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Harrington filly shines brightest at Royal Ascot

John Gosden, Sir Michael Stoute and Aidan O’Brien completed a hugely successful Royal Ascot, though it was arguably Irish racing royalty Jess Harrington, that stole the show.

Better known for exploits during the winter months, Harrington is responsible for this summer’s ‘wonder-filly’ Alpha Centauri. Runner-up in last year’s Albany Stakes, this powerfully built three-year-old now stands head and shoulders above her peers. Destructive in the Irish 1000 Guineas a month ago, she was simply magnificent on Friday, when annihilating a high-class field to take the Group One Coronation Stakes, giving her trainer a first Royal Ascot success.

Sent to the front over a furlong out by Colm O’Donoghue, this mighty filly simply powered clear, storming through the line in record time. Mark Johnston’s Threading backed up her stunning performance at York, with another terrific effort, though was simply no match for the outstanding winner, some six lengths back in second. Newmarket Guineas heroine Billesdon Brook lacked the gears to land a blow, though battled on bravely for fourth.

“I’m relieved because I definitely got very wound up,” Harrington said. “I was nervous today. I know she was very good. We were under the radar in the Irish Guineas, whereas today, there we are as the favourite and we are there to be shot at.

“The ground is key to her. As you can see there, she is a very big filly, she weighs 520kgs. I think when she is on soft ground she physically can’t get her feet out. What she wants is good ground. She is a big striding filly and Colm did not want to break her stride at all.”

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There’s no doubting that this was a hugely impressive performance from a filly who looks more than capable of taking on, and beating, the boys at a mile.

The opening day of the meeting had belonged to John Gosden and Frankie Dettori. The dynamic duo struck a stunning trio of victories, with Without Parole the highlight in the Group One St James’s Palace Stakes. Dettori struck for home nearing the furlong mark, and though Gustav Klimt closed him down late on, the victory never looked in doubt. Calyx had shown his class earlier in the day, when winning despite being drawn on the wrong side of the track. This is a hugely talented juvenile son of Kingman and looks a thrilling prospect.

Stradivarius was another terrific winner for the pair as he out-battled French raider Vazirabad to win the Gold Cup. Having already landed the Yorkshire Cup, you can imagine this fella going through the campaign unbeaten in top level staying events.

It came as something of a surprise when Gosden’s star performer Cracksman, could only manage a second-place spot in the Prince Of Wales’s. The quick ground may not have been ideal, as he had no answer to the speed of Sir Michael Stoute’s Poet’s Word. The pair pulled well clear of the remainder in a quick time, with the five-year-old winner yet again proving just how good the trainer is at improving these middle-distance types.

To show he’s not just a master with progressive older horses, Stoute sent out the winner of the Commonwealth Cup, when Eqtidaar caused something of an upset in defeating Sands Of Mali. The winner ran a cracker, though it was the runner-up that caught the eye, and was arguably unlucky not to have get up late on. Fahey’s three-year-old looks a class act and could be the one to take out of this race as the season unfolds.

Stoute has an outstanding record in the Hardwicke Stakes and it was no surprise to see his classy Crystal Ocean land the Group Two with something to spare. This fella looks capable of taking on the very best mid-distance types throughout the season.

Team Ballydoyle rarely leave these events empty handed, and on this occasion it was an O’Brien sprinter that shone brightest for the yard. Merchant Navy had proved top class in Oz and has carried that promise to the next level for his new trainer. The three-year-old showed real guts to hold off the French-trained City Light in a thrilling finish to the Diamond Jubilee. Harry Angel was the disappointment of the race. Following a shocking start, he was never able to become competitive, and was eased down some way out. He’s now nought from five at the track.

Magic Wand was another success for Ballydoyle. She seemed to outstay Wild Illusion when comfortably winning the Ribblesdale Stakes. With Oaks winner Forever Together skipping the event, Charlie Appleby’s filly had been sent off the favourite. She put in a solid performance, though maybe a drop back to a mile-and-a-quarter would suit.

Despite winners being tricky to find at times, the Royal Meeting completely lived up to the hype. The best in the business came and conquered, with a special lady from Ireland rather fittingly providing a moment of pure majesty.

Queen Aurelia to retain her King’s Stand Crown

Royal Ascot is just a few days away and I’ve decided to take a closer look at the King’s Stand Stakes to assess whether Battaash truly is a ‘good thing’.

I’m a huge fan of the sprints, and the King’s Stand is a particular favourite. It’s gone to some of the best over the years. Dayjur won the race as a three-year-old in 1990 and Lochsong as a six-year-old in ‘94. Pivotal was another winner at three, when he landed this prior to the Nunthorpe in 1996. Choisir came over from Australia to win in 2003, and Miss Andretti did the same in 2007. Equiano won twice, in 2008 and 2010. And last year Lady Aurelia became yet another overseas conqueror when romping to a three-length success.

Foreign winners have become common-place in the Royal Ascot sprint with nine non-UK or Irish winners since 2000. Wes Ward brings Lady Aurelia back for another crack having already landed the Queen Mary and the King’s Stand in her two previous visits. She’s an outstanding mare by Scat Daddy and is clearly at her best on quick ground at this time of the year. Her two victories at the track have been spectacular. She’s explosive, with a fast five-furlongs at Ascot absolutely up her street. Money has come for her this week and she now finds herself at the head of the market alongside Battaash.

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Charlie Hills couldn’t be happier with his sprinting sensation. He looked a high class three-year-old, when winning the Coral Charge in stunning fashion last July, and then putting in an astounding performance to win the Abbaye at Chantilly. He returned with a solid performance at Haydock to land the Temple Stakes under a penalty. This son of Dark Angel is blessed with blistering speed, though he can become worked-up prior to the off. If behaving himself, his clash with the American mare could prove the highlight of the meeting.

Charlie Appleby can do no wrong and looks set to run Blue Point over the minimum trip. He was a close third to Caravaggio and Harry Angel in last year’s Commonwealth Cup and gave the impression that he could have gone faster earlier. He’s two from three at the track and is undoubtedly a class act. I’m just not sure he has the raw speed to live with Battaash and Lady A.

Kachy is nifty and was ridden aggressively last time when just failing to hold off the late charge of both Battaash and Washington DC at Haydock. He’s been campaigned at both five and six furlongs during his career, but I’m convinced that the King’s Stand will prove ideal. I can’t see him winning, though I can see him running a cracker and landing a place finish.

