Band Marcus Armytage
Royal Ascot begins with a bang today thanks to three Group 1 races, including one of the most anticipated clashes of the week as Nature Strip and Golden Pal meet in the King’s Stand Stakes.
Tuesday is almost always the best of the five days of Ascot and this afternoon the focus is on the sprint which pits the fastest in Australia against the USA at a neutral venue. The home-bred horses appear to be there only to pick up the pieces if the two international guests go too fast and cut each other’s throats – a not impossible scenario.
Wesley Ward has been taken seriously by bettors and rival coaches since he stood up in cowboy boots under his tail pants and a Stetson for a top hat, in 2009 when his Strike The Tiger denied the odds of 33-1 to win the Windsor Castle Stakes.
The former United States champion apprentice saddled 11 other winners at the royal meeting and most of his horses have the same racing style; he drags them out of the stalls as if they had been shot from a cannon and they are invariably three lengths ahead after half a stadium.
But for as many as those who won, many more got to the furlong post, took a deep breath, and started walking on water. Indeed, that’s what seemed to happen to Golden Pal on his two previous visits to Britain, in the Norfolk Stakes here and the Nunthorpe in York.
His jockey, Irad Ortiz Jr, is the best in the United States but it’s his Ascot debut and he will have to adapt quickly. Ahead it will be just him, the wind in his hair and the clock in his head, and while Ascot may look quite flat, it has a steep uphill finish.
Getting a horse to travel from Australia, in winter, is no easy task either. Black Caviar was the latest to succeed in extending their unbeaten record, just, at the Diamond Jubilee ten years ago.
Getting Nature Strip halfway around the world in top shape is trainer Chris Waller’s first job. His gelding is rated slightly higher than Golden Pal, while jockey James McDonald, who has far more riding experience in Britain than Ortiz, is also in his favour, and he can sit right at side of Golden Pal, in terms of cycling, slipping the leader.
Neither is unbeatable, however. Nature Strip has lost a few times a few times and it feels like not only must he fall right for him these days, but Covid caused him to miss the boat on this trip when he was at his best two years ago. . But the king’s position is not won in advance; so often when a race is presented as a game, something else shows up to spoil the tea and scones for two.
In the race 12 months ago, they went so fast in front that three of the top five at home were described as ‘slow away, back traveled’, and the winner, Oxted, was a specialist in six stages.
It looks like the race is on again for Arecibo, runners-up a year ago, making him an interesting shot at 50-1, while King’s Lynn, unlucky in 2021 and ahead of Arecibo at Haydock last time out, Twilight Calls and Refreshed Godolphin’s Man Of Promise could all benefit from a blistering gallop and a late-stumbling pace.
The King’s Stand appetizer is the Queen Anne Stakes in which Baaeed, the highest ranked horse in the world, races against what appears to be weak opposition. It would be the shock of the summer if he lost his invincibility.
2,000 Guineas winner Coroebus is expected to win the St James’s Palace Stakes, but he won’t be much of a prize and the value either way could be with Native Trail runners-up New Energy in the Irish 2,000 Guineas.
Royal Scotsman, trained by Paul and Oliver Cole, is the nap of the day in the Coventry Stakes for a team that has won the race three times before.