WITH the master of Ascot, Henry Cecil, firmly in our thoughts, the prestigious Royal meeting is now only days away and ahead of our comprehensive coverage in The Herald next week, NIALL CRONIN looks at the Irish interest and high-profile clashes on the menu
A COUPLE of days ago, it looked like the St James's Palace Stakes was set up for Aidan O'Brien's Chester and Curragh winner Magician.
But on Wednesday afternoon it was confirmed that Jim Bolger's Dawn Approach is likely to take his chance.
Dawn Approach is now Boylesports' 13/8 joint-favourite with Magician for the opening-day feature, which promises to be one of the races of the week.
Dawn Approach imploded dramatically at Epsom and exerted himself in a way that suggested he wouldn't be seen until later in the season.
However, Bolger has been happy in the last week or so and is set to return to Royal Ascot with the colt that won last season's Coventry Stakes.
It is set to be a fascinating clash between the two 2,000 Guineas winners, with Chester's Dee Stakes winner Magician sticking to a mile after also proving himself over 10 furlongs.
Add in those next in the betting like Richard Hannon's highly regarded Toronado (4/1) and the other Ballydoyle possibility Mars (20/1), and it's easy to see why this is being billed as one of the races of the week.
The American-trained Animal Kingdom is a warm favourite for the Queen Anne Stakes, which also takes places on Tuesday.
After being pounded by punters the Breeders' Cup runner-up is now as short as 4/6 to beat the likes of Declaration Of War, who disappointed for Aidan and Joseph O'Brien in the Lockinge Stakes last time out.
Eddie Lynam's Sole Power has been flying the flag for Irish sprinters in recent years and will bid to do so again in the King's Stand Stakes.
But he twice finished two-and-a-half lengths off Shea Shea at Meydan in March and will have to reverse that form to get back to winning ways here.
Quality is never lacking at Royal Ascot and Boylesports make recent Curragh winner Al Kazeem the 7/4 favourite in his rematch with Camelot (9/4) in the Prince Of Wales's Stakes.
Camelot was a 4/11 favourite when making his second start of the season in the Tattersalls Gold Cup, but last year's dual Derby winner and Triple Crown-seeker was no match for an impressive display from Roger Charlton's Al Kazeem.
Famously, Camelot went down to only Encke in the St Leger when on the brink of history and then failed to land a blow under Frankie Dettori in the Arc at Longchamp.
Despite his season failing to end on a high, connections opted to continue racing Camelot as a four-year-old before life-threatening equine colic forced a major operation to save the colt's life.
Camelot returned to win the Mooresbridge Stakes at the Curragh but will have to be at his best if he is going to reverse the form with Al Kazeem in the clash of day two.
Elsewhere on Wednesday's card, David Wachman's Duntle is among the fillies and mares in the Duke Of Cambridge Stakes and last year's Sandringham winner – already a Group Three winner this year – is sure to be prominent in the betting.
Wind the clock back to this time three years ago and Dermot Weld's Rite Of Passage caused a 20/1 shock in the first Ascot Gold Cup run after Yeats' domination.
At just six, and with some very good form to his name, most notably when third in the Neptune Investments Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham, it appeared that Rite Of Passage could be set for similar domination to the aforementioned Yeats.
Injury curtailed that progression, unfortunately, and he didn't run again in 2010.
A prep race in May 2011 for Royal Ascot was next on his agenda, but he then suffered problems in training and did not race again until October 20 last year.
Few will forget that day, however, as Frankel signed off a wonderful racing career in the Champion Stakes.
However, on the same day, Rite Of Passage came back from an insanely long layoff to win at odds of 8/1 in the Long Distance Cup.
Weld opted against a prep run last week at Leopardstown, as the ground was too quick to take the chance.But Rite Of Passage is likely to take his chance if there is enough ease in the surface, and 8/1 looks a very big price.
Other Irish interest in this comes via John Oxx's Saddlers Rock, who ran a remarkable race at Meydan when only four-and-a-half lengths behind Cavalryman, despite his saddle slipping soon after the gates opened, and Willie Mullins' dual Royal Ascot winner Simenon, who won twice at this meeting last year. They are both 8/1.
On Tuesday, we have the clash of the Irish and English 2,000 Guineas winners Dawn Approach and Magician.
But on Friday we have the meeting of both the Irish and English 1,000 Guineas winners with a little bit extra thrown in.
Just The Judge won the Irish renewal at the Curragh after being nearly collared in the dying strides by Richard Hughes on Sky Lantern at Newmarket.
On both occasions, Dermot Weld's Big Break was set to run, but she skipped Newmarket and ran with credit on very quick ground at the Curragh when only beaten by a length and three-parts.
Big Break can certainly be expected to improve on her Curragh outing last month.
With so little between Just The Judge and Sky Lantern, should all go to plan, it really is going to be an interesting contest from the furlong pole.
Another Irish entrant worth mentioning in the Coronation Stakes is Moth, who ran on late to claim third spot in the English Guineas and stepped up in trip next time at Epsom to finish fourth in the Oaks for the Ballydoyle team.
Similarly to Sole Power, Tom Hogan's Gordon Lord Byron has done his best to prove that Irish trainers can produce sprinters on the world stage.
The five-year-old has taken his trainer and connections around the globe with some consistently good efforts.
On Saturday, Gordon Lord Byron, a Group One winner in France on Arc day last year, will bid to return to winning ways in the ultra-competitive Diamond Jubilee Stakes, for which Boylesports make him an 8/1 shot behind favourite Society Rock.
Dandy Boy is a course-and-distance winner for David Marnane, but he would have to improve on recent form and can be easily backed at 20/1.
David Nagle's Maarek is another who has won over course and distance, most notably in the Champions Day Sprint last October when he beat Hawkeyethenoo.
Maarek was recently chopped down to 16/1 from 20/1.
Compared to recent years, there is no doubt that Irish sprinters are beginning to hold their own, and Eddie Lynam could have another dark horse courtesy of four-year-old Slade Power, who was well backed on his seasonal debut at the Curragh on Guineas weekend.