Her Majesty the Queen and members of the Royal Family will be in attendance on each of the five days of the meeting, but for racing fans, the equine King and Queen will parade on the first and last days.
The current Queen of the track, Black Caviar, will contest – if that is the right word – the Diamond Jubilee Stakes on Saturday.
The Australian mare is putting her 21-race unbeaten record on the line, and on all known form, nothing else in the field should get within five lengths of her. She will be no value to punters but she never is – she has started favourite in all her races, 11 of them Group 1 events, and was odds-on in all but one of her victories.
But Black Caviar’s appearance at Ascot is not about betting, it’s about seeing a truly class horse show what she can do.
Her trainer and jockey, Peter Moody and Luke Nolen, should forget about letting her canter over the opposition as she surely could, and instead let loose this magnificent beast – “the size of a small tank” as one trainer observed on her arrival at Newmarket – on Berkshire’s finest acres.
After all the Aussie hype, nothing less than a total demolition of the field will do.
Nolen should push the “go” button and let us see just how fast she is – remember she once reached the phenomenal speed of 45mph over a furlong of the appropriately named Lightning Stakes.
If the ground is good or better, Ascot’s six-furlong course record will come under threat from the mare whose favouritism for the Diamond Jubilee Stakes is being seen by Australians as proof that their racing is every bit as good as the sport in the northern hemisphere, at least in the quality of the animals which take part.
The Aussies have a right to chippiness about the way their racing has traditionally been viewed as second division – remember that previous sprint star Choisir, a Group 1 winner in Australia, was sent off an astounding 25-1 shot in the 2003 King’s Stand Stakes which he duly won before adding the Golden Jubilee Stakes, as it was then known, at the same meeting.
Takover Target, Miss Andretti and Scenic Blast have all come from Down Under to record sprint success at Royal Ascot since Choisir blazed the trail, and no one takes Australian entrants lightly now, which is why the racing world is expecting Black Caviar to continue that proud record.
Yet at this moment in time, Black Caviar is only the second-highest rated horse in the world. Ranked number one is the King of racing, Frankel. As soon as his owner Khaled Abdulla announced last autumn that he was keeping the brilliant miler in training as a four-year-old, the 2012 season had a welcoming lustre to it. So it has proved – with the arrival of Guineas and Derby winner Camelot on the scene, and now the introduction of Black Caviar, we are possibly seeing a vintage Flat season,
Frankel can help make it a truly memorable year on Tuesday in the Queen Anne Stakes, the first race of the meeting, which is named after the founder of racing on Ascot Heath.
Last year’s St James’s Palace Stakes was Frankel’s second Group 1 victory in a run which now extends to five. Win on Tuesday and Frankel will need only to win the Sussex Stakes to equal the great Rock of Gibraltar’s world record for a colt of seven Group 1s in succession.
Any worries about him training on from three to four were dispelled by his superb performance in the JLT Lockinge Stakes at Newbury last month.
Frankel won the race easily, and trainer Sir Henry Cecil’s confidence afterwards was such that he nominated stepping up to ten furlongs in the Eclipse Stakes or even down a furlong or two, such is the speed and power of Frankel.
The only question mark over Frankel is the fact that his appearance at Royal Ascot last year was less than scintillating. He laboured to beat Zoffany, who was no world beater, by just under a length in that St James’s Palace Stakes, but then came out and slammed Canford Cliffs by five lengths in the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood before returning to Ascot to win the Queen Elizabeth Stakes and become the world’s best miler.
So it wasn’t the course or distance that bothered him last year – perhaps he just got distracted by all the royal hullabaloo.
Expect an even bigger and more powerful Frankel on Tuesday and a repeat performance of the Lockinge to give Cecil his 74th Royal Ascot winner.
There was speculation about Frankel and Black Caviar meeting in the Sussex Stakes next month, but that will not happen as the mare’s owners want her ready for another campaign back home. Instead we will just have to content ourselves with seeing Frankel do what he does so brilliantly on Tuesday, followed by Black Caviar winning for Australia on Saturday.
There really will be only one word to describe the pair – majestic.
The remaining big races will surely be memorable, too. The Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes will see Australian speedster Ortensia up against home hope Bated Breath, Hong Kong pair Little Bridge and Joy And Fun, and French star Wizz Kid in the biggest international clash of the meeting – expect the French to be happy after that hot five-furlong dash.
Also that afternoon, the St James’s Palace Stakes should see Power follow up his Irish 2,000 Guineas win, while his stablemate Fame and Glory will be a warm order to make it two Gold Cups in a row on Thursday. Last year’s second, Opinion Poll, re-opposes and will perhaps get closer than the three lengths between them in 2011’s renewal.