Royal Ascot record beckons for Sir Michael Stoute

Royal Ascot record beckons for Sir Michael Stoute
By Sportsbeat

21/06/2017 at 17:13Updated

Sir Michael Stoute could be forgiven for displaying the demeanour of a cricket player stuck in the nervous nineties at Royal Ascot this week, writes James Toney.

The ten-time champion trainer needs just one more win to secure his place as the most successful handler in the history of the royal meeting.

Sir Michael is currently deadlocked with great rival Sir Henry Cecil, who died in 2013, with 75 winners and after a watching brief on Tuesday has several live chances running on Wednesday.

Ulyssees will be one of his shortest-priced runners of the week and goes to post in the Prince of Wales's Stakes, alongside stable mate Queen's Trust, a Breeders' Cup winner last November.

Sir Michael - who famously won the Gold Cup for the Queen with Estimate four years ago - could also bring up the landmark with another royal runner, with Dartmouth looking a strong chance to give the meeting's most famous punter her 24th career winner in Saturday's Hardwicke Stakes.

"We had our first winner in 1977 and all these years later we're still in here fighting," he said.

"Royal Ascot is such a special event and I love the fact it's becoming more international with more and more runners from overseas.

"You start thinking about your Ascot team pretty early on in the season but getting them here and getting them here in the best order is never straightforward.

"We've got some really lovely horses this week and we've got every chance."

However, John Gosden and Aidan O'Brien - a trainer with Sir Michael's record in his long-term sights - look to have the better chance in Wednesday's Qipco British Champions Series showpiece, the Prince of Wales's Stakes.

O'Brien likes the chances of Coronation Cup winner Highland Reel while Gosden expects the drop back to ten furlongs will prove perfect for favourite Jack Hobbs.

The horse was a runner-up to stable mate Golden Horn in the 2015 Derby but has seen his career interrupted by injury, until an impressive win at the Dubai World Cup in March.

"Obviously he's dropping back a couple of furlongs, but he showed a lot of pace in Dubai when he wore the blinkers first time," said jockey William Buick, looking for another success after his first day Queen Anne Stakes triumph on the impressive Ribchester.

"He was very good there, he travelled very well and he's run well in two Champion Stakes at Ascot so he'll be comfortable enough at the trip."

If Sir Michael is the blue-bloodied aristocrat trainer then American Wesley Ward is the cheeky upstart cousin from across the pond.

Ward became the first American trainer to win at the meeting in 2009 and has so far delivered eight winners from 38 runners - a remarkable strike rate.

Lady Aurelia silenced her doubters with a stunning victory in the King's Stand Stakes, with Kentucky Derby winning jockey John Velazquez, a late replacement for the injured Frankie Dettori, taking the ride.

The speedy filly was a brilliant winner of the Queen Mary Stakes last year, crushing the field to win by a remarkable seven lengths over just five furlongs.

Many feared she wouldn't make the transition from talented juvenile to three-year old company - but she wasn't listening. She pricked her ears back, sniffed the line and scorched to another famous win, her winning time just 0.01 seconds outside the course record. It was another free-wheeling display of pure speed and raw emotion.

“I’m very sorry for Frankie because he’s a good friend of mine. For me it’s a blessing, it’s a good feeling every time you cross the line in a big race, but I feel bad for him," said Velazquez.

“It makes my job a lot easier when you ride a horse like like Lady Aurelia, it gives you a lot of confidence. All I had to worry about was that she didn’t use too much energy, she settled well and she gave her all."

Velazquez could land another winner on Ward's Happy Like A Fool, who'll go off a short-priced favourite in the Queen Mary Stakes, a race he has claimed three times in the previous four years.

Ward's record with two-year old sprinters is remarkable but he's hit back at innuendo and whispering surrounding his runners, with one leading racing manager claiming his juveniles 'sometimes look like four-year-olds'.

"I hear what they say but it doesn't bother me," he said. "They can test whatever they want to test and they can hold it for the next 20 years.

"I know exactly what it takes training wise and I'm not worried about it at all.”

Sportsbeat 2017