Washington DC came mighty close to winning the Temple Stakes and ought to be suited by track and trip. He needs fast ground and should be doing his best work late on. He was very disappointing in this race last year, when never looking likely to land a blow before finishing 15th of the 17 runners. I’m far from certain he has the basic speed for this test, and I can see him getting too far back in the pack.

Mabs Cross is a progressive filly and ran well to finish fourth in the Temple last time. She was slow out of the stalls that day, and it’s not the first time that her start has let her down. She’s another that could run into a place though I’d be surprised if she’s quick enough to challenge the market leaders.

Different League could be interesting if coming here. Now with Aidan O’Brien, the three-year-old filly was a high class juvenile and landed the Albany Stakes at last year’s meeting. That looked a tasty renewal and she appeared by far the quickest filly in the field that day. This may well be her trip and her odds of 33/1 could prove generous.

This looks a straight face-off between Battaash and Lady Aurelia and I’m siding with the mare. She’s two from two at the Royal Meeting and has looked sensational on both occasions. I’m convinced that Kachy will run a huge race, and I’ll take him as the each-way punt. I may regret not having a few quid on Different League. She’ll need to improve on what she’s shown so far this season, but if allowed to bowl along towards the head of affairs I’m sure she’ll outrun her odds. This looks a mouth-watering renewal. Enjoy.

Flat Racing Elite set for Royal Meeting

It’s more than likely that the usual suspects will be celebrating another successful Royal Ascot.

And that’s to be expected, at a meeting where major players send their ‘big guns’. For sure, the best from Ireland and the UK will be in attendance. There’ll be a scattering of French flair, and add to that a dash of American and Australian power to maximise the international flavour.

Charlie Appleby and John Gosden appear the form duo from the home nation. The former can do no wrong, with Godolphin reaping the benefits. John Gosden has suffered an early season blow, with Enable currently on the sidelines. Nevertheless, he has a powerful team primed to inflict maximum mayhem, aided by a cocky Italian with a perfect sense of occasion.

Aidan O’Brien is sure to hold a strong hand and regularly leaves the Royal meeting as the leading trainer, though punters should resist the temptation of blindly following Ballydoyle contenders. This gathering isn’t like Cheltenham or Punchestown, where following Willie Mullins automatically leads to winners. Aidan and the boys are the dominant force on the flat, but opposition at Royal Ascot is exceptionally strong.

Andre Fabre and Jean-Claude Rouget tend to send a handful of challengers across the Channel, with a certain amount of success. Le Brivido landed the Jersey Stakes for Fabre 12 months ago, whilst Rouget’s Qemah took the Duke Of Cambridge.

Wes Ward will again lead an American assault, hoping that Lady Aurelia can achieve a trio of Royal Ascot victories. Whilst Redkirk Warrior arrives from Australia with the Diamond Jubilee Stakes the likely target.

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So just who are the leading contenders from the sports elite?

Ballydoyle appear to have a hugely talented contingent, with serious challengers in numerous events. Rhododendron landed the Lockinge last time and is the current favourite for the opening race of the meeting, the Queen Anne Stakes. She’s a class act and looks sure to go close. O’Brien has had plenty of success in the Gold Cup over recent years and will have Order Of St George primed for another crack at the prize. He won the race in 2016 and went down by just a short-head to Big Orange 12 months ago.

O’Brien’s youngsters tend to make their mark at the Royal Meeting and this year’s crop look a talented bunch. Sergei Prokofiev is favourite for the Coventry Stakes following a stunning victory at Naas last time. This son of Scat Daddy is thought to be an outstanding prospect. Also renowned for producing high class fillies, O’Brien appears to have another classy duo in Fairyland and Just Wonderful. Both could line up in the Queen Mary Stakes.

Returning three-year-olds Clemmie and Sioux Nation are also expected to go well. The former was one of the yard’s best juveniles and would have needed the run when beaten in the Irish Guineas recently. The latter is a speedy son of Scat Daddy out of an Oasis Dream mare. He’s one of the best looking colts in training, and is currently favourite for the Commonwealth Cup.

John Gosden has some of the greatest flat racing talent in his Newmarket stable. His Arc heroine, Enable, is currently out of action, but he has a sensational replacement in Cracksman. The Champion Stakes winner will be lining up in the Group One Prince Of Wales’s Stakes and is rated 7lb higher than his only serious rival, Godolphin’s Benbatl.

Gosden also has Without Parole heading the market for the St James’s Palace Stakes. I must confess that I’m not a fan. He beat a handicapper at Yarmouth in April and barely scraped home in a listed event at Sandown last time. Though this looks quite a weak renewal, I’d still fancy something from the English or Irish Guineas to have a little more class than Gosden’s fella.

The trainer does have a huge chance of lifting the Gold Cup, thanks to the talented and gutsy four-year-old Stradivarius. He has Order Of St George to beat, and one can envisage a pulsating finish with little to choose between the pair.

Lah Ti Dar missed the Oaks at Epsom but is expected to make the start for the Ribblesdale. She’ll likely have Oaks runner-up Wild Illusion to beat, though quick ground would certainly help her cause. She’s looked talented thus far, though this is a far tougher assignment.

Gosden also has a couple of classy juveniles in the yard in Calyx and Legends Of War. It seems that only the former will now be taking on Ballydoyle’s Sergei Prokofiev in the Coventry Stakes, though the clash remains a mouth-watering one.

The Andre Fabre-trained Wind Chimes is set to take her chance in the Group One Coronation Stakes. Just touched off in the French 1000 Guineas by David Simcock’s Teppal, she was possibly a little unlucky that day, and there’s every chance she’ll reverse that form. She ought to go very close.

Along with Lady Aurelia, Wes Ward is likely to send Moonlight Romance and Shang Shang Shang for the juvenile events. Bound For Nowhere looks a live contender for the Diamond Jubilee having finished fourth in the Commonwealth Cup last year. And Undrafted looks an interesting entrant in the Wokingham Stakes. He took the Group One Diamond Jubilee back in 2015 and was only a couple of lengths back in sixth a year later. Though now an eight-year-old, he remains a classy type and will run off a mark of 103.

Expect thrilling clashes between some of flat racing’s most powerful yards, at the sports most prestigious event. Jump racing has Cheltenham, whilst the Flat has Royal Ascot. It’s as simple as that.

Blue is the colour – It’s Appleby and Buick Again

Appleby and Buick were at it again as D’bai landed the Group Three John Of Gaunt Stakes at Haydock on Saturday.

