Royal Ascot: The Queen's favourite week in racing

By Cornelius LysaghtBBC horse racing correspondent
Queen and Ryan Moore
Jockey Ryan Moore (right) won the Gold Cup on the Queen's horse Estimate in 2013
Royal Ascot 2016
Date: 14-18 June Coverage: BBC 5 live and 5 live Sports Extra

There's probably no 90th birthday present the Queen would rather receive than success in a race at her beloved Royal Ascot.

Since first attending in 1947, she's been an enthusiastic participant in the biggest flat-racing week of the year, as a racehorse owner and breeder and simply as a fan of the sport, arriving amid the famous pomp and circumstance of the horse-drawn carriage procession down the course.

Over 60-plus years, the Royal silks have been carried to victory 22 times, a list started by Choir Boy in the Royal Hunt Cup of 1953.

The mare Estimate was the most recent addition after a breathless win in the 2013 Gold Cup, when her owner became the first reigning monarch to taste victory in the historic centrepiece race, first staged in 1807.

It's expected there will be up to half a dozen Royal runners this year, including the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Dartmouth, a fast-improving winner at Chelmsford City and Chester during the spring, and fancied for the Hardwicke Stakes on the fifth and final day.

But the Queen won't be the only member of the Royal family chasing a slice of the record £6.58m prize money, spread across the 30 races. Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall are due to have Carn Top (second in the Lingfield Derby Trial) and Pacify - both bred by them and trained by Ralph Beckett - in action during the week.

Ryan Moore: A reluctant hero

A spectacular nine-winner spree at Royal Ascot 2015 by jockey Ryan Moore made him the most successful rider at a single modern-day staging of the flat racing fixture, breaking the record of eight previously held by Lester Piggott (1965, 1975) and Pat Eddery (1989).

However, three-time champion Moore plays down any talk of comparisons between himself and two of racing's great jockeys, saying their achievements were "in different eras, on different days, at different meetings".

This time, some of the week's most sought-after mounts will once again be taken by the 32-year-old, many of them in the ownership of the Irish-based Coolmore racing operation and trained by Aidan O'Brien, notably the French 2000 Guineas winner The Gurkha in day one's St James Palace's Stakes.

Moore is also dismissive of any suggestion he could surpass last year's total, describing his book of rides - The Gurkha apart - as "solid…there's nothing like last year". That said, he's hot favourite to be leading rider ahead of changing-room colleagues Frankie Dettori and James Doyle.

It's O'Brien and son

Nineteen years after his first-ever winner at Royal Ascot, in 1997, Aidan O'Brien is already within touching distance of reaching his half century.

But as the trainer of stars including St James's Palace Stakes winners Giant's Causeway, Rock Of Gibraltar and Gleneagles, and four-time Gold Cup hero Yeats, prepares to challenge with another powerful raiding party, he faces potential competition from very close to his own home.

O'Brien's 23-year-old son Joseph, once jockey of choice for his father's powerful string, is now a rival having taken out a trainer's licence of his own.

He made an instant impact with four successes on his very first day, one of which saw him defeat a runner of his Dad's.

Their first Royal Ascot skirmish will come on Day One when both County Tipperary-based Aidan and Joseph, who's operating from the family farm in County Kilkenny, have runners in the Coventry Stakes and then the Windsor Castle Stakes.

Meanwhile, O'Brien senior's best chances of reaching the 50 could be The Gurkha - well-touted for the clash against fellow Guineas winners Galileo Gold (Newmarket) and Awtaad (Irish) in the St James's Palace Stakes - Found (Prince of Wales's Stakes, Wednesday) and Order Of St George in Thursday's Gold Cup.

A Shin Hikari
Japan's Prince of Wales Stakes hope A Shin Hikari

Mongolia head overseas challenge

From endurance ponies to champion sprinter, the Mongolians are coming.

It's expected six countries apart from Britain and Ireland will be represented as Royal Ascot continues to hold its own as one of global flat racing's go-to destinations.

Just the one runner from Australia - the sprinter Holler - is perhaps a bit of a disappointment, but organisers say they're delighted at the high-calibre level of contenders from Hong Kong, Japan (including brilliant Prince of Wales Stakes hope A Shin Hikari) and the US, as well as France and hopefully Germany.

From the US, Tepin is a major player in the opening Queen Anne Stakes, Miss Temple City will have plenty of supporters in the Duke of Cambridge Stakes (day two) and trainer Wesley Ward is looking for back-to-back victories in the fifth day-feature, the Diamond Jubilee Stakes, with Undrafted.

But no overseas challenger will make more of impression than sprinter Mongolian Saturday, plus those around him.

The six-year-old challenger for Tuesday's Kings Stand Stakes, and possibly the Diamond Jubilee Stakes too, is trained in America, but by a Mongolian, Enebish Ganbat, and the horse's owner is a fellow countryman and multi-millionaire businessman, Ganbaatar Dagvadorj.

They and their friends turn up at the races in national dress, including Genghis Khan-style cone-shaped hat and colourful tunic; it's within Ascot's famously strict dress code, although the outfits clearly surprised locals at the Breeders' Cup in Kentucky last autumn, where Mongolian Saturday won the Turf Sprint, as the entourage were mistaken for being part of Hallowe'en celebrations.

Ganbat, who used to train endurance ponies that raced for miles across the rugged Mongol terrain, believes the horse he calls "Champion" can achieve a top-three finish, after which he hopes to meet the Queen.

He told BBC Sport: "I like the English Queen because England and Japan are two of the few countries who keep Kings [monarchy]. I like this because this is tradition and tradition is very important - England is an old traditional country, [the] same [as] Mongolia."

Asked about his runner's chances, he added: "I think he has a chance of coming in first, second or third. It's a dream, a long-time dream."

Frankel's the Daddy

In his unbeaten racing days, champion racehorse Frankel, trained by Sir Henry Cecil and ridden by Tom Queally, wowed two Royal Ascots with success in the St James's Palace Stakes - just - in 2011 and, a year later, in the Queen Anne Stakes, that time with a stunning display.

Since his retirement later that year, the winner of 14 races from 14 starts has set about passing on his brilliance to future generations as a stallion, and has made a stunning start, with all but one of his progeny that have raced so far not just winning, but doing so impressively.

At this year's Royal meeting, Frankel, still owned by Saudi prince Khalid Abdullah and commanding fees of £125,000 for a mating, is set to be represented by Newbury winner Cunco in the Chesham Stakes (Saturday) and by Queen Kindly, his first daughter to be successful, in the Queen Mary Stakes on day two.

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