FOR the second year in succession, there is no Irish-trained runner in today’s Group 1 Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes (3.35), though the prize may still be heading overseas through the presence of one of Europe’s best milers.

We haven’t got to see French ace Big Rock since his stunning display in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot last October, punishing his rivals from the front in a six-length rout.

There was certainly substance to that form too. Runner-up, Facteur Cheval, won the Group 1 Dubai Turf on Dubai World Cup night at Meydan on his next start, while third-placed Tahiyra was Europe’s champion three-year-old filly of 2023.

Ground conditions were soft and demanding on that occasion - as can often be the case on British Champions Day - and Big Rock will have to cope with quicker ground today at Newbury.

The latest going update yesterday morning found the ground to be good, good to soft in places with the forecast sunny (maximum of 19C) with a risk of showers this morning totalling 2mm to 5mm.

Stable switch

Another different dynamic for the Rock Of Gibraltar four-year-old is that he has only recently been moved from the high-profile stable of Christopher Head to the lesser-known Chantilly yard of Maurizio Guarnieri. Regular rider Aurelien Lemaitre keeps the ride.

“He is a magnificent horse and I am getting to know him,” said Guarnieri.

“He is not demonstrative in his work but he has done everything I have asked of him so far, though no more. All his fast work is now done and it is a real help to have Aurelien ride him in his important gallops.

“He’s a big horse and I expect him to improve for racecourse competition but Aurelian has reassured me that he is working normally.”

Big Rock certainly isn’t the only internationally recognised name in Britain’s first Group 1 of the season for older horses. Cheveley Park Stud have been extremely sporting to continue racing Inspiral at the age of five, and the John and Thady Gosden-trained mare makes her seasonal reappearance over the Newbury mile.

Previous clash

She has some history with Big Rock, having beaten him by a length and a quarter in last year’s Prix Jacques le Marois on what was described as good to soft ground. That was the first of three top-level races she captured at the end of last season, adding the Sun Chariot Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf to her haul before the year was out.

With regular rider Frankie Dettori plying his trade in America, this will be the first time that the daughter of Frankel is ridden by Kieran Shoemark. Inspiral’s record when fresh in the last two seasons features a four-and-three-quarter-length rout in the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot, and a neck defeat to Triple Time in the Queen Anne Stakes at the same meeting. This is the earliest she has ever reappeared in a campaign.

In total, 11 go to post for the £400,000 prize, including the Roger Varian-trained Charyn, who has looked better than ever at the start of this season with ready wins in the Listed Doncaster Mile and Group 2 Bet365 Mile the last twice. Heading into today’s contest, Inspiral is a top-priced 3/1 favourite for the Queen Anne, while Big Rock is as big as 9/2.