Dutch Connection appeared to be Godolphin’s main hope of success and was sent of the 6/4 favourite. But it was the ‘boys in blue’ number two that proved superior on the day. Travelling powerfully through the race, the progressive four-year-old quickened impressively at the furlong pole before fending off the rallying Larchmont Lad, to win by a head. Tabarrak had also launched a promising challenge but faltered late on to finish a neck further back in third.

Buick, fresh from his Epsom Derby victory on Masar, said of this latest success: “He had a good winter in Dubai and won the seven-furlong handicap very well. Charlie (Appleby) used the Windsor race as a prep for this and it's worked well. He travelled really nice through and I would have liked to have had another horse to follow and to wait a little bit longer to be honest. But he stuck on well in fairness to him. He's a very talented horse.”

Appleby has his horses in tip-top shape and said: “D’bai travelled very well today and really put his head down when he had to. He holds an entry in the Group One Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot and we will keep the race on our radar, but he could also head for the Group Two Lennox Stakes at Goodwood. D’bai is a Group Three winner over seven furlongs now, so it seems logical to keep him over the same distance, but the way he travels in his races suggests that a fast run six furlongs could be right up his street. We will see how he comes out of the race and talk things over.”

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Dutch Connection proved disappointing, failing to quicken as the front three kicked for home. He kept on at the one pace back in fourth, and Charlie Hills must be scratching his head. The trainer would have hoped for much more following such a promising return in the Lockinge. Larchmont Lad had been ‘put-up’ as a decent each-way punt by yours truly in my Friday piece. He ran a cracker in first time cheekpieces and looks capable of winning at this grade.

Whilst Godolphin continue to make the headlines in the UK, over in America the Bob Baffert show is once again in full swing. Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Arrogate and of course the mighty American Pharoah, are just a handful of Baffert’s equine stars to have dominated the American racing scene. Having landed the Triple Crown in 2015 (Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes), American Pharoah became the first racehorse to win the Grand Slam, completing a stunning haul of victories when landing the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Justify is his latest superstar, and on Saturday night the giant three-year-old chestnut colt completed the Triple Crown. “It was meant to be,” said Baffert. “I was just watching the clock. It was going to be my friend or the enemy. I was like, 'Oh Mike, Oh Mike, don't empty that tank.”

Of his place among Baffert’s best, the trainer added: “I wanted to see that horse's name up there (with the other greats) because we know he was brilliant from day one. And I am so happy for Mike Smith. There is no one more deserving than him.”

Smith, now 52, said of the winner: “This horse ran a tremendous race. He’s so gifted. He’s sent from heaven. He’s just amazing. I can’t describe the emotions going through my body right now.”

Unraced as a two-year-old, Justify has now won six on the spin in just 111 days. The jockey added: “To win six races in such a short amount of time like he’s just done is just an unbelievable feat on his part. Really, Bob has just done a tremendous job to get this horse to do what we just got done.”

He can now expect a well-earned rest, prior to a return in the autumn and a date with destiny at this year’s Breeders’ Cup.

Go Dutch in the John Of Gaunt

The seven-furlong John of Gaunt Stakes is run at Haydock tomorrow. And fresh from one of their greatest achievements at Epsom it’s Godolphin that appear to hold the aces for this Group Three contest.

It feels like I’m stating the obvious, but this race usually goes to specialists at the trip. Milers dropping back and sprinters stepping-up rarely land the prize. Past winners such as Absolutely So, Home Of The Brave, Penitent, Pastoral Player, Main Aim and Quito were at their best at just shy of the mile.

Saturday’s favourite certainly fits the blueprint. Godolphin’s Dutch Connection, trained by Charlie Hills, never quite gets home at a mile. He ran a cracker in the Lockinge last month, travelling like a dream for six furlongs, but those last couple of hundred yards stretched him beyond his limit. His five career victories have all come at seven-furlongs, and it’s not for want of trying at further. He’s come mighty close on more than one occasion. Chantilly in 2015 and Sandown in 2016 were particularly agonising examples, when within a length of success in a pair of Group Twos.

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Good ground or quicker is essential for Dutch Connection. If he gets it, he’ll take some beating. He has three wins from three attempts at this level. He looks the class act, and though now a six-year-old, this race has gone to a seven, eight and two nine-year-olds in the past dozen years.

The Roger Varian-trained Emmaus is next best in the betting following a gutsy win in a listed event at Leicester. In a slow-motion finish on bottomless ground, the four-year-old got the better of an ordinary field and will need to improve if he is to trouble the favourite on a sound surface. He’s clearly had issues, with only four starts since September 2016, and though he arrives unexposed, it takes a leap of faith to think he’ll win this.

Tabarrak is another that needs to find further improvement. His victory in a listed event at Haydock last time was a solid performance and he’d found the ground far too testing the time before. Listed company appeared his level as a four-year-old and I just can’t see him beating the favourite.

D’bai may be interesting following a winter that saw him run well at Meydan. He was just behind The Tin Man over six furlongs at Windsor last time, with the trip that day undoubtedly a little on the sharp side. Charlie Appleby has his team in fine form and this four-year-old by Dubawi may have enough untapped ability to go close.

Larchmont Lad could also go well at a decent price. He’s yet to fulfil the potential he showed as a juvenile, though has looked better since moving to David O’Meara at the end of last season. Set to wear headgear for the first time, this looks his ideal trip, and in a field starved of class, he could run into a place.

I can’t see anything beating Dutch Connection, especially if the rain stays away. His current odds of 3/1 look more than reasonable. D’bai appears to be the main danger, though I’ll probably throw a few quid at Larchmont Lad in the hope he sneaks into a place, as long as the eight runners stand their ground. Best of luck to all having a punt.

Dark Angel speedsters – Aged to perfection

Galileo is undeniably the modern-day King of Stallions, but if it’s a sprinter you’re looking for, there’s no better sire than Yeomanstown Stud inmate, Dark Angel.

Retired somewhat prematurely after a successful juvenile campaign, this son of Acclamation has become an outstanding sire of high class speedsters. The all too brief racing career came in 2007, when trained by Barry Hills. He proved to be a high-class youngster, winning four of nine starts including the six-furlong Group One Middle Park Stakes.

