06/10/2016 11:40AM

Tepin ready for Queen Anne on Ascot's opening day

Kelsey Danner
Tepin, shown winning the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile, will be favored in Tuesday's Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes.

The 2016 Royal Ascot meeting, as usual, begins with a bang Tuesday, with one of the meet’s most prestigious races, the Group 1 Queen Anne, the first race on the strongest top-to-bottom card of the five-day stand. And this year’s Queen Anne packs an extra kick for American racing fans since its favorite is the mighty mare Tepin, the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Mile winner who has risen during the last year to become one of the top horses in North America.

Tepin is part of a large group of American-based horses who have traveled for the Royal meeting, with seven Wesley Ward-trained runners, five of whom are 2-year-olds, joined by Tepin, Miss Temple City, and Mongolian Saturday.

Miss Temple City, who beat males in the Maker’s 46 Mile at Keeneland, is among the favorites Wednesday in the Group 2 Duke of Cambridge Stakes. Mongolian Saturday, the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner, runs Tuesday in the King’s Stand Stakes, which also will include the Ward-trained 3-year-old filly Acapulco. Ward has another sprinter, Undrafted, set for the Diamond Jubilee Stakes on Saturday.

The Royal Ascot meeting runs through Saturday, but Tuesday and Wednesday present the most compelling racing of the stand. Looming over this year’s entire meeting, however, is unsettled weather. The going at Ascot still was “good” as of Friday, but rain entered the forecast starting Saturday, and there is at least a chance of precipitation every day next week. Forecasters aren’t predicting strong storms, and in the best-case scenario, there would be no more than scattered showers, but the chance of the Ascot course turning soft throws an unwanted variable into the equation.

“The weather is everything for me,” said Ward, who has called off Ascot trips before when it was clear that his runners wouldn’t get good-to-fast ground.

There’s no such certainty this year, and Ward’s team already is on the ground, prepped and ready to go, though on Friday he ruled out one horse, the 2-year-old Star Empire. Jose Valdivia Jr., whose riding career Ward helped resurrect last year, is traveling from Chicago to partner with several Ward-trained horses, though Ward also will use Frankie Dettori, who has the mount Wednesday on Lady Aurelia. A smart debut winner at Keeneland, Lady Aurelia runs in the Group 2 Queen Mary, and Ward on Thursday termed her his most likely winner of the meeting.

Tepin, meanwhile, earlier this week shipped overseas with Miss Temple City, her onetime rival and current traveling companion. Miss Temple City is making her second trip to Royal Ascot, having finished a strong fourth last summer in the Group 1 Coronation Stakes. But Tepin is the star of the American contingent, and she almost has to perform better than the last U.S.-based star to try the Queen Anne, Animal Kingdom, who came off a stirring win in the Dubai World Cup to finish a flat 11th in 2013.

Tepin will be trainer Mark Casse’s first starter in England, and he said Thursday in New York that reports from his son, assistant trainer Norman Casse, who is overseeing Tepin’s preparation, all have been favorable. Tepin won the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile last fall on yielding turf at Keeneland and captured the BC Mile on a testing autumn course, so cut in the ground Tuesday probably won’t doom her. Casse has expressed confidence that Tepin will adapt to her first race on a straight, undulating course, but with a lack of truly elite competition lining up to face her, the course configuration is probably Tepin’s highest hurdle.

There’s a third Group 1 on the Tuesday card, the St. James’s Palace Stakes for 3-year-olds, while the feature Wednesday, the Prince of Wales’s Stakes, looks like the strongest race of the week. The Japanese horse A Shin Hikari heads the betting for the 10-furlong Prince of Wales’s, and for good reason since he won the Group 1 Prix d’Ispahan, his first European start, by 10 lengths on May 24, a little more than five months after winning the Group 1 Hong Kong Cup.

The 2015 Breeders’ Cup Turf winner, Found, is among his potential rivals in a race that also could include Time Test (who also has the Queen Anne as an option), The Grey Gatsby, Highland Reel, and Covert Love.

The Thursday feature is the Gold Cup over 2 1/2 miles, with the Commonwealth Cup and the Coronation, two more Group 1 races, headlining Friday’s card and the Diamond Jubilee the lone Group 1 on closing day.