At this time of year, racing’s bandwagon stops for no punter as it rolls on from one summer festival to the next.
No sooner has the last bead of Epsom sweat dropped from the necks of Classic winners Australia and Taghrooda than we embrace another great meeting.
Next call is Royal Ascot and five days of breathtaking quality. The best Flat racing in the world at the forefront of a unique occasion dripping with pageantry and pomp.
This year’s meeting will be the last under the watch of Charles Barnett, who is stepping down as Ascot’s chief executive.
I hope Barnett is given a fitting send-off. Just as he did at Aintree, he has transformed the flagship course in his seven years at the helm.
Ascot’s celebrated £230 million grandstand might have looked the part when it was opened back in 2006. But fantastic aesthetics counted for nothing when the stand greeted real racegoers, who discovered an unwelcoming wind-tunnel of a building that failed to even meet the basics of decent race-viewing.
It is a measure of the impact made by Barnett that such shortfalls have long since been consigned to the bin. Racing at Ascot is a pleasant experience again.
Mind you, next week will have to go some to beat the wonderful weekend more than 140,000 people basked in at Epsom for the Investec Derby and Oaks.
The weather forecasters got in more muddles than some of racing’s tipsters, making it impossible to know whether to pack a straw hat to protect against the sun or an umbrella to protect against the rain. But two glorious afternoons yielded an enjoyable and vibrant atmosphere to wrap around some compelling sport.
Both Epsom and Investec deserve huge credit for the way they presented the track and its facilities and organised the meeting. I have not seen the course looking as polished and professional for many years.
Trainer Richard Hannon made a point of congratulating officials on the new saddling boxes and improvements for owners. But I cannot believe there were many in the sell-out crowds who felt they didn’t get their money’s worth over the two days.
It helped, of course, that the two big races were fascinating, competitive heats. And that both winners were hugely impressive, defying unease in the market.
AUSTRALIA’S triumph in the Derby was characterised by the way he travelled through the race. Bred ideally for the job he might be, as the son of former Epsom heroes, but such is his cruising speed that I will be surprised if he is asked to tackle 12f again.
It would not be comfortable for trainer Aidan O’Brien, the first man to train three successive Epsom Derby winners, to dodge the Irish equivalent in his home country. But a schedule of Eclipse, Juddmonte International, Irish Champion and Champion Stakes at Ascot seems the logical path to stud for the colt.
Jockey Joseph O’Brien who, incidentally, now has more Group Ones to his name than years he’s lived, certainly feels 10f will prove to be Australia’s best trip.
Having said that, those who felt the son Galileo’s stamina was ebbing away in the final furlong at Epsom should remember that he was forced quite wide down the hill and into the straight.
Oaks heroine TAGHROODA was a revelation. As someone who had supported her at all (rising!) prices since her Pretty Polly success at Newmaket, I assumed the air of smug self-satisfaction after seeing her lob round the paddock like an old hand.
Such a mature, relaxed nature was replicated in the race itself, which she took apart with ease bordering on effrontery. Her admirable trainer, John Gosden, harbours a career-long ambition to win the Arc. I just wonder if this could be the animal to do it for him.
As if the unveiling of two potential superstars was not enough, Epsom also paraded an established superstar in CIRRUS DES AIGLES. What a bold decision it was by his connections to tackle the Coronation Cup. Let’s hope the slight injury sustained by the eight-year-old does not curtail a remarkable career.
Cirrus Des Aigles, of course, is the only horse to have beaten TREVE, which brings us nearly back to Royal Ascot. For the French filly, imperious winner of last year’s Arc, is the star turn at next week’s extravaganza. With a drop in trip to 10f guaranteed to suit, surely only thin air will finish in front of her in Wednesday’s Prince Of Wales’s Stakes.
Given that there is a week’s shorter gap than usual between Epsom and Royal Ascot this year, the task of finding winners at slightly more attractive odds than Treve has been reserved for this coming weekend by yours truly.
However, I am looking forward to the appearance of many horses to have made the shortlist in the trusty black book.
Sir Michael Stoute has a plethora of middle-distance types to go to war with -- from the likes of TELESCOPE, HILLSTAR and GOSPEL CHOIR to ARAB SPRING, RYE HOUSE and BOLD SNIPER. It will be fascinating to see how and where he places them.
Stoute also saddles ESTIMATE, emotional winner of the Gold Cup last year for The Queen. She will do well to fend off LEADING LIGHT and BROWN PANTHER this time round.
Meanwhile Richard Hannon welcomes back top-class four-year-olds TORONADO and SKY LANTERN in the Queen Anne Stakes (Tuesday) and Duke Of Cambridge Stakes (Wednesday) respectively. Race trends suggest they’ll struggle to win first time up.
Hannon, of course, is also responsible for a host of two-year-olds set to unleash their potential on the Heath. TIGGY WIGGY, KOOL KOMPANY, PEACOCK, BURNT SUGAR and DANGEROUS MOONLITE might be the pick.
In opposition, Aidan O’Brien does not seem to boast the juvenile battalions of previous years. So keep your eye instead on Godolphin duo PORTAMENTO and ELITE GARDENS, plus a trio trained by Davids -- David Barron’s LIKELY, David Evans’s PATIENCE ALEXANDER and David Brown’s MIND OF MADNESS -- and a couple of dark fillies from Ireland, MARSALI and ANTHEM ALEXANDER.
The week’s sprints are terrific puzzles to solve. It would not surprise me if SHEA SHEA gained his revenge from last year on SOLE POWER in Tuesday’s King’s Stand Stakes. ASTAIRE might be able to strike a blow for the three-year-olds and dance home in the Saturday’s Diamond Jubilee Stakes.
Spearheading the international challenge that always adds extra lustre to Royal Ascot could be FINTRY, a progressive French filly who needs to be supplemented for Friday’s Coronation Stakes.
And talking of improving fillies, don’t be put off by the big prices likely to be attached to BRIGHT APPROACH in Thursday’s Ribblesdale Stakes and ANNECDOTE in Wednesday’s Duke Of Cambridge.
As for the handicaps, the weights for some of them have not even been released as I write. But going long range, I am keen on William Haggas’s YUFTEN for the Britannia on Thursday and also like the look of both GABRIAL’S KAKA and BRONZE ANGEL in the Royal Hunt Cup on Wednesday.
All this and I haven’t even mentioned the great showdown of the week in the St James’s Palace Stakes on the opening day. The re-match between NIGHT OF THUNDER and KINGMAN, the pair who finished just in front of Australia in the 2,000 Guineas.
It’s Kingman to reign for me -- to crown the king of all Flat racing weeks.