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Last Updated: 18/06/14 11:49am
Estimate is ready to defend her crown
Views from connections ahead of the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot on Thursday.
The sheer delight on the Queen's face when Estimate won the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot 12 months ago was an abiding memory of the racing year and the dream of a famous repeat lives on tomorrow.
The Sir Michael Stoute-trained mare galloped into history in the hands of Ryan Moore, becoming the first horse since the race was first staged over 200 years ago to win the two-and-a-half-mile feature in the colours of a reigning monarch.
She was unable to make a significant impact on her only subsequent start in 2013, finishing seventh in Ascot's Long Distance Cup on Champions Day in October, and has not been seen in competitive action since.
Connections freely admit Estimate's early-season preparation for the defence of her crown has not been ideal, although confidence appears to have grown in recent weeks and the five-year-old thrilled in her work on Saturday morning.
Her Majesty's racing manager John Warren said: "Estimate had a slow start in her preparation due to some tweaked muscles that prevented her from running in the Sagaro Stakes.
"It has been a little frustrating not to get a prep race into her, but she's trained by Sir Michael Stoute and if there is anyone who can get her there without the benefit of a prep race he's the man to do it.
"If she shows the same form as last year, and as she's a year older she might improve a pound or two, then she can be right up there. She has been working extremely well and Sir Michael is confident that he has got her ready for the challenge ahead."
"In my mind I've got her finishing third, there are two other very good horses in there, but if the ground keeps drying out - she likes top of the ground - and if it helps her maybe use her stamina better than the others, then things can happen.
"Sir Michael seems upbeat and confident that she can put up a bold show. If she shows the same form as last year, and as she's a year older she might improve a pound or two, then hopefully she can be right up there.
"She has been working extremely well and Sir Michael is confident that he has got her ready for the challenge ahead."
Warren insists the Queen will not head to Ascot expecting Estimate to win, having had plenty of experience of the highs and lows of racing.
"The Queen never expects anything, that's why she's so extraordinary. She's the best loser you could hope for, she's a realist. If you've owned horses for as long as she has, you've been through every hiccup," said Warren.
"She's most interested in the reasons, her pleasure is putting the jigsaw together. It's a jigsaw puzzle in her mind, and she's looking for the last piece to finish it.
"I remember speaking to her after Carlton House had won a Group Three at Sandown and she was much more interested in a race she had watched with one of her horses running somewhere else, like Pontefract.
"The horse had gone round the bend on the wrong leg and the jockey had the whip in the wrong hand. She was much more interested in that than winning a Group Three."
The horse most likely to upset the Royal celebrations is the Aidan O'Brien-trained Leading Light.
The four-year-old has won six times from just eight career starts, claiming the Queen's Vase at last year's Royal meeting before going on to clinch Classic glory in the St Leger at Doncaster.
He appeared better than ever when making a winning return in the Vintage Crop Stakes and is favourite to give O'Brien a sixth Gold Cup victory following extraordinary four-time winner Yeats and 2011 hero Fame And Glory.
The trainer's son Joseph will be on board and he told At The Races: "He's always finished out his races very well, he won over two miles at Ascot last year and didn't look to be stopping that day.
"He has a great attitude but he has plenty of pace too, he's won a Group Three over 10 furlongs and is out of a Queen Mary winner so pace isn't a problem for him.
"You'd have to imagine he does (have similar qualities to Yeats and Fame And Glory). He gets into a great rhythm and is very laid-back and has a great constitution and can quicken when you need him. He seems to have everything, he ticks all the boxes.
"He won his prep race well and you'd be hopeful he gets the trip, but you can't be confident of a horse getting two and a half miles until they do it. If he got the trip you'd imagine he'd have a massive chance."
A win for Mick Winters with Missunited would surely only be second in popularity to a win for Estimate, but the gallant former Galway Hurdle heroine faces a big step up in class.
"She's in great order. It was an ambition of the owners for her to run in this, so at least we've got her there," said the County Cork trainer.
"She's coming in off the back of a good win last time and will have improved a fraction for that, whether she's improved enough to get involved I don't know.
"She's probably at her peak for the year and if she finishes in the money I'd be delighted, we can't expect more than that.
"Aidan's is obviously a very serious horse and Brown Panther looked good at Sandown, but they all have to stay. She won over two and a half miles over hurdles as a young horse, I know it's completely different but at least she's won over the distance.
"Kevin Manning was very impressed with her last time, but he has to stay in Ireland to ride for Jim Bolger so the owners booked Jim Crowley. She's an easy ride."
"He's really well and seems to be well drawn, so we're really looking forward to it. He goes there in great form having won his two starts this year and the horses are running well. The ground is immaterial to him and he must go there with a live chance."
Andrew Balding's Havana Beat is another at a big price but the trainer feels he may outrun his odds.
"He wants fast ground and to be honest, I know he's a 50-1 shot, but he's a pretty high-class horse on his day," said Balding.
"He should have won the Bahrain Trophy last year and he was over the top and the ground was too slow for him in the St Leger. He's a very handy horse and should stay well."
Dermot Weld won with Rite Of Passage in 2010 and Pale Mimosa runs in the same colours.
"She's very well, I'm very pleased with her and she's a very good mare, but she'd never want the ground too firm," said Weld.
Leading Light, Missunited and Pale Mimosa are part of a formidable Irish challenge.
Champion jumps trainer Willie Mullins saddles last year's runner-up Simenon, who needs to bounce back from a disappointing start to the year, while Johnny Murtagh's Royal Diamond won the Long Distance Cup at Ascot last October.
Completing the team from the Emerald Isle are the John Oxx-trained Saddler's Rock and Pat Shanahan's talented stayer Ralston Road, with the latter lining up on the back of a dead-heat victory in the Grand Cup at York.
Brown Panther is a major contender for trainer Tom Dascombe.
The six-year-old tasted Royal Ascot glory in the King George V Stakes three years ago and returns in fantastic form having won the Ormonde Stakes at Chester and Sandown's Henry II Stakes already this year.
Dascombe said: "Everything is fine, he's really well and he's seems to be well drawn (stall four), so we're really looking forward to it. He goes there in great form having won his two starts this year and all the horses are running well at the moment.
"The ground is immaterial to him and he must go there with a live chance."
Andreas Wohler's German challenger Altano was beaten less than four lengths into fifth in last year's Gold Cup and warmed up for another tilt with a comprehensive victory at Hoppegarten last month.
Wohler said: "He travelled well, there were no problems and we are happy. He won his prep race under a big weight and he has come on well since then.
"Cut in the ground would be better for him, but I think the ground will be similar to last year, so hopefully he will be fine. I hope he can run a better race than last year."
Marco Botti's Tac De Boistron appears unlikely to run due to the drying conditions.
Godolphin's Ahzeemah, James Fanshawe's Shwaiman and Oriental Fox from Mark Johnston's yard complete the field.