The inaugural running of the Commonwealth Cup just 12 months ago proved an absolute triumph, with the winner Muhaarar becoming the season’s outstanding sprinter.
Run over six furlongs, and restricted to three-year-olds, the Group 1 provides the opportunity for the younger horses to get to grips with the trip before taking on the older, more experienced sprinters later in the campaign.
Prior to the new event, these horses would have been thrown into the Diamond Jubilee Stakes against battle-hardened types, and though three-year-olds had a fair record in the race, this format seems a truly positive step. All credit to Ascot for making the changes, and today’s strong looking field of 12 should provide us with several classy sprinters, capable of taking high order as the season progresses.
Clearly with a relatively new event, trends are virtually non-existent, though last year’s winner had run in the French 2000 Guineas prior to his success at Ascot. Limato was second to Muhaarar 12 months ago, and he had warmed up for the race with a second place finish in the Sandy Lane at Haydock. Fourth home in last year’s Commonwealth, Salt Island, had also run in the race at Haydock, whilst the winner of the Sandy Lane, Adaay, could only manage seventh in the Royal Ascot event.
This year’s Sandy Lane Stakes went to Quiet Reflection, and she heads the market for today’s race. Karl Burke’s filly was truly devastating at Haydock, storming clear from the field in what appeared a very competitive renewal. Dougie Costello was the lucky guy on top, and he appeared bullish when interviewed earlier this week, saying: “She was breath-taking and it wasn’t a fluke. If she turns up in the same form, I can’t see her getting beat. I'm over the moon to have an opportunity to ride a filly like her, especially at such a turning point in my career, it’s what dreams are made of.”
Instant acceleration is what sets this filly apart from other contenders, and though she’s won on heavy ground in the past, the testing conditions today have to be a slight concern for connections. Having said that, she was mightily impressive at Haydock.
She defeated Donjuan Triumphant in the Sandy Lane, and Richard Fahey’s colt looks an interesting contender. He’s by Dream Ahead, and as such is likely to be most at home in prevailing conditions. His second place finish at Haydock was a cracking seasonal debut, and he ought to come on a fair amount for that run. Six furlongs at Ascot, on soft ground, sounds ideal for this fella, and I think he’s a huge player.
Buratino and La Rioja were also behind Quiet Reflection at Haydock, and both re-oppose today. Godolphin have had a terrific week so far, and they will be hoping that Buratino can repeat his Royal Ascot win of 12 months ago, when as a juvenile he took the Coventry Stakes. That win came on fast ground, and the opinion of those that count seems to be united in the belief that this colt needs fast ground to be at his best. He needs to improve, and conditions are probably against him.
La Rioja looked a talented juvenile, and though Haydock was her seasonal bow, she still proved a little disappointing. Her best run as a two-year-old came on soft ground, so it would come as no surprise should she run better today. Her sire, Hellvelyn, won the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot back in 2006, so she certainly has the pedigree for the task. I’m just not sure she’s quite good enough to win this.
Log Out Island could prove a stronger contender for Godolphin, having impressed with his runaway victory at Newbury last time. He defeated Remarkable on that occasion, and that horse ran a respectable race in the Jersey Stakes the other day. He finished behind Donjuan last year, though that was at the end of a pretty hectic campaign. He was runner-up at Royal Ascot 12 months ago when chinned late on by Waterloo Bridge in the Norfolk Stakes. He should run well, though I can see him being tagged by one or two of these inside the final furlong.
Cheikeljack looks the main contender from France, and he has already proved his liking for soft ground with a terrific win at Maisons-Laffitte in April. He had Ribchester behind him that day, though the Jersey Stakes winner had veered badly in the latter stages of the race. Nevertheless, that remains strong looking form. He has to have a chance today.
Illuminate is also an intriguing contender. She is arguably the best filly in the race, based on her juvenile form. She won the Albany Stakes at the Royal Meeting, before winning the Duchess of Cambridge at Newmarket, and then just failing to land the Group 1 Cheveley Park Stakes. She has to bounce back from a poor run in the 1000 Guineas, and is another contender thought not to like soft ground. She ran pretty well for a long way at Newmarket, before clearly failing to see out the trip, and at 20/1 her odds are pretty generous.
It looks a terrific renewal and though the favourite looked exceptional at Haydock I’ll be taking her on at the prices. Donjuan Triumphant impressed me last time on ground that would have been plenty quick enough for him. I take him to win, and hope that at 20s, Illuminate can sneak into a place.