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Royal Ascot 2018: The hottest head-to-heads

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Setting up the biggest and best week’s racing of the year, Jamie Lynch picks out five of the classiest collisions during the five days of Royal Ascot.

‘A duel, whether regarded as a ceremony in the cult of honour, or even when reduced in its moral essence to a form of manly sport, demands a perfect singleness of intention, a homicidal austerity of mood.’

I’ll be honest, he lost me with the last part, but that says infinitely more about me than one of the finest writers to ever put pen to paper, Joseph Conrad, whose definition of a duel otherwise sings to the simpler subplots of Royal Ascot, of a manly sport, in spirit if not the strictest sense, and the Ascot ambition that burns from the singleness of intention.

Royal Ascot is a multiplier of the traditions and titillations that sustain the sport, but the raw element of racing is its heartbeat, those stripped-down shootouts which provide the starkest points of clarity and context for the week. Here are five of them:

1) JOHN GOSDEN vs AIDAN O’BRIEN PART I

CALYX + LEGENDS OF WAR vs SERGEI PROKOVIEV

It looked for a while as if Sergei Prokoviev was going to have the stage to himself, because of the singleness of intention to prime and ready him for the Coventry which meant this latest Scat-powered steam train left the station as early as early as April 11th, gathering momentum ever since.

Stellar evolution is the process by which a star grows gradually in size, the blueprint for Sergei Prokoviev, but you don’t need a telescope to view the shooting stars that have blazed into the Coventry orbit, both emanating from Clarehaven Stables, firstly Legends of War at Yarmouth and secondly, all the more dramatically, Calyx at Newmarket only last weekend.

It’s the magical mix of a classic Coventry cocktail, of a high-achiever against some high-flyers, though Calyx fits into both categories, as his achievement – expressed as a rating first time out - is virtually off the scale, fattened by an exceptionally fast closing sectional which makes the option of the Coventry an obligation, despite the pressures of time.

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2) BATTAASH vs LADY AURELIA

Stripping it down, if the essence of the sport is the race, the essence of the race is the speed, and the fundamental question of each and every contest of which horse can run the fastest; and Lady Aurelia and Battaash are two of the fastest we’ve ever seen.

There’s still scorch marks on the Ascot turf from where Lady Aurelia has twice burned up the Royal meeting, winning the Queen Mary by seven lengths and the King’s Stand by three. But Battaash had the last word in their 2017 game of ‘anything you can do I can do better’ when he took apart the Prix de l’Abbaye, normally a finish of heads and necks, by four lengths. In their one meeting so far, in last year’s Nunthorpe, Battaash didn’t have his head on, but he jumps into this of a surer step – his Temple win - than Lady Aurelia, who never got the revs up when overturned at odds-on at Keeneland in mid-April.

That said, Lady Aurelia’s track record of blossoming in Berkshire means the Ascot track record is under threat, after she missed out last year by just 0.01 secs against Miss Andretti’s eye-popping time.

3) JOHN GOSDEN vs AIDAN O’BRIEN PART II

WITHOUT PAROLE vs THE GUINEAS GANG

It’s the Guineas back-up gang to be precise, Saxon Warrior expanding his horizons since Newmarket, but U S Navy Flag and Gustav Klimt have contested three Guineas between them without hitting a bullseye, short of stamina and steel respectively. They’re sticking to the original plan with the St James’s Palace Stakes, but being overshadowed feels like a life sentence for both, which brings us to Without Parole.

He didn’t have a fair trial at Sandown, when various pressures – including some weighty Timeform numbers that acted as evidence for the defence beforehand and the prosecution after – meant he was in a no-win situation, only he did win, not pretty, but an unbeaten record and the privileges that come with his blue-blooded breeding and a star-shaping stable are all pretty.

Without Parole is one of the most exciting horses around, but this isn’t simply the Gosden and O’Brien show, not when Tip Two Win did what he did in the Guineas, and not when one or two of the top French trainers are taking aim.

4) JOHN GOSDEN vs AIDAN O’BRIEN PART III

STRADIVARIUS vs ORDER OF ST GEORGE

There was a length between them in first and third, in Order of St George’s favour, when they met in the Long Distance Cup last autumn. Then a three-year-old, Stradivarius received 8 lb on that occasion, compared to 1 lb now, but the weight-for-age scale compensates for immaturity, and there was an added maturity about Stradivarius’ comeback at York, which was a smooth success second but a serious statement first.

It’s not just an irresistible clash of Britain and Ireland, of Gosden and O’Brien, or Dettori and Moore, but an age-old one of old age versus youthful exuberance, hard to say that age is catching up with six-year-old Order of St George from a couple of routine runouts this year, but as many defeats as wins from his last twelve races expose certain chinks in his armour, and the skill-set of Stradivarius is exactly what’s needed to exploit them.

