Nine naps for Royal Ascot as punters bank on favourites to deliver
With spectators dressed up like they've walked off the set of Pride and Privilege, no-one does British pomp and circumstance quite like Royal Ascot, writes James Toney.
You arrive with hope and dream of glory but too often find solace in the many bars where you can drown your sorrows.
Last year they sold over 50,000 bottles of champagne to thirsty patrons determined to booze whether they win or lose.
But, if a slew of short-priced favourites deliver at this year's meeting, expect those numbers to soar, along with top hats.
With perfect conditions forecast, bookmakers, walking with a swagger after the recent 40-1 winner of the Derby, are looking ahead with trepidation and bracing themselves for a difficult week.
Tuesday's first act, which includes three group one races in the Qipco British Champions Series, looks the best day's racing of the year - and the hits keep on coming.
With 30 races over five days they'll be a fair share of challenging handicaps in which you can hope to hit a 25-1 winner but there's plenty of bankers too to maximise in your accumulators.
And remember, a short-priced winner always beats a long-priced loser.
From American speedsters to Aidan O'Brien's brimming portfolio to right royal runners, you shouldn't go far wrong with these selections.
Ribchester (Queen Anne Stakes, Tuesday, 2pm)
Jockey William Buick could get his Royal Ascot off to a flier should Ribchester deliver in the opening race of the meeting.
An impressive winner of the Lockinge Stakes for trainer Richard Fahey, Ribchester has an impressive fleet of foot and should love the firm and fast ground.
On form he is the best miler around and just watch his acceleration when others start to challenge - no wonder Fahey calls him 'my little Ferrari'.
"This guy's special, the best I've had," he said. "He's a horse that can go 0-35 in four strides, he's got so much speed."
Lady Aurelia (King's Stand Stakes, Tuesday, 3.40pm)
The manner of speedy filly Lady Aurelia's victory in last year's Queen Mary Stakes won't be forgotten by anyone who witnessed it.
Trainer Wesley Ward was left speechless as she scorched down the track - her rivals flailing and out of the picture - in a time, on soft ground, that left observers rubbing eyes in disbelief.
US trainer Ward loves the royal meeting with a 33 per-cent success rate since his first winner in 2009 and Lady Aurelia is his star turn.
"She's a little tiger that Lady Aurelia," he said. "She loves it here and she walked into that paddock like she'd been here training every day of her life. She knows she's back and she's ready again."
Expect Fahey's Marsha, who defied a big weight penalty to win at the Craven meeting, to be the biggest threat.
Churchill (St James's Palace Stakes, Tuesday, 4.20pm)
There's a school of thought that trainer Aidan O'Brien should have sent the grandly-named Churchill to the Derby, after his attention-grabbing win in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket.
Instead he chased and delivered another classic win in the Irish equivalent and now arrives at Ascot looking to enhance his credentials even further.
Barney Roy, who chased him home at Newmarket, and Saeed bin Suroor's Thunder Storm, a distant second behind Churchill at the Curragh, are the other main contenders.
But it's hard to see the three-year old not claiming another group one contest, with Ryan Moore, the short-priced favourite to finish the meeting as top jockey, his able pilot.
"He's a great horse and we're delighted with him," said O'Brien. "He sleeps, he relaxes and he quickens. He's very exciting to work with."
Happy Like A Fool (Queen Mary Stakes, Wednesday, 3.05pm)
There's a strong record for favourites in recent runnings, with Lady Aurelia, Acapulco and Anthem Alexander all converting since 2014.
Wesley Ward is looking to win this race for third time in succession and saddles favourite Happy Like A Fool - a horse he is talking about even more bullishly than Lady Aurelia last year and she won by seven lengths.
If his stable star wins again on Tuesday, expect Happy Like A Fool's price to get a big squeeze.
Highland Reel (Prince of Wales's Stakes, Wednesday, 4.20pm)
John Gosden's five-year-old Jack Hobbs will start a justified favourite, following his victory in the Dubai Sheema Classic at Meydan.
But keep an eye on Aidan O'Brien's much-travelled Highland Reel - an impressive winner of the Coronation Cup during the Derby Festival at Epsom.
Highland Reel dominated that day - especially considering he was unloaded from his horse box just an hour before the race after a very long and much-delayed journey. It was hardly ideal preparation and yet he still produced the goods.
In addition, the horse knows what it is like to win at Ascot, taking last year's midsummer highlight the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes, a renewal he holds an entry for next month.
Order of St George (Gold Cup, Thursday, 4.20pm)
Order of St George attempts to become the first horse since the legendary Yeats, a four-time winner, to defend the showpiece stayers' race.
Yet another O'Brien charge, he finished third in last year's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe and won on his most recent appearance at Leopardstown.
However, another Irish-based horse could be his biggest rival. Trainer Jessica Harrington has already won the Cheltenham Gold Cup over jumps but has a live chance in Torcedor, who beat Order of St George when they clashed over 1m 6f at Navan in April and has reportedly improved leaps and bounds since.
But this race is six furlongs further and the staying credentials of the defending champion are well proven.
Carvaggio (Commonwealth Cup, Friday, 3.40pm)
Carvaggio is a monster horse - a sprinter who looks set to light up Royal Ascot once again, following his win in last year's Coventry Stakes.
The super-fast ground should produce some record times and O'Brien's star looks set to demonstrate why he's the most exciting three-year-old in training, after an unblemished juvenile campaign last season.
"He's an unbelievably quick horse - I've never seen a quicker one," said O'Brien, a man not known for such superlatives.
There are arguably five really big bankers at this year's royal meeting - and Carvaggio is the most bombproof of them all.
Winter (Coronation Stakes, Friday, 4.20pm)
After scoring O'Brien another classic in the Irish 1,000 Guineas, following her win in the English equivalent at Newmarket, Winter was quickly targeted at Friday's showpiece for fillies.
Fabrice Chappet's French 1,000 Guineas winner Precieuse will be a fascinating rival after connections paid to supplement her but Winter still sets the standards in her division.
Dartmouth (Hardwicke Stakes, Saturday, 3.40pm)
Nothing beats a royal winner at Royal Ascot and true stayer Dartmouth looks primed to deliver again for the Queen in the Hardwicke Stakes.
The winner of a thrilling Yorkshire Cup last month, Dartmouth was Her Majesty's 23rd success at the royal meeting 12 months ago and looks ready to take her back to the winners' enclosure.
And if he performs as he should, then it could get really interesting with a shot at the Melbourne Cup in November a realistic possibility.