Royal Ascot stages its first ever £1m race on Wednesday when a highly select international field of five assembles for a fascinating Prince Of Wales’s Stakes (Group 1), which is one of the most prized jewels in the 35-race QIPCO British Champions Series.
The Prince of Wales’s Stakes (G1) will also give the winner an invitation to the US$4 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1).
A Group 2 when Bay Bridge’s trainer Sir Michael Stoute won it for the first time in 1981 with Hard Fought, the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes now regularly attracts some of the best in the world.
The favorite will therefore need to be every bit as good as he looked in Sandown’s Group 3 Brigadier Gerard Stakes if he is to cope with such a jump in class and beat rivals who have already won at the highest level in Australia, Dubai, France, Japan and the United States, as well as here at Royal Ascot in this same race.
At this time 12 months ago Bay Bridge had won only a novice and a handicap, albeit one which often goes to a subsequent Group-race winner, but he has taken a big step forward with every run and was winning for the fifth time in a row when showing a stunning change of gear to sprint five lengths clear of Mostahdaf and Addeybb at Sandown.
Stoute, successful in the Derby with Desert Crown only nine days ago, is bidding for a third win here in five years following success with Poet’s Word (2018) and Crystal Ocean (2019).
He said: “Bay Bridge performed very well at Sandown, where he was very impressive, but he is now taking on much tougher opposition so it’s going to be interesting.
“He showed promise from the first time he won and he’s continued to progress. He seems in fine shape and I don’t think fast ground will be a problem. It’s going to be a fascinating race and we are looking forward to it.”
The main threat judged from the betting is Shahryar, who would be giving Japan a highly prized first winner at the Royal Meeting if successful. Although none of the eight previous Japanese runners here finished closer than sixth, last year’s Breeders’ Cup double and then five wins on Dubai World Cup night underlined what a formidable force Japan has become on the international stage.
Japanese Derby winner Shahryar was one of those five Meydan winners when beating a top-level international field in Meydan’s Sheema Classic, having previously finished a good third behind the brilliant Contrail in the Japan Cup, so his credentials bear close scrutiny. He offers previous form of a significantly higher level than any of his compatriots to have raced here, and that includes the subsequent Nassau Stakes winner Deirdre, who was sixth in the 2019 Prince Of Wales’s.
The four-year-old has been targeted here since the Sheema Classic and has acclimatized well at Newmarket’s National Stud. He is expected to enjoy the likely fast ground.
Hiroyasu Matsumoto, farm manager for his breeders Northern Farm, said: “He had experience of travelling before when he went to Dubai, and the experience there was very beneficial for coming to Royal Ascot.
“His optimum distance is anywhere between 2000 and 2400 meters, and so far as the ground is concerned it’s maybe better for him if it’s firm. The older he gets the better he gets, and we are really looking forward to Royal Ascot.
“We really want to win at Royal Ascot with a Japanese horse. It’s always been a dream and it’s a great honor to be running here. Many people think that the Arc is the pinnacle, but I think that the best sire-making races are in the UK.”
State Of Rest, another four-year-old, already has the rare distinction of having won at the top level on three different continents, having followed wins in the Saratoga Derby Invitational Stakes and Australia’s hugely prestigious Cox Plate with a successful reappearance in Longchamp’s Prix Ganay.
His trainer Joseph O’Brien won the Prince Of Wales’s ten years ago with another Cox Plate winner, So You Think, although on that occasion he was in the saddle.
Lord North was highly impressive in a behind-closed-doors Prince Of Wales’s two years ago but missed Royal Ascot and much of the rest of last year with a serious throat infection. He returned to close to his best with a second win in Meydan’s Dubai Turf, and co-trainer John Gosden believes last month’s Tattersalls Gold Cup fourth – a place behind State Of Rest – can be marked up.
Gosden explained: “I think that he raced a bit too close to the strong pace at the Curragh and the one mile and two and a half furlongs there just stretched him a bit. At that pace the Curragh just tapped his reserves of stamina. He was in a good spot with a furlong to go, but that last furlong was an eternity.
“He’s a grand horse, but he needs to be ridden a little differently to Ireland. He’ll be happier back at Ascot, where he won the Prince of Wales’s two years ago, but he’s not a young horse any more, although he still enjoys his racing.
“It’s a very high-class race, as it should be. The Japanese horse Shahryar can go a bit, and
Bay Bridge has always been a lovely horse. It’s a fabulous race and I like Bay Bridge. He went past them like they were standing still at Sandown.”
The field is completed by the French mare Grand Glory. Bosra Sham, Ouija Board and The Fugue are the only female Prince of Wales’s winners in modern times, but Gianluca Bietolini’s six-year-old is not to be underestimated.
She beat the former Breeders’ Cup winner Audarya when gaining a well-deserved first Group 1 win in last year’s Prix Jean Romanet and went on to finish only a length and a half behind Shahryar in the Japan Cup.
She was supplemented here at a cost of £70,000 after winning both her starts this year, and while regular rider Cristian Demuro rides Shahryar this time her connections are delighted to have secured the services of Mickael Barzalona.