Royal Ascot 2019 is almost upon us and the stage is set for the Berkshire venue to perhaps put on the best edition of the five-day meeting ever.
There are mouthwatering battles aplenty at the UK’s premier Flat racing festival which runs from Tuesday, 18 June to Saturday, 22 June.
In anticipation of 30 Royal Ascot races over those five fantastic days of action, here are the events each day that horse racing fans can really look forward to…
Tuesday: Lockinge rematch in Queen Anne
The Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes over the straight mile gets Royal Ascot 2019 underway and the form of the similar grade Lockinge at Newbury will be seriously tested.
That valuable race in May is well worth winning in its own right but sits early enough in the British Flat season for those running to come on for – or so connections of Laurens, Le Brivido and Accidental Agent hope.
Mustashry, a typical late-blooming sort from the Sir Michael Stoute stable, is the one to beat on the bare form of the Lockinge.
He had the benefit of a run under his belt, while many younger rivals made their reappearance.
Karl Burke’s star filly Laurens needed her first outing last year and went on to plunder four Group 1 races against her own sex. She again gets weight from the boys here.
Accidental Agent was the shock winner of the Queen Anne 12 months ago and has again used the Lockinge as a stepping stone to Royal Ascot going three places better at Newbury this year.
That is evidence that the Eve Johnson Houghton trained five-year-old is well worth another crack at this level.
Fellow previous Royal Ascot winner Le Brivido is both a French import and Irish raider.
Now representing Aidan O’Brien, the 2017 Jersey Stakes hero was unlucky in the Lockinge after being slowly away and finding himself short of room at a key stage.
With better luck in-running, Le Brivido could make it third time lucky since joining the Ballydoyle ranks from Andre Fabre’s yard.
If you don’t rate the Lockinge form, then there’s always 2017 St James’s Palace victor Barney Roy – a flop at stud – who is now back in training with Charlie Appleby, or Dermot Weld hope Hazapour.
Wednesday: Perhaps the best Prince Of Wales for a while
Nothing so simple as one key race when piecing together the Group 1 Prince Of Wales’s Stakes over almost 1m 2f.
This Royal Ascot event for the older horses has all the makings of race of the week and could be a tale of two fillies.
Magical looks the best middle-distance horse in Ireland this season after three consecutive victories on the upgrade for O’Brien, but Sea Of Class is more lightly-raced and set to return.
Race fit raider versus William Haggas’ Arc runner-up is just one angle for the Prince Of Wales though.
Crystal Ocean won the Group 2 Hardwicke Stake over 1m 4f at Royal Ascot last year and has had exactly the same prep for the meeting then as now.
Another Stoute inmate that has improved with age, his best form is arguably other further.
There should be French representation here too as Fabre looks set to send Waldgeist, but his record away from home soil isn’t great.
He comes to Royal Ascot off a ready victory in the Group 1 Prix Ganay at Longchamp, so were talking about another top middle-distance performer.
With leading contenders from France, Ireland and the UK, this Prince Of Wales renewal promises plenty.
Thursday: Will anyone break Stradivarius stranglehold on Cup division?
That is the question. John Gosden’s reigning Gold Cup champ has won his last six starts and Stradivarius swept all-comers aside en route to the Weatherbys Hamilton Stayers’ Million bonus last season.
Only a few of the series qualifiers this year are coming to Royal Ascot, but he still has serious and relatively unexposed opposition to deal with.
Since clashing at Glorious Goodwood in the Group 3 Gordon Stakes, Cross Counter and Dee Ex Bee have come into their own as stayers.
The former rounded off his campaign with a historic triumph Down Under in the Melbourne Cup.
Cross Counter continued his international exploits with Dubai Gold Cup glory on World Cup night at Meydan.
Both Appleby’s globetrotting charge and the Mark Johnston trained Dee Ex Bee are respected dangers to Stradivarius.
After the Sagaro Stakes, now officially regarded as the official Gold Cup trial, Dee Ex Bee followed-up in another 2m Group 3 event, the Henry II at Sandown.
Royal Ascot’s big staying race is a sterner test in terms of opposition and trip.
Writing now in advance of final decs for the Gold Cup, we don’t know which of the O’Brien horses will head the Irish charge.
If it’s St Leger winner Kew Gardens, then he’s shaped best a stayer.
None of the main challengers to Stradivarius are proven over the trip that’s a few yards shy of 2m 4f.
Whatever happens in the Gold Cup, these Flat thoroughbreds’ stamina will be tested.
Friday: Commonwealth Cup clash promises drama
There are many absorbing Royal Ascot races restricted to three-year-olds throughout the festival, but none more so than the Commonwealth Cup over 6f on the penultimate day.
This year is the fifth running of this sensational sprint that has at its heart a battle between horses that didn’t get home in the 2000 Guineas and those who stick to the division.
With Calyx out of contention, his Haydock conqueror Hello Youmzain looks a leading contender for Kevin Ryan. The drop back in trip after disappointing the in Greenham at Newbury looks more his bag.
