Horse Racing
Lady Aurelia and Battaash face off in Tuesday’s King’s Stand Stakes speed clash

15/06/2018 17:40

Two star speedsters take each other on in a cracking first day at Royal Ascot on Tuesday, 19 June when Lady Aurelia and Battaash will launch themselves at glory in the Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes over 1000 metres.

American trainer Wesley Ward has imprinted his name on the Royal meeting by winning an amazing nine races since 2009. Lady Aurelia, physically impressive and invariably fast from the stalls, won the G2 Queen Mary Stakes at the course and distance as a two-year-old in 2016 then returned to waltz home in the King’s Stand Stakes last year. Now she bids to repeat the latter feat.

The filly was defeated in two subsequent runs last term, as well as when second at odds-on for her reappearance this year at Keeneland. Those reversals might raise doubts but Ward is happy with his star four-year-old’s condition.

“She is older now and may have needed the race but is in as good condition as she was last year,” he said. “At Keeneland she was keener than normal but has really benefited from the race and her work since has been as good, if not better, than ever.”

When Lady Aurelia and Battaash met in last year’s G1 Nunthorpe Stakes (1000m) at York they set a strong pace that played into the hands of the closer, Marsha, who beat Lady Aurelia by a nose. Battaash, who boiled over before the race, finished fourth.

That was the only blot on an otherwise perfect season for Battaash, who slammed Marsha by four lengths when a sensational winner of the G1 Prix de l’Abbaye (1000m)  to close out his campaign. Trainer Charlie Hills’ champion won the G2 Temple Stakes (1000m) on his reappearance at Haydock last month, with several of Tuesday’s rivals behind him.

“They went too quick at York last year. I am conscious of that and we’ll try to avoid getting into a speed duel with Lady Aurelia,” Hills said. “I’m happy with Battaash. His work is good, his weight is good and the ground should be fine for him. Ascot is a stiff track but he’s won twice at Sandown, which is similar, so that should be fine, too.”

Michael Dods, the trainer of Mabs Cross, who finished a close fourth in the Temple Stakes, will be hoping that the two favourites take each other on. Dods has brought his four-year-old filly along patiently and the winner of the G3 Palace House Stakes (1000m) at Newmarket last month is a live contender who will be closing at the finish.

“She’s improved with each run and is in great form,” said Dods, who trained the brilliant sprint mare Mecca’s Angel to win the Nunthorpe Stakes in consecutive years from his County Durham base in the northeast of England.

“Mabs Cross is taking on the best and might need a bit further but she deserves her chance. Ascot is a stiffer track than Haydock which will help but a bit of rain would help too, to steady up the speedsters.”

Earlier, in the opening G1 Queen Anne Stakes (1600m), Aidan O’Brien will attempt to win the race for the fourth time with an attack spearheaded by the only two fillies in the race, both flowers – Rhododendron and Hydrangea.

Rhododendron heads into the contest having won a G1 race in each of the past three years and put her rivals in their places in the G1 Lockinge Stakes at Newbury last month over the same trip.

Hydrangea has shown herself to be a tremendously versatile performer, winning G1 races over 1600m and 2400m, but jockey Ryan Moore has opted for Rhododendron.

 “She’s been a great filly at two, three and now four and has been unfortunate not to have won even more races. She is very adaptable with ground and distance and has a great attitude,” Moore said.