Churchill goes to war again as bookmakers fear favourites
Four of the six favourites in the overnight wagering ahead of day one at Royal Ascot are Irish-trained, housed in three different stables.
Punters will put their faith in Aidan O'Brien, Jessica Harrington and Willie Mullins, though Ribchester - trained by Co. Louth native Richard Fahey in North Yorkshire - will be popular in accumulators as well.
Indeed, bookmakers fear the hot favourites across the five days, so a favourable start for punters today could see the layers facing into the prospect of a losing week.
This continues to serve as a stunning festival at a sort of mid-point in the season, which helps to clarify a few things. However, it seems safe even now to say that the older milers are nothing out of the ordinary, and perhaps the fact Ribchester trades at odds-on ahead of the opening Queen Anne reflects that.
The Lockinge winner, which must be a pleasure to train given his reliability and versatility, can provide some cheer for Godolphin towards the conclusion of a trying month, which saw John Ferguson depart the operation.
Ground-versatile, he is really hard to pick a hole in, and last year's Jersey winner likely has the durability to prevail even if other rivals try to do their utmost to ensure he does not get a soft lead under William Buick.
He holds Lightning Spear on Newbury running, and Deauville is surely vulnerable over this trip, but that one's stablemate Murillo can get the ball rolling for Ballydoyle in the Coventry.
A son of the much-missed Scat Daddy, he put a tame debut run behind him when quickening like a very smart horse in what seemed a good Tipperary maiden. Aidan O'Brien has won three of the most recent six renewals and at around 8/1 Murillo comes into the reckoning under Ryan Moore.
Jessica Harrington could conceivably walk through mountains this year and there will be more cheer if her first Royal Ascot winner is provided in the shape of Brother Bear, an unbeaten son of Kodiac. He has a smashing attitude to racing, but the feeling is he is vulnerable all the same.
American speedster Lady Aurelia adds plenty to the card in the King's Stand, evoking recollections of her astonishing route in the Queen Mary last year. There looks to be a potential pace rival in the French raider Signs Of Blessing and this may play into the aspirations of Marsha and Luke Morris.
Mark Prescott's charge has beaten O'Brien's Washington DC the last two times and can claim to be better at four than three, if her reappearance win at Newmarket is a guide.
The banker of the day is Churchill in the St James's Palace, a race that Aidan O'Brien has won with such horses as Rock Of Gibraltar, Giant's Causeway and most recently Gleneagles.
The names bear great resonance and so does Churchill. The National Heritage Centre for Horseracing & Sporting Art is now exhibiting the racing silks of Britain's most celebrated former prime minister at Newmarket. As if the steed needed further encouragement.
Those who oppose Churchill here have good reason to, in theory, since he very much had the key to the code of how the Guineas would transpire, whereas Barney Roy was keen, struggled with the track and was only beaten a length despite a less than favourable trip.
At 5/2 Barney Roy is a good value each-way play in many respects, but the race will again be run to cater for Churchill, which seems to do enough to win every time he races. Few come more likeable than Ryan Moore's mount.
Willie Mullins has become the go-to man in the staying Ascot Stakes, in which Thomas Hobson carries the flag this year. His stamina is far from set in stone, yet he was a game winner over 2m 5f over hurdles on heavy and it is probably more significant that Mullins has put his faith in him.
However, preference is for Beyond Conceit under Jamie Spencer. The Nicky Henderson-trained son of Galileo stays farther than three miles hurdling, but he is pacy too, and he had rock-solid Flat form over this sort of yardage when with Andrew Balding.
The concluding Windsor Castle is a cracker, with Declarationofpeace - a son of War Front which relished the all-weather terrain at Dundalk and which was so long considered to be Ballydoyle's Coventry horse - rerouted. However, this one may stay at home in the shape of Mokaatil.
A son of Lethal Force, Mokaatil was well-punted on debut in a Salisbury novice heat, when showing clear evidence of natural pace. He could not quite reel in Nine Below Zero, but that one since hacked up at Windsor, and the potential is clear for Owen Burrow's colt under Jim Crowley.
Wesley Ward-trained juveniles have established themselves as raiders entitled to respect and Nootka Sound, will likely be soon to the fore. It will be a marvellous spectacle, befitting the week at Berkshire.