You don’t have to be an ardent royalist to side with Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II at Royal Ascot this week. Punters, including the fervent republicans among them, will know the monarch’s trainers and jockeys are busting a gut to deliver her a winner in her dotage.
The old girl is 95 and won’t be around for many more iterations of her own race meeting – which is clearly the annual event she enjoys above all others. The will of her subjects for a winner or two in the purple, red and gold silks will be considerable over the next five days.
The queen has nine horses entered for 11 races at the 35-race meeting that gets underway on Tuesday 14 June and concludes on Saturday.
Her outstanding prospect is Reach For The Moon, a three-year-old colt who races on Thursday in the Hampton Court Stakes, a Group 3 contest over 1800m. This guy is priced up at 11-8 and will have the combined capabilities of superstar jockey Frankie Dettori and trainer supreme John Gosden to get him into the winner’s circle for Her Maj.
Her next best chance – according to the betting market – is Just Fine in Friday’s Duke of Edinburgh Stakes. Even flinty-hearted republicans might feel a twinge of sentiment if the 5-1 shot were to claim a race named after the queen’s husband, who died a short while ago. Just Fine is trained by Sir Michael Stoute and ridden by the brilliant Ryan Moore.
The best of the best are doing their utmost to make it a fairytale Royal Ascot.
Not that there’ll be any stepping aside for royal dreams and wishes. Racing doesn’t work like that, with money on the line – and there’s rather a lot of it floating around the Berkshire Downs this week. Total prize money across the meeting is more than £8-million (about R157-million) – so crowns and coronets will just have to take their chances.
The queen has one horse running on the opening day, King’s Lynn in the 1000m King’s Stand Stakes – one of the world’s most famous sprints. The Andrew Balding-trained gelding is a speedy customer, having won four and been runner-up six times, but his 16-1 odds reflect the high quality of the opposition. That includes the two highest-ranked sprinters in the world, Nature Strip from Australia and Golden Pal from the US.
King’s Lynn is also entered for the Platinum Jubilee Stakes on Saturday, a 1200m affair that is the second leg of the most coveted speed double on the planet.
On Wednesday, William Haggas saddles Perfect Alibi in the Queen’s Vase. If the filly prevails, the queen might have to present the trophy to herself. That’s if she’s there. She usually attends every minute of Royal Ascot, but she has been having “mobility challenges” of late.
The one day Elizabeth would most like to ride up the Ascot turf – from neighbouring Windsor Castle, in her golden horse-drawn coach – is Thursday. That’s when Reach For The Moon runs, along with five of her other horses.
In South Africa, the Oppenheimer family have been referred to as the country’s racing’s royalty. This has become even more apt since Mary Oppenheimer Daughters came to the financial rescue of the bankrupt local game last year.
So, there’ll be plenty of interest on Tuesday for the Mary Slack-owned Aikhal, who goes in the St James’s Palace Stakes, a Group 1 over a mile. The three-year-old colt, bred by Slack’s Wilgerbosdrift Stud and co-owned by the Coolmore empire of Ireland and Germany’s Westerberg breeding operation, will find it tough to head hot-pot favourite Coreobus. The latter is owned by Godolphin, trained by Charlie Appleby and ridden by William Buick.
All the Royal Ascot action will be broadcast live on Supersport, with the first race off at 3.30pm each day.