Racing Victoria’s General Manager – International Operations, Paul Bloodworth, has identified several runners at this week’s Royal Ascot meeting who could travel to Melbourne for the 2019 Spring Racing Carnival, with last year’s Lexus Melbourne Cup (3200m) winner amongst those set to grace the hallowed turf in Berkshire, United Kingdom.
Cross Counter, who delivered a first win in ‘the race that stops a nation’ for Godolphin last November, will take on Europe’s leading stayer Stradivarius in a mouth-watering clash in the Ascot Gold Cup (4000m), one of eight Group 1 contests.
The meeting, which will be broadcast live on Racing.com, is considered the pinnacle of British flat racing and will this year offer record prizemoney of £7.33 million (approximately AUD$13.47 million) across 30 races.
“Royal Ascot traditionally starts the international countdown to the Spring Racing Carnival, and there’s every chance that several contenders could lay down a marker this week,” said Bloodworth.
“The likes of Cross Counter and Magic Circle will be familiar to Australian audiences, but I’m also expecting some new names to emerge with big performances at the meeting.
“It’s going to be an exciting week, and by the end of it we should have a better idea of which internationals we can expect to see coming out here for the Spring Racing Carnival later this year.”
The royal curtain is officially raised at 11.30pm (AEST) tomorrow night (18 June), when the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes (1600m) heralds the start of five days of elite equine action.
Notable runners in the race from a Spring Racing Carnival perspective include Godolphin’s top-class three-year-old Barney Roy, saddled by Cross Counter’s trainer Charlie Appleby, and Sir Michael Stoute’s six-year-old Mustashry, who could potentially plot a path towards the Ladbrokes Cox Plate (2040m) if successful.
At 12.40am (AEST) on Wednesday morning, Toby Edmonds’ sprinter Houtzen – set to be ridden by three-time Melbourne Cup winner Kerrin McEvoy – will proudly fly the flag for Australia in a highly competitive renewal of the Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes (1000m), with Kiwi raider Enzo's Lad amongst her potential rivals.
Just under two hours later the Joseph O’Brien-trained Latrobe, who narrowly failed to win last spring’s Seppelt Mackinnon Stakes (2000m) at Flemington, will run in the Listed Wolferton Stakes (2000m).
The main focus on day two is the Group 1 Prince of Wales’s Stakes (2000m), which is shaping up as the most compelling contest of the week with a quartet of Cox Plate invitees battling it out against the elite of Britain’s middle-distance ranks.
Magical, Aidan O’Brien’s star mare who has resumed with three dominant wins, Zabeel Prince (trained by Roger Varian), Ghaiyaath (Appleby) and Frankie Dettori’s mount Crystal Ocean (Stoute) have all received international invitations from the Moonee Valley Racing Club to contest this year’s Cox Plate; but they will have to be at their peak to get the better of William Haggas’ multiple Group 1 winner Sea Of Class and Japanese raider Deidre.
As well as Cross Counter, the Ascot Gold Cup – which is scheduled for 1.20am (AEST) on Friday morning – could also feature two recent Melbourne Cup runners: the Ian Williams-trained Magic Circle (16th last year) and Willie Mullins’ galloper Thomas Hobson, who in 2017 finished sixth under then-apprentice jockey Ben Allen.
The marquee staying race on Saturday morning (12.05am AEST) is the Group 2 King Edward VII Stakes (2400m), which is likely to feature Buckhurst, who is owned by Hall of Famer Lloyd Williams, and Bangkok, saddled by frequent Spring Racing Carnival visitor Andrew Balding.
Crystal Ocean won last year’s Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes (2400m), and this year’s edition – due off at 12.40am (AEST) on Sunday morning – looks another stellar contest with Appleby’s 2018 Epsom Derby hero Masar amongst the headline acts. The winner of the race will gain an automatic start in this year’s Stella Artois Caulfield Cup (2400m).
Last year, the Victorian Spring Racing Carnival celebrated 25 years of international competition, and welcomed its 250th internationally-trained horse.