Ten Sovereigns, meanwhile, tried the Rowley Mile and found the Newmarket Classic too far. O’Brien has done very well dropping sorts like him back down in distance.
With precious little margin for error in any of these Group 1 races at Royal Ascot, there’s even less scope to recover in a sprint like the Commonwealth Cup.
Previous form can thus go out the window. Other contenders include the Simon Crisford trained Jash, who was just behind Ten Sovereigns in a top level juvenile race over this trip.
Fairyland is the fillies’ equivalent of Ten Sovereigns for O’Brien and like another stable companion, So Perfect, has options as Ballydoyle may spread their Emerald Isle raiders across Royal Ascot races.
Saturday: Hardwicke not a hard sell
While there is another Group 1 sprint in the Diamond Jubilee on the fifth and final day, one of the Royal Ascot races which has really enjoyed a revival in recent years is the Hardwicke Stakes.
A Group 2 contest over about 1m 4f, the last two Hardwicke winners have returned here a month or so later and placed in the King George.
That’s proof as if it were needed how important course form can be at Ascot.
Mirage Dancer may have run in the wrong race at last year’s royal meeting as he dropped back in trip for the Wolferton Stakes.
Three of his four career victories have come over a mile-and-a-half, so the Stoute team look to have learned lessons.
Fellow five-year-old Defoe is capable of big things on a going day and proved that with a surprise victory in the Group 1 Coronation Cup on Oaks day at Epsom.
Like the Stoute stable, trainer Roger Varian has his team in decent nick going into Royal Ascot after a fine start to the Flat season.
Southern France looks an intended runner for O’Brien here after chasing home Stradivarius in the Yorkshire Cup.
Although we’ll only know for sure if he goes in the Hardwicke when the final Gold Cup decs are out, he could have claims down in trip.
Godolphin and Appleby will also have something in this and that’s most likely to be last year’s Epsom Derby hero Masar on the comeback trail now. He hasn’t been seen since winning the premier Classic last year.
This looks an easier reappearance than tackling a red-hot renewal of the Prince Of Wales, but it does rather leave plans for Ghaiyyath – a lightly-raced four-year-old who won a Group 2 in France on his penultimate start – up in the air.
2019 Royal Ascot races schedule
Tuesday, 18 June
2:30 Queen Anne Stakes (Group 1), 1m, 4yos and up
3:05 Coventry Stakes (Group 2), 6f, 2yos only
3:40 King’s Stand Stakes (Group 1), 5f, 3yos and up
4:20 St James’s Palace Stakes (Group 1), 1m, 3yo colts only
5:00 Ascot Stakes (Handicap), 2m 4f, 4yos and up rated 100 or less
5:35 Wolferton Stakes (Listed), 1m 2f, 4yos and up
Wednesday, 19 June
2:30 Queen Mary Stakes (Group 2), 5f, 2yo fillies only
3:05 Queen’s Vase (Group 2), 1m 6f, 3yos only
3:40 Prince Of Wales’s Stakes (Group 1), 1m 2f, 4yos and up
4:20 Duke Of Cambridge Stakes (Group 2), 1m, 4yos and up fillies and mares
5:00 Royal Hunt Cup (Heritage Handicap), 1m, 3yos and up
5:35 Windsor Castle Stakes (Listed), 5f, 2yos only
Thursday, 20 June
2:30 Norfolk Stakes (Group 2), 5f, 2yos only
3:05 Hampton Court Stakes (Group 3), 1m 2f, 3yos only
3:40 Ribblesdale Stakes (Group 2), 1m 4f, 3yo fillies only
4:20 Gold Cup (Group 1), 2m 4f, 4yos and up
5:00 Britannia Stakes (Heritage Handicap), 1m, 3yo colts and geldings rated 105 or less
5:35 King George V Stakes (Handicap), 1m 4f, 3yos rated 105 or less
Friday, 21 June
2:30 Albany Stakes (Group 3), 6f, 2yo fillies only
3:05 King Edward VII Stakes (Group 2), 1m 4f, 3yo colts and geldings
3:40 Commonwealth Cup (Group 1), 6f, 3yos only
4:20 Coronation Stakes (Group 1), 1m, 3yo fillies only
5:00 Sandringham Stakes, 1m, 3yo fillies only rated 105 or less
5:35 Duke Of Edinburgh Stakes, 1m 4f, 3yos and up rated 105 or less
Saturday, 22 June
2:30 Chesham Stakes (Listed), 7f, 2yos only
3:05 Jersey Stakes (Group 3), 7f, 3yos only
3:40 Hardwicke Stakes (Group 2), 1m 4f, 4yos and up
4:20 Diamond Jubilee Stakes (Group 1), 6f, 4yos and up
5:00 Wokingham Stakes (Heritage Handicap), 6f, 3yos and up rated 110 or less
5:35 Queen Alexandra Stakes, 2m 5f, 4yos and up