This year’s Group 1 curtain-raiser looks wide open so it’s no surprise that York based David O’Meara has elected to pitch his improving grey into the big time instead of committing him to shoulder a big weight in the Royal Hunt Cup.
The ex-French gelding has proven his liking for Ascot, having finished second in a 7f heritage handicap on his debut for O’Meara last year before nailing the Balmoral Handicap over 1m on Champions’ Day.
Though beaten on his re-appearance in the Lincoln, Lord Glitters found only subsequent Group winner Addeybb too good. He was giving the winner 8lb that day and arrives back at his favourite venue a fresh horse having been held up by a minor setback.
O’Meara tells me: “He’s in very good form. I’ve taken my time with him as he just had a slight niggle after Doncaster but he’s done some nice work in preparation for Ascot. It looks a very open race this year so we’re happy to let him take his chance.”
Richard Fahey boasts a strong team of juveniles and declared this fellow as “definitely on my A list” after seeing him demolish some good opposition in the Listed Woodcote Stakes at Epsom. It’s logical, therefore, that he’s taking his chance in the premium two-year-old event.
Cosmic Law shouldn’t mind the faster ground, having won on good to firm at Carlisle on his previous start, and is more experienced than the majority of his rivals. In fact, he bids to emulate 2015 winner Buratino, who also arrived at the Royal meeting on the back of a victory in the Woodcote.
The son of No Nay Never is bred to be a Royal Ascot winner. His father landed the Norfolk Stakes for Wesley Ward five year ago. Owner John Dance and his retained jockey PJ McDonald are on the crest of a wave, having won the French Oaks with Laurens on Sunday.
Michael Dods couldn’t have been happier with Mabs Cross after her fast-finishing fourth in the 5f Temple Stakes at Haydock Park last month. She out-ran her rating to get within three parts of a length of the speedy Battaash, giving the Darlington trainer genuine belief that she could spring an upset in this Group 1 feature.
“That performance convinced us that she’s ready for a step up to 6f and that’s what we’ll be doing in due course,” says Dods. “But I’m hopeful she will appreciate the stiffer five at Ascot in the meantime.
“It’s going to be tough to beat the likes of Battaash and Lady Aurelia on these terms but she’s done well since Haydock and I expect to see her coming home well off the sort of fast pace she needs,” he reasons.
Dods knows what it takes to win top grade sprints after handling Mecca’s Angel so skillfully a couple of years ago. His daughter of Dutch Art remains open to improvement and will be at home on the fast ground, so don’t be surprised to see her make a mockery of her double-figure odds (as big as 20-1 with some firms).
John Quinn’s rising dual-purpose star rewarded readers of this Blog with a 12-1 success in the Chester Cup consolation race last month and has been freshened up for this assignment.
A big galloper, the son of Derby winner Pour Moi promises to see out the longer trip after getting away from a similar field over the extended 2m2f around The Roodee and is entitled to be competitive off just a 4lb higher mark.
Look My Way – classy enough to be second to Apple’s Shakira in the Triumph Hurdle Trial at Cheltenham last winter before running creditably in the big race itself - is likely to be sent off at a similar price despite having some of his rivals (including Coeur De Lion) behind last time and offers compelling each-way value.
Karl Burke’s Leyburn team took a couple of months to find its stride but has hit top form at just the right time and there is no shortage of stable confidence behind this daughter of Garswood – himself an exciting juvenile.
What’s more, her dam Primo Lady won the Listed Marygate Stakes at York as a two-year-old and Little Kim showed the same sort of speed and precocity to make a winning debut at Carlisle earlier this month.
Bought for 45,000gns at the Book 2 sale at Tattersalls as a yearling, she has been the subject of a confident report from her in-form trainer. “She won her race quite effortlessly at Carlisle despite being green on her debut, but will have come on a lot for the experience so we go to Ascot expecting a big run,” says Burke.
Ben Curtis, who rides Little Kim, adds: “She goes to Ascot with speed to burn and the necessary gears. She was only 85 per cent fit at Carlisle but came to win her race easily before running green. The Queen Mary’s a bit of a lottery but she’s well worth her place.”
An improving young horse with a relatively low weight always makes plenty of appeal in the big handicaps and David Barron’s Kynren certainly fits that bill in Wednesday’s cavalry charge.
The four-year-old has posted two rock solid efforts in good handicaps since rattling up a hat-trick last year, emerging best of the runners on the stand’s side to finish third in Doncaster’s Spring Mile before looking slightly unfortunate in the Whitsun Cup at Sandown.
Well backed that day, Kynren began his challenge from further back than ideal but still got within a head of winner Chiefofchiefs over a similarly stiff mile. The 3lb rise he incurred for that ensured he made the cut for the Hunt Cup and a middle draw will give regular pilot Ben Curtis options.
It could be argued that the son of Clodovil would prefer a little more juice in the ground than is likely, but it’s worth remembering that he won on fast ground at Carlisle last summer.
