Royal Ascot: Able Friend and Solow clash in opener

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Call in sick. Take the week off. It’s time for Royal Ascot. Five days of the best racing in the world. 

Race 1. 9:30 a.m. Get the party started. The Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes. Able Friend, 12-for-18 in his career, takes his show on the road. The Hong Kong-based gelding will try unleash his torrid kick on the straight mile course in the Queen Anne Stakes. Standing in his way, Solow. Did you see him run in Dubai in March? The son of Singspiel, 9-for-14, will make you drop your cereal bowl. A year ago, Night Of Thunder and Toormore chased Kingman in the St James’s Palace Stakes, they return with a mountain to climb against the top two.

Race 2. 10:05. The Group 2 Coventry Stakes begins the high-class 2-year-old action. American-bred Air Force Blue cost $490,000 from Stone Farm at Keeneland September. He’s 1-for-1 for Aidan O’Brien and Coolmore. Buying him was a long-term project compared to Black Beach, who fetched 220,000 pounds Monday night. Yes, Monday night. Wesley Ward sends out Finnegan, who prepped over Pimlico’s turf in May. Joel Rosario makes the trip from the U.S. to ride.

Race 3. 10:40. The Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes attracts the world’s best sprinters for 5 furlongs of blur. Sole Power seeks win No. 12 and third consecutive win in the King’s Stand.

Last year, the Racing Post described it, “For a second consecutive year, SOLE POWER’s irresistible late burst proved too much for his rivals, travelling supremely well under new rider Richard Hughes, who weaved his way through the field. Having been switched right, he ended up near the far rail and he fairly flew home to win readily. Although now a 7yo he’s at the very top of his game and can return in 2015 in a bid to complete a hat-trick in the race, granted similarly quick ground. It’s quite possible he’ll take in the Diamond Jubilee on Saturday.”

As for trainer Eddie Lynam, he described it to the Racing Post, “He’s 5-1 today, yet been there, done it and got the t-shirt. He’s a very good horse. My daughter will ride him on the track on Friday morning and if we’re happy with him he’ll run again in the Diamond Jubilee. If we’re not happy we’ll put him away for the July Cup.”

Sole Power did not try the July Cup, taking two months off and returning to win the Nunthorpe Stakes at York. This year, he won the Al Quoz Sprint in Dubai. He goes for another t-shirt.

Race 4. 11:20. The hits just keep on coming. The Group 1 St James’s Palace Stakes. The best 3-year-old sprinters clash in the mile stakes. Make Believe won the French Two Thousand Guineas, Gleneagles won the English and Irish Two Thousand Guineas. Consort, 2-for-2, takes the leap but could be this good. With just six horses, the St. James’s Palace is a tactical gem. Ryan Moore has an advantage, he’s ridden Consort to his two victories but takes the call on Gleneagles, who he steered to the Guineas double.

Race 5. 12:00. The Ascot Stakes. Two and a half miles. Yes, two and a half miles. Twenty runners, many of them jumpers. Willie Mullins slides Digeanta into the bottom of the weights, he gets 11 pounds from top weight Hurricane Higgins, a novice hurdle winner for Nicky Henderson in his most recent starts. Hardstone is a two-time winning son of Birdstone. Boite cost 55,000 pounds in October, Schwaiman cost 46,000 pounds in February and Handazan cost 26,000 pounds in May. Who says you can’t buy tickets to Royal Ascot?

Race 6. 12:35. Want variety? Here’s variety. The previous race traversed 20 furlongs. This one zips five furlongs. The finale on Opening Day offers juveniles another opportunity in the Windsor Castle Stakes. Want a guide? Watch Round Two in the Coventry, he handled Washington DC by 2 lengths in May. Coolmore’s colt looks strong here while taking on 26 rivals. Yes, 26 rivals. Wesley Ward tabs Joel Rosario on Silverton Hill’s Ruby Notion, an easy winner at Churchill Downs a month ago. And check out the jockey bookings on Nelspruit and Orvar, Pat Dobbs and Richard Hughes swap mounts for Richard Hannon. Say goodbye to Hughes, this is the final Royal Ascot for the reigning champion jockey. Goodbye, legend.