An instant hit in his new profession, Dark Angel resides at Yeomanstown Stud near Naas, just a stone’s throw from Dublin. Established in 1923, the business has been in the hands of the Callaghan family since 1981. A famous name in Ireland’s breeding industry, generations of Callaghan’s are famed for producing top class racehorses. Gay and Annette have now handed the running of their business to son David. And speed is certainly the name of the game at Yeomanstown, with Scat Daddy’s son El Kabeir, a Sandy Lane winner Camacho and former top-class juvenile sprinter Gutaifan, all keeping Dark Angel company.

But it’s the latter that has certainly produced the goods in recent times. Two current stars of the speed division look set to further enhance the stallion’s reputation over the summer. Battaash and Harry Angel will head to Royal Ascot in a couple of weeks as strong fancies to land the most prestigious sprint events. Though somewhat disappointing as a juvenile, Battaash stormed onto the scene at three, winning four from five starts, culminating in the demolition of a high-class field at Chantilly when landing the Prix de l’Abbaye. His seasonal return was impressive, and he now heads the market for the King’s Stand Stakes.

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Harry Angel only ran twice at two, though one was a victory in the Group Two Mill Reef Stakes. He too came to the fore as a three-year-old, winning three of his six starts, including a pair of Group Ones. Also impressive on his return to the track, he is currently favourite for the Diamond Jubilee at Royal Ascot, though interestingly he’s yet to win at the course despite visiting on four occasions. He only has four career defeats.

Mecca’s Angel was another top-class Dark Angel progeny. She was also something of a slow burner during the early part of her career. Winner of a Group Three at three, she stormed to prominence as a four-year-old, landing the Group One Nunthorpe at York. She was just as impressive at five, again winning the Nunthorpe in sparkling fashion.

But it was very much Lethal Force that began the Dark Angel dynasty when hitting the racetrack in 2011. He too followed a similar path of being somewhat underwhelming as a juvenile. That’s not to say that he didn’t hint at a bright future, finishing fourth in the Coventry Stakes at the royal meeting and filling the same berth in the Group Two Vintage Stakes. As a three-year-old the progression continued, capturing the Group Two Hungerford at Newbury, though it was at four that his career truly took off. During a thrilling campaign, he mixed it with the elite sprinters, winning the Diamond Jubilee and the Darley July Cup.

These four have certainly advertised the stallion’s influence in the sprint division, though he is also responsible for last year’s QEII winner Persuasive, along with other familiar names in Gabrial, Sovereign Debt and Bronze Angel. He’s also the sire of this year’s 2000 Guineas runner-up Tip Two Win. Trained by Roger Teal, we are yet to discover this classy three-year-old’s optimum trip, though he is being primed to take in the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot, and with his Guineas nemesis missing (Saxon Warrior), he must stand a great chance of going one better.

There’s little doubt that in the coming months others will showcase the appeal of the Dark Angel pedigree. Lansky is an interesting three-year-old. Now with sprint guru Robert Cowell, the young colt showed a decent level of form as a juvenile, and as we’ve seen, the progeny usually improve significantly with age. He’s entered in the Wokingham at Royal Ascot and could be a horse to follow.

Yafta won a couple of low key events as a juvenile and is another progressive looking sort, having won well last time at Newmarket. He’s another to keep on side and is likely to be running at Newmarket on Saturday. Trained by Richard Hannon and owned by Hamdan Al Maktoum, he looks Pattern class and could have a productive summer ahead.

Though it seems the offspring are not always reliable as juveniles, any that land a prominent finish in a Group event ought to enter the notebook. Tom Dascombe’s Jackstar may be a youngster to keep an eye on. His absence of late suggests he may have met with a setback, but he’s already proved on the track that he has a fair level of ability. The same can be said of the Mark Johnston-trained Deep Intrigue. He defeated a nice juvenile of Richard Fahey’s last time at Beverley. He could prove to be a tasty sort.

I’ll also be interested to see how Paddy Twomey’s Decrypt progresses during the campaign. A fine second on debut at the Curragh last time, he looks sure to improve plenty for the outing and had several Ballydoyle runners in behind.

I’d be cautious at getting heavily involved in Dark Angel juveniles at Royal Ascot. It seems clear that his progeny progress steadily with racing and are likely better followed at three or even four. Nevertheless, the notebook will be readied, and should one make eye-catching progress in the latter stages of the Coventry or the Queen Mary a record will be made. Dark Angel speedsters can be exceptional.

Masar by far the Derby Equine Star

Like father like son. Bred for Epsom glory, it was Godolphin’s Masar that mastered both track and trip to land this year’s Derby.

Having finished third to Saxon Warrior in the 2000 Guineas, it’s somewhat surprising that this son of 2008 Derby winner New Approach, had been cast aside by many punters as a ‘no-hoper’. Ballydoyle’s Guineas hero was all the rage in the markets and was sent off the odds-on favourite for Saturday’s showpiece. Part of an O’Brien battalion, his Newmarket success had been billed as a stepping stone to a tilt at the Triple Crown (Guineas, Derby and St Leger). But it was Charlie Appleby’s charge that coped best with Epsom’s unique examination.

Knight To Behold had set the early fractions, with Ballydoyle’s Kew Gardens for company. Hazapour travelled as well as any turning for home and struck the front approaching the two-furlong pole. Dee Ex Bee and Masar were in hot pursuit, and it was the latter that swept to the front closely followed by Roaring Lion. The red-hot favourite Saxon Warrior had been caught behind a wall of horses, though when asked to quicken and challenge, Ryan Moore must have been disappointed with the response.

Roaring Lion looked likely to chase down the Godolphin runner, but it was Masar that stayed on the strongest. As the line approached Gosden’s Dante winner faded slightly, leaving Dee Ex Bee to battle back bravely for the runner-up spot. Saxon Warrior stayed on for fourth, without ever looking like landing a telling blow. There’s no doubting that William Buick rode the perfect race on Masar, always in the right spot and throwing down his challenge at exactly the right moment. The best horse won the Derby, though the best jockey on the day played a vital role.

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Sheikh Mohammed said of his first Epsom Derby success: “It's not easy to win the Derby, but we have won it. We are pleased to be here today. Charlie Appleby is a very good trainer and it’s good the horse came from Dubai. Horses are in my blood, I love them.”

William Buick was understandably overjoyed, saying: “This is huge, it's massive. I've come close a couple of times, I think I've had seven or eight rides and while I know people have had more without winning I was wondering if my time was ever going to come. The race was smooth and Charlie was confident that he would stay the trip. He was lovely and balanced throughout and nice and relaxed. He felt like he put the race to bed very quickly. The horse has to have temperament, balance, tenacity, stamina and speed. It’s the ultimate race, the holy grail. It’s what every jockey dreams of.”