5) ENGLAND vs AUSTRALIA (AND AN IRISH INFLUENCE)

It’s not just any Irish influence either, as it’s Aidan O’Brien we’re talking about, he having been given the responsibility for acclimatising and assembling Coolmore’s Aussie sprinter Merchant Navy in time for the Diamond Jubilee, a job that’s ahead of schedule based on his energised effort at the Curragh when winning against the odds.

There’s no stopover for Redkirk Warrior (who beat Merchant Navy in a Group 1 at Flemington in March), though it’s a homecoming of sorts for him, having started out for William Haggas, remarkably winning twice over ten furlongs, before reinvented as a top-of-the-range sprinter in Australia.

That’s two fiercely fast bowlers with an Australian attitude pitching up at Ascot, but going into bat for England is a sprinting specialist with a knack of big runs, namely Harry Angel, who has two Group 1s on his scorecard. The Duke of York showed that Harry Angel is as good as new, and as if not more powerful than either of the Australian arrivistes. The fireworks in the Diamond Jubilee will act as a fitting closing ceremony on the Saturday.     

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KEMPTON PARK 4:30

Tuesday 21 August
8. APEX KING (IRE) 105
Shane Kelly silk Shane Kelly horse in focus
Richard Hughes hot trainer
3. FENNAAN (IRE) 104
Robert Havlin silk Robert Havlin
John Gosden
7. INTRANSIGENT 103
David Probert silk David Probert
Andrew Balding
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LATEST HORSE RACING RESULTS

8:20 ROSCOMMON

1st Declan McDonogh silk 9. PAPAL PARADE (IRE) 16/117
2nd W. M. Lordan silk nk 6. ONE COOL POET (IRE) 16/117
3rd R. P. Downey silk 8. GET OUT OF JAIL (IRE) 7/18
14 ran. NRs: 10  12 
FULL RESULT

8:10 BANGOR-ON-DEE

1st Lorcan Murtagh silk 9. HANDY HOLLOW (IRE) 7/24.5
2nd Robert Dunne silk ¾ 8. KINGSTON (GER) 9/110
3rd Lewis Stones silk 5 16. DOLLAR AND A DREAM (IRE) 8/19
J: Lorcan Murtagh (5)  
15 ran. NRs: 5 
FULL RESULT

8:00 WINDSOR

1st Ryan Moore silk 5. MIDI 5/42.25f
2nd Adam Kirby silk 6. PETRASTAR 11/82.37
3rd Franny Norton silk 1. ROSE CROWN 50/151
J: Ryan Moore  
All 9 ran.
FULL RESULT

7:50 ROSCOMMON

1st Ben Martin Coen silk 5. TRY AGAIN (IRE) 4/15
2nd C. T. Keane silk ¾ 4. MARLBOROUGH SOUNDS 11/43.75f
3rd W. M. Lordan silk 7. FAUGHILL (IRE) 7/18
J: Ben Martin Coen (7)  
All 8 ran.
FULL RESULT

7:40 BANGOR-ON-DEE

1st Richard Johnson silk 1. SILK RUN (IRE) 15/82.87f
2nd James Nixon silk 4. VIVE LE ROI (IRE) 3/14
3rd Miss Abbie McCain silk 3. DANCEINTOTHELIGHT 8/19
T: Tom Lacey  
All 8 ran.
FULL RESULT

7:30 WINDSOR

1st Kieran O'Neill silk 7. PORTO FERRO (IRE) 9/110
2nd Lewis Edmunds silk ½ 5. BASHIBA (IRE) 4/15
3rd Adam Kirby silk ½ 4. JOEGOGO (IRE) 7/18
T: John Bridger  
All 8 ran.
FULL RESULT

7:20 ROSCOMMON

1st W. M. Lordan silk 3. ACE COMBAT 12/113
2nd Seamie Heffernan silk hd 7. FREETOWN (IRE) 2/13
3rd Declan McDonogh silk sh 6. CRECERELLE (IRE) 10/111.9f
J: W. M. Lordan  
13 ran. NRs: 12  16  17  5 
FULL RESULT

7:10 BANGOR-ON-DEE

1st Sean Quinlan silk 6. RED GIANT (IRE) 3/14
2nd David Bass silk 7 1. NET WORK ROUGE (FR) 10/111
3rd Harry Bannister silk 11 5. GANBEI 16/117
J: Sean Quinlan  
All 10 ran.
FULL RESULT

7:00 WINDSOR

1st Gerald Mosse silk 10. UDONTDODOU 10/111
2nd Tom Marquand silk nk 1. SILENT ECHO 9/25.5f
3rd Ryan Moore silk nk 7. OPEN WIDE (USA) 17/29.5
J: Gerald Mosse  
15 ran. NRs: 5 
FULL RESULT
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