06/15/2010 12:00AM

Goldikova favored to dethrone Paco Boy


Goldikova can enhance her credentials as arguably the best female racehorse in the world in the first race on opening day at Royal Ascot on Tuesday when she squares off against a top-class field of milers in the $367,000 Queen Anne Stakes. A victory would be her sixth Group 1 triumph over males, compared with three for Rachel Alexandra and one for Zenyatta.

The 5-year-old Goldikova began her season in style when she stepped up in distance to win the Group 1 Prix d'Ispahan at 1 1/8 miles, 55 yards at Longchamp on May 23, defeating Byword, the favorite for Wednesday's Prince of Wales's Stakes. Freddie Head will again give the ultra-reliable Olivier Peslier a leg up on Goldikova, who is as low as 3-2 with British bookmakers for the straight Ascot mile, which has been her main early-season goal since early spring. A third Breeders' Cup Mile title at Churchill Downs on Nov. 6 has been her ultimate goal since shortly after crossing the line in her second Mile victory at Santa Anita.

Goldikova will be challenged by last year's Queen Anne winner, Paco Boy. A two-time Group 1 mile winner last year, he has improved considerably this season, cruising to victory in the Group 2 Sandown Mile and the Group 1 Lockinge Stakes. The 5-year-old Paco Boy is fully capable of pulling off what would be a mild upset, but Irish invader Rip Van Winkle faces a tougher task off a 7 1/2-month absence.

Rip Van Winkle was a two-time Group 1 mile winner himself in 2009 but flopped in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Rip Van Winkle looks in tough, especially since trainer Aidan O'Brien's horses are always better second time out.

Dalghar, a half-brother to eight-time Group or Grade 1 winner Daylami and to Dalakhani, winner of the French Derby and the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, broke the seven-furlong track record at Longchamp last Saturday when he won the Group 3 Prix du Palais-Royal. A two-time winner at a mile against lesser, he is expected to handle this step up in class, although victory might be just beyond his grasp.

* Kenny McPeek has Noble's Promise primed and ready for the $367,000 St. James's Palace Stakes, a Group 1 mile for 3-year-old colts, but he could hardly have picked a tougher spot for the fifth-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby. Three others with experience of classic miles will be more than Noble's Promise can handle in a race that should decide the European 3-year-old mile championship.

Makfi is the selection off his sharp score in Newmarket's 2000 Guineas. He brings a 3-for-3 record into the race, yet Canford Cliffs is the 13-8 favorite, despite having finished third, beaten 1 3/4 lengths by Makfi, at Newmarket. Canford Cliffs has since won the Irish 2000 Guineas by three lengths and will be ridden by Richard Hughes. Dick Turpin, second in both the English 2000 Guineas and the French equivalent two weeks later, is a speedy sort.

◗ Wesley Ward, the American trainer who registered two historic victories at Royal Ascot last year, is back with a single runner this year in Metropolitain Man. A handy 7 1/2-length winner of a Keeneland maiden race in his debut, Metropolitan Man will very likely be busted out of the gate by Elvis Trujillo in the listed, five-furlong Windsor Castle Stakes in an effort to reprise the victory of the Ward-trained Strike the Tiger, but there will be a number of precocious speedsters to deal with, particularly Chilworth Lad and Oor Jock.

◗ In the Group 1, $441,000 King's Stand Stakes, five-furlong specialist Kingsgate Native is taken to repel the challenge of a pair of Australian Group 1 winners, Gold Trail and Nicconi, as well as Starspangledbanner, an Australian import who impressed when a close fifth in his European debut in the Group 2 Duke of York Stakes. Trained by Michael Stoute, Kingsgate Native is coming off an impressive score in the Group 2 Temple Stakes at the King's Stand distance of five furlongs.

Post time for the Queen Anne, the first race on the Ascot card, is 9:30am Eastern. Both TVG and HRTV will provide wall-to-wall coverage of all five days of the Royal Meeting, Tuesday through Saturday.