Appleby had come close to landing the Oaks a day earlier and was thrilled to go one better: “That was absolutely amazing. All I could think of in the last furlong was that I wanted to be the first trainer to win the Derby in the Godolphin blue. It was a fantastic team effort. Brett Doyle (former jockey) rides him every day and has been so sweet on him since the 2000 Guineas. We just wanted to get him to switch off and we thought he’d stay. William’s given him a brilliant ride, but the last 100 yards seemed a long time. This season, we’ve just been knocking on the door and it was the same story yesterday.”

That defeat in the fillies’ classic came at the hands of the latest O’Brien star, young Donnacha, who rode Forever Together to an emphatic victory. It’s been a sensational season thus far for the jockey, having already landed the 2000 Guineas aboard Saxon Warrior. He again showed great maturity under pressure, giving the filly a perfect ride. More testing conditions on Friday had caused jockeys to track across to the stands side after turning for home. Donnacha was quick to ensure his filly had the perfect berth on the rail and when asked for maximum effort the daughter of Galileo powered clear of favourite Wild Illusion.

The young jockey said of his second Classic success: “Forever Together was very impressive. I got a beautiful trip through the race following Ryan (on Magic Wand). He edged over and kept me company on the rail. She is very genuine and galloped out to the line really well. She is a proper staying filly. I thought a week or two ago that she had a really good chance, then the rain came and I was a bit worried. She seemed to handle it really well, but I was not expecting her to do that.”

Father O’Brien was clearly chuffed, saying: “It’s incredible, I’m so delighted for everyone, so thankful to Michael (Tabor), John (Magnier) and Derrick (Smith), it’s brilliant for everyone. She caught the eye at Chester, she’s a staying filly and got the trip very well. Donnacha gave her an unbelievable ride, it’s incredible.”

Of future targets the trainer added: “I think it will be the Irish Oaks next, we’ll see what the lads want to do, but that’s what you’d be thinking. She’d love the Curragh, you’d imagine. I was very happy with all the fillies really. Donnacha rides her in her work and rode her at Chester and she was the filly he wanted to ride. He’s always been a very good rider, he’s very cool, he rides a lot of work at home, but he’s only 19.”

Though disappointed in being beaten, Charlie Appleby was clearly pleased with the run of the favourite Wild Illusion: “She ran a very creditable race. The winner looks to have outstayed us. She got a good run into it, but I thought the leader had skipped clear. She has just been outstayed, it’s as simple as that. When William (Buick) made his move I thought she was going to go through with it. William said she was not comfortable coming down the hill. She came there to win her race, but the winner has outstayed us and was the better horse on the day.”

Redemption came the trainer’s way just 24 hours later.

Can a Young Rascal sink the mighty Saxon Warrior?

Having landed the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket, Saxon Warrior is a short-priced favourite to give Aidan O’Brien his fifth Epsom Derby in seven years.

The latest Ballydoyle sensation is looking to emulate Camelot in landing the Guineas-Derby double and has been treading a virtually identical path. Both captured the Racing Post Trophy as juveniles prior to winning the Newmarket Classic on seasonal debut at three. Camelot arrived at Epsom with an unblemished record of three victories from three runs, whilst Saxon Warrior heads for the Derby having won all four outings to date. Even the BHA struggled to separate them at this stage of their careers, with Camelot rated at 121 and Saxon W coming here off a mark of 120.

There’s little doubt that this year’s Derby favourite holds all the right credentials to complete the celebrated double. He’s by the Japanese racing sensation Deep Impact. Peerless at home, the colt came a close third in the 2006 Arc and has found similar success as a stallion. On the dam’s side we have yet another Galileo mare, in the 2012 Oaks fifth Maybe. The pedigree suggests the trip will be ideal, indeed, Ballydoyle have hinted that the St Leger may well be targeted should all go well at Epsom. His Guineas success coupled with the continued positive reports from the stable, points to a huge run from Saxon Warrior. He’ll take some beating.

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Dermot Weld won the Derby with Harzand in 2016 and is represented by close relative Hazapour. He landed the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial at Leopardstown last time, travelling powerfully throughout and showing the better turn of foot to defeat a couple of O’Brien runners in Delano Roosevelt and The Pentagon. All three reoppose, though I fancy they’ll finish the Derby in a slightly different order. Of the trio I’m inclined to favour Delano Roosevelt, who finished particularly well last time. He’s a lovely imposing colt and his pedigree suggests he’ll enjoy a little juice in the ground.

Roaring Lion takes on Saxon Warrior for the third time and is currently two-nil down. He showed plenty of zip when winning a slowly run renewal of the Dante Stakes at York, though there must be a concern that the ground at Epsom (currently soft) will blunt that speed. The pace of the race is also likely to be far more testing, with the keen front-runner Knight To Behold likely to set decent fractions. Gosden won this race with Golden Horn in 2015, but I’m not convinced that this fella has what it takes.

Wings Of Eagles won at 40s last year, but it’s usually the fancied contenders that prevail in the Derby. Nine of the last 10 renewals went to horses priced at 7/1 or shorter, so in searching for the winner we ought to focus on those at the front end of the market.

One colt that looked to have huge potential when winning the Chester Vase is the William Haggas-trained Young Rascal. He’s by Intello, himself a son of Galileo, out of a Clodovil mare. The pedigree suggests that he’ll love conditions and though his inexperience is a concern, that run at Chester could prove invaluable. Despite his size, he coped admirably with the sharp turns that day and though I fancy Epsom will not be ideal, his raw talent could see him running a huge race. The Haggas team are in sparkling form, as is race jockey James Doyle.

The aforementioned Knight To Behold also lacks experience and may need to settle better than he did at Lingfield last time. He was an impressive winner of the Derby Trial that day but is sure to have more company at Epsom, with Ballydoyle likely to sacrifice one of their five runners at the front end. Nevertheless, this son of Sea The Stars looks a talented sort and may be capable of landing a place at decent odds.

Despite finishing third in the 2000 Guineas, Masar appears to have been written off by many. Currently best-priced at 25/1, this son of New Approach out of a Cape Cross mare ought to be suited by the step-up in trip. The ground may have gone against him, though his form looks as strong as any bar the favourite. Godolphin have a rotten record in the Epsom Derby, but this fella certainly has a chance if coping with conditions.

