Ribchester, Churchill and Lady Aurelia, representing England, Ireland and the USA are the three biggest equine stars on Tuesday's opening day of Royal Ascot - the race meeting that really defines British horseracing.
This super trio compete in the three G1s on the six-race simulcast programme that also includes a couple of classy two-year-old races and an always-intriguing handicap over a marathon trip.
The opener is the Queen Anne Stakes over Ascot's straight 1600m where Ribchester will seek to enhance his status as one of the world's top milers following his gate-to-wire demolition of smart rivals in last month's G1 Lockinge Stakes at Newbury, also over 1600m in a straight line.
Some experts dispute whether Godolphin's Ribchester will be as superior on the anticipated much quicker ground at Ascot but not Richard Fahey: “He will go on any ground - that's the beauty of him. He's the top-rated horse in the race (122) and there will be no excuses,” says the hugely- successful trainer of William Buick's mount.
Probably Ribchester's most talked-about rival is - on paper- one of the least likely to dethrone him, and that is the former Italian-trained Kaspersky. All the fuss concerns the fact that Michelle Payne - who fast gathered momentum as an inspirational figure after becoming the first woman to ride a Melbourne Cup winner in 2015 - crosses the world for this ride.
That Flemington bombshell win yet again proved that shock results do happen in this game and six-year-old Kaspersky certainly knows where the winning post is having won 12 of his 21 starts. And 31-year-old Payne is not dismissing his chance: “The plan all along with this horse has been to have fun and enjoy the experience but he's had a really good preparation.”
Arguably, Churchill ticks even more boxes than Ribchester. He is the winner of his last seven starts, continuing to dominate his three-year-old age group as he did the juvenile scene last year, and now looking to add the G1 St James's Palace Stakes to this season’s conquests of the English and Irish 2000 Guineas.
Churchill’s trainer Aidan O’Brien has won this championship event seven times since 2000 and favourites – as Churchill will certainly be – also have an outstanding St James’s Palace record over the round 1600m. The son of Galileo's racecourse triumphs are beginning to look relentless even if the winning style of Ryan Moore's regular mount does not always take the breath away.
Lady Aurelia did take the breath away when she wiped out her opposition from the start in last year's Queen Mary Stakes here at Royal Ascot. Another G1 followed at Deauville and a brilliant return at Keeneland in April indicated that US trainer Wesley Ward may again pickpocket the Brits with his American speedball, this time in the G1 King's Stand Stakes.
Ward – who is bringing his strongest ever raiding party to Royal Ascot – said of this
filly: “We gave her plenty of time to recover after her one bad run when she bled at Newmarket. She was really explosive on her comeback at Keeneland and since then her work has got better and better.”
Ward, a former champion apprentice rider, doesn’t do pessimism but his optimism is frequently rewarded and it is hard not to be swept up in his fervour regarding Frankie Dettori's intended mount for this 1000m charge: “I'm really, really excited. Really, really confident,” enthused Ward of Lady Aurelia.