Ascot (United Kingdom) (AFP) – The curtain rises at Royal Ascot on Tuesday with connections of the blue-blooded thoroughbreds hoping their prayers are answered at ‘the Mecca of racing’ as Australian training legend Gai Waterhouse describes it.
The 63-year-old — known as the ‘Queen of Australian racing’ — says Royal Ascot stands apart from the rest of the great racing carnivals round the world including the race that so legend has it ‘brings a nation to a halt’, the Melbourne Cup.
There will be plenty on offer over the five days for the anticipated 300,000 spectators — beginning with the traditional Royal Procession with Queen Elizabeth II maintaining her extraordinary record of not missing a day since her coronation in 1953.
Celebrities aplenty, many of them presenting the trophies for the races which carry prizemoney of £7.3million ($9.7million) and includes eight Group Ones, whilst fashionistas will have their hunger sated too.
“There is nothing like it in the world,” said Waterhouse, who won the 2013 Melbourne Cup.
“The way the show is put on is magnificent and they have the best drawcard in world in her Majesty.
“They have looked after the traditions and the heritage and it pays off in every possible way.
“The world wants to be there with Wesley Ward leading the way for the Americans and the Aussies coming it is a racing Mecca, a smorgasbord of wonderful racing.”
Waterhouse, daughter of Aussie training great Tommy Smith but who had an unconventional way into racing having been an actress appearing in amongst other shows an episode of the BBC’s iconic series ‘Doctor Who’, has yet to win a race at the meeting.
“When you stand at the bottom of the straight you can’t see the stands,” she said.
“You don’t realise how incredibly severe the gradient is.
“It is so steep and we don’t have that in Australia and the USA where they are flat tracks.”
Whilst Waterhouse — who was speaking at a Royal Ascot evening organised by Highclere Thoroughbred Racing and its creator Harry Herbert — is waiting for her first winner Michael Stoute needs one to become the most successful trainer in Royal Ascot history.
– ‘Pulls a punch like a boxer’ –
The 72-year-old Barbados-born handler is tied with the late great Henry Cecil, but Stoute refuses to get carried away about potentially breaking the record.
“It would be nice but a little bit unfair,” said Stoute.
“Henry didn’t have as many five day (weeks) as I did.
“Henry’s achievement was greater than mine.”
Should Tuesday yield no joy Stoute’s Poet’s Word is fancied for the Group One Prince of Wales’s Stakes on the Wednesday and beat Cracksman which requires the former to reverse a whopping seven length disparity between the two in last year’s Champion Stakes.
Poet’s Word has gained in popularity since the John Gosden-trained Cracksman failed to impress in winning the Coronation Cup at Epsom earlier this month.
Gosden, who has 43 Royal Ascot winners to his credit since his first back in 1990 the season he started training in England after a successful career in the United States, says there is no such thing as a banker at Ascot.
“I am lucky to have a horse like Cracksman, he pulls a punch like a boxer,” said the 67-year-old Englishman.
“He wasn’t quite himself in the Coronation but all horses are beatable.”
Gosden and his fellow English trainers are only too aware of the threat that will come from across the Irish Sea in the shape of the recordbreaking Aidan O’Brien stable.
However, the Irishman’s habit of flooding races with several runners has attracted criticism and makes Gosden fearful of the chances of Stream of Stars for instance in Wednesday’s Queen’s Vase in which O’Brien has five listed to run.
“Pat Smullen said to me after Cracksman was second in last year’s Irish Derby (O’Brien’s Capri won and he had five of the nine runners) ‘I can ride against two of them, I can ride against three of them but I can’t ride against five of them’,” said Gosden.