While most of the attention "across the pond" in America is focused on Miss Temple City's appearance in the Queen Anne Stakes (G1), the June 20 Royal Ascot opening day feature for most locals will be the St. James's Palace Stakes (G1) rematch between Churchill and Barney Roy.
There's other American interest on the day, with American Patriot also in the Queen Anne and Lady Aurelia returning to the scene of her first group 1 win to contest the King's Stand Stakes (G1), and those who backed Thunder Snow for his Louisville debacle on the first Saturday in May will get another look in the aforementioned St. James's Palace.
In short, Royal Ascot will get off to a flying start.
The St. James's Palace, restricted to 3-year-olds, has a rich history and its winners include many immortals—like Brigadier Gerard, Posse, Kingmambo, Giant's Causeway , Rock of Gibraltar, and Frankel. This time around, it provides a fascinating rematch between Churchill and the colts who ran second to him in the English and Irish Two Thousand Guineas.
Churchill, a Galileo colt out of the Storm Cat mare Meow, is riding a seven-race win streak that includes victories over Barney Roy in the QIPCO Two Thousand Guineas Stakes (G1) at Newmarket and Thunder Snow in the Tattersalls Irish Two Thousand Guineas (G1) at The Curragh.
Trained by Aidan O'Brien for Coolmore connections and ridden by Ryan Moore, Churchill is proven at the one-mile distance of the St. James's Palace and over ground ranging from yielding to good-to-firm.
Barney Roy and Thunder Snow will carry the Godolphin blue in pursuit of Churchill.
Barney Roy will seek his third win in his fourth start with James Doyle aboard. The Richard Hannon trainee is an Excelebration colt out of the Galileo mare Alina. He won a maiden event and a group 3 at Newbury before his first tilt against the Irish star.
Thunder Snow, by the Australian-bred sire Helmet, finished a clear second to Churchill at The Curragh, never a serious threat. His two best efforts came on the Meydan dirt track in Dubai, including a victory over Japanese runner Epicharis in the UAE Derby Sponsored By The Saeed & Mohammed Al Naboodah Group (G2). Christophe Soumillon retains the mount Tuesday.
The O'Brien star factory at Ballydoyle will also send out Lancaster Bomber and Peace Envoy for the St. James's Palace, but both are reckoned by the British bookmakers as serious outsiders for the win.
The King's Stand Stakes is the first of two bookend group 1 sprints and the Royal Ascot meeting. Tuesday's sprint is at five furlongs, while the Diamond Jubilee Stakes on closing day is a furlong longer.
Lady Aurelia, a 3-year-old Scat Daddy filly, is one of the crowning achievements of trainer Wesley Ward's prolonged siege of Royal Ascot. A year ago, off a single run at Keeneland, she scored a seven-length victory in the Queen Mary Stakes (G2) and then went on to win the Darley Prix Morny (G1) at Deauville in August.
She came in third behind two Coolmore rivals in her final start of the year, the Connolly's Red Mills Cheveley Park Stakes (G1) at Newmarket.
Ward gave her a similar prep this year—a winning 5 1/2-furlong sprint over the Keeneland turf April 15. John Velazquez was up for that ride, but Frankie Dettori will return to the pilot's seat Tuesday.
The biggest threat in the King's Stand would seem to be another filly. Marsha, a 4-year-old daughter of Acclamation, will make her Ascot debut for trainer Sir Mark Prescott and owner The Elite Racing Club after a group 3 win at Newmarket in May.
Marsha capped her 3-year-old season with an upset win in the Qatar Prix de le'Abbaye de Longchamp (G1) in October, when she defeated Washington DC and Mecca's Angel. A repeat of that performance would put her in the frame again.
The King's Stand is the fifth race in the Global Sprint Challenge, which offers a $1 million bonus to a horse who wins three of its 10 legs in three different jurisdictions. None of the previous four winners are involved in the King's Stand or in the Diamond Jubilee, which is the sixth race in the series that moves on to Newmarket in July, Japan in October, Australia in November, and Hong Kong in December.
Sandwiched between the Queen Anne and the King's Stand is the six-furlong Coventry Stakes (G2) for 2-year-olds. The Coventry features another Ward trainee, Arawak. The Uncle Mo colt arrived in England after he won his debut by seven lengths at Belmont Park. That race, however, came off the turf to a muddy main track and Arawak faced only three rivals after a quartet of scratches.
Opening day isn't done until after the 2 1/2-mile Ascot Stakes and the Windsor Castle Stakes, a listed race for 2-year-olds at five furlongs.
Ward has two in that final race of the day—Nootka Sound, a Lonhro filly who won at first asking at Keeneland, and Elizabeth Darcy, a daughter of Camacho who won her only previous start, when she defeated a pair of rivals at Indiana Grand, another off-the-turf affair. Despite that limited experience, they are among the favorites for the Windsor Castle, along with Godolphin's Roussel and Coolmore's Declaration of Peace, a half brother to U.S. champion Honor Code .
Ward's experience at Royal Ascot dates back to 2009 and he is an American pioneer at the meeting.
"I live for Royal Ascot," he said at a media gathering June 15.