Ascot and Newmarket Racecourses staged the annual International Challengers Press Morning in Newmarket this morning, Thursday, June 14, and connections of the overseas challengers plus other leading hopes gave their thoughts ahead of Royal Ascot (Tuesday, June 19 to Saturday, June 23) and the Moët & Chandon July Festival (Thursday, July 12 to Saturday, July 14).
Frankie Dettori, the most successful current jockey at Royal Ascot with 56 winners, talked about how special Royal Ascot is to him.
He said: "It was a year ago today that I broke my shoulder and it was awful. To me, Ascot is everything and to injure myself four days' before it last year's Royal Ascot was very hard to take.
"At the moment, I am covering myself up in bubble wrap and hope I can get there on Tuesday! I have three rides before then - two on Saturday and one on Sunday.
"Royal Ascot is the pinnacle for me - it is our Olympics. The Derby at Epsom is just one race, but there are 30 races at Royal Ascot over the five days, with distances from five furlongs to two miles and six. It covers all spectrums of horses and there are international challengers now of course.
"Races are hard to win and the meeting is extremely important for both the industry and the audience. It' is everything, basically."
The Italian jockey has an enviable book of rides which is headed by the John Gosden-trained Cracksman, who returns to Ascot following a devastating seven-length success there in the QIPCO Champion Stakes in October, which resulted in the colt being the highest-rated three-year-old in the world with a rating of 130 in 2017.
The son of Frankel is unbeaten in two starts this year, landing the G1 Prix Ganay at Longchamp in April before prevailing by a head in the 12-furlong Investec Coronation Cup at Epsom Downs on June 1 despite not handling the undulations of the track and hitting his head in the stalls.
Frankie Dettori, photo Liesl King
Cracksman is a warm order for the £750,00 Prince of Wales's Stakes (G1, 10f, Wednesday, June 20) at Royal Ascot and Dettori said: "Cracksman is fine. I rode him yesterday and he is good.
"He doesn't like Epsom and struggles to run downhill. He likes Ascot and I hope the same beast turns up that won the Champion Stakes and then we would have some fun.
"His CV is tremendous and you don't get rated 130 unless you prove it - I'm excited to see him on Wednesday."
Dettori also partners the exciting Without Parole, also trained by Gosden, in the G1 St James's Palace Stakes (1m rnd, Tuesday, June 19), with the son of Frankel unbeaten in three starts, the latest of which was a three-quarter length success in the Listed Heron Stakes over a mile at Sandown on May 24.
Dettori is hopeful of a big performance from the three-year-old, who tackles Group company for the first time in the mile contest on Tuesday. He is owned by John Gunther, who bred him, and his daughter Tanya Gunther, who have enjoyed big-race success in recent days having bred the 13th American Triple Crown hero in history, the Bob Baffert-trained Justify.
He said: "Without Parole went into the race at Sandown following a short lay-off after a bruised foot and he was a little bit rusty that day. Looking at the entries, it looks an excellent St James's Palace with Romanised, U S Navy Flag, Wootton and others. He will have to step up, but he is a Frankel colt and he is very exciting.
"John Gunther came over for Without Parole's Sandown win and he was a nervous wreck ahead of that race. That run was also in between the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes so I can't imagine what he was like on Saturday!
"I will also be riding for Wesley Ward. I will ride one for him in the Queen Mary and I will also ride the old boy Undrafted. I won the Diamond Jubilee on Undrafted in 2015 and this year he runs in the Wokingham - if he just has half the ability he used to have, he should run a big race.
"Wesley only has two words for me when I ride for him - hold on. That is how fast his horses are from the gate. His record at Ascot is amazing.
"Stradivarius (John Gosden) goes for the Gold Cup. He is a bonny little horse and likes fast ground. The Gold Cup is unique as it is two and a half miles. We know Stradivarius stays two miles, but another half a mile is a long way. Order Of St George is a great champion and is going to be a tough nut to crack.
"John Gosden will have a big team. We are all thinking we have a great book of rides, but it is very hard to win at Ascot and you can't take anything for granted. I am very excited and am going to enjoy it."
All of the G1 race at Royal Ascot - the Queen Anne Stakes, the King's Stand Stakes, the St James's Palace Stakes, the Prince of Wales's Stakes, the Gold Cup, the Commonwealth Cup, the Coronation Stakes and the Diamond Jubilee Stakes - are part of the QIPCO British Champions Series.
