FRIEND SIGNALS HIGHEST CLASS
Top hats and tails at the ready as Royal meeting gets underway with a bang
NOWHERE in the world will you get a better five consecutive days of flat racing than what we are about to enjoy at Royal Ascot this week and from the very outset we have sheer class to look forward to and savour.
The very first horse on the racecourse in the first race of the week is Able Friend, the horse that Herald columnist Mick Kinane described as possibly the best horse ever to race in Hong Kong and that is a fair compliment to pay any horse.
Able Friend's string of 1s beside his name in the recent form section is impressive but sets the tone for the quality of horse on offer because this week really is a who's who of the flat racing game and despite his massive reputation, Able Friend is unlikely to even go off favourite for the opening race, the Queen Anne Stakes, as the French raider Solow brings a high level of form to the table having already won two Group One's this year.
Last years 2,000 Guineas winner Night Of Thunder started his four-year-old season by winning the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury so he adds another element of intrigue to the race, while his trainer Richard Hannon will also run Toormore in the race and he was just a neck of Night Of Thunder in the Lockinge.
A race previously won by Frankel, Aidan O'Brien caused a slight upset with Declaration Of War two years ago but it would be a massive shock if Cougar Mountain can come out on top tomorrow with Able Friend the pick to just shade it from Solow.
Aidan O'Brien's strongest hand of the week comes in the opening day feature, the St James's Palace Stakes, even though he has just the one runner.
Gleneagles is set to be one of the star attractions of the week as he looks to continue his winning ways of 2015 that has already witnessed him win both the English and Irish 2,000 Guineas in good style.
Gleneagles was almost flawless in the English 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket when he powered away from the field to score by two-and-a-quarter lengths and although things didn't probably pan out as hoped at the Curragh when Gleneagles and Ryan Moore had to pass more horses at a later stage than would have been the plan, the son of Galileo still had the class to get out of trouble and finish out strongly to beat Endless Drama and Ivawood.
Quotes after the Curragh victory from Aidan O'Brien would suggest that Gleneagles was left a shade short for that assignment and I think we can expect a more explosive performance this time around and the lack of real high class opposition may pave the way for his visually most satisfactory performance yet. The French Guineas hero Make Believe had his form franked when New Bay bolted up in the French Derby, but you'd imagine he still has a bit to find on Gleneagles and the same can be said about Sir Michael Stoute's Consort who steps up a couple of notches in class for just his third career start.
You'd get the impression that Jim Bolger could have won either the Coventry Stakes or the Windsor Castle with Round Two such is the impression he has made on the racing world in his two starts to date but the Godolphin owned two-year-old has been unsurprisingly sent down the six-furlongs Coventry route and he's a Group One winner in the making and looks one of the best bets of the entire week.
His inclusion in the Coventry Stakes will give us a good form guide for Washington DC who runs in the later Windsor Castle but when Wesley Ward sends over his two-year-olds for this race you have to take note and the American trainer will look for a third win in this race since 2009 with Ruby Notion who gets the nod.