Even with him remaining in Ireland, Aidan O’Brien remains ever-omnipresent over the Royal Ascot meet. And even with her remaining at Windsor Castle, Queen Elizabeth II remains ever-hopeful she can add to her victory total at Europe’s richest racing meet.
O’Brien, the most dominant trainer in Europe, sends 5/4 favorite Japan to the gate in Wednesday’s lone Group (Grade) 1 race on the seven-event card – the Prince of Wales’s Stakes. The 1-mile, 1-furlong, 212-yard race for 3-year-olds and up is a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” challenge event. The winner earns a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Turf this fall at Keeneland. That race is the penultimate event on the Breeders’ Cup slate, preceding the marquee Classic.
The only other graded stakes race on Wednesday is the Group 3 Hampton Court Stakes. That’s where you’ll find 5/2 favorite First Receiver, owned by the Queen. The front-running First Receiver captured a race at Kempton earlier this month and has the powerful duo of trainer Sir Michael Stoute trackside, and standout jockey Frankie Dettori in the irons. The pair own the training (81 winners going into the meeting) and riding (67) records, respectively.
“Sir Michael has always been keen on First Receiver, who has worked like a Stakes horse at home,” Racing Manager to the Queen, John Warren, told the Racing Post. “We think the conditions are right and he is a progressive sort who is now mature enough to show us what class he actually is.”
Windsor Silks in the Windsor Castle Stakes
Seeking her 24th Royal Ascot victory, the Queen has another horse in Wednesday’s proceedings. Tactical brings the monarch’s purple, scarlet and gold silks into the five-furlong Windsor Castle Stakes. Waiting for him there are O’Brien’s Chief Little Hawk and two of American trainer Wesley Ward’s seven-horse Royal Ascot contingent, Sunshine City and Sheriff Blanco.
Wednesday, June 17
- 5:15 a.m. PT — The Silver Royal Hunt Cup Handicap
- 5:50 a.m. PT — The Hampton Court Stakes (G3)
- 6:25 a.m. PT — The King George V Stakes (Handicap)
- 7 a.m. PT — The Prince of Wales’ Stakes (G1) — Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series (Longines Turf)
- 7:35 a.m. PT — The Royal Hunt Cup (Heritage Handicap)
- 8:10 a.m. PT — The Windsor Castle Stakes (Listed)
- 8:40 a.m. PT — The Copper Horse Handicap
O’Brien seems to be everywhere at Royal Ascot, even though he’s back at his Ireland base. Quarantine rules in the COVID-19 era make it difficult and logistically impractical for O’Brien to travel, even for a spectator-free meet. No matter for Japan, who rises to whatever occasion he encounters.
The bay colt, a product of standout stallion Galileo, opens his 4-year-old season at the site he began a three-race winning streak last year. Japan shook off a third-place finish in the Epsom Derby by winning the Group 2 King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot. That victory, coming at 1 ½-miles, appeared effortless with Japan romping home by 4 ½ lengths with a brilliant stretch drive.
Japan Storms Paris on Bastille Day
From there, Japan invaded France. A month later, he captured the Group 1 Grand Prix de Paris on Bastille Day, taking the lead in the last 1 ½ furlongs and holding off French horse Slalom by a half-length.
Then, Japan returned to Britain for a September date at the Group 1 Juddmonte International at York and a bout with Crystal Ocean, who won last year’s Prince of Wales’ Stakes. Running against older horses for the first time and going off at 5/1, Japan dueled Crystal Ocean down the stretch. He passed him with 50 yards left, winning by a head.
Pressing his bet on an already successful season, O’Brien sent Japan back to ParisLongchamp a month later for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Alas, this was a race too far for Japan, who finished fourth as the 9/1 third-favorite. Japan was in contention until the last furlong.
Rain Could Shake Matters Up
Should Japan’s sinking odds send you elsewhere, the other horse to watch is Addeybb (8/1). We last saw the 5-year-old gelding in April when he captured the centerpiece of The Championships, the Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Royal Randwick in Sydney. Expected rain on Wednesday will likely further enhance all-weather standout Addeybb’s chances.
“There is meant to be a bit of rain around and the more there is, the better it is for us,” jockey Tom Marquand told the Sydney Morning Herald.