Get ready for the best of British on a global stage
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FOR all its pomp, pageantry and popping corks, Royal Ascot has been as much about its international flavour as it has its proud British heritage in recent years. Even when your roots reach back more than three centuries, there is no time to stand still in the modern world and the Ascot executives have made international competition an ever-increasing priority at the royal fixture this millennium, something that has only enriched the experience. From Australia’s golden girl Black Caviar to Japanese megastar A Shin Hikari and US rocket Lady Aurelia, the biggest equine names from around the world have graced Ascot’s emerald-bright turf in recent years. While a worthy string of challengers have once again travelled thousands of air miles to the leafy suburb of Royal Berkshire, this could be a year when the home team’s best shine brightest on British racing’s biggest stage. Based merely the distance of a staying handicap away from one another in competing yards in Newmarket, Sea Of Class and Masar would be worthy of headlining any global festival but with only the M25 to negotiate to reach Ascot, this is very much a home fixture for two of Flat racing’s heavyweights. Both were Classic winners last season yet neither has been seen on a racecourse so far this term, which makes their potential showdown in Wednesday’s Group 1 Prince of Wales’s Stakes all the more intriguing. Unraced at two, Sea Of Class came from left-field in 2018 to prove herself the best middledistance filly of her generation, winning the Irish Oaks and Yorkshire Oaks with a devastating turn of foot, before coming agonisingly close to pegging back the mighty Enable in the Prix de l’arc de Triomphe from an impossibly wide draw when last seen in October. That was only the sixth run of her life and, assuming natural progression with age, the boundaries of what she may be able to achieve in her second season are far reaching. While Sea Of Class was among the best of last year’s fillies, Masar staked his claim for top honours among the colts with an emphatic victory in the Derby last June, becoming the first to carry Godolphin’s majestic all-blue silks to victory in the Epsom Classic. That performance whetted the appetite to what may lay in store for the striking chestnut, only for injury to wreck the second half of his campaign. In a bygone era, that would have spelt the end for Masar but the fact Godolphin have been willing to nurse him back to full health to return to the track, rather than take up a lucrative stallion career, suggests hopes are high that we have indeed only scratched the surface of his true ability. Should both take up their engagement in the Prince of Wales’s, where their rivals may also include dual Group 1 winner Magical and the dependable Crystal Ocean, be sure to get a ringside seat as this one has the makings of a tear up to match Andy Ruiz jnr’s surprise knock-down-fest against Anthony Joshua. While neither Sea Of Class nor Masar graced this meeting 12 months ago, plenty of last year’s big-hitters are back for another royal rumble. If it’s speed that sets your pulse racing, then look no further than the opening day’s King’s Stand Stakes, where the first three from last year – Blue Point, Battaash and Mabs Cross – are once again on a collision course. Having proved himself unbeatable in Dubai at the start of the year, Blue Point will be a popular choice to frank the form but this is not a formality Unlike 12 months ago, Mabs Cross is now a Group 1 winner herself, while Battaash was too hot to handle in last month’s Temple Stakes, bullying a high-class field with his brazen speed. Their rematch looks too tight to call so buckle up and enjoy the ride. Thursday’s Gold Cup is the signature contest of a week chock-full of big races and features the return of another of last year’s heroes as Stradivarius strives to hit the right notes once again. Stayers of his calibre are as rare as the string instruments crafted by Antonio Stradivari himself and, after making a winning return at York last month, the teak-tough five-year-old is now defending a six-race unbeaten run, which considering he’s slogging it out over extreme distances every time tells you plenty about his constitution. HE FACES a fresh wave of challengers this year, including Melbourne Cup winner Cross Counter, but it will take a colossal effort to prize his crown away. Let’s not forget the international raiders either, with the track’s global recruitment drive again looking to have brought some worthy and familiar challengers to the party. Wesley Ward’s love affair with Ascot certainly shows no sign of slowing down, with the American booking a strong team in for a week that will also include runners from Australia and New Zealand. Arguably the most significant challenger from overseas this year, however, is Group 1-winning mare Deirdre, who bids to give Japan a first success at the royal meeting, although connections could not have found a harder race than the Prince of Wales’s for her. Not only will Deirdre add to the competition, she gives her racing-mad nation a vested interest in the five-day bonanza, which considering the launch this year of the co-mingled World Pool at Ascot could prove a significant coup and one that is unlikely to have happened by chance. With NBC’S main sports channel also focusing on Royal Ascot for the entire week, a meeting that can be traced back to 1711 and a race worth 100gns has evolved into a multi-million-pound event that registers across the globe. Proud to celebrate its heritage but always looking to the future, Royal Ascot is an occasion to behold. Never mind Brexit, this is the best of British.