Awtaad can prove the star turn in the St James’s Palace Stakes on a glittering opening day of Royal Ascot.
The three-year-old mile championship can quite reasonably be tagged “race of the season”, as it features three 2,000 Guineas winners.
Preference is for the winner of the Irish version, who proved at the Curragh he could quite easily be the real deal in obliging with some panache from Newmarket victor Galileo Gold.
Granted, supporters of the runner-up can find an excuse or two and better ground would be in his favour, but Awtaad travelled so well and quickened in the manner of a serious horse that even the most ardent Galileo Gold fan must harbour doubts about turning around the form.
Kevin Prendergast has been in the game long enough to know something special when he sees it and immediately nominated the Tetrarch Stakes and then the Curragh Classic after Awtaad’s return in a handicap at Irish Headquarters.
All has gone perfectly to plan so far, and Curragh third Blue De Vega is a mark of his progression, as he was even further behind in the Guineas than when second in the Tetrarch.
The Gurkha, so impressive in taking the French Guineas, is the obvious danger, but the once-beaten Awtaad’s form is undoubtedly the stronger to date and he gets the nod.
Conditions look set to be right for Belardo to run another big race in the Queen Anne Stakes against the likes of American mare Tepin. Some cut in the ground is essential for Roger Varian’s four-year-old, who has always seemingly been a bit under the radar.
Never far away from top company after winning the Dewhurst at two, a cracking second to Solow in the QEII at Ascot last season revived his career and he rewarded connections in the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury last month.
Things went a little wrong at the start but he came home by far the best and has fewer questions to answer than most of his rivals.
Caravaggio is expected to get Aidan O’Brien on the scoresheet in the Coventry Stakes.
Considered one of the big guns in the juvenile squad at Ballydoyle, he looked just that in rewarding odds-on backers first time up at Dundalk, before taking a step up in class at the Curragh on ground not conducive to seeing him at his best. Looking green when asked to challenge, he needed only hands and heels when the penny dropped for what was ultimately a smart performance. He should be very hard to beat.
Profitable still appeals in the King’s Stand Stakes, if further serious rain stays away. Trainer Clive Cox and jockey Adam Kirby were bubbling after beating Mecca’s Angel in the Temple Stakes at Haydock, and the Lambourn handler has proven very adept at dealing with top-notch sprinters in recent years – Lethal Force being a prime example.
A winner at Group Three and Two level, he is going the right way and, while the money has come for his Haydock foe, she was never going to beat Profitable there and the value may now be with the Cox runner.
Willie Mullins is always to be feared in the staying contests at the Royal fixture and Pique Sous can improve his record in the Ascot Stakes. A popular and well-backed winner of the Queen Alexandra Stakes two years ago, the seven-year-old has had just one run since, at the Curragh last month.
That will have blown the cobwebs away and he is with the right operation to be cherry-ripe for the day.
4:20 Awtaad (nap)
5:00 Pique Sous
5:35 Big City Dreamin
7:10 Gilt Edged
7:40 Red Pike
8:10 Purple Magic
5:50 Baby Gal
6:20 El Duque
6:50 Gold Eliza
7:20 Hala Madrid
7:50 Hawk Moth
2:20 Katie’s Hen
2:55 Elysian Prince
4:05 Sir Dylan
5:20 Magic Bullet
2:10 Lady In Question
3:20 Cloud Monkey
3:55 Imperial Focus
4:35 Mass Rally
5:10 Manatee Bay
6:15 Pavers Star
4:20 Royal Ascot
3:05 Royal Ascot