Australian superstar Redkirk Warrior is the latest horse from Down Under to contest one of the G1 sprints at Royal Ascot and is another that Dettori will partner.
The seven-year-old son of Notnowcato began his career with trainer William Haggas in Britain, winning both of his starts as a three-year-old for the Newmarket handler over 10 furlongs, with the second success coming in an Ascot handicap.
He was then sold to race in Hong Kong, but after five runs the chestnut gelding was retired due to foot problems. The owners sent him to David Hayes' Lindsay Park Racing Stables in Victoria, Australia to see if his racing career could be revived and, after extensive treatment to his feet, Redkirk Warrior has found a new lease of life.
He has been in stellar form of late, capturing the G1 Black Caviar Lightning (5f) and the G1 Lexus Newmarket Handicap (6f) at Flemington on his two most recent starts.
Redkirk Warrior will bid to emulate Black Caviar, who was the last Australian sprinter to win the Diamond Jubilee Stakes in 2012. The 2018 renewal of the six-furlong race, worth £600,000, is on Saturday, June 23 - the fifth and final day of Royal Ascot.
Ben Hayes with RedKirk Warrior after morning trackwork, photo Liesl King
Ben Hayes, joint-trainer along with his father David and cousin Tom Dabernig of 180 horses, said today: "We've been really happy with Redkirk Warrior since he arrived in Britain. He's settled in well and taken everything in his stride - he's in good order.
"He was originally from England and he has done plenty of travelling, having raced here, Hong Kong and Australia, so he seems to take his travelling really well.
"It's an advantage that he has raced on the track before as we know he's handles it. Whilst that was a long time ago, it's good that he has a past experience of Ascot.
"I definitely think he has the credentials to win. If you win both a Newmarket and a Lightning, that is pretty good form which entitles you to have a really good chance at Ascot.
"Most of the Australian sprinters who have come over here have won at least one of those races, so we know that the form stacks up and we hope he has a great chance in the Diamond Jubilee. Australian sprinters who have come to Ascot in the past have at the very least run competitively, so hopefully he handles everything on the day as he has the ability to win.
"Merchant Navy [third to Redkirk Warrior in the Newmarket Handicap] is a good horse, but we were giving him five and a half kilos when we beat him last time. We led that day and were on inferior ground, so we had factors which were against us.
"They were split across the track in that race but, in the Diamond Jubilee, they will meet off level weights so there is a big weight turnaround. Our lad has got loads of ability so he has a great chance in the race.
"Redkirk Warrior is coming off two G1 wins and he is excellent on straight courses. He has won four of his races on straight courses and he has great credentials.
"Coming to Royal Ascot with him has always been in the back of our minds, but not necessarily a plan. When he won in the Newmarket off top-weight, the Diamond Jubilee became on option for us and one in which we could freshen him up and bring him over, so it appealed to us.
"He is a horse who goes really well fresh and, looking at his record, he seems to relish slight gaps in between his races.
"Merchant Navy winning in Ireland at the Curragh on his first start for Aidan O'Brien gave us a lot of confidence. He is a very good horse in Australia and for him to come over here on his first run and win giving weight awaywas impressive and gave our form a real boost. He was up against well credentialed horses - it was a very good win.
"You don't usually have a form line to follow when you run in these big European races as it's hard to compare the Australian and European form usually, but the fact that Merchant Navy has come over to Europe and already won gives the Newmarket win a strong form boost."
Dettori is going for a third success in the Diamond Jubilee on Redkirk Warrior, having previously landed the six-furlong highlight on So Factual (1995) and Undrafted (2015).
Discussing the Australian sprinter's chances, he continued: "I was delighted when David Hayes booked me and Redkirk Warrior's form is good. He likes to go straight and handles fast ground very well so he is a great ride.
"He is up against some top-class British sprinters including Harry Angel, but Black Caviar, Choisir and Takeover Target have all shown how good the Australian sprinters are in these sprint races at Royal Ascot - I wouldn't swap him for anything else."
Yoshida on the Al Bahathri, photo Liesl King
The American-trained Yoshida was the three-quarter length winner of the G1 Old Forester Turf Classic Stakes at Churchill Downs on May 5 and the Japanese bred four-year-old heads for the G1 Queen Anne Stakes over the straight mile on Royal Ascot opening day, Tuesday, June 19.
Riley Mott, son and assistant trainer to father Bill, reported: "Yoshida's in great form. He travelled over nicely and has settled in really well at Newmarket at Abington (Place Stables). His appetite has been good and we're very happy.
