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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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NAVAN 14:20

Sunday 17 February
5. OFF YOU GO (IRE) 169
M. P. Walsh silk M. P. Walsh horse in focus
Charles Byrnes, Ireland
4. CRACKING SMART (FR) 168
J. W. Kennedy silk J. W. Kennedy
Gordon Elliott, Ireland
1. COQUIN MANS (FR) 166
P. Townend silk P. Townend
W. P. Mullins, Ireland hot trainer
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LATEST HORSE RACING RESULTS

20:15 KEMPTON PARK

1st Richard Kingscote silk 1. ALWAYS A DRAMA (IRE) 6/17
2nd Theodore Ladd silk ¾ 7. MAXIMUM POWER (FR) 16/117
3rd Kevin Lundie silk nk 2. KRAKA (IRE) 5/16cf
11 ran. NRs: 11 
FULL RESULT

19:45 KEMPTON PARK

1st Joe Fanning silk 1. COUNT CALABASH (IRE) 7/24.5
2nd Tom Marquand silk 6 4. CASPAR THE CUB (IRE) 2/13f
J: Joe Fanning  
All 6 ran.
FULL RESULT

19:15 KEMPTON PARK

1st Richard Kingscote silk 5. STAMFORD RAFFLES 33/134
2nd Tom Marquand silk sh 1. SPARK PLUG (IRE) 9/25.5
5 ran. NRs: 6 
FULL RESULT

18:45 KEMPTON PARK

1st Jane Elliott silk 10. TOY THEATRE 20/121
2nd Stevie Donohoe silk 7. TREASURE ME 10/111
3rd Callum Shepherd silk sh 1. PATTIE 10/111
J: Jane Elliott (3)  
All 10 ran.
FULL RESULT

18:15 KEMPTON PARK

1st Callum Shepherd silk 2. TREACHEROUS 5/23.5jf
2nd Joshua Bryan silk ns 1. ROSE BERRY 16/117
T: Ed de Giles  
All 7 ran.
FULL RESULT

17:45 KEMPTON PARK

1st Adam Kirby silk 4. UNIT OF ASSESSMENT (IRE) 11/26.5
2nd Scott McCullagh silk 6. DONO DI DIO 12/113
3rd David Probert silk ns 2. NYLON SPEED (IRE) 5/16
J: Adam Kirby  
12 ran. NRs: 14  5 
FULL RESULT

17:15 KEMPTON PARK

1st Oisin Murphy silk 4. COCKNEY HILL 13/82.62f
2nd Daniel Muscutt silk 8 2. CAPE CYCLONE (IRE) 16/117
3rd Barry McHugh silk ¾ 7. ALICIA DARCY (IRE) 5/23.5
J: Oisin Murphy  
T: Joseph Tuite  
8 ran. NRs: 9 
FULL RESULT

17:10 WINCANTON

1st Jason Dixon silk 14. MR MAGILL (FR) 40/141
2nd James Best silk sh 11. CROSSLEY TENDER 9/25.5
3rd Rex Dingle silk sh 7. SOULSAVER 17/29.5
J: Jason Dixon (7)  
T: Keiran Burke  
All 14 ran.
FULL RESULT

17:00 ASCOT

1st Harry Cobden silk 1. SILVER FOREVER (IRE) 2/13f
2nd William Kennedy silk ¾ 8. MYSTIC DREAMER (IRE) 33/134
3rd David Bass silk 4 2. SUBWAY SURF (IRE) 4/15
J: Harry Cobden  
All 14 ran.
FULL RESULT
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