It’s difficult to see past Saxon Warrior and everything points to him prevailing. Nevertheless, I’ll be putting a few quid on Young Rascal as I believe he has the potential to put in a huge performance. Delano Roosevelt looks best of the remaining Ballydoyle battalion. Good luck to those having a punt.

Haggas team flying as Epsom looms

William Haggas has had a wonderful start to the latest Flat season and heads to Epsom this week with live contenders for both the Oaks and the Derby.

A strike-rate of 27% is testament to the yard’s form, though that rises to 31% over the past two weeks, with a further double at Leicester yesterday. He’s currently top of the trainers’ championship despite having infinitely fewer runners than Mark Johnston in second and John Gosden who lies third. Few would expect him to maintain such a lofty position though there does appear to be a marked upgrading in stable quality. It’s dangerous to disregard any Haggas runner at present.

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Addeybb, though disappointing on fast ground last time, remains a hugely progressive sort and is sure to bring further success to the yard before the season closes. Just a few days ago at Goodwood, three-year-old Society Power made it five wins on-the-bounce, when sweeping from last to first in a competitive handicap. He’ll likely be given a mark in the mid-100s, and now looks sure to be tried in pattern company.

In the coming days Haggas has a chance of adding to those two Classic victories of Dancing Rain in the Oaks of 2011 and Shaamit’s Derby success of 1996. Young Rascal runs in the colts’ classic, following a cosy success in the Chester Vase. The leggy youngster coped well with the tight turning track that day, and despite appearing a little green down the straight, quickened nicely to beat Dee Ex Bee with something in hand.

A son of French Derby winner Intello – himself a son of champion stallion Galileo – he remains rather inexperienced as he heads to Epsom, though looks a colt of huge potential. Not all horses take to the track and there’s certainly a chance that this fella could become unbalanced at certain points. He may also find the infamous ‘camber’ problematic. Nevertheless, his odds of 12/1 reflect the talent we have already witnessed, and should this examination not come too soon, he may be the one to launch the greatest challenge to the O’Brien ‘good thing’.

The Newmarket handler also has a couple of fillies primed for the Oaks, though a final decision on the participation of Sea Of Class will be taken this morning. With just two career starts to her name, the trainer may feel that Epsom arrives too soon. By Sea The Stars out of a Hernando mare, the mile-and-a-half trip should hold no fears, and her last run at Newbury was certainly eye-catching. She hammered Aidan O’Brien’s Athena that day, powering clear in the final furlong. Way back in third was Sir Michael Stoute’s much touted Crystal Hope. The form looks rock solid, and should she take her chance, despite her inexperience, she appears to be a leading contender.

Give And Take is the trainer’s other runner, and she was last seen landing the Musidora Stakes at York. That was her fifth career start and she’s yet to finish out of the first two. Popular opinion is that the York renewal was somewhat sub-standard, and there’s no doubting that the field were tightly packed at the line. The pace of the race would probably not have suited this filly, so for her to win as she did was arguably more impressive. The Oaks trip should prove ideal and though possibly less classy than her stable-companion, she’s certainly more street-wise. This looks an open renewal of the Epsom Classic and she looks capable of being involved at the business end.

It’s undoubtedly a huge weekend for Haggas and the team and, though the might of Ballydoyle will take some toppling, the Newmarket handler couldn’t have his stable in better form as he takes on this huge challenge at the highest level. The dual-Classic winner gives little away when questioned but must be excited at the possibility of further Group One glory.

Emblazoned can show that Gosden feels the need for speed

Haydock play host to the sprinters on Saturday, with a pair of competitive looking Group Two’s.

The Temple Stakes at five furlongs and the Sandy Lane at six, regularly attract elite speedsters, with both races having been won by the best in the business.

The Temple Stakes was established in 1965 and was run at Sandown until 2008. Its roll of honour is a thing of beauty, containing the names of sprinting legends. Dayjur was victorious as a three-year-old in 1990. Considered by many as the best, he went on to win the King’s Stand, the Nunthorpe and then the Prix de l’Abbaye at Longchamp. Had he not famously ‘jumped the shadow’ in his final start in America, he would have surely added the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

In contrast, Lochsong was virtually drawing her pension when winning this race as a six-year-old. Ian Balding turned this moderate performer into a world beater during the 93/94 campaigns. During a golden period, this beast of a mare landed the Temple Stakes, the King’s Stand, the Abbaye twice and the Nunthorpe.

Sole Power was one of the modern-day sprinting sensations. On a going day, this diminutive star had a devastating turn of foot, with a running style (held up to the last moment) that made him thrilling to watch. He landed the Temple Stakes in 2012 and twice won the Nunthorpe and the King’s Stand.

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Though also a Group Two, it’s fair to say that the Sandy Lane Stakes lacks the kudos of the Temple. That’s understandable as the race is only open to three-year-olds rather than established sprinters. Nevertheless, Quiet Reflection and Harry Angel won the last two renewals prior to dominant campaigns at six furlongs. The launch of the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot has given this event a shot in the arm. It’s now seen by many trainers as the perfect prep for the race at the Royal Meeting.

Battaash is the star attraction at tomorrow’s meeting, as he attempts to defy a penalty to land the Temple Stakes. This is the seasonal debut for the four-year-old, so there’s likely room for improvement. It’s his performance in the Prix de l’Abbaye at the end of his three-year-old campaign that has everyone so excited. He demolished a classy field by four lengths at Chantilly and if arriving at Haydock in that sort of form, will surely take all the beating.

The field looks a strong one, and the result is no formality. Kachy, Muthmir, Mabs Cross and three-year-old Havana Grey, are certainly no mugs. Several of these will head to Royal Ascot for the King’s Stand Stakes and Battaash will need to bring his ‘A game’ if he is to prevail.

I’ve decided to steer clear of the Temple for tomorrow’s tip, and instead focus on the six-furlong Sandy Lane Stakes. There’s no standout contender for this, though the quality of this year’s renewal remains high.

We currently have three runners at the head of the market. Clive Cox knows a thing or two about producing top-class sprinters, and may have another in the yard, with the talented filly Heartache. She was certainly one of the leading juveniles, winning the Queen Mary at Royal Ascot and finishing the season with a victory in the Flying Childers at Doncaster. Those wins came at five-furlongs, though she finished strongly on both occasions, hinting that a step up to six would not be an issue. She looks a classy sort and should go well.

