King's Stand Stakes (Group 1) | 5f | 3yo+ | ITV/Sky
Blue Point carries Godolphin's highest hopes as he bids to become just the fourth dual winner of the King's Stand Stakes in modern times and the second in that period to win the race in successive years following Sole Power's brace in 2013 and 2014.
The five-year-old is the winner of three of his four starts at Ascot and he was third behind Caravaggio and Harry Angel in the Commonwealth Cup when meeting his only defeat at the track in 2017, so the Berkshire track clearly brings out the best in him.
This time he arrives with three easy wins on turf at Meydan under his belt, whereas he started his 2018 campaign with a narrow defeat at Meydan and an unhappy experience at Sha Tin.
He is without his regular jockey William Buick, who remains sidelined following a head injury, but James Doyle has ridden him twice before and it is hard to see a negative.
Trainer Charlie Appleby cannot see one and the more the ground dries out the better. He said: "Blue Point did nothing but thrive in Dubai over the winter, with the highlight being his victory in the Al Quoz Sprint on Dubai World Cup night. We've always felt that the stiff five furlongs at Ascot is his best trip and he seems to bring his A-game to the course.
"It looks like it is going to be a great race, but we're very happy with Blue Point, who has matured into a proper sprinter over the winter. In an ideal world, the sounder the surface the better, but he has won on good to soft at Ascot in the past and should be fine on the forecast ground."
Pros Has a terrific record at Ascot and beat Battaash and Mabs Cross in this 12 months ago.
Cons William Buick, who knows him so well, is unable to ride.
Can lid be kept on Battaash before he's unleashed?
Battaash is almost certainly the most naturally gifted five-furlong performer in the business and both his four-length defeat of Marsha in the Prix de l'Abbaye at Chantilly two years ago and his wide-margin defeat of Take Cover in last year's Group 2 King George Stakes at Goodwood live long in the memory.
His repeat success in Haydock's Temple Stakes last month was not far off that level, but the big occasion can get to him and he is a sprinter who needs handling with extreme care if he is to arrive at the start in shape to do himself justice.
Lessons have been learnt, and he was only just touched off by Blue Point here 12 months ago, but he is certainly not bombproof.
Charlie Hills, who is an expert with sprinters and handled 2015 champion Muhaarar impeccably, said: "Battaash ran a great race last year as he was only just caught on the line.
"I know I've said it before, but I could not be more pleased with how he has been performing, both at Haydock and at home. To me he looks to be back to what he was as a three-year-old.
"I don't want to say just yet what we'll do with him in the race, but after speaking with Jim Crowley and Shadwell we'll have some sort of game plan in place. His draw looks okay to me as well, although anything can happen in these five-furlong races."
Stablemate Equilateral, who is by dual King's Stand winner Equiano, is something of an underachiever, but there was no mistaking his talent in Newmarket's Palace House Stakes, where he breezed to the front despite a slow start only to be caught on the post by the penalised Mabs Cross.
Hills retains considerable faith in him, and said: "Equilateral could easily run into a place. I was really pleased with his effort at Newmarket. He has so much pace now and I'm sure one day he can win one of these Group 1 races. Whether it's this one, I don't know."
Battaash pros Has tremendous raw speed and is more than a match for any 5f horse in Europe on his day.
Battaash cons Caught close home by Blue Point 12 months ago and sometimes lets the occasion get the better of him.
Three-way international challenge
The huge prizes available on home soil have reduced the once formidable Australian challenge to a trickle compared to the noughties, when Choisir was the first of four Australian-trained winners between 2003 and 2009.
However, we have one worthy contender from Australia in Houtzen, along with a rare New Zealand raider in Enzo's Lad, plus Imprimis for the United States, which took the 2017 King's Stand with the brilliant Lady Aurelia.
Imprimis is probably the pick of the raiders on form, and trainer Joe Orseno has booked Frankie Dettori. He said: "He won nicely at Gulfstream first time out this term and then we went to the Shakertown, which was a bit ambitious, and he stumbled out of the stalls but won well in the end.
"He beat a pretty good horse in Bound For Nowhere and our horse just exploded in the closing stages. It was an easy choice to run in the King's Stand as I just think the shorter trip will suit."
Michael Pitman has overcome life-changing personal challenges to be at Royal Ascot, and success for Enzo's Lad would provide one of the feelgood stories of the week. He is determined to make the most of his trip and can explain the gelding's disappointing effort at Hong Kong in April.
"He didn't fire," Pitman said. "He is no good right-handed and probably prefers real hard tracks. Blue Point was also last in Hong Kong and won the King's Stand last season so I hope history repeats itself."
The mare Houtzen perhaps lacks the class of some of her predecessors from Australia, but she has already earned well over £1 million. Trainer Toby Edmonds is proud to fly the flag, and said: "We're the only Australian representative and that is probably because the Everest now exists. We just thought we would come here and chance our arm.
"We're coming up against great horses in Blue Point and Battaash and it's going to be very competitive. She's pretty quick and we'll look to pick them off late."
Juice underfoot could be key for Mabs
Prix de l'Abbaye winner Mabs Cross was beaten two lengths into third behind Blue Point and Battaash 12 months ago, but Michael Dods has her in great form and is hopeful that the likely easier ground will help, pointing out that "it's all about the second half of the race with her".
Mabs Cross made a great start to the year when beating Equilateral under a Group 1 penalty in Newmarket's Palace House Stakes, and she was again giving weight away when third to Battaash at Haydock.
Dods said: "I think she's well drawn but it will be tough for her again against Blue Point and Battaash. We're happy with her and I'm hoping that a little bit of juice might help by slowing the others down a bit, as she gives herself a bit to do. It's going to be a great race anyway."
O'Brien bids for elusive Group 1 with three-year-old pair
The King's Stand Stakes remains the only one of Royal Ascot's eight Group 1 races that Aidan O'Brien has yet to win, and he will be looking principally towards Sergei Prokofiev to fill that gap in the CV, although he saddles a second three-year-old in the filly Fairyland.
O'Brien said: "Five furlongs is Sergei Prokofiev's ideal trip. We were happy with his run in the Palace House last time. We've been happy with him since and we're looking forward to running him.
"Fairyland is dropping down in trip and will be running over the distance for the first time. She's a Group 1 winner over six and has plenty of speed. The better the ground, the more they will like it."
Soldier's back to scene of famous victory
Archie Watson enjoyed a memorable first Royal Ascot success 12 months ago when Soldier's Call won the Windsor Castle Stakes, and the colt is back again heading the week's much bigger team.
Watson said: "I was very happy with him at York on his first run back under a penalty, and he's come on again for that. He's a course and distance winner in the Windsor Castle Stakes and deserves to take his chance."
Favourite trip for Signora
Signora Cabello won the Queen Mary Stakes for John Quinn at last year's royal meeting, but she has been below form so far in her three-year-old season. Quinn has not given up on her, though, and drops her in trip in first-time headgear.
He said: "I thought her Ascot run behind Caylx [last month] was okay to be fair, then at Haydock she was in the process of running a big race, but the ground was softer than she likes and she didn't pick up.
"We've been thinking all along that all of her very best form is at five furlongs, and when we've worked her in headgear at home we've been very pleased with what we've seen."
Judicial up against it
Judicial won the Group 3 Coral Charge at Sandown last summer, but was not competitive in York's Nunthorpe Stakes when stepped up to Group 1 company afterwards.
Julie Camacho's seven-year-old made a respectable reappearance at Newmarket last month, but he looks up against it in this company.