06/15/2008 12:00AM

Falco challenges Henrythenavigator


Henrythenavigator defends his pro tem leadership among European milers in the $487,000 St. James's Palace Stakes on Tuesday, opening day of Royal Ascot's five-day, $7.8 million Thoroughbred fashion show.

The winner of both the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket and the Irish 2000 Guineas at the Curragh, Henrythenavigator rates as the best miler in the Europe, if not the world. A Kentucky-bred son of Kingmambo, Henrythenavigator beat subsequent Epsom Derby winner New Approach in both of his Guineas triumphs and is familiar with the hoopla surrounding the Royal Meeting after winning the Group 2 Coventry Stakes on opening day last year.

The St. James's Palace will once again serve as a Guineas final of sorts, as Henrythenavigator will face a stern challenge from French 2000 Guineas winner Falco. A Carlos Laffon-Parias-trained son of Pivotal who scored a three-length victory over 18 rivals at Longchamp on May 13 at a surprising 21-1, Falco will be ridden by Olivier Peslier.

Big things were expected from Twice Over and Raven's Pass after their one-two finish in the one-mile, Group 3 Craven Stakes in April but they have both disappointed since. In the Group 2 Dante Stakes, Twice Over could only manage third behind subsequent Epsom Derby runner-up Tartan Bearer but should appreciate the cut back from 1 5/16 miles to a mile. Raven's Pass was fourth, 4 1/2 lengths behind Henrythenavigator, in the 2000 Guineas and has no better chance than Stubbs Art, who was third in both the English and Irish Guineas.

The Royal Meeting will open with the $487,000 Queen Anne Stakes, a straight Group 1 mile for older horses in which Alain de-Royer-Dupre holds a pair of French aces. Darjina, a three-time Group 1 winner at 3, looks ready to bounce back from a pair of agonizing seconds going a furlong longer in both the Dubai Duty Free and the Prix d'Ispahan. Her class and preference for a mile should enable her to defeat stablemate Sageburg, the 2 1/2-length winner of the Ispahan. Both must beware of the Jim Bolger-trained Finsceal Beo, who is back to her favorite distance for the first time since last summer.

The Aidan O'Brien-trained Astronomer Royal, recent winner of the six-furlong, Group 3 Greenlands Stakes, could be a factor but he may be rerouted to the Golden Jubilee Stakes on Saturday.

The flying 3-year-old filly Fleeting Spirit is Ladbrokes' 5-2 choice to defeat older colts in the $487,000 King's Stand Stakes. Newly upgraded to Group 1 status, this five-furlong sprint has been won by Australian invaders each of the last two years, and while 2006 winner and 2007 fourth-place finisher Takeover Target and fellow Aussie Group 1 winner Magnus are back again, the Jeremy Noseda-trained Fleeting Spirit, fresh from a big win in the Group 2 Temple Stakes over older colts, is taken to get the job done.

Kingsgate Native, winner of the Group 1 Nunthorpe Stakes over older horses as a 2-year-old last August, makes his first start since Oct. 7, when he was second in the Group 1 Prix de l'Abbaye de Longchamp behind Benbaun, who also lines up for the King's Stand after a disappointing fifth in the Group 2 Prix du Gros-Chene.