Big race jockey Ben Curtis admits: “I probably gave him a bit too much to do at Sandown but he wasn’t well drawn. He’s a big horse and very uncomplicated so should handle the good-to-firm. I’m expecting a big run on Wednesday.”
Another Northern raider with strong each-way credentials is David O’Meara’s Firmament, who was doing all his best work at the finish in the Victoria Cup over 7f at Ascot last month (second in his group) and will appreciate the return to 1m. It’s interesting that stable jockey Danny Tudhope prefers him to Escobar who he partnered to a smart victory at Haydock last time.
Straight-talking Yorkshireman Tim Easterby isn’t one for lavishing praise too liberally but had a definite glint in his eye when assessing Vintage Brut in an interview with me last week.
He describes the son of Dick Turpin as one of the best two-year-olds he’s ever trained, and he’s certainly handled some good ones down the years. “He’s a proper racehorse. He’s very fast, but he also has a great attitude. The way he went through that narrow gap at Sandown shows that he has a will to win,” he enthused.
Vintage Brut made a relatively low key winning debut at Thirsk before being fast-tracked into Listed company in the National Stakes at Sandown, where he showed speed and tenacity in equal measure to thread the needle and beat some smart juveniles.
Easterby has often avoided the temptation to run his better two-year-olds at the Royal Meeting but the fact that Vintage Brut has been targeted at this Group 2 prize must be taken as a huge positive.
Such is the strength and depth in Mark Johnston’s juvenile ranks that anything he runs at the Royal Meeting must be treated with respect. In Main Edition, he enters the arena with a well bred, unbeaten filly who looks certain to make her mark in Pattern company.
The daughter of Zoffany is a half-sister to Group 2 winner Major Cadeaux and made a winning debut under Ryan Moore at Windsor before going on to supplement that performance in similarly cosy fashion at Goodwood.
This scopey filly gave weight and a comprehensive beating to colts on the Sussex Downs and has thrived for her racing, according to Mark’s son and assistant Charlie Johnston. “We have some very nice fillies and she has always looked a bit special, so The Albany is the obvious race for her.”
Mark Johnston also has outstanding claims with Mildenberger, who got the green light to take his chance in this race after Derby runner-up Dee Ex Bee was re-routed to the Irish Derby.
Mildenberger expectedly thrived for the step up in trip in the Listed Feilden Stakes at Newmarket in the Spring and built on that when chasing home Roaring Lion in the Dante at York last month. An additional quarter-mile will surely play to his strengths as Johnston bids for a repeat of his win in the race last year with the ill-fated Permian. “There was a time about six weeks ago that we thought Mildenberger was ahead of Dee Ex Bee. He’s a very good colt who is ready for this step up in trip,” adds the trainer’s son and assistant Charlie Johnston.
Former champion jockey Paul Hanagan is rightfully excited about partnering Richard Fahey’s colt in the big three-year-old Sprint. Hanagan insists: “I’ve been lucky enough to ride some very good horses throughout my career but this lad is right up there with the best of them.” Praise indeed!
Sands Of Mali showed his class when winning the Gimcrack at York last summer but has taken his form to a new level this year, firstly by winning a Group 3 in France and more recently when edging out Invincible Army in the Group 2 Sandy Lane Stakes at Haydock Park.
He will have to dig deeper still to win the Commonwealth, on probably the fastest ground he’s encountered domestically, but a top rating of 116 and the promise of more to come proves he’s the one the likes of Sioux Nation and Equilateral have to beat.
Richard Fahey’s representative brings strong credentials to this valuable handicap for a horse who is available at prices as tempting as 16-1. Mr Lupton couldn’t have enjoyed a better dress rehearsal than the race he won at York, scything through a stellar field of sprinters in a 5f handicap to propel his career earnings beyond the £400,000 mark.
The cut and thrust of a big-field handicap invariably plays to his strengths and a return to 6f on likely fast ground is also in his favour.
Meanwhile, a fairytale run from Foolaad would be worthy of all the headlines. Trained in the heart of Sherwood Forest by veteran handler Roy Bowring, this £2,500 Darley cast off has overcome physical problems to thrive as a seven-year-old, racking up a four-timer on Fibresand before beating subsequent winner El Astronaute at Pontefract and then chasing home run-away winner George Bowen at York.
He proved 6f on fast ground is well within his comfort zone on the Knavesmire and a prominent display at a massive price wouldn’t come as a huge surprise.
Simon's Royal Ascot selections:
2.30 LORD GLITTERS
3.05 COSMIC LAW
3.40 MABS CROSS
5.00 LOOK MY WAY
2.30 LITTLE KIM
2.30 VINTAGE BRUT (NB)
2.30 MAIN EDITION
3.05 MILDENBERGER (NAP)
3.40 SANDS OF MALI
5.00 MR LUPTON