"Yoshida has taken a step forward from his win at Churchill Downs and I think that victory gave us the confidence to come over here and give it a shot.
"The straight mile is an unknown here, but I can't see it hurting our chances. We're bringing over a strong horse with a high level of fitness so hopefully the straight mile can play to our strengths.
"We've always thought he was top quality horse. He identified himself early on as a top talent, so it's been nice to see him progress over time and we're looking forward to seeing him progress again at Royal Ascot.
"His two best races have been on soft ground. His last race at Churchill Downs was on heavy ground, but he has also won on firm ground, so I think he is a horse who is pretty versatile. It takes a great horse to adapt to certain situations and this horse is one.
"We also think he is pretty versatile as regards to both the trip and where he can be positioned in his races.
"You don't want to be too bullish in these contests and you have to respect the opposition, but we're delighted with Yoshida.
"He travelled over really well and he is giving us a lot of hope with his well-being and confidence, so we're keen to take a stab at the contest.
"Winning at Royal Ascot would be right up there with some of the top winners our operation has had."
Another American Tim Glyshaw saddles Bucchero in Tuesday's G1 King's Stand Stakes over five furlongs with the six-year-old son of Kantharos running without Lasix and on a straight course for the first time in his career.
Glyshaw revealed: "Bucchero has taken the trip over really well and has trained nicely since arriving. He has eaten up and we couldn't ask for more.
"He always gives his all in every race. He ran well at Keeneland in April when second to Bound For Nowhere and, at Churchill Downs last time, he got hit pretty hard on the turn which ruined his chances of winning (finished third), but if he goes out and runs his race on Tuesday then he is going to be very competitive.
"There are some questions marks as he has never run without Lasix or run on a straight course, but I think none of those will be excuses for him.
"This is his fourth run back from a layoff and in America we usually think the third or fourth race is where you are at your best.
"Lady Aurelia and Battaash are top-class horses and they might have to run below par if we are to get the better of those two.
"We've only run against Lady Aurelia in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint when she was below par after a long season, but her form at Ascot has been excellent, so it will probably take a below par run from her if we are going to get the better of her.
"Battaash looks very strong as well and it's going to be challenging, but we wouldn't have come over here unless we thought we had a chance in this event - we think he has a decent chance.
"I have 20 horses at Churchill Downs and 10 horses at Indiana Grand. As of a year ago, I would not have dreamed of any of this.
"Bucchero won the G2 Woodford Stakes last year which was very special before going to the Breeders' Cup and finishing fourth. It's Bucchero's job to carry the flag for the barn. I had never been any place outside of America a year ago and now I'm going to Royal Ascot, so it is a big deal. We are a small stable at home so this kind of stuff doesn't happen to us much.
"We're fortunate to have the horse in our yard. I'm from Indiana and so is the horse. It's really cool that he is the horse that got us here because he was bred in Indiana and not at a place in Kentucky, California and Florida where the best horses are usually bred."
Bucchero is owned by Ironhorse Racing Stable which currently has four horses in training. Managing partner Harlan Malter bought Bucchero for $43,000 and is relishing the horse's participation in the King's Stand Stakes.
Bucchero, photo Liesl King
He will be ridden by Jose Ortiz, who enjoyed a stellar 2017 by winning his first Triple Crown contest aboard Tapwrit in the Belmont Stakes and finishing the year as the leading jockey in the United States by earnings ($27,318,875).
"We're very excited to be at Royal Ascot", said Malter. "One of the reason we decided to come here was to give the horse a try at a straight five-furlong course. He is a big, downhill-type runner and whilst he doesn't have the typical European style of running, he builds up his momentum and speed. When he realises he doesn't have to turn, I think we could see a really big run.
"He runs without Lasix and obviously that is a slight question mark. I think without Lasix, we have to just the roll dice, but I don't anticipate that being a problem.
"Every horse when you move them up in class, you wonder whether they are going to struggle, but he has handled moving up to G1 company brilliantly.
"We understand that this is tough competition on Tuesday, but he has run many fine races, including when fourth in the G1 Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint at Del Mar in November, where he was slightly unlucky to only finish fourth.
"If he gets the right trip, I think he can be ultra-competitive. It's a big opportunity for Jose Ortiz who has proven so much in the States and he probably realises this is a massive opportunity for him to prove himself over here - he's extremely excited to come.
