THE North’s challenge at Royal Ascot this year is epitomised by connections of the rapidly improving Mecca’s Angel who hope it springs a surprise in the King’s Stand Stakes and deny speedster Sole Power a historic third successive victory in this five-furlong championship race.
Unlike National Hunt horses that have struggled to hold their own at the major festivals, Flat trainers from these parts are now heading to the famous Berkshire track in the expectation that they can – and will – beat the very best thoroughbreds in the world.
Just four years of age, Mecca’s Angel has won seven of her 12 starts and has been described by her big race jockey, Boroughbridge-based Paul Mulrennan, as “the fastest horse” that he has ridden.
“She has been absolutely flying at home and, providing the ground is not rattling fast, she will take all the beating,” he added.
Such enthusiasm is infectious. Darlington-based trainer Michael Dods could not have been happier with his stable star’s comeback win in the Group Three Prix de Saint-Georges at Longchamp last month which confirmed the class that the filly showed when winning the Scarbrough Stakes at Doncaster’s St Leger meeting in September 2014.
“Mecca’s Angel is a very straightforward filly who did it very well in France last time when she quickened again off a strong pace and was quite impressive,” he said. “This will be her sternest test yet, but I believe she has come on for that last run and deserves to take her chance.
“She has won on an uphill track before and she will probably jump and sit, but she could lead if she has to lead. She is a better filly on genuinely good or good to soft ground so I hope they put plenty of water on – I will walk it on Tuesday morning just to check it’s all right.
“Winning any race is a great feeling and makes all the hard work worthwhile, but a race like the King’s Stand is what we are aiming at as we want to compete with the best and show it is possible to train good horses up here in the North.
“If we were to win it would mean a hell of a lot to the whole operation – to my staff, to Paul and to the owners. Royal Ascot only happens once a year so you have to enjoy it, it’s a massive occasion.”
A strong Yorkshire contingent is represented in this race by the David Griffiths-trained Take Cover, Kevin Ryan’s Hot Streak and the David Barron pair of Pearl Secret and Robot Boy while Muthmir – no stranger to the winner’s enclosure at York and Doncaster – is quietly fancied by Skipton-born William Haggas.
On a compelling afternoon’s racing, Middleham trainer Mark Johnston is triple-handed with Buratino, Beaverbrook and Ode To Evening in the six-furlong Coventry Stakes for two-year-old sprinters.
John Quinn’s The Wow Signal won the corresponding contest 12 months ago and Buratino could be the pick of the Johnston runners after a classy win at Epsom earlier this month under William Buick. Irish raider Round Two is the one to beat.
Meanwhile all eyes will be on Aidan O’Brien’s Gleneagles in the St James’s Palace Stakes that will help to determine the best three-year-old miler in Europe.
Although Gleneagles has won both the English and Irish 2000 Guineas with consummate ease, the Ballydoyle stable has not been firing on all cylinders this year and victory is no formality.
However, O Brien, who is chasing a record-breaking seventh success in the race but his first since 2009, feels his latest stable star is in good order as he faces five rivals in his quest to complete a hat-trick of victories at the top level this year.
O’Brien said: “We’re happy with him. Hopefully we’ll get good fast ground at Ascot. Joseph (O’Brien) rides him every day and seems very happy with him.”
The sternest opposition for Gleneagles looks set to come from the Andre Fabre-trained French 2000 Guineas winner Make Believe, who was supplemented at a cost of £35,000.
Although tasting defeat, and losing his unbeaten status, when finishing second in the Prix Djebel at Maisons-Laffitte, the son of Makfi bounced back when making all to defeat subsequent French Derby hero New Bay in the French Classic at Longchamp last month.