Royal Ascot 2016 starts with its usual bang on Tuesday with three Group 1 races. The opening Queen Anne Stakes sees the first of several high-class overseas horses in action during the week as Tepin bids to beat some of Europe’s best milers again, something she did comprehensively on turf much closer to home - she's trained by Mark Casse in Canada - in last seasons' Breeders’ Cup Mile.
The big question for her is whether she can reproduce the pick of her North American form on British shores, while she's also have to do without her usual nasal strip which aids her breathing. In a strong year for the females, the French team is made up of Ervedya and Esoterique. Ervedya’s only defeat in 2015 came against Amazing Maria in the Prix Rothschild at Deauville, but otherwise she recorded Group 1 wins in the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches (French 1000 Guineas), the Coronation Stakes at this meeting (on the round course) and Prix du Moulin against the males back at Longchamp. Ervedya won’t be hindered by the rain, given she’s won twice on soft ground and looks primed for a big run following her encouraging reappearance behind Vadamos at Saint-Cloud.
The first of the meeting’s big sprints, the King’s Stand Stakes, also has a North American flavour with last year's Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint winner Mongolian Saturday set to take his chance. In what appears a strong year for British sprinters, standing in his way will be Profitable and Mecca's Angel who fought out the finish of the Temple Stakes at Haydock last time. Mecca's Angel has an even bigger performance on her CV when she beat US-trained Acapulco (a non-runner here but could still run in the Commonwealth Cup on Friday, ground permitting) in last year’s Nunthorpe Stakes at York. It's hard to choose between Profitable and Mecca’s Angel but the former did have match fitness on his side when winning the Temple and the latter gets the vote to turn the tables. A number of their biggest rivals are unproven on rain-softened ground, including last year's first and third, Goldream and Muthmir, as well as Jungle Cat. A candidate to outrun his odds is Pearl Secret who finished one and a half lengths third in this race on sole start in 2013 before getting even closer in distance terms when fourth 12 months ago. He also finished fourth in last autumn’s Prix de l’Abbaye later, ran creditably on his reappearance when two and a half lengths fourth to Profitable in the Temple and won’t be hindered by current ground conditions.
No less fascinating than the Queen Anne and King's Stand is the clash between the 2000 Guineas winner Galileo Gold and the winners of the Irish and French equivalents, Awtaad and The Gurkha, in the St James’s Palace Stakes. The Gurkha made the best impression among them when winning at Deauville and possibly has the most scope for further progress given he only made his debut in April, so he should prove difficult to beat as he bids to become just the second Poulains winner to also win this race this century after Shamardal (2005). Awtaad looks his biggest threat given he beat Galileo Gold on merit at the Curragh. Godolphin's Emotionless is a fascinating given he looked an exciting prospect when winning his first two starts at two, including the Champagne Stakes at Doncaster, but hasn't been seen on a raceourse since trailing home in the Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket (subsequently found to have chipped a bone in his knee).
G1 - The Bet365 Celebration Steeple Chase (class 1)
G3 - The Bet365 Gold Cup Steeple Chase (handicap) (class 1)
G1 - Aes Champion 4yo Hdle
Grade B - Setanta Sport H'cap Hdle
Grade B - Palmerstown House Pat Taaffe H'cap Chase