OTB Sport's resident racing expert Thom Malone doesn't think the Royal meeting at Ascot will lose its lustre this year, despite the meeting taking place behind closed doors.
The new-look day one opens with two group one races, the Queen Anne Stakes and the King's Stand, and Thom joined Nathan Murphy and Eoin Sheahan to mark their cards for this afternoon.
"For me, the opening day of Royal Ascot is right up there with the Tuesday of Cheltenham," Malone said when asked how Royal Ascot compares with jump racing's elite meeting, the Cheltenham festival. "You've got the Queen Anne and the Coventry and normally have the St James' Palace stakes as well as the King's Stand which is the big sprint.
"It's a phenomenal racetrack, even just in terms of size and scope, but the royal meeting is on a different level. They still call it the royal meeting even though there won't be any royals in attendance. There won't be the big parade beforehand and coverage about who gets to sit beside who at the front of the carriage or any of that.
"Obviously the racing season is completely different this year, we've had no racing for eight or nine weeks and then it's returned behind closed doors for the last couple of weeks in the UK. We haven't had the usual run in preparation period so there's a lot less form to go on."
Thom thinks Fox Chairman can benefit from a drop back in distance in the Queen Anne while he's expecting Equilateral to have a strong showing in the King's Stand.
Group One Queen Anne Stakes (1.50pm):
"Circus Maximus is the favourite here for Aidan O'Brien, it's his first time out which is a slight negative but he has won twice previously at that trip.
"If you're looking for a horse at a slight value price, that's Fox Chairman, but if you're going in hard on the first day of Royal Ascot then you must know something that's not written on the page from a betting point of view.
"I think I might side with Fox Chairman but I wouldn't be surprised if Circus Maximum wins. Aidan O'Brien has had his horses pretty straight for the start of the season, normally it'd be the middle of the season and they'd be flying.
"A little birdie told me a few weeks ago that the horses at Ballydoyle were very working very hard and fit and ready to go within ten days when there was still around 20 days to go before the resumption of the season. Circus Maximus has every chance but just with the price I'm going with Fox Chairman."
The Godolphin horse Terebellum is in a run of really good form, Frankie Dettori is on board for John Gosden. She's a filly by Sea The Stars, obviously won last time out at Deauxville, I wouldn't put you off her but I just think she might be a little bit vulnerable against the colts. Paddy Power have her favourite, just ahead of Circus Maximus so plenty of people are following her being tipped up in the Telegraph today.
Group One King's Stand Stakes (1535):
"Battaash is the fastest horse in Britain, there's no doubt about that, however, three runs in the King's Stand and he's never won it. He's a freak of a horse and phenomenally fast. There's a slight question mark in that he doesn't seem to like Ascot, he's gone to the track three times and he's lost all three.
"Calling Royal Ascot the flat Cheltenham is a really strong analogy, it's a really stiff track. The question mark for me on Battaash over the five furlongs is that it's a stiff five furlongs and he would prefer a flat, fast track like York where he's won before. That's to his benefit while the hill at Royal Ascot puts a little bit more of a premium on stamina.
"Would you really be telling someone to get stuck into a horse at odds-on who has never won at the track before? That's a negative for me. It's kind of a no bet race but if I was choose a horse with a bit of value I'd go for Equilateral who is a 12-1 shot. He looks nice, a hardy sprinter. He was gelded over the winter and he's always had lots and lots of speed, I just think Equilateral will run into a place and if Battaash doesn't fire, which he hasn't done in the last two renewals, then maybe Equilateral could pick up the pieces in what's likely to be a hotly contested race."