x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Horse racing: Interest from across the pond is building at Royal Ascot

Dubai World Cup winner Animal Kingdom and other American runners will race in four out of five days at Royal Ascot in England, writes Geoffrey Riddle.

Animal Kingdom was the first American horse to win the Dubai World Cup since the new track at Meydan Racecourse was opened and he will be in the starting gates at Royal Ascot on Tuesday. Jake Badger for The National
Animal Kingdom was the first American horse to win the Dubai World Cup since the new track at Meydan Racecourse was opened and he will be in the starting gates at Royal Ascot on Tuesday. Jake Badger for The National

When Animal Kingdom won the Dubai World Cup at Meydan Racecourse in March, the achievement was hailed as a shot in the arm for American horsemen.

No American horse had won the most valuable prize in racing since the new facility opened, in 2010, whereas on the dirt of Nad Al Sheba the US had reigned supreme.

American horsemen seems to have gotten the message, and where the country naturally looks inward for its racing there is a sense that stateside trainers are once again looking outward, with runners on four of the five days of Royal Ascot that starts Tuesday.

Graham Motion, Animal Kingdom's trainer said as much last week: "In the states we have a lot of opportunities for easy pickings so it's more of a sporting challenge to come here."

Animal Kingdom takes his chance in the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes this afternoon and can augment his already versatile CV, but the 2011 Kentucky Derby winner is just one of several challengers hailing from across the Atlantic.

As perhaps a tangible sign that America is seizing the chance to raid Britain, the New York Times has sent a correspondent to cover the meeting. In 1936 when Omaha, the last Kentucky Derby winner to run at Royal Ascot, took part in the Gold Cup, the newspaper relied on wire services.

Perched on top of Animal Kingdom will be John Velazquez, fresh from hitting the 5,000-winner mark at Belmont Park on Friday. The Puerto Rican rider has yet to pick up any other rides this week at the course where he struck for America in 2009.

Four years ago Velazquez teamed with Wesley Ward, the Florida-based trainer, to get the first American victory at the royal meeting with Strike The Tiger in the Windsor Castle Stakes on the opening day. The pair followed up with Jealous Again. Ward has returned this year in the hope of plundering further prestige for his juvenile team.

Ward runs Ogermeister in the Windsor Castle on Tuesday, Sweet Emma Rose in the Queen Mary on Wednesday and No Nay Never in the Norfolk Stakes on Thursday.

All three will be ridden by Joel Rosario, the hottest jockey based in North America, and who rode Animal Kingdom in Dubai.

Rosario's year has included winning the Kentucky Derby on Orb, and being the leading rider at the Keeneland spring meeting.

The Dominican once rode six winners in a day at Hollywood Park, but that achievement will forever be eclipsed by Frankie Dettori's "Magnificent Seven" in 1996, when he rode all seven winners on the card at Ascot.

Dettori has recently returned to race riding after a six-month ban and the former Godolphin rider will be keen to make a statement at his favourite course.

The Italian has been booked to ride Havelock, the final member of the American raiding party. The six-year-old sprinter is trained by Darrin Miller, who has bases in Kentucky and Florida, and is entered in Saturday's Group 1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes, won last year in dramatic fashion by Black Caviar.

Havelock will arrive in Britain on Thursday for his assignment, but also holds an entry to the Group 1 July Cup at Newmarket next month and is likely to stay on.

Havelock will be stabled at Abington Place, where Mike de Kock's string is housed. The South African trainer runs the Al Quoz Sprint winner Shea Shea in the King's Stand Stakes today, and alongside Animal Kingdom, the sprinter will be the only runner to have won at Meydan in March to appear at Ascot across the five days.

Last year, four of the seven Group 1 races across the week were contested by Dubai World Cup night winners, but with the Americans stepping into the breach the international challenge remains robust.

Royal Ascot day by day guide

Day 1

Key race The Queen Anne Stakes is a Group 1 race run over Ascot’s straight mile. Thirteen horses go to post with Animal Kingdom the red-hot favourite. Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid’s Aljamaaheer and Princess Haya’s Gregorian also run.

Horse to watch Animal Kingdom bids to become the first Dubai World Cup winner to go on to win a race following Gloria De Campeao (2010), Victoire Pisa (2011) and Monterosso (2012)

Best UAE hope Animal Kingdom will win if he can translate his best form to a mile along an undulating straight on his first start since March. Gregorian has an outside chance.

Day 2

Key race The Prince Of Wales’s Stakes over 10 furlongs was set to be the race of the meeting until Godolphin’s Farhh and the globe-trotting Snow Fairy were withdrawn. The headline rematch between Al Kazeem and Camelot now tops the bill.

Horse to watch Red Cadeaux was second to Animal Kingdom in the Dubai World Cup but travelled 17 metres less than the winner. He makes his first start in England since July.

Best UAE hope Saint Baudolino was fourth to Hunter’s Light in Round 2 of the Al Maktoum Challenge in February, but the former Andre Fabre trainee is a class act and could surprise.

Day 3

Key race The Gold Cup is run over a punishing two-and-a-half miles, and Godolphin are likely to be represented by Colour Vision, last year’s winner. Rite Of Passage, the 2011 winner, also could feature.

Horse to watch Estimate, owned by Queen Elizabeth II, was a welcome winner at the royal meeting last year when taking the Queen’s Vase. The filly is stepping up in distance and class but has an excellent record at the course.

Best UAE hope Colour Vision has been in the wilderness since winning this race last year. The grey finished last at Ascot in the Long Distance Cup in October but may be galvanised by his surroundings.

Day 4

Key race The Coronation Stakes is a mile race for fillies and is contested by the Classic generation. Sky Lantern and Just The Judge, winners of the English and Irish 1,000 Guineas, respectively, are set to do battle.

Horse to watch Purr Along was second by a head to Godolphin’s Certify last year in the Group 1 Fillies’ Mile. She pulled a muscle earlier this season but makes her seasonal debut for Qatar’s Sheikh Joaan bin Hamad Al Thani.

Best UAE hope Lovely Pass is Godolphin’s only entrant. The UAE 1,000 Guineas winner was outclassed by Shuruq in the UAE Oaks but should be more effective, dropping back to a mile.

Day 5

Key race The Diamond Jubilee Stakes sprint over six furlongs is one of the most prominent races of the five-day meeting. Horses from America, Australia, Bahrain, Dubai, France, Ireland and Britain hold entries, at this stage.

Horse to watch The Australian raider Sea Siren has an almost impossible task to fill the shoes of Black Caviar, who won 12 months ago. She is an underrated filly, however, and beat Mental in a Group 1 at Moonee Valley in October.

Best UAE hope If Krypton Factor takes his chance, the 2012 Dubai Golden Shaheen victor would have an opportunity to run better than his sixth place last year.


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