Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby is hopeful Highland Avenue can prove to be a "big player in the big leagues" when he competes in the Group 1 St James’s Palace Stakes on Day-1 of the Royal Ascot festival on Tuesday.
Highland Avenue's three-race winning streak came to an end in the Listed Heron Stakes at Sandown Park in May on soft going, but his handler is confident he can bounce back on the quicker ground at Ascot.
“We have been pleased with Highland Avenue going into this race,” Appleby told the Godolphin website. “The wide draw is a slight disadvantage on the round course at Ascot but his homework has gone well.
“He learned plenty at Sandown and came forward again for that run, while ground conditions will suit him better this time. We are hoping that he can be a big player as he steps up to the big league.”
William Buick, who tops the jockeys chart in the British season with 16 winners, retains the ride on Highland Avenue.
Godolphin and Appleby's other entry in the race, La Barrosa, returns after his sixth-place finish in the Group 1 Irish 2000 Guineas on May 22.
“La Barrosa travelled well in the Irish 2000 Guineas but couldn’t pick up on the ground,” Appleby said. “Returning to a faster surface is definitely going to suit and, if he can reproduce his second in the Craven Stakes, it will make him a contender.”
Among the other St James’s Palace Stakes contenders, Poetic Flare won the English 2000 Guineas in May and has since finished sixth and second in the French and Irish equivalents, respectively.
Poetic Flare is returning for his fourth Group 1 race in 45 days.
“It's been an extraordinary season, with just one real hiccup [at Longchamp] and another that was self-inflicted at the Curragh,” trainer Jim Bolger said.
“Nothing went right in the race at Longchamp and we've drawn a line through it. He came back very quickly to finish second at the Curragh, so he’s very, very hardy – you couldn't do that with every horse.”
John Gosden’s rising star Mostahdaf, and Aidan O'Brien’s pair Battleground and Wembley will also take their place in the starting gates.
The opening day’s seven-race card begins with the Queen Anne Stakes, in which Palace Pier, in the silks of Dubai Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, is the favourite.
Palace Pier, another Gosden runner with Frankie Dettori in the saddle, has established himself as one of the world's elite milers and is officially the highest-rated runner on the card with a mark of 125.
He has won seven of his eight starts, including three Group 1 prizes, and is set to face off against O’Brien’s Breeders’ Cup Mile hero Order Of Australia.
Shadwell’s sprint star Battaash returns for his title defence of King's Stand Stakes in the third race of the day in a hotly contested 16-runner field.
Battaash is making a belated first start of the season after suffering an injury during the winter, but he has been successful first time out in all five previous campaigns.
The Charlie Hills-trained horse took the prize in grand style 12 months ago having finished runner-up in 2018 and 2019.