Royal Ascot Gold Cup: Order of St George vs Sheikhzayedroad
Last year's winner is the clear favourite, but his 'Jekyll and Hyde' character could give others a chance
Aidan O'Brien bounced back from his opening day disappointment on Wednesday as Highland Reel roared to victory in the Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot - and the Irish trainer is well placed to register another big win on Ladies Day today.
Victory took Highland Reel's career winnings to almost £6m, but the horse everyone will be talking about this afternoon will be Order of St George, who is to win the Gold Cup, the biggest race of the royal meeting, for the second year running.
Despite the two-and-a-half-mile race being far less than the Prince of Wales's Stakes, it is Britain's most prestigious long-distance flat race.
"No race quite encapsulates the Royal meeting as much as the Gold Cup," says Marcus Armytage of the Daily Telegraph.
It's fortunes have ebbed and flowed, "but on the back of Yeats' record four successes between 2006 and 2009, nothing has contributed to its current popularity quite like Estimate's victory for the Queen in 2013 when, as the filly crossed the line, the sport's most famous patron and racecourse owner briefly let her guard down in a spontaneous eruption of joy".
Order of St George looked "invincible" last year and so it proved. Most tipsters agree he is once again the horse to beat today.
"Now that Highland Reel has calmed any nerves about Aidan O’Brien’s recent form, Order Of St George will be a warm order to repeat his Gold Cup success of last year," says Chris Cook of The Guardian.
He will be "tough to beat", agrees Rob Wright of The Times, while Newsboy of the Daily Mirror says: "The vibes from Ballydoyle are that Order Of St George is peaking at the right time, and he's hard to oppose in his quest to give O'Brien a record eight Gold Cup success."
However, his form over the past year suggests "there is a bit of the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde about him", says Armytage of the Telegraph.
He picks Big Orange as a strong contender, as well as fourth favourite Sheikhzayedroad as one to watch.
Cook at the Guardian also likes the numbers on Sheikhzayedroad, who has got the better of last year's winner before and is "available at double-figure odds to beat the favourite again".
Newsboy also recommends the David Simcock-trained gelding as an each-way bet.
Godolphin on top at Royal Ascot, but who to back on day two?
Royal Ascot's opening day was a triumphant one for Sheikh Mohammed, whose Godolphin stables "sandbagged" Aidan O'Brien's runners, says The Guardian.
Godolphin clinched both grade one races, with Ribchester winning the Queen Anne Stakes and then Barney Roy beating the red-hot favourite Churchill in the St James’s Palace Stakes.
For a few hours at least, the Sheikh was able to forget "the troubles of the world", says Mark Souster of The Times.
"The stand-off with Qatar in the Middle East may be uppermost in his mind together with the issues surrounding his global Godolphin racing operation, but victory… provided occasion for quiet celebration."
The two stables go head to head again on Wednesday, after the Queen hotfoots it from Westminster for the second day of the festival.
There is a single grade one race on Wednesday - the Prince of Wales's Stakes - but once again it is an O'Brien-trained horse, Highland Reel, leading the betting, with Godolphin's Jack Hobbs installed as second favourite.
Highland Reel should "kill off " any "chatter" about the Irish stable, says Chris Cook of the Guardian. "He looked as good as ever in landing the Coronation Cup a fortnight ago, taking his prize money haul past £5.5m. Godolphin’s Jack Hobbs is not as likely to relish this dry surface."
However, there are other options for the feature race. Marlborough of the Daily Telegraph backs Ulysses, the third favourite and one of two runners trained by Sir Michael Stoute.
He also gets the backing of Betfair, which says he has looked "far more the finished article" in recent outings.
Rob Wright of the Times, however, is won over by the royal connections and fancies Queen’s Trust.
"A strongly run race over a mile and a quarter on fast ground are her optimum conditions and she looks to have been underestimated by the bookmakers on the back of one below-par run. She is well worth backing at the 12-1 generally on offer," he says.