Stevens can rise to right Royal occasion
American ace Gary Stevens might be a 66-1 chance to clinch the London Clubs Trophy for the most successful jockey at Royal Ascot this year but he is certain to make a great impact at the world's most glamorous four-day race meeting, which commences on Tuesday.
Stevens jetted into London for a special press conference at Ascot during the week and told of how his successful three-month stint in Hong Kong, riding for Stephen Leung, had inspired him to make Britain a 'must' stopover point at some stage of his career.
'I have always studied European racing, and British racing in particular, very, very closely,' Stevens said. 'In fact, many people feel I have a particular affinity with European horses.
'But it was during my time in Hong Kong, riding trackwork every day, and competing twice a week, against jockeys such as Mick Kinane, Walter Swinburn and a host of big names from Australia and South Africa, that I made up my mind to ride at some stage in Europe.
'I hope that this visit to Ascot this week is the first of many in years to come. I'd really like to make it an annual event. It's very important to me and my career,' he added.
Stevens and his American agent Ron Anderson have been trawling the local scene over the past few days, searching for top rides for the four days.
His best mount will almost certainly be Almaty, who should take the King's Stand Stakes on Friday without much trouble.
Michael Stoute is awaiting up-to-date going reports before finalising his squad for Royal Ascot next week. Pilsudski, the Breeders' Cup Turf winner, and one of his possible stars at the meeting, will need the ground to be genuinely 'good' before he is committed to a start in the Hardwicke Stakes on Friday.
But Stoute is keen to run Crown Of Light, Sheik Mohammed's filly who was a fast-finishing third in the Oaks at Epsom.
'It is difficult backing up with a filly only 13 days after the Oaks but it is not impossible. She has put back the weight she lost, and she has come out of Epsom well,' Stoute said.
'Overall, we have some shots to fire at the Royal Meeting but we want some rain at Ascot. Otherwise, it will be a reduced team,' said the Newmarket trainer, who will be watching going reports and monitoring the weather forecast with intense interest.
Nick Cheyne, the Clerk of the Course at Ascot, called the going yesterday 'Good, Good to Firm in places,' an indication that the course has dried out since 8 mm of rain fell on Tuesday night.
'Our penetrometer showed 3.1 today, whereas 36 hours earlier, it was 3.5. If there is no overnight rain, then we will water in the morning,' Cheyne added.
The ground, so often the crucial factor for many Ascot contenders, particularly juveniles, looks certain to have a huge influence again.
Stoute says he has been pleased the way Pilsudski has worked at home since his distant third to Helissio in the Prix Ganay at Longchamp on his seasonal debut. But the five-year-old has proven to be at his most effective when racing on ground with decent 'cut'.
With a Breeders' Cup notch on the belt - defeating his much-travelled, world-conquering stablemate Singspiel - Pilsudski would be a drawcard if he makes it to post. One heartening prospect for Stoute, and others with similar hopes, is that unsettled weather is forecast for the third and fourth days of Royal Ascot.
The break in the weather might not arrive in time for Gold Spats, the Stoute-trained entry in the Royal Hunt Cup. The trainer believes the colt needs some ease in the ground, too.
Kieren Fallon has been installed a warm favourite, at 4-5 with Coral, to win the London Clubs Trophy, for the most successful jockey at Royal Ascot next week. In prices issued yesterday, Olivier Peslier is second favourite at 11-2, with Frankie Dettori at 7-1.