NORTH Yorkshire trainer Mark Johnston, who has saddled an incredible 35 winners at Royal Ascot during his career, can add to his tally by taking today's opening honours.
Johnston saddles Mukhmal in the Norfolk Stakes and Paul Hanagan's mount is fancied to complete a hat-trick of wins after successes at Musselburgh and Chester.
The colt did particularly well to win at Chester as he was drawn wide in stall ten, which usually spells disaster over sprint distances. The fact that Mukhmal scored in such decisive style stamped him as a high-class juvenile.
This Group 2 race will take a good deal more winning, but Mukhmal has plenty going for him and is napped to provided Johnston with Royal Ascot winner number 36.
Hanagan has good prospects of enjoying a bumper afternoon. The former Malton jockey also has winning chances on Mutakkeyef and Zee Zeely, both trained by William Haggas
Mutakayyef runs in the Tercentenary Stakes over a mile and a quarter. He won a maiden at last time by seven lengths, which came on the back of some solid efforts in defeat on his three previous outings. The best of him is probably still to come and he deserves plenty of respect.
Zee Zely got off the mark at Newmarket six weeks ago over a mile and a quarter.
He stayed on strongly that day and looks as though the step up to a mile and a half in the King George V Handicap will suit him well. Haggas also saddles the in-form Wrangler in this competitive race, but Zee Zeely is not to be underestimated off a handy mark.
The £375,000 Gold Cup, the showpiece race of the entire meeting, has attracted a 15-strong field and the class horse in the line-up is surely Leading Light from the Aidan O'Brien camp.
He won last year's St Leger at Doncaster and has all the right credentials to develop into a top-notch Cup horse. He won the Vintage Crop Stakes at Navan on his reappearance and promises to be hard to beat in this marathon contest over two and a half miles.
In the Ribblesdale Stakes, all eyes will be on Inchila, who suffered a nightmare run before finishing fourth in the Oaks. If she can reproduce that performance, she will be hard to beat, but that Classic effort was less than a fortnight ago, and it may be best to look elsewhere. Bright Approach will do for me. She was an impressive winner of her maiden at Newbury and was far from disgraced when fourth in the Cheshire Oaks when looking ill-at-ease on the course. This step up in trip looks sure to be to her benefit.
Closer to home at Ripon, the in-form Paul Midgley has good prospects with Adam's Ale in the North Ormesby WMC Tony Bennett Memorial Handicap. The five-year-old has run some fine races in defeat this season and is overdue a winning turn.
In the Beaumont Robinson Ladies' Derby Handicap, Merchant Of Medici has plenty going for him.
Micky Hammond's gelding has amassed a series of placed efforts and failed by only a whisker at Haydock last week. He can go well with Alice Mills in the saddle and provide Hammond with a follow-up after winning the same race 12 months ago with Pertius.
Royal Ascot today
2.30 Mukhmal (NAP), 3.05 Mutakeyyef, 3.45 Inchila, 4.25 Leading Light, 5.00 Hors de Combat, 5.35 Zee Zeely.
2.10 Grand Beauty, 2.45 Inxile, 3.20 Full Day, 4.00 Bartack, 4.35 Merchant Of Medici, 5.10 Adam's Ale, 5.45 Al Muheer.
Today’s other meetings
Southwell, Ffos Las, Leicester and Lingfield.
Ascot, Goodwood, Market Rasen, Newmarket and Redcar.