ASCOT, England // Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid has yet to see his royal blue and white colours carried to victory at the Royal meeting, but all the aces have been kept from view until now.
Two years ago the Minister of Finance owned four winners at Royal Ascot, led admirably by Ghannaati, who shaved over a third of a second off the track record when winning the Coronation Stakes.
With Tastahil, Maqaasid, Tazahum and Elzaam all to come, however, it is not inconceivable that the 2009 tally will be matched by the end of the week.
Sheikh Hamdan has owned 37 winners in Britain this season, which is more than the twin stables of Godolphin put together.
"I am sure that Sheikh Hamdan and Sheikh Mohammed [bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai and the Godolphin founder] enjoy the rivalry involved," Angus Gold, Sheikh Hamdan's racing manager, told The National. "From our point of view we just try to win with as many horses as we can."
Tastahil may not appear to hold the most obvious chance in today's 4,000m Gold Cup, but so many horses have been lined up in expectation of lasting the distance before wilting in the heat of this unique stamina test.
"If anyone is going to stay it will be him," Gold said. "Whether he's good enough to win a Gold Cup, I don't know, but Barry Hills reckons he is as well as he has ever been."
By carrying top weight into second place in the Chester Cup in May, the seven-year-old Tastahil put in the best performance of his career.
"The key to keeping them at that age is to keep them happy," Gold said. "He ran very well at Chester and certainly his form has been stronger than it has before."
Tastahil must contend with the possibility that Fame And Glory, trained by Aidan O'Brien, has the same potential as Yeats, who O'Brien saddled to a record four Gold Cups. Fame And Glory won a 2,800m contest in May, having proved himself as one of the best middle-distance colts in Europe last season, but his ability to last is far from certain.
If Tastahil does not strike, then the next few days could prove more fruitful. Earlier this month Sheikh Hamdan was quoted as saying that Maqaasid would win the Coronation Stakes.
Unlike Tastahil, it is questionable whether Maqaasid will last home. Richard Hills, Sheikh Hamdan's retained rider, immediately pointed out after the English 1000 Guineas that when he pulled out Maqaasid to challenge the filly was buffered by a strong wind which knocked her out of her stride. She finished third.
Her latest run in the French 1000 Guineas was a non-event as she was drawn poorly, and Gold is bullish about her chances of winning tomorrow's highlight.
"I do like the way she has settled, and she is a much calmer filly this year. If she does stay she will have a very good chance," Hills said
With Tazahum holding all the cards in the newly named Tercentenary Stakes, Elzaam's bid in the Group 1 Golden Jubilee on Saturday could be the icing on the cake.
Elzaam duelled with Strong Suit, yesterday's Jersey Stakes winner, in the Group 2 Coventry Stakes last year, only to lose out by a nose.
"I still believe he should have won the Coventry," Gold said.
"He was set alight too early and just got collared.
"He is a very exciting horse but this is a huge step up in class as this sprint is the best of the best. It is a logical progression for him and we'll see how he gets on."
Norfolk Stakes, 1,000m, 5.30pm
Bapak Chinta’s three-length victory over Fredrick Engels, Tuesday’s winner of the Windsor Castle Stakes, makes him an outstanding chance. Prediction: 1 Bapak Chinta, 2 Everyday Dave, 3 Pyman’s Theory
Ribblesdale Stakes, 2,400m, 6.05pm
Godolphin did not think Rumh was a Ribblesdale filly until she won a Listed event by six lengths last week. Banimpire sets the standard, however, while Zain AL Boldan and Dorcas Lane are others to consider. Prediction: 1 Rumh, 2 Dorcas Lane, 3 Banimpire
Gold Cup, 2,400m, 6.45pm
Fame And Glory has the potential to step up from Coronation Cup winner to Gold Cup victor. Duncan and Tastahil have been in good form this season.Prediction: 1 Duncan, 2 Fame And Glory, 3 Tastahil
Britannia Stakes, 1,600m, 7.25pm
A competitive handicap with 30 runners. The draw is likely to play a part, so pick a few from each side of the track and hope. Prediction: 1 Captain Bertie, 2 Sagramor, 3 Chain Lightning
Tercentenary Stakes, 2,000m, 8pm
Tazahum put in the best performance out of any horse in the line-up when beating Fury at Sandown in May. Prediction: 1 Tazahum, 2 Hunters’ Light, 3 Alkimos
King George V Stakes, 2,400m, 8.35pm
Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed’s Malthouse is a gutsy type who should stay the distance, while Sud Pacifiqueis another dark horse. Prediction: 1 Sud Pacifique, 2 Malthouse, 3 Census