The rich tapestry of Royal Ascot is given even more lustre by the International challenge, be they Australian sprinters or US juveniles but here we concentrate on the European challenge that is likely to materialise over the five days of Royal Ascot this year.
European in this sense generally means France and it although they are not numerically strong there is plenty of quality in their challenge. As usual their focus will be on the Group 1 events. They captured two of those last year with Goldikova and Byword, and the former is scheduled to lead the Gallic challenge once more at Royal Ascot 2011 in the opening race of the meeting (Queen Anne Stakes) on Tuesday as she clashes head-to-head with Canford Cliffs in what the Royal Ascot betting offers suggest should be a very close race.
Byword landed the Price of Wales Stakes last season and he may well return to defend his title but of greater interest on this occasion is Planteur trained by Ellie Lellouche, this 10F specialist has been in fine form this season. His win in the Prix Ganay was especially impressive and that form has been well franked and he gives his trainer a fine opportunity to add to his two previous Group 1 winners at the meeting and those looking for Royal Ascot tips should remember this.
The French are not blessed with stars in the staying department at the moment and it may fall to Francois Doumen’s old stager Kasbah Bliss to represent them in the Gold Cup, he disappointed last year in the event but has been given a lighter preparation in order to arrive here fresher this time. Overall though it will be a surprise if he can upset the home team this year.
One French contender that may have slipped under the radar is Alain de Royer-Dupre’s Ivory Land who is entered in the Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes. Originally trained in Spain, the four-year-old has steadily improved since moving to Chantilly, and has scored twice in taking fashion so far this season. His win at Longchamp last time out certainly left the impression that there is more to come and he is worthy of his place in this Group 2.
The Italians could provide a couple of interesting contenders with Vittorio Caruso taking on Canford Cliffs again in the Queen Anne with his Worthadd, he already has a second to Canford Cliffs on his CV this year and travelled powerfully there and is worthy of another chance to gain his revenge. The same trainers Blu Constellation is also entered in the Golden Jubilee, this juvenile is smart and will add an interesting dimension to one of the most International races of the week.
Germany will have the Windsor Forest as their main focus, with Vanjura and Magic Eye forming a double pronged attack, while nomadic Hungarian sprinter Overdose will still hold considerable fascination when he takes up his engagement in the Kings Stand Stakes. This is meant to be his main target this season but he will need to bounce back from a sub-standard Haydock run recently.
The European Challenge led by the French will, as ever be worth watching at Royal Ascot this year.