The G1 Queen Anne Stakes opens the show for the five-day Royal Ascot extravaganza on Tuesday (14 June) and Baaeed, one of the world’s best milers, is again expected to wow race fans as he surges up the famous straight 1600m.
This Group 1 event has delivered the occasional surprise, but it will be a huge jolt if the unbeaten son of Sea The Stars, who faces six rivals, fails to stretch his winning spree to eight.
Having his first start for 210 days, Baaeed bounded clear of eight race-fit, high-class rivals by three lengths and further in last month’s G1 Lockinge Stakes at Newbury, also over a straight 1600m. “He’s a real beast and is just getting better and better,” is one the many accolades 43-year-old rider Jim Crowley has directed towards the William Haggas-trained four-year-old colt.
Three races later on Tuesday – in the G1 St James’s Palace Stakes – a younger potential champion will also start a warm favourite, this time over the 1598m of the round track. Zooming from the rear, Coroebus stylishly won April’s 2000 Guineas (1600m) at Newmarket. The Godolphin-owned son of Dubawi faces 12 opponents and William Buick’s mount drew an enthusiastic comment from trainer Charlie Appleby: “You can’t not get excited about him, and his work has been more than pleasing. He’s our star horse on day one.”
But for pure competitive excitement it is the other Group 1 on Tuesday’s card that captures the imagination. In the 18-runner G1 King’s Stand Stakes (1000m), a lightning-fast front-running speedster from the US (Golden Pal) and another lightning-fast speedster from Australia (Nature Strip) will attempt to outpace each other and the cream of European sprinters. This brilliant pair will be ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr. and James McDonald, respectively.
Golden Pal was barely threatened once the gates opened in last November’s Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (1000m) at Del Mar and his return win in Keeneland’s G2 Shakertown Stakes (1100m) in April reads even better on figures. The fact that the four-year-old has twice been defeated in Britain appears not appear to worry trainer Wesley Ward especially given his well-established skill of travelling horses, witnessed by 12 previous Royal Ascot successes: “Golden Pal is a once-in-a lifetime horse – certainly the best I’ve ever had. His win at Keeneland was a comeback and I really think his next run (the King’s Stand) is going to be something special,” Ward said.
Nature Strip is the world’s top-rated sprinter and his achievements can be measured by the fact that his three consecutive wins in the G1 T J Smith Stakes (1200m) – the sprinting highlight of the Sydney autumn – was one more than achieved by the iconic Black Caviar, who is the most recent Australian-trained Royal Ascot winner, back in 2012.
After Nature Strip worked over 800m at Ascot racecourse on Friday (10 June), Australia’s champion trainer Chris Waller said: “It was his first piece of fast work since he landed 10 days ago, the main purpose being to stimulate him without doing too much.”
The New Zealand-born Sydney-based trainer, who has won a staggering 136 Group 1 races since 2008, added: “Nature Strip has really matured into a foolproof horse. Earlier in his career he was a bit hit and miss because he would charge and race very fiercely. Now he is more relaxed and tractable.”
Waller, who admits he is likely to get emotional whatever Nature Strip achieves on Tuesday, says of the rivals and of the race: “Golden Pal is very quick and I’m sure the Europeans will have a few hidden cards as well. Royal Ascot is unique and it will be all about which horse copes best with the occasion and the pressure of the race.”