ASCOT, United Kingdom (AFP) – Royal Ascot will get underway on Tuesday with one of its most familiar figures missing after the passing away of legendary trainer Henry Cecil last week.
Cecil, who holds the record for Royal Ascot winners with 75 beginning with Parthenon in 1970, died last Tuesday after a long and courageous battle with cancer aged 70, but in spite of his illness he had dominated the last two renewals thanks to the exploits of his wonder horse Frankel.
Frankel will not be present either, having retired to stud after bowing out with his 14th victory in 14 starts in the Champion Stakes on Champions Day at Ascot last October, but Cecil's widow Jane, who has been given his training licence will have several runners during the week.
Emotions will overflow should Cecil's Joyeuse, a half-sister to Frankel, win the Albany Stakes on Friday.
The meeting will open on Tuesday with a minute's silence in tribute to Cecil while on Friday a race has been named in his honour, 'The Queen's Vase in Memory of Sir Henry Cecil', and jockeys riding in the race will wear black armbands and his widow will accompany Queen Elizabeth II for the post-race presentation ceremony.
Cecil's death leaves Michael Stoute as the leading trainer at the meeting with 65 winners and the Barbados-born handler will have upwards of 12 runners.
However, he will face opposition from all round the globe as horses from Australia, South Africa and the US will seek to record a win at British flat racing's most competitive meeting where record prize-money of ??5 million ($7.9million US) is up for grabs over five days.
The visitors from distant shores have excellent prospects. Animal Kingdom, trained in the US by Graham Motion, is strongly fancied to open the visitors' account in the meeting's opening race, the Queen Anne Stakes.
And in the following race, Shea Shea, trained by South African champion Mike de Kock, has a favourite's chance in the King's Stand Stakes.
Animal Kingdom is an odds-on chance to supplement impressive laurels he gained in winning the 2011 Kentucky Derby and the world's richest race, the Dubai World Cup, on March 30. It will be the five-year-old's last run before he takes up stallion duties in Australia.
Shea Shea, too, was a winner on Dubai World Cup night in the Al Quoz Sprint.
Victory would entitle him to consideration as the world's best sprinter.
In keeping with Ascot's international theme, crack Belgian-born France-based jockey Christophe Soumillon takes the ride.
The sterling achievements of Animal Kingdom and Shea Shea are such that they overshadow Australia's claims on the meeting's two big sprints.
Nevertheless, both Shamexpress (King's Stand Stakes) and Sea Siren (Jubilee Stakes on Saturday) have prospects of adding to Australia's five previous triumphs at the meeting.
Opening day also features an enticing clash between a pair of Irish-trained colts, Dawn Approach and Magician, winners respectively of the English 2,000 Guineas and the Irish equivalent.
Dawn Approach bids to atone for a heavy defeat in the Derby two weeks ago, when he railed against restraint from the saddle before finishing last as the 5/4 favourite.
As she has done every year since 1953, the Queen will be present. She will attend on all five days and is likely to have four runners.
Much the most anticipated is Estimate's bid to win the meeting's showcase race, the Ascot Gold Cup on Thursday. Britain's reigning monarch has savoured 21 winners but has never won the Gold Cup, for which Estimate has been installed as favourite by local bookmakers.