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International glitter shines on Royal Ascot

International glitter shines on Royal Ascot

The most likely prospect of a winner trained outside Europe rests with Hong Kong’s Able Friend.

By (AFP)

Published: Tue 16 Jun 2015, 10:55 AM

Last updated: Wed 8 Jul 2015, 2:53 PM

California Chrome will compete with Europe’s finest horses during the Royal Ascot. — AFP file

California Chrome will compete with Europe’s finest horses during the Royal Ascot. — AFP file

Ascot — An international equine cast every bit as glittering as the attendant fashion has gathered for the annual extravaganza at Royal Ascot, which gets underway on Tuesday. Champion racehorses from Australia and Hong Kong will align with up to 12 runners from the US — among them 2014 Horse of the Year California Chrome — to lock horns with Europe’s finest over five days at the royal racecourse, in Berkshire.

A rags-to-riches horse and darling of the US racing scene, California Chrome runs in the £525,000 Prince Of Wales’s Stakes over 2,000m on Wednesday. That race makes a perfect vignette of why Royal Ascot is seen as the premier race meeting in the world.

Opposing California Chrome are Spielberg, from Japan, and Criterion, the Australian challenger who landed the prestigious Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Randwick racecourse, Sydney, in April.

However, the international contingent faces strong European competition — notably from Free Eagle, who is trained in Ireland by Dermot Weld. In Forgotten Rules, Weld also trains the favourite for the meeting’s showpiece race, the Ascot Gold Cup, on Thursday.

But that horse’s participation will only be confirmed after Weld walks the course to ensure ground conditions are not too fast for his unbeaten five-year-old.

The most likely prospect of a winner trained outside Europe rests with Hong Kong’s Able Friend, feted at the end of last year as the best horse in the world over 1,600m, and the trio of Australian sprinters from a nation that has already won six races at Royal Ascot.

Trained by John Moore, Able Friend bids to get the meeting off to an explosive start in the £375,000 Queen Anne Stakes, the opening race on Tuesday. Hong Kong trainers have previously saddled two winners at Royal Ascot, the more recent being Little Bridge’s King’s Stand Stakes triumph three years ago.

The winner of more than £4 million in his 18 starts to date, Able Friend is up against Solow, the formidable French horse which won the Dubai Turf in the UAE in March. “He’s the best in Hong Kong and the best horse I have ever trained,” Moore said of Able Friend. “Now he must prove himself on the international stage, and Royal Ascot is the premier race meeting on the planet.” Australian hopes revolve principally around the £375,000 King’s Stand Stakes over 1,000m on Tuesday, and the £525,000 Diamond Jubilee Stakes over 1,200m on Saturday.

Shamal Wind, trained by Robert Smerdon, approaches Tuesday’s race on the back of a comfortable victory in the Oakleigh Plate over 1100m at Caulfield racecourse in Februay. But British bookmakers believe his compatriot, Brazen Beau, has better prospects of winning the Diamond Jubilee Stakes on Saturday.

Trained by Chris Waller, Brazen Beau also won his last domestic start before making the journey to Ascot — in his case the prestigious Newmarket Handicap at Flemington racecourse, in Melbourne.

Brazen Beau is the favourite to win the Diamond Jubilee Stakes, which also features Wandjima, from the renowned Australian stable of Gai Waterhouse. However, Australia’s challenge unfolds against the backdrop of a spate of positive tests returned by horses for the prohibited substance, cobalt.

“It has put a cloud over Australian racing,” Smerdon admitted — although none of Australia’s four Royal Ascot runners are implicated. Each of them was tested by the racing authorities on their arrival in Britain under the terms of a stringent, new anti-doping policy introduced earlier this year. Peter Moody is among a raft Australian trainers being investigated for cobalt use. Moody saddled Australia’s most recent Royal Ascot winner when Black Caviar, Australia’s totemic sprinter of recent times, landed the Diamond Jubilee Stakes in 2012.

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