"For most American turf sprinters, they are sometimes questioned as to whether they are good on soft ground, but he ran well on it in the Shakertown at Keeneland in April behind Bound For Nowhere who Wesley Ward really rates.
"I think that run at Keeneland gave us the confidence to come here and he also ran well at Churchill Downs last time where he had to go very wide round the turn. He was broadsided and he wasn't beaten far so we were happy with that effort.
"I've been a horseracing fan forever and the horse that got me hooked in the game was Bill Mott's Cigar and at the moment I am getting to spend time with his son Riley discussing that horse.
"Being at Royal Ascot is a dream come true for me as Ironhorse is a very small operation. Bucchero cost $43,000 and he is the most expensive horse we have bought.
"As a financial planner, we are always looking for efficient use of money which doesn't always happen in horseracing. However, we pick our spots and we currently have four horses in training including Bucchero's full two-year-old sister and we also breed at a modest level, so it's great for an organisation like us to have a horse like this."
Fresh from providing Godolphin with a first success in the Investec Derby with Masar, Newmarket trainer Charlie Appleby has readied a strong team for the Royal Meeting. His squad includes Hawkbill (G1, 10f, Prince of Wales's Stakes, Wednesday, June 20) who captured the G1 Dubai Sheema Classic at Meydan in March, but disappointed when only fifth at Epsom behind Cracksman in the G1 Investec Coronation Cup at Epsom Downs on June 1.
Appleby commented: "We were slightly disappointed with Hawkbill's run at Epsom as he had his ground there.
"He is becoming more versatile as he gets older and has put up decent performances on quick ground as well as soft ground.
"He does get himself worked up but he got a bit more worked up as well and maybe there was a bit of freshness as well that day because he had a break since the Sheema Classic victory in Dubai. He's come out of the race very well and Hawkbill is Hawkbill - when he brings his A game, he is a hard horse to pass.
"The plan is to drop back in trip again and be positive in the Prince of Wales and if the Hawkbill that won the Sheema Classic and Coral Eclipse turns up, he'll take a bit of pegging back."
Investec Oaks second and QIPCO 1000 Guineas fourth Wild Illusion heads for the G2 Ribblesdale Stakes ((12f, Thursday, June 21) at the Royal Meeting with Appleby full of praise for the three-year-old daughter of Dubawi.
He said: "She lost nothing in defeat in the Oaks or 1000 Guineas and as a past G1 winner has a 3lb penalty to carry. We were confident going into the Oaks but take nothing away from the winner at Epsom [Forever Together] who was better on the day and outstayed us.
"I felt there was a good distance between her and the third, and the rest of the field were left behind.
"I'm confident Wild Illusion stays the trip and probably being back on a sounder surface will suit as it was soft enough at Epsom when we were stepping her up in trip for the first time."
Appleby also revealed that Blue Point, third in last year's G1 Commonwealth Cup (6f), heads for the G1 King's Stand Stakes over five furlong on Tuesday, with recent Haydock victor D'Bai joining fellow Godolphin runner Harry Angel, trained by Clive Cox, in Saturday's six-furlong G1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes.
He continued: "Dropping back to five furlongs will be within Blue Point's compass I think. He was disappointing in Hong Kong where we tried to take them on at their own game and race up on the pace which didn't work.
"He had a bit of a torrid journey home as well, so he had a nice break since then and the last two weeks I couldn't have been any happier with him. He really is pleasing us.
"He did a serious piece of work on Saturday and come out of it well. He did some easy work yesterday and is showing all the right signs at home.
"Blue Point seems to love Ascot - he has won two races there and was third in the Commonwealth, so it is a course and a track that he is very comfortable at. Coming back to five furlongs will also suit him as they will go hard up front and he will come into the race at the right time."
Appleby gave an update on D'bai. He said: "I have felt for the past six to eight months that D'bai could be a sprinter.
"He broke the seven-furlong track record at Meydan when winning there in January. He was a bit disappointing on his next start when he ran a bit free.
"We then just changed his programme slightly and ran him in a six-furlong conditions race, which Jungle Cat won. D'bai was on the far side that day and I was delighted with his run to finish fourth as it showed he had the natural pace to drop back to six furlongs.
"On his first start back in Britain, he was second to The Tin Man over six furlongs at Windsor which was a very positive run. We just thought that another run before Ascot wouldn't do any harm and the John of Gaunt looked a logical race to go for.
"He just showed his bit of class at Haydock in the way he travelled. They are going to go hard in the Diamond Jubilee and I am hoping he will be able to travel and come on to the scene late on."
