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Homeracing

Royal Ascot will start with a bang

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

May 30th, 2015

We interrupt our wall-to-wall American Pharoah coverage to look ahead to the most hotly anticipated clash at Royal Ascot.

While most American fans are especially eager to see California Chrome's tilt at the Prince of Wales' S. (Eng-G1) on June 17, day two of the meeting, the June 16 opener is not to be missed. The party gets off to a blockbuster start in the Queen Anne S. (Eng-G1) over a straight mile, featuring an old-fashioned heavyweight brawl between Hong Kong phenom Able Friend and Freddy Head's budding star Solow.

Both bring six-race winning streaks, along with new challenges to face.

Able Friend has not only won six straight at Sha Tin, including international Group 1 trophies in the Hong Kong Mile, Stewards' Cup, Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup and most recently the May 3 Champions Mile, but he has done so with an air of arrogant supremacy. The Australian-bred son of Shamardal doesn't even appear to take a deep breath as he canters all over his rivals. Then you look at the clock, and see that he can dish out a final 200-meter split in :21 and change, and finish in 1:33 and change, with nonchalance. That's why he's currently the joint top-rated horse in the world, along with Shared Belief (both are pegged at 125 on the World's Best Racehorse Rankings, just above the joint second-ranked American Pharoah and Solow at 124).

Watch his mastery in the Hong Kong Mile:

 

The main question is, can Able Friend take his lethal game on the road, to a different type of course half a world away? Around the turn at Sha Tin, the muscular brute is nearly unbeatable. Will the same hold true down the straight course at Ascot, with its stiffer terrain? Trainer John Moore has gotten him pitch-perfect for each of his major objectives, and Able Friend has hit the target repeatedly over this entire Hong Kong season (which began last fall). Can he reach the pinnacle yet again, at what would be the tail-end of his preparation? I think he can, but the time frame is worth noting.

By contrast, Solow makes the much shorter trip across the Channel at a comparatively earlier stage in his campaign. The Wertheimer et Frere homebred has been a revelation since Head shortened him up in trip to eight to nine furlongs, and he has handled the class hike to Group 1 company with ease. A smashing winner of the Dubai Turf (UAE-G1) on World Cup night (video below), Solow came back to land the May 24 Prix d'Ispahan (Fr-G1) in convincing style.

 

Yet peering below the surface of both of Solow's Group 1 victories, a question arises. In Dubai, he hooked a less-than-cranked The Grey Gatsby (who has since run a disappointing fourth in the Tattersalls Gold Cup [Ire-G1]); Mshawish, who was the subject of a last-minute injury scare that likely affected his performance; and a very fresh Euro Charline, who was a little too eager when setting the early pace in her comeback. And in the d'Ispahan last out, Solow's task was greatly eased by the equipment malfunction suffered by Cirrus des Aigles (broken shoe). The main question is, can Solow handle the more devastating firepower of an in-form Able Friend?

For different reasons, then, the Queen Anne looms as the most searching test to date for both Solow and Able Friend.

And as much as it appears a two-horse show, we can't forget that there's a would-be spoiler lurking in the wings in Night of Thunder. He's already proven capable of upstaging big names when shocking Kingman and Australia at odds of 40-1 in last year's Two Thousand Guineas (Eng-G1). An unlucky second in last October's Queen Elizabeth II (Eng-G1) over the Queen Anne course and distance, the Richard Hannon trainee warmed up with a victory in the May 16 Lockinge (Eng-G1) at Newbury.

And to think that the Queen Anne is just the first race of a superb five-day stand at Royal Ascot!

 

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