A small but select Irish team will be in action on Day One of Royal Ascot tomorrow with Dawn Approach and Magician's eagerly-anticipated St James Palace Stakes clash the highlight of one of world racing's elite cards.
In comparison, the Ascot Handicap might be relatively small-fry, but on flat racing’s grandest stage Midnight Oil is set to mount a resolutely National Hunt challenge.
Carrying the colours of Michael O'Leary's Gigginstown Stud, the reigning champion jumps owners in Ireland, and trained by the all-dominant Willie Mullins, Midnight Oil will provide the champion jumps trainer with a pathfinder for Thursday's Gold Cup challenge from Simenon. Punters though will probably take note of Midnight Oil too since Mullins has already proved he doesn't need hurdles or fences to make him a feared raider when he sends horses abroad.
Simenon won last year’s Ascot Stakes, a first winner at the royal meeting for Mullins, before doubling up in the Queen Alexandra Stakes.
From a handful of previous runners on the flat in Britain before that, the Irishman also landed the prestigious 2009 Ebor at York with Sesanta. That cross-discipline ambition though doesn't extend to the O'Leary team, with the Ryanair boss's famous preference for the jumps very much intact.
“I can confirm there is no change in policy” joked O’Leary’s brother, and bloodstock manager, Eddie, yesterday. “We’re heading to Ascot for a day out, and basically bringing a horse for company!”
The appeal of this week’s action though is undeniable though, even for the most vehemently pro-National Hunt fan and O’Leary added: “Cheltenham is the Olympics of jump racing and Royal Ascot is very much the same on the flat. Normally they don’t mix much, but they are both very much about being at the top of the tree.”
Midnight Oil, twice a winner over hurdles last season, will have the assistance of British champion jockey Richard Hughes on his first start on the flat for Mullins but retains the same handicap mark as when he wound up running for his previous trainer Luca Cumani.
Not surprisingly Aidan O’Brien dominates the Irish challenge tomorrow, and the man rated an odds-on favourite to be crowned leading trainer for the week on Saturday will be triple-handed in the St James’s Palace against the returning Dawn Approach.
Despite a late injury-scare over the weekend, O'Brien's Irish 2,000 Guineas winner Magician was one of nine left in the mile Group One at final declaration yesterday with Dawn Approach rated a 5/4 favourite by Paddy Power to bounce back from his Derby flop in style.
O'Brien's Declaration Of War gets another shot at Group One level in the Queen Anne Stakes where Animal Kingdom will be the first Kentucky Derby winner to line up at Royal Ascot in over 70 years.
Ballydoyle’s strong juvenile hand will get its first play tomorrow in the Coventry Stakes where Stubbs will be joined in the six-furlong heat by Sir John Hawkins and War Command.