Irish superstars of turf set to dazzle at Royal Ascot
Next week, racing's most glamorous show takes place. Nothing compares to Royal Ascot, it is the ultimate spectacle on the racing calendar. Time hasn't diminished the meeting's appeal to racing fans.
If Cheltenham in March is the mecca for jumps fans, then Royal Ascot is its equivalent in any flat season. And while there are many more big racing festivals in the flat calendar that provide ample opportunities for owners and trainers, Royal Ascot is paramount in trainers' thinking as they plot the season for their best horses.
And if fine fashion or expensive champagne isn't sufficiently persuasive to help you engage in the week's activities, then the spectacular quality of thoroughbreds on show is surely reason enough.
Royal Ascot has many distinguishing factors, but, for me, it's the unparalleled class of racing on show throughout the week that propels the meeting to another level.
The action begins at 2.30 on Tuesday with the Queen Anne Stakes, the first of three Group one races on the opening day's card. It's indicative of what the week delivers – the very best horses ridden by some of the world's best jockeys.
Today, I look ahead to some of the big races of the week.
St James' Palace Stakes
This race may well confirm just which horse is the best miler of the classic generation.
Despite being beaten by Night of Thunder in the English 2,000 Guineas, the John Gosden-trained Kingman is the current ante-post favourite.
As the season develops, the strength of the Newmarket race is becoming more apparent each week, emphasised by Derby victories for both Australia and Mastercraftsman in France.
There is no doubt about the high levels of form from the Guineas, what we can't be categorical about is the effect of the jockeys chosing to race in two groups up the Rowley mile.
The Gosden team believe Kingman got racing too early, and set up the race for Night of Thunder, which showed a devastating turn of foot. Gosden may well instruct jockey James Doyle to ride with more restraint, but, even so, I'm not convinced he will reverse the form of his Newmarket conqueror.
Had Night of Thunder run straight when he hit the front in Newmarket, a minimum of another length could have been added to the margin of victory. Richard Hughes will most likely ride his horse to utilise his turn of foot and is one of the best in such a race.
Toormore, War Command, Outstrip and Muwaary will ensure there is a formidable supporting cast to the front two. They are high-quality animals in their own right, but I suspect they are running for place money. It promises to be an epic race, one that may well crown another superstar of the turf in Night of Thunder.
Prince of Wales Stakes
Last October, when Treve galloped up the Longchamp straight to claim the 92nd running of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, she confirmed herself as a wonder mare that comes along once in a lifetime.
On that occasion she proved herself to be a horse of freakish ability, racing without cover and fighting her jockey's efforts to restrain her. Despite her victory, she didn't receive what could be classed as a textbook ride and to win by five lengths in that manner raised the question – just how good could she be?
While she was beaten in her seasonal reappearance seven weeks ago, she lost nothing finishing a short head second to the race-fit Cirrus des Aigles. In deep ground over 10f, on her first run of the year, it was a most satisfactory showing and now the darling of French racing will bid to become the Queen of Ascot 2014.
Even though she is most likely to go off prohibitively short-priced, Treve can't be opposed. The only concern may be her effectiveness over a 10f trip on good/firm ground and perhaps two more furlongs and easier ground would see her at optimum.
Magician, The Fugue and Mukhadram are all Group winners, so this is no penalty kick for Treve. Whatever the discipline, real champions in any sport are rare and to be cherished. Not long ago, we saw such a figure when the unforgettable Frankel graced the racetrack and let's hope this French mare can live up to a similar billing.
Ascot Gold Cup
Despite being run over a trip in keeping with a national hunt race, the Gold Cup is arguably the most prestigious event of the entire week.
Aidan O'Brien holds a remarkable record in this event courtesy of Yeats, which claimed the Gold Cup for four successive years. This time around, the trainer's hopes rest with last year's English ledger winner Leading Light. In having his first run of the year in the Vintage Crop stakes at Navan, Leading Light followed a path familiar to team Ballydoyle, which used the race as preparation for many of Yeats' assaults on Ascot. Until a horse tries a trip, nobody know for certain if they will stay the distance and in extremes like the Gold Cup, there is even more uncertainty, but Leading Light gives all the right indications.
Estimate returns to defend her crown, but has been hindered by injuries. Last season, her trainer Michael Stoute gave her a prep race at Sandown ahead of Ascot. While Stoute is a master at preparation, I suspect she may be vulnerable, and whatever beats Leading Light will win.
The week may not provide a Royal winner, but, be assured, a spectacular week lies in store. It's a racing certainty.
Warm reception for opening sky Salvo
Last Saturday was a landmark day for me for many reasons, but most importantly the GAA's first showing on Sky Sports was met by a warm reception.
Jamesie O'Connor and Ollie Canning's analysis and discussion seem to have struck a cord with viewers and they are a welcome addition to the Sky Sports team.
The British reaction has also provided plenty of entertaining reading this week. As expected, they loved the spectacle, even if some were mildly confused as to what they were watching.
A long summer lies ahead commuting between Ireland and the UK and tonight sees cameras at Wexford Park on Sky Sports 3 from 6.30 as Wexford face Dublin.