Turning his attention to possible juvenile contenders at Royal Ascot, Appleby continued: "Our fillies seem to be the most precocious at this stage.
"We have La Pelosa, who will run in the Albany Stakes (G3, 6f, June 22). She broke her maiden smartly at Kempton and came from the Kempton breeze up. She is by Dandy Man and has done well since that success (on May 23).
"The Australia filly Beyond Reason won on her second start at Kempton. Stepping up in trip is going to be her forte and she is heading for the Chesham (Listed, 7f, June 23).
"Strings Of Life, a little Slade Power filly, will go for the Queen Mary (G2, 5f, June 21). She might just lack on the class front, but deserves to be there."
Richard Spencer, who sent out Rajasinghe to break the track record when winning the Coventry Stakes last year, is going for further Royal Ascot success next week.
Rajasinghe is out for the rest of the season, but the Newmarket trainer reflected on that success: "It was great as it happened during my second full season as a trainer, giving everybody a boost. To have a winner at Royal Ascot is fantastic.
"The whole world seems to tune in for Royal Ascot and we want to compete on the big stage."
He is hoping that Keyser Soze can get in the Royal Hunt Cup, the mile heritage handicap in which he is a general 12/1 shot.
The trainer is confident of a big run if the four-year-old makes the cut: "We're on the cusp of whether we're going to get a run.
"He's in great form and he'll do his final bit of work this week and I think he's got a very good chance. He would be our main hope of the week.
"I think the race will play to his strengths, he's run twice this year and run very well both times - he was certainly unlucky not to win first time."
Spencer has a 31% strike rate with his two-year-olds so far this season and plans to run three at Royal Ascot. Alfie Solomons bids to emulate Rajasinghe's 2017 victory in the G2 Coventry Stakes, while Rumble Inthejungle is likely to go for the Norfolk Stakes and Cococabala tackles the Windsor Castle Stakes.
He declared: "Alfie Solomons has come out of his Newcastle win last week very well and he's on track for the Coventry.
"I think the race he ran in at Newbury is going to be one of the hottest six-furlong maidens run this year; the first three (home that day) will be lining up in the Coventry (Advertise, Pogo and Burj).
"Alfie Solomons ran a good race there and he stepped up to win at Newcastle nicely last week. His build-up has been very similar to Rajasinghe's last year - we know he stays six furlongs and we're looking forward to running him. He will have a very good chance at a big price.
"Rumble Inthejungle has two entries and worked very well yesterday with Michael Hills up. We are leaning towards the Norfolk, but he'll also have an entry in the Windsor Castle.
"He won very well at Salisbury first time out - we had not overdone him beforehand - and the form of that race has worked out well, I think two winners have come out of that race already. He's taken a big step forward from his debut, where the penny dropped and he won with a bit left up his sleeve, and I think he'll be bang there in the Norfolk."
Cococabala gave weight and a beating to a well-backed Mark Johnston debutante at Wetherby a week ago and will contest the Listed Windsor Castle Stakes (Saturday, June 23).
"Cococabala has come out of his win at Wetherby fine. He won well that day at after Tom (Queally) gave him a great ride.
"We gave the second a lot of weight (12lb) and he'll go for the Windsor Castle now and I think he'll have a good chance in that.
"They are all going to Royal Ascot with chances - not for a day out."
Tom Queally, doing well following his return from riding in the USA over the winter, has ridden four winners for Richard Spencer from just 11 rides so far this season at a strike rate of 36%.
Three of those have come aboard the Royal Ascot bound two-year-olds and Spencer sees that association carrying on into Royal Ascot.
Chris Stickels, Clerk of the Course at Ascot, gave an update on the ground ahead of next week's Royal Meeting.
He said: "Conditions have been dry and we have only had a millimetre and a half of rain in June so far.
"We have been dry since last Friday and the going at the moment is Good to Firm, Good in places.
"We have already watered the course. We put a little drop earlier on this week and, with a generally dry forecast, it looks like we will have to do some further watering.
"The only chance of any meaningful rain is forecast for Saturday (June 16). That is predicted to be less than five millimetres. The likelihood is we will need to keep watering to replace the moisture that is lost through evapotranspiration.
"Given the forecast, we would ideally like to start on ground that is Good to Firm, Good in places. I am really pleased with the condition of the course.
"There is the chance of some light showers during the early part of next week, but the forecast is for generally dry conditions."