06/19/2017 12:16PM

Americans abound in Royal Ascot opener

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Keeneland/Coady Photography
Lady Aurelia is the likely favorite for the Group 1 King's Stand.

The five-day Royal Ascot meeting begins Tuesday with an excellent six-race card that includes three Group 1 races and six American runners.

A year after Tepin won the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes, two more Americans, Miss Temple City and American Patriot, start in Royal Ascot’s traditional first race of the meeting, a testing straight-course mile that has Ribchester as a strong favorite. First post all week at Ascot is 9:30 a.m. Eastern.

Fourteen American horses, 10 trained by Wesley Ward, traveled for the meeting. Ward has made Ascot an annual event and should win at least one race this week. Conditions are generally ripe for American success. Warm, dry weather has left the Ascot course as suitable as could be for firm-turf-favoring Americans. Tuesday’s forecast called for sun and temperatures in the mid-80s.

Ribchester, a 4-year-old trained by Richard Fahey for Godolphin, was an odds-on favorite Monday in Queen Anne antepost waging to beat 15 opponents. Ribchester began his season finishing third racing nine furlongs over yielding ground in the Dubai Turf but came back to England and romped to a 3 1/2-length score over Lightning Spear going a mile in the Group 1 J.T. Lockinge Stakes.

On firm ground, the gap between Ribchester and Lightning Spear, who was third to Tepin in the 2016 Queen Anne, might not be quite as wide as the Lockinge margin. Ribchester, however, was a fine second last fall on a “good” Ascot course while beaten just a half-length by the champion filly Minding. His tactical versatility makes him a formidable favorite.

Mutakayyef is the only other horse less than 10-1 in antepost wagering. While Mutakayyef won the Group 2 Summer Mile at Ascot last year, his best trip probably is nine furlongs, and he can’t beat an untroubled, in-form Ribchester over one mile.

American Patriot was in career-best form in winning the Grade 1 Maker’s 46 Mile at Keeneland in his most recent race but lacks Miss Temple City’s longer-term level of accomplishment, as well as her Ascot experience.

Miss Temple City makes her third Royal Ascot start and was a strong fourth two years ago in the Group 1 Coronation. Trainer Graham Motion desired a Queen Anne prep and failed to get one, but Motion said he plans to let Miss Temple City run her race this year, rather than trying to have her adapt to European-style racing. She is far from the worst 25-1 shot of the week.

Lady Aurelia favored

Lady Aurelia, one of Ward’s best hopes this week, is likely to be the parimutuel favorite to win the Group 1 King’s Stand over five furlongs. The King’s Stand is the third race of the day, with a scheduled post of 10:40 Eastern, and drew 18 entrants. Lady Aurelia, who will have Frankie Dettori in the irons, has post 18, which should pose no hindrance on this straight course.

Lady Aurelia won the Queen Mary at this meet a year ago by seven lengths, a remarkable margin in a five-furlong race. She later returned to Europe and won the Group 1 Prix Morny, and though Lady Aurelia could only finish third in the Cheveley Park Stakes in her 2-year-old finale, that race came over six furlongs at Newmarket. The five-eighths trip on the flatter Ascot track should much better suit her. Lady Aurelia prepped for this with a sharp April win at Keeneland and, because of age and sex allowances, carries just 121 pounds.

Lady Aurelia gets a nine-pound weight break from her older male rivals and is six pounds fewer than Marsha carries. Marsha, a 4-year-old filly, won the Group 1 Prix de l’Abbaye de Longchamp racing five furlongs over “good” ground in her final start of 2016 and began her 4-year-old season with a Group 3 Newmarket sprint win while conceding weight to good horses.

Ward has three juveniles racing Tuesday. Arawak, ridden by John Velazquez, is among the top choices in the Group 2 Coventry over six furlongs. Nootka Sound and Elizabeth Darcy both rate a strong chance in the listed Windsor Castle Stakes over five furlongs.

Churchill choice in St. James’s

Since losing his debut last summer, Churchill has won seven straight races, the last five in Group 1 competition, and he’ll be favored to capture another Group 1 on Tuesday in the St. James’s Palace Stakes.

Churchill won the English and Irish 2000 Guineas already this year and was kept out of the Epsom Derby to focus on one-mile races like the St. James’s Palace, which is contested around one gentle right-handed turn. Churchill has form on ground ranging from very soft to good-to-firm and has shown no real evidence of vulnerability, but one of his seven opponents, Barney Roy, has a chance to beat him.

Barney Roy has raced only three times and was second, beaten a length by Churchill, in the English 2000 Guineas. Churchill, however, easily had the better trip that day. Barney Roy struggled on the undulating Newmarket course, at one point taking a dramatically bad step, but he recovered to come home as fast as anyone and quickly galloped out past Churchill. Perhaps on Tuesday, he catches him before the wire.