Invincible Army is also to the forefront of the betting and has the advantage of already having had a run. He was an impressive winner of a Group Three at Ascot earlier in the month, following on from a successful juvenile campaign. Runner-up in the Molecomb, the Gimcrack and the Dubai Duty Free Mill Reef Stakes, he consistently performed at a high level and looked a horse likely to strengthen into an already powerful frame. Tough and consistent, I’m not sure he has the ‘wow factor’, though he looks sure to be in the shake-up.

Richard Fahey and Paul Hanagan have had a cracking start to the season and in Sands Of Mali have an intriguing contender. He disappointed in his final starts as a juvenile, having comfortably beaten Invincible Army at York in the Gimcrack. He was hugely impressive that day on the Knavesmire, dominating from the front and staying on powerfully to fend off all-comers. There was no fluke about the result, and a repeat of that sort of performance would surely see him go very close. He has a run in France under his belt, so ought to strip fighting fit.

James Garfield drops back in trip following a decent performance in the Guineas. He defeated Invincible Army in last year’s Mill Reef Stakes, though there was little between the pair. This trip may be as sharp as he needs, as I’m not convinced that he has tons of natural speed. Nevertheless, he has a terrific attitude and will be battling on bravely in the latter stages. I have the feeling that he’s vulnerable to a speedier type.

John Gosden is not known for producing sprinters, but he has an interesting contender in Emblazoned. By Invincible Spirit out of a Bahamian Bounty mare, he looked very exciting when winning at Yarmouth last time. Unraced at two, it’s impossible to say whether he can mix-it at this level against horses that proved their ability as juveniles. Nevertheless, he looked a colt of huge potential last time. And in a race where many appear to be of a similar standard, this fella may possess star quality.

Barraquero and Unfortunately cannot be dismissed, as they also possess strong juvenile form. The former landed the Richmond Stakes before a shin problem curtailed his juvenile campaign. Karl Burke’s colt won the Group One Prix Morny prior to a disappointing run in the Middle Park Stakes. Both look capable of a big run in this hugely competitive renewal.

Whoever lands this prize will become one of the favourites for the Commonwealth Cup at Ascot. I fancy Sands Of Mali will go close, but I’m going to take a chance with Emblazoned. Though not known for his sprinters, Gosden’s colt is bred for the game and could be special. Best of luck to those having a punt.

Kingscote Consistency the Key to his Success

Richard Kingscote has had a terrific start to the current flat season. He lies fourth in the jockeys’ title race with a healthy strike-rate of 23%.

He’ll be frustrated at not winning since Newbury last Friday yet has been placed in seven of his last 11 rides. Finishing runner-up on a Ralph Beckett juvenile last night at Kempton was the latest near miss, and he now heads to Sandown for the Brigadier Gerard meeting.

Kingscote is the retained jockey to Tom Dascombe out of Manor House Stables in Cheshire, famously owned by ex-footballer Michael Owen. The partnership began in 2007 following his four-year spell with Roger Charlton. The bug bit whilst riding ponies as a youngster near his home in Weston super-Mare, and he next headed to Newmarket as a 16-year-old to learn his trade at the British Racing School.

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His victory aboard Brown Panther in the Group One Irish St Leger of 2014 remains a career highlight. Very much the stable star at Manor House, the then six-year-old had a stellar season, partnered throughout by Kingscote. He won a pair of Group Three’s before finishing third in both the Ascot Gold Cup and the Goodwood Cup, prior to that glorious romp in Ireland. Tragedy struck at the same venue 12 months later, when Brown Panther had to be put down due to a serious leg injury.

Producing another top-class racehorse has proved difficult for the Manor House team, though Kachy has at times looked the part and is undoubtedly the yard’s latest flag-bearer. He was in dazzling form back on turf at Chester recently. He gave plenty of weight and a nine-length thrashing to some decent sprinters including Richard Fahey’s Growl. Runner-up in the Group One Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot in 2016, he’s been tried at both five and six furlongs, though is arguably best over a stiff minimum trip.

This weekend the five-year-old heads to Haydock to contest the Group Two Temple Stakes. He finished fifth in the race a year ago and looks sure to go well again, though has the highly talented Battaash to contend with. He could be better suited when heading to Royal Ascot for a crack at the King’s Stand Stakes. Kingscote will be aboard on Saturday and I’m sure hopeful of a repeat of that exhilarating performance at Chester.

The jockey will also be hoping that his trainer has a few more talented youngsters set to be unveiled in the coming months. Dascombe needs to produce more horses that can mix it at Group level and may have a useful sort in two-year-old Jackstar. He looked a juvenile with plenty of potential, when winning on debut at Newmarket last month. A son of Dark Angel out of a Duke Of Marmalade mare, he had Ballydoyle’s Van Beethoven behind him that day, and O’Brien’s fella went on to win easily at Naas next time.

Dascombe has plenty of other youngsters in the yard with a tasty looking pedigree. Angel Alexander is another colt by Dark Angel, though is yet to step foot on the racecourse. Artistic Streak is an unraced juvenile filly by New Approach out of a Cape Cross mare. And then there’s Dark Envoy, another Dark Angel out of a Cape Cross mare. Of course, these youngsters have to prove their ability on the racecourse and the coming months will tell us more.

But in his bid for a successful campaign, Kingscote is also picking up plenty of spare rides from other prominent trainers, especially Ralph Beckett. Yesterday at Kempton Chaleur and Podemos at Chepstow a day earlier provided a couple of second-place finishes. He also rode Time Change to victory at Salisbury last week for the Hampshire trainer. And at Newbury last Friday, the jockey had the leg-up on the Martyn Meade-trained Advertise, who ran out a thrilling winner following a smart ride from Kingscote.

A title challenge remains unlikely, as that book of rides remains a little threadbare. Nevertheless, the jockey is undoubtedly in a rich vein of form and his continued success will not go unnoticed by trainers looking to fill gaps in their schedules. He rode 113 winners back in 2016 and must be confident of surpassing that impressive personal best.

Rhododendron Blooms at Newbury

Aidan O’Brien’s Rhododendron got the better of Lightning Spear to land a thrilling Lockinge Stakes at Newbury.

