06/14/2013 2:46PM

Animal Kingdom starts off Royal Ascot meet with a bang


At the Royal Ascot meeting in England, there is no gradual crescendo to a fantastic finale. Day 1 of five-day stand is the best day of the meeting, and the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes, the first race on the first day, often is the meeting’s best race. In 2010, Goldikova kicked off Royal Ascot the right way with a popular Queen Anne win, and last year, Frankel delivered one of the best single performances ever winning by 11 lengths.

The 2013 meeting does not break tradition, with Kentucky Derby and Dubai World Cup winner Animal Kingdom, the biggest star of Royal Ascot 2013, favored to win the Queen Anne in Tuesday’s first race, which has a 9:30 a.m. Eastern post time. Animal Kingdom has never raced on a straight course like the one he’ll tackle in the Queen Anne, and no American-trained horse ever has won a Group 1 at the Royal Ascot meet, but working in Animal Kingdom’s favor is the competition, not especially strong for a race of this caliber.

The Queen Anne is one of three Group 1’s on Tuesday and one of seven at the meet. Also racing on the Tuesday card is Dawn Approach, the badly beaten Epsom Derby favorite who returns to a much more suitable one-mile trip in the Group 1 St. James’s Palace Stakes. Dawn Approach’s task will be made easier if well-regarded Irish 2000 Guineas winner Magician is forced to miss the race. Magician suffered what was termed a minor injury this week and a final decision won’t be made on his Ascot participation until Sunday. The St. James’s Palace, won in 2011 by Frankel, is run around one right-handed turn.

Shea Shea, the Mike de Kock-trained South African sprinter who was extremely impressive in Dubai this winter, is the solid favorite for Tuesday’s Grade 1 King’s Stand Stakes, a five-furlong straight-course dash. Hearty horses that perform well in the King’s Stand sometimes wheel back Saturday in the Group 1 Diamond Jubilee, a race that will struggle to live up to the 2012 edition, where Australian star Black Caviar was life and death to keep her unbeaten streak intact.

The Group 1 action slows after Tuesday’s card, with one top-level event scheduled per day. On Wednesday, the feature is the Prince of Wales’s Stakes, which has the surprising Al Kazeem as a favorite after Godolphin’s Farhh was forced to bow out. Al Kazeem’s chief challenger is assumed to be 2012 English Derby winner Camelot, whom Al Kazeem handled last month in Ireland, but the improved French horse Maxios will bear watching.

On Thursday, stayers take center stage, with the 2 1/2-mile Ascot Gold Cup featured. Friday’s headliner, the Coronation Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, looks like a wide-open affair.

Animal Kingdom is not the only American-trained runner at Ascot: Wesley Ward, who won two races at the 2009 meet, plans to run three 2-year-olds – the best of which is No Nay Never – next week.

The 2012 Royal Ascot meet was contested over a course playing on the soft side of good. The going was termed “good” late this week, and while there is a chance of showers through the weekend, major rainfall is not anticipated before Tuesday.