UK RACING: Three races to savour at Royal Ascot

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A rainbow of flowers adorns the front of the presentation podium on June 14, 2020, ahead of Royal Ascot 2020, due to take place at the racecourse, west of London behind closed doors from Tuesday. - Royal Ascot goes ahead as planned on Tuesday despite being behind closed doors due to the coronavirus pandemic.

LONDON, United Kingdom (AFP) – Royal Ascot goes ahead on Tuesday (June 16) despite being behind closed doors due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Here AFP Sport picks out three races which could light up the five-day meeting:

TUESDAY

King’s Stand Stakes – Punters believe this is the year that top sprinter Battaash will add the one race missing from his trophy cabinet after filling the bridesmaid role in the past two editions of the five furlong (1000 metres) dash.

The six-year-old is the best backed horse of the week thus far and with his conqueror of the past two renewals Blue Point retired it would appear the prize is all but his.

“There’s pressure but it’s fantastic training a horse like him for so long,” said trainer Charlie Hills.

“He’s six and has always put in at least one scintillating performance a season.”

If people are doubtful about his chances — the favourite has not landed the odds in the past 10 runnings — then Glass Slippers could be the haven for them as the main rival.

Glass Slippers has got the better of Battaash before when she won the Group One Prix de l’Abbaye last October in fine style.

“She’s a high-class filly and we have always thought a lot of her,” said her trainer Kevin Ryan.

“In a normal year she’d have had a run before but I’m not worried that she hasn’t.”

THURSDAY

Ascot Gold Cup – Dettori’s chances of an eighth win in the meeting’s most historic race and guiding Stradivarius to a third successive victory have been boosted considerably with Aidan O’Brien deciding not to send Kew Gardens over from Ireland.

Stradivarius warmed up for Ascot with a respectable third in the Coronation Cup at Newmarket a week ago over a much shorter distance than the 2 1/2 miles (4000 metres) of the Gold Cup.

“Stradivarius ticks the boxes,” said Dettori, whose first win in the Gold Cup was back in 1992 on Drum Taps.

“This has always been the target. He is as good as we can get him and he is good to go.”

Should Stradivarius win do not expect the trademark flying dismount from 49-year-old Dettori.

“I had a couple of winners at Newmarket last weekend and returned to an empty enclosure…it was pretty anti-climactic,” said Dettori.

“So I did not do them there and I don’t feel like doing it at Ascot.”

His principal challenger could well be Nayef Road who warmed up for the race with an impressive win in the Sagaro Stakes.

His trainer Mark Johnston has won the Gold Cup three times — his first ever Royal Ascot winner was Double Trigger in the 1995 edition — and it remains very much the prize he covets the most.

“The big excitement will be Nayef Road in the Gold Cup and he has a great chance,” Johnston told AFP.

“It is an undisputed fact there are more commercially attractive races at Royal Ascot but there is no race I would prefer to win than the Gold Cup.”

 SATURDAY

St James’s Palace Stakes – This mile contest for colts could produce the duel of the meeting between Pinatubo and Wichita.

Pinatubo will be seeking to restore some lustre to his image — though the one of the wonder horse is gone — after finishing third in the English 2000 Guineas last weekend in what was his first defeat in his seven race career.

Wichita — trained by Aidan O’Brien — finished one place in front of him but with Kameko proving too good for both of them. Kameko misses the race as he is being aimed at the Derby in July.

“Obviously I’m disappointed as it’s the first time he’s been beaten but at least he hasn’t fallen out the back of the telly,” said Pinatubo’s trainer Charlie Appleby.

“He gives himself every opportunity to back up quickly because he conserves energy from one race to the next.”