Last year, Hong Kong racegoers knew the fate of their Royal Ascot challenge after the first of 30 races over the five-day carnival; this year, they will have to wait for their fun.
It is not until Saturday that Richard Gibson-trained sprinter Gold-Fun will line up over the straight 1,200m in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes.
Historically, the Europeans have proved vulnerable to classy overseas challengers in this division; last year the race went to US-trained Undrafted beating Aussie sprinter Brazen Beau, whilst those with longer memories will remember Cape Of Good Hope landing the prize for Hong Kong the year the meeting was run at York. Little Bridge also won the 1,000m King’s Stand for Hong Kong in 2012 and Gold-Fun’s form stacks up pretty well against that pair.
His second to Peniaphobia at the international meeting in December is a classy piece of form and crucially, he has also been kept fresh, thus hopefully avoiding the “one race too far” scenario that seemed to find out Able Friend in last year’s Queen Anne.
#GoldFun arrived in Newmarket about 4pm GMT. Travelled well. Now relaxing in tranquility. Munching hay. @Ascot pic.twitter.com/95S4zF3V6k— David Morgan (@TheMorganGrind) June 11, 2016
There are however new challenges to be faced in both the straight track – he has only raced round a bend – and with plenty of rain falling in the days running up to the meeting, the likelihood of softer ground than he has raced on before.
Another problem for Gold-Fun is that he may be coming up against a vintage crop of four-year-old English sprinters. Having been in the shadow of champion sprinter Muhaarar last year, his retirement at the end of his three-year-old season has seen them come into their own this campaign, regularly beating their older counterparts and a trio in particular will provide tough opposition.
Magical Memory has already won two Group races this season but it could be Twilight Son and The Tin Man who will prove the main dangers. They are both proven under the conditions, having finished second and fourth respectively to Muhaarar over the course and distance on good to soft ground on British Champions Day.
A trio from @JaneChappleHyam's proved good company for #GoldFun's (rear) Monday morning exercise. #DiamondJubilee pic.twitter.com/DxHjdB5TsD— David Morgan (@TheMorganGrind) June 13, 2016
Twilight Son ran much better than it looked at York on his return, racing on the slower part of the track and away from where the race developed. His trainer Henry Candy has a good record with classy sprinters and broke a losing spell recently, suggesting his horses may be about to strike form. Already a Group One winner, expect Twilight Son to be a big player.
The Tin Man looked anything but rusty on his return at Windsor, readily settling the race with a smart turn of foot, and he is from the family of Deacon Blues, who James Fanshawe also trained to win a big Ascot sprint. Whilst Gold-Fun may have form to match previous Hong Kong winners, he may find that this time the home challenge is a tougher nut to crack.
The Tuesday and Thursday cards are being simulcast in Hong Kong and hold plenty of international interest. In the opening Queen Anne, Tepin bids to become a rare older US-trained horse to win a major European turf race. Away from Lasix, without her nasal strip and with the likelihood of soft ground, she represents poor value as she seeks to enhance her reputation before a hoped for liaison with Frankel.
How good does Tepin look in the British sunshine? pic.twitter.com/If1VSCtKgv— GBRI (@GBRI_UK) June 9, 2016
With Solow sidelined through injury, the opposition is not strong so deciding what to take her on with is tricky, but Endless Drama ran really well off a long absence in the Lockinge and could well progress markedly with that under his belt.
Mongolian Saturday, three places behind Gold-Fun at Sha Tin in December, lines up in the King’s Stand on the first day and a good run would hearten the Gibson camp, but he looks to have a bit to find with another smart set of four-year-olds in Profitable, Jungle Cat and Waady.
On Thursday, the feature Gold Cup looks more straightforward with Aidan O’Brien trained Order Of St George looking another classy stayer from the yard to have this race at his mercy. Big Orange and, if it comes up soft, Clever Cookie can add value to the quinellas.
The potential superstar of the week could be Japanese ace A Shin Hikari in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes on Wednesday. Sha Tin racegoers can hardly fail to forget that blazing performance in the Longines Hong Kong Cup and he showed his versatility when adopting different tactics on different ground when decimating the Prix d’Ispahan field at Chantilly. Connections are on record as saying he would prefer better ground, but soft conditions would be very much against several of his key rivals and he could give Japan a first success at the Royal Ascot meeting.
This year’s Royal Ascot really has attracted quality horses from right around the globe, and this time, Hong Kong fans will be hoping that the best is saved until last.
Richard Hoiles is a presenter on Racing UK. Watch every race from Royal Ascot and 34 of the UK’s best racecourses with Racing UK International at intl.racinguk.com