IT is hard to recall a more unusual Royal Ascot than the 2020 renewal that starts today. The race meeting famous as one of Britain’s treat social and sporting occasions has been forced to take on a new look this year due to the restrictions imposed because of the Covid-19 pandemic, writes JIM McGRATH on the Godolphin website, reporting from Godolphin’s Moulton Paddocks at Newmarket.

Her Majesty The Queen will not attend. There will be no crowd, no picnics in the car parks, no community singing after the last race. No owners will be admitted. There will be no influx of visitors from Australia and the Far East.

But the high-quality racing looks certain to be upheld, with the added novelty of an expanded menu of 36 races (from 30) over the five days.

Racing first took place at Ascot racecourse in 1711, with the Royal meeting evolving over subsequent decades.

Ascot’s first four-day meeting came in 1768, while the Royal meeting as known today probably took shape around the time of the inaugural Gold Cup in 1807.

It is this rich tradition which attracted His Highness Sheikh Mohammed when he started owning and racing thoroughbred racehorses in Britain in the 1970s and the Royal meeting remains a fascination for him and his family.

For Godolphin, Royal Ascot is therefore a pivotal meeting in the calendar and a major target for His Highness’s best horses. With Moulton Paddocks supplying several key runners at this behind-closed-doors fixture, trainer Charlie Appleby spoke to journalist Jim (J A) McGrath about the yard’s G1 prospects this week.

Barney Roy ready for Wales’s attempt

Barney Roy has benefitted from a successful winter in Dubai and is now ready for his attempt at a second Royal Ascot win, according to Charlie Appleby.

The gelding faces six rivals in the G1 Prince Of Wales’s Stakes on Wednesday. The six-year-old won the G1 St James’s Palace Stakes in 2017 when trained by Richard Hannon, and when a brief career at stud was curtailed In 2018, he was gelded and sent back into training with Appleby last year.

“I feel confident he is back to his best, and as a past winner at the Royal meeting, he has a lot of class. He steps back up to a mile and a quarter after two wins in Dubai during winter, when he really strengthened as an individual,” Appleby said.

“I am confident about him over the distance. He was second in the G1 Eclipse and third in the G1 Juddmonte as a three-year-old. I think he will run a cracking race. This is well within his compass.”

Godolphin bids for sixth Gold Cup

The royal blue silks of Godolphin have been carried to five Gold Cup wins and there is optimism that a sixth is on the horizon.

Prior to the creation of Godolphin, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed had also won the Gold Cup in successive years with the Guy Harwood-trained Sadeem (1988-89).

This year, Charlie Appleby has entered the G1 Melbourne Cup winner Cross Counter and promising four-year-old stayer Moonlight Spirit.

“Cross Counter has already had an unusual season. We prepared him for the Dubai Gold Cup in March, only for the meeting to be called off because of the pandemic.

“His run when fifth in a handicap in Saudi in February was good as he was fresh and a bit keen early. He hasn’t had a race since.

“Last year, he had also only had one race before Ascot and he was able to run a very respectable fourth to Stradivarius and wasn’t beaten too far,” the trainer said.

Appleby also sends out Moonlight Spirit, who he regards as a promising staying talent for Godolphin. The four-year-old finished fourth in last year’s G2 Queen’s Vase and later in the campaign placed second behind subsequent G1 winner Technician at Longchamp.

“We have always regarded Moonlight Spirit as a prospective Cup horse. He has wintered well and is ready to go, though it is a challenge going straight into a Gold Cup. Having said that, he will not be out of place, and I think will run very well,” Appleby said.

‘Crusade’ to relish drop in trip

The G1 Commonwealth Cup, to be run on Friday, has been a widely welcomed addition to the Royal Ascot programme since its inauguration in 2015, and this year Appleby believes he has a most interesting contender, lightly-raced Royal Crusade.

The son of Shamardal has won one of his three races, all of which were over seven furlongs.

“I am looking forward to him dropping back in distance to six furlongs. He is a typical Shamardal in that he has got stronger and quicker as he has got older. This could be an ideal target for him as it is a stiff six furlongs at Ascot, and we know he gets seven. He has a big chance,” Appleby said.

Pinatubo backs up for re-match

Charlie Appleby reports that Pinatubo has pleased him at home since the colt’s first defeat in seven starts, in Newmarket’s G1 2000 Guineas on Saturday 6 June.

He finished third to Kineko and Wichita, beaten a neck and one length, in the first Classic of the season. He is now poised for a quick follow-up run in Saturday’s G1 St James’s Palace Stakes on the final day of the meeting.

With only two weeks between the Guineas and Ascot, it will take a special type to lift the coveted three-year-old contest this year.

“I am looking forward to the re-match with Wichita, who we respect,” Appleby said.

“I was disappointed Pinatubo lost his unbeaten status last time, but he finished a gallant third in a very strongly contested 2000 Guineas and that is to his credit.

“He showed his characteristic determination and proved beyond doubt that he has trained on from two to three. He adopted much the same running style as he did last year.

“We found he stepped up race by race as a two-year-old. He was progressing with more racing, and seeing that he has come out of the Guineas well, I expect him to have sharpened up even more this time.

“His key attributes are that he is relaxed and he has a good constitution. This mind-set and body-set will allow him to back up only 14 days after a Classic. In a normal year, there would be six weeks between the two races.

“He was ridden by Aaron Jones (his usual partner) in an easy gallop yesterday morning (Saturday 13 June) and he pleased us very much,” he added.

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