For the fourth consecutive year, Royal Ascot’s 2021 meet not only features the usual pomp and pageantry, but four tickets to the 2021 Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar.
The prestigious meet, which begins Tuesday and runs through Saturday, will play host to the season’s first four Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series races held in Europe. The winners of four of Royal Ascot’s races earn spots in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, the Breeders’ Cup Turf, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint and the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint.
That comes with entry fees and a $40,000 travel stipend for any winner based outside of North America. This year’s Breeders’ Cup comes with some serious travel for European-based horses. It’s Nov. 5-6 at Del Mar, north of San Diego.
The Challenge Series races open Tuesday with the one-mile Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes. That race sends its winner to the Breeders’ Cup Mile. It also sends out one of the world’s top horses, Palace Pier, who won the Group 1 St. James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot last year. That was one of his seven career victories in eight career races.
“He is a lovely horse who has done everything right in his life,” trainer John Gosden, who conditions Palace Pier with his son, Thady, told the Breeders’ Cup’s Jim Gluckson. “He only missed the autumn of his 2-year-old career. He prepped in a Newcastle race last year and came out and won the St. James’s Palace Stakes. He did everything right last year until the end, when he ran on very soft autumn ground. He hated that, lost a shoe, and got left.”
Palace Pier docking as Queen Anne favorite
That came in the Queen Elizabeth II stakes at Ascot. Gosden said that Palace Pier, who is 2-for-2 this year, expects more firm turf at Ascot this time of year. Palace Pier could expect competition from Order of Australia, who won the Breeders’ Cup Mile at 73/1 last year, along with the third-place horse from that race: Lope Y Fernandez. Last year’s winner, Lord Glitters, is expected back.
Wednesday’s Challenge Series race is the Group 1 Prince of Wales’s Stakes. The winner of that race punches his – or possibly, her — ticket to the Breeders’ Cup Turf, considered the second-most prestigious Breeders’ Cup race behind the Classic. Leading this chase for that spot is last year’s winner, Lord North. The gelding finished fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf last year. He came back to win the Group 1 Dubai Turf Classic in March.
Waiting for him is standout filly Love, who won the 1,000 Guineas, the Epsom Oaks and the Yorkshire Oaks during an abbreviated 3-year-old campaign last year. The Irish filly hasn’t raced since that Yorkshire Oaks victory in August, but does have six victories in 10 career starts.
“I think it’s a fascinating race,” said Gosden, who trains both Lord North and Love. “Love has been waiting for this type of ground. She was exceptional last year, but she raced with her own sex.”
An American invasion for Norfolk Stakes
Thursday brings American trainer Wesley Ward into the Challenge Series picture. He’s chasing his third victory in the Group 2 Norfolk Stakes with 2-year-olds Nakatomi and Lucci. A win for either and Ward gets a chance to win his second consecutive Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint title. He captured that five-furlong event last year with Golden Pal, who lost last year’s Norfolk by a neck.
Rounding out Royal Ascot’s Challenge Series is Saturday’s Group 1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes. The six-furlong sprint gives its winner a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. Speaking of that race, last year’s Turf Sprint winner – Glass Slippers – makes her first start since capturing that event at Keeneland.
Will these Glass Slippers fit the Challenge Series?
Glass Slippers makes her six-furlong debut in the race, after finishing fifth in the Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot last year.
“She showed toward the end of the year she was seeing out the five-furlong trip well,” said Adam Ryan, son and assistant of trainer Kevin Ryan. “She has done everything there is over five furlong sixth her Group 1 wins, so it’s worth a try at six, as it could open up plenty of other options.”
Waiting for her is likely favorite Starman. Winner of five of his six races, Starman comes in off a victory in the Group 2 Duke of York.
“He is a massively exciting horse,” trainer Ed Walker said. “He is a big, imposing horse with that presence, a real head-turner in the string. He’s obviously very good as well.”