Highfield Princess will lead the home defence as an international cast of sprinting talent head to post for an ultra-competitive King’s Stand Stakes on Tuesday.
John Quinn’s stable star has been a revelation over the past 18 months and has gone from competing in handicap company to being one of the best sprinters in the country, plundering a hat-trick of Group One prizes in the process.
She found the scoresheet five times in all during 2022 and having made a more than respectable return when second over six furlongs at York last month, now drops back to the minimum distance for her crack at further big-race glory.
“She’s been absolutely fine since York and we’re looking forward to the race, it’s a spicy race,” said Quinn.
“She’s been a great mare and a fine animal to have around the place. We hope she’s lucky and she seems fine. Let’s hope she wins and we hope she runs well, but she seems in good form.”
Although only sixth in the Platinum Jubilee 12 months ago, Highfield Princess has got a Royal Ascot victory on her CV, winning the Buckingham Palace Stakes in 2021.
However, that was in handicap company and the six-year-old now finds herself the market leader for one of the most prestigious events of the week.
“Not really no, none of us thought that to be honest. But that’s what can happen thankfully,” continued Quinn when asked if he ever envisaged her starting favourite for a Group One at the meeting.
“She’s probably the best older sprinter that we’ve trained. We’ve had some very good sprinters and The Wow Signal was a top-class two-year-old, but what she did last year was phenomenal. Those good horses are hard to find and I appreciate every one of them.”
Frankie Dettori will look to win the King’s Stand for the first time since 1994 when he partners John Ryan’s dual track-and-trip victor Manaccan, with the four-year-old kept fresh since finishing third in Newmarket’s Palace House Stakes last month.
“It’s a big ask taking on the best but as long as the ground stays as it is, he has every chance of mixing it with them,” said Ryan ahead of the Qipco British Champions Series contest.
“He’s still going up the ladder, has a high cruising speed, quickens, has run three of his best races at Ascot and, touch wood, we’ve got the right man on board.
“I’ve been lucky enough to have a couple of Group Two and Three wins but haven’t troubled the judge in a Group One yet.”
Henry Candy’s Twilight Calls was a silver medallist behind Nature Strip in this last year and connections hope two tune-up outings at Newmarket and Haydock will have the five-year-old fully primed for a return to Ascot.
“He needs fast ground and hated it when he ran at Newmarket, he was unbalanced and had been off a long time so needed the run,” said Chris Richardson, managing director of owners Cheveley Park Stud.
“He had a bit of a mucky scope after that which we thought he had got over by the time he got to Haydock, but clearly he hadn’t.
“Both races should set him up for an opportunity to run well at a track he enjoys and we are delighted to have Ryan Moore on board.”
Also shaping nicely in this race 12 months ago was Mooneista and new handler Joseph O’Brien is hopeful she can at least match last year’s fourth place following a pleasing run at Naas recently.
He said: “We think she’s in good nick since Naas. A reproduction of her run last year will see her in the mix.
“I was happy with her in Naas, she didn’t have a perfect preparation for that but I think we’re going to Ascot in good shape.”
Karl Burke is responsible for two, with Temple Stakes winner Dramatised bidding for successive Royal Ascot victories following her Queen Mary victory last year and Marshman, who represents the Nick Bradley Racing syndicate that have enjoyed success at this meeting in the past.
The latter has escaped a last-minute scare to make the final field, with Bradley explaining: “He was lame last Tuesday and we were panicking a bit. We got the X-ray machine out and he had a little foot issue. That had sorted itself by Thursday and he breezed on Saturday and he breezed very nicely.
“I think if there is any rain that falls that will be in his favour. Every time he runs on rattling fast ground he comes back a bit sore.
“I think he’s definitely overpriced and I think if we deliver him right, we will have a chance. I think there will be a point where we will look like we’re going to win, whether we do or not I don’t know. It just comes right to getting it right on the day in a hot race.”