Everyone in racing these days, it seems, looks forward to Royal Ascot.
Jockey Ryan Moore, who set a modern-day Ascot record with nine winners in 2015 and was the leading rider last year with six winners, is ready to get the party started.
“The main classics are done now, and Royal Ascot is the biggest week of the year in European racing,” Moore said in a telephone interview this week.
The five-day Royal Ascot meet commences Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. Eastern with the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes, the meet’s traditional opener.
Moore, the top rider for trainer Aidan O’Brien, will be well mounted throughout the week. His best chances in major stakes are Churchill, who starts Tuesday in the Group 1 St. James’s Palace Stakes; Order of St George on Thursday in the Group 1 Ascot Gold Cup; and Winter in the Group 1 Coronation Stakes on Friday.
Moore on Wednesday morning worked several horses at Ascot for trainer Wesley Ward, though Frankie Dettori rides all but one of Ward’s 10 runners. In all, 14 American horses shipped for the meeting.
Glamour and prestige draw international runners, but on a nuts-and-bolts level, the Ascot course better suits Americans used to running on flat oval tracks than most European racecourses, Moore said.
“It definitely helps Americans,” he said. “Sometimes this track is climbing, sometimes flat in other places, but there are no ridges or bumps. It’s a very straightforward track for us, quite rare for one of our racecourses. In that regard, it’s a much fairer track. It’s easier for the horses and easier for the jockeys.”
The Queen Anne is run on an uphill straightaway and was won by the American champion Tepin last year, a historic breakthrough for an older horse in an English Group 1. Two Americans, Miss Temple City and American Patriot, are expected to be among the Queen Anne starters in a race that has Ribchester as a heavy favorite. Moore undoubtedly will have a mount but won’t know who until perhaps Sunday, when final entries are taken.
“The straight mile, it’s uphill, but there are no undulations in it,” he said. “You’re always on the rise, and it’s a stiff mile on a big, wide-open track. It takes plenty of getting, and they have to stay. They have to get the trip well. If you’re in front two furlongs out, it seems a long way to the finish.”
Moore’s big Tuesday favorite, the 3-year-old Churchill, also runs a mile, but the St. James’s Palace is contested around an easy right-handed turn.
“The bends at Ascot aren’t sharp at all,” Moore said. “It’s a good 200 or 250 meters, and we’ve only got to turn 90 degrees. It’s obviously slightly stiffer than the straight mile, but it rides really well.”
Churchill already has won the English 2000 Guineas and the Irish 2000 Guineas this year, but he could be in for a challenge from Barney Roy, the troubled runner-up in the English 2000.
Tuesday’s third Group 1, the King’s Stand at five furlongs down a straightaway, has the Ward-trained filly Lady Aurelia at the head of betting markets. Ward also runs the first of his seven 2-year-old starters on Tuesday, Arawak, who goes in the Group 2 Coventry.
Wednesday’s feature is the Group 1 Prince of Wales’s Stakes over about 1 1/4 miles. It’s a race Moore calls his favorite of the Ascot meeting, though he’s never won it. Highland Reel, whom Moore has ridden in his last three starts, would be among the favorites but could instead run in the Hardwicke Stakes on Saturday. Jack Hobbs and Ulysses are the other principals in the Prince of Wales’s, while Ward has the favored 2-year-old Happy Like a Fool for the Queen Mary Stakes on the card.
Thursday’s program starts with the Norfolk, which Ward could win with the speedy McErin, but it’s stamina, not speed, that’s imperative in the Thursday feature, the Gold Cup, which is contested over 2 1/2 miles. That distance is unusually long even by European standards, said Moore, who won the race last year on Order of St George and will be favored to repeat aboard him.
Winter already has won the English and Irish 1000 Guineas, appears still to be improving, and will take a lot of beating under Moore in Friday’s featured Coronation, a one-turn mile for 3-year-old fillies. La Coronel, part of the American contingent, starts in the Coronation. Ward will be in action with Princess Peggy and perhaps Fairyland in the Albany for 2-year-olds and has the live longshot Bound For Nowhere in the Group 1 Commonwealth Cup, a six-furlong dash for 3-year-olds.
Saturday’s closing card features the Group 1 Diamond Jubilee over a straight-course six furlongs, which sometimes draws horses coming out of Tuesday’s King’s Stand. Bill Mott has his first Ascot starter here, Long On Value, who at 33-1 in betting Friday looks like value indeed.
Moore, though, will be a far shorter price than that to repeat as leading rider at the leading race meet of the European season.