Britain will host the first races in the 2019 Breeders' Cup Challenge Series to be run in Europe this year when the prestigious Royal Ascot meeting opens at Ascot Racecourse on Tuesday, June 18.
The Breeders' Cup Challenge is an international series of 86 stakes races, whose winners receive automatic starting positions and fees paid into a corresponding race of the Breeders' Cup World Championships, which will be held at Santa Anita Park, in Arcadia, California, Nov 1-2.
Breeders' Cup will also provide a $40,000 travel allowance for all starters based outside of North America to compete in the World Championships.
The $762,000 (£600,000) Queen Anne Stakes, on Tuesday, June 18, a 'Win and You're In' qualifier for the Breeders' Cup Mile (G1), provides the traditional curtain-raiser to the Royal Meeting set to feature a field of leading older milers headed by Mustashry (GB), who finished 11th behind Sir Michael Stoute-trained stablemate Expert Eye in the 2018 Breeders' Cup Mile (G1) at Churchill Downs.
Mustashry re-emerged this year to gain his first top-level success when he won the Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes (G1) in May and is set to face a number of his rivals from the Newbury race including five-time Group 1-winning filly Laurens (FR), who finished second.
Speaking at a Royal Ascot media event on Thursday. Stoute said: “I was thrilled with him in the Lockinge and his preparations have gone fine. He is impervious to ground conditions which is very handy, and we are hopeful.”
Also lining up again is last year's surprise Queen Anne winner Accidental Agent (GB), who was third in the Lockinge, plus 2018 Irish 2,000 Guineas winner Romanised (IRE) (fourth) and Le Brivido (FR) (fifth), the lead hope from the Aidan O'Brien stable. Barney Roy (GB), who has successfully resumed his racing career as a gelding after proving infertile at stud, will mount a strong challenge for Godolphin.
The $953,000 (£750,000) Prince of Wales's Stakes run on Wednesday, June 14, a qualifier for the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf (G1), was expected to feature the 2019 debut of champion mare Enable (GB) and provide a rematch between the first and second from last year's epic running of the Breeders' Cup Turf (G1).
Even though Enable will not be ready in time the race promises to be a highlight of the week as the Aidan O'Brien-trained Magical (IRE), who finished three-quarters of a length down at Churchill Downs, has to fend off a potentially stern challenge from another top-class filly in Sea Of Class (IRE), trained by William Haggas, who came within a short neck of denying Enable a second success in last year's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. Enable's rider Frankie Dettori will now partner the Stoute-trained Crystal Ocean (GB).
Crystal Ocean has won two Group 3 races this year but is yet to win at Group 1 level, coming closest when beaten a neck by 2018 Prince of Wales's Stakes winner Poet's Word in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes.
Speaking at a Royal Ascot media event on Thursday, Stoute said: “He has to go for Group 1 races now and he has won plenty of Group 2 and Group 3 races. He has run creditably in Group 1 races and has decent ten furlong form. It is a very tough race, but he goes there in great form.
Adding an international dimension to a contest which could also feature Waldgeist (GB) from the stable of Andre Fabre is Japan's Deirdre (JPN), winner of the G1 Shuka Sho in 2017.
Wesley Ward claims to have shipped his strongest team of juveniles from the United States to England and one of the races the ten-time Royal Ascot-winning trainer is targeting is the Norfolk Stakes (G2), a “Win and You're In” for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint, the first race on Thursday, June 20.
Ward has won the $127,000 (£100,000) Norfolk Stakes twice, with No Nay Never in 2013 and Shang Shang Shang last year. He has engaged two fillies, Anna's Fast and Karak, debut winners at Keeneland and Belmont Park respectively, and colt Maven, who became the first offspring of 2015 Triple Crown and Breeders' Cup Classic winner American Pharoah to win in North America when getting off the mark at Aqueduct in April.
By post-time Maven, who was bred by Ward, could be in new ownership as he is entered in the Goffs London Sale on the eve of the Royal Ascot meeting. Opposition will be led by Sunday Sovereign (GB), trained in Ireland by Paddy Twomey, who has been acquired by King Power Racing since the first of two impressive wins at the Curragh and Tipperary.
Ward could also have a say in the outcome of the $762,000 (£600,000) Diamond Jubilee Stakes (G1), the headline race on the final day of the royal meeting on Saturday, June 22, the winner of which will earn a guaranteed start in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint (G1).
Ward saddles Bound For Nowhere (USA), a Royal Ascot regular who finished third in the race last year and will be the mount of Tyler Gaffalione, rider of Preakness Stakes (G1) winner War Of Will who is riding in England for the first time.
The Diamond Jubilee is likely to feature an international headlined by challengers from New Zealand in Enzo's Lad (AUS), likely to contest Tuesday's King's Stand Stakes (G1) as well, and Singapore-trained Lim's Cruiser (AUS).
However, the betting is headed by Invincible Army (IRE), emphatic winner of the Duke Of York Stakes (G2) in May for trainer James Tate, and Godolphin contender Inns Of Court (IRE), who has been refashioned as a sprinter this year by trainer Andre Fabre. He is joined by French-trained compatriot City Light (FR), who was short-headed in last year's contest for trainer Stephane Wattel.
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