb between them on Timeform ratings for the St James’s Palace Stakes, the race, or the ride, that almost beat Frankel. The run of the race, and the ride on Churchill, was what did for Barney Roy at Newmarket, compounded by his immaturity, and it’s a good bet he’ll run to nearer 130 around a turn to help the turnaround.
The myth may be outgrowing the reality with Wes Ward’s juvenile juggernauts, but the reality is fairly fearsome, with seven Royal Ascot winners in the last eight years. Without knowing much beyond the videos of various spins around Keeneland, we’ve got a fair idea of their make and shape, always big and usually clever, and the pertinent point this year is the relatively low standard of the youngsters on either side of the Irish Sea.
It says something about the colts that a filly is top of the class, Alpha Centauri already at a level (106p) that would have won her every one of the last seven renewals of the Albany.
When Harry met Carry.
If there have been two ‘wow’ moments on the Flat this season, this pair provided them. ‘I knew he was good but I didn’t know he was that good’ was the general reaction in both cases, probably more so with Harry Angel, given his lower-key approach. Caravaggio did what even Wes Ward couldn’t by winning two races in one, in last year’s Coventry, in which he beat those he raced with in the middle group before going over to the far side to gobble up Mehmas.
Caravaggio is a confirmed heavyweight, but so too is Harry Angel now.
All the data around his Haydock performance suggesting he’s every bit as good as he looked, and every bit as good as the one who’s so much shorter than him in the betting.
They’re individual races to be won, but there’s also competition between the two premier sprints for top billing, and the dividing line is one of sex and not just speed this time. The Diamond Jubilee consists of the usual suspects, and mostly male, but the fast and fiery fillies are all in the King’s Stand, including the UK beauty queen and the US brawn machine, Marsha and Lady Aurelia. Add in the Temple Stakes winner in Priceless, and the King’s Stand is like Ladies day brought forward by 48 hours.
The grey areas are the goldmines of Royal Ascot, or any major meeting for that matter, but the Gold Cup is a black-and-white matter, with a black-and-white horse: you either trust the Dr Jekyll in Order of St George and think odds-against as a gift, or you only see the dark Mr Hyde and the other opportunities that his short price brings. It’s a trust issue. However, the time has come for Big Orange to flex his stamina muscles to the full and tackle the marathon distance of the Gold Cup, and, in theory, he’s the stuff of nightmares for Order of St George, being so aggressive. Single-minded and strong-willed are the very qualities of Big Orange, and the very pressure points of Order of St George. This head-to-head is all in the mind.