Despite concerns over the drop back in trip, Ballydoyle’s filly proved she had the ‘zip’, holding off David Simcock’s talented miler by a nose. O’Brien had four runners in the field of 14, and three were prominent from the off. Deauville set the pace followed closely by Lancaster Bomber. Ryan Moore shadowed the pair aboard race favourite Rhododendron, whilst Oisin Murphy was keen to keep tabs on Team Ballydoyle, positioning Lightning Spear alongside the filly.

Moore made his move approaching the two-furlong pole, driving the favourite to the front down the centre of the track, whilst Murphy, possibly travelling slightly the better at that stage, came stand-side to make his challenge. At the furlong mark Rhododendron was half-a-length to the good, but that advantage was whittled away approaching the post. The filly clung on for victory, much to the frustration of Lightning Spear’s connections, who saw their horse clearly ahead just yards past the line.

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Lancaster Bomber was outpaced by the front pair, though stayed on well for third, whilst Dutch Connection ran a belter, but ultimately failed to see out the one mile trip back in fourth.

O’Brien said of the winner: “I was delighted, we thought she’d come on from her run last time (fourth to Cracksman) and Ryan’s given her a brilliant ride. It’s a big team effort and we’re delighted.” Of future targets, especially Royal Ascot, O’Brien added: “We were thinking of coming here, then going to Ascot. She would have the option of going the mile (Queen Anne) or the mile and a quarter (Prince of Wales’s Stakes). We’ll have a good chat to Ryan and then the boys will decide after that.”

Ryan Moore spoke to ITV Racing after the win, saying: “She’s a Group One winner at two, three and now four and she’s had an incredible career. After what happened to her in the French Oaks (bled badly), what Aidan and the team have done with her, it’s a massive turnaround. She was very good at two and could have won a lot more at three. She was unlucky in the Guineas, then ran into Enable in the Oaks. She came back and won the Opera, and had she had a draw at Del Mar she’d have won there.”

David Simcock looked gutted after losing out in the head-bobber yet composed himself and spoke to ITV Racing straight after the race: “I’ve not had the wind taken out of my sails like that for a while. I’m just a little gutted, but very proud of the horse. He was given a great ride - I thought he was going to win nearing the line. Oisin Murphy has given him a fantastic ride. It is just so frustrating.

“We're just very fond of him and he's never let us down. He's been placed in so many Group Ones, you just feel we'd like to have won one with him, but he's run a great race. They finished a good two lengths clear of the third. Fair play to the filly. I would say we'll go to the Queen Anne. It's the obvious place to go.”

Of those further back in the field, Addeybb clearly found the ground too lively, fading out of contention in the latter stages. Limato again looked a non-stayer at a mile and will surely drop back in trip with a crack at the Diamond Jubilee at Royal Ascot likely.

Ryan Moore was winning his first Lockinge, with O’Brien landing the event for the first time since Hawk Wing in 2003. Rhododendron’s victory continued the strong trend of success for four-year-olds in the race, with 10 of the last 12 renewals now won by that age group. It is of course yet another Group One for O’Brien and his team, as he sets out on another campaign of top-level dominance.

Bomber can land telling blow at Newbury

The Group One Lockinge Stakes takes place at Newbury on Saturday, with Aidan O’Brien targeting a first success since 2003.

Excelebration was one of Ballydoyle’s classier contenders when runner-up in 2012, though had little chance of winning with Frankel in opposition. Hawk Wing landed the prize for the yard in 2003 by 11-lengths, having been kept in training following something of a ‘nearly’ season as a three-year-old. Runner-up in both the 2000 Guineas and the Epsom Derby, the classy colt did manage to win the Eclipse at Sandown. Sadly, after his Newbury romp, he suffered a career-ending knee injury at Royal Ascot.

It’s fair to say that this is a race the Ballydoyle boys have tended to ignore. It’s usually a case that O’Brien’s most talented milers are sent to stud following successful campaigns at three. Last year’s Guineas winning pair of Churchill and Winter have followed that path, leaving Rhododendron as their leading Lockinge contender and current favourite for the race.

Her three-year-old campaign pretty much mirrored that of Hawk Wing back in the day. Runner-up in both the Guineas and the Oaks, she had a spell on the side-lines before a win in the Prix de l’Opera at a mile-and-a-quarter. Her return at Longchamp last month, when fourth to Cracksman, was satisfactory. She’s likely to improve for the run, though there must be a question as to whether this one-mile trip will suit. She’s looked a filly that needs slightly further, though this does look a sub-standard renewal.

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Limato is next-best in the betting, though the trip for him appears a touch beyond his best. He was fourth in this race back in 2016, when looking a little one-paced late on. He similarly faltered in the latter stages of last year’s Lennox Stakes at Goodwood. Quick ground at Newbury will certainly help his cause and he’s likely to be travelling better than anything deep into the race. Harry Bentley has the task of whether to kick clear and hold on or wait to the last moment in the hope that the six-year-old has enough in the tank. I’d be taking the first option and using that devastating change of gear to put distance between myself and the rest.

William Haggas has his team in sparkling form and is represented by the fast improving Addeybb. The four-year-old landed the Group Two bet365 Mile last month, though this will clearly be a tougher task. Those aged four have won eight of the last 10 renewals, though the race does tend to go to proven Group One performers. He lacks that high-level experience and I’d be slightly concerned over ground conditions. He’s been impressive on soft and good-to-soft thus far, and he’ll need to prove that he has the tactical speed for this race on fast ground.

Like Addeybb, the Andrew Balding-trained Beat The Bank looks a progressive four-year-old, though he did disappoint on his final outing last year, when stepped into Group One company for the QEII at Ascot. This son of Paco Boy had flopped at Ascot earlier in the campaign, so I’m inclined to forgive him those two shockers. His strongest performance came in the Group Two Joel Stakes at Newmarket, when he slaughtered a decent field by five lengths. He has something to prove at this level, though there’s surely more to come.

Like Limato, Suedois is something of a sprinter turned miler, though he has proven himself capable of seeing out the trip at a high level. He’s consistent and is likely to be in the mix especially on this quicker ground. No seven-year-old has won the race and he’s certainly vulnerable to an improving youngster. Nevertheless, 20/1 is a fair price for a horse suited by track and conditions and possessing such an amount of experience at this level.

Lightning Spear was runner-up 12 months ago, and is another that could outrun his odds. In a weak looking renewal, he has a big performance in the locker, though last season proved rather inconsistent. Another seven-year-old, he’s unlikely to be winning, but is another at a price, capable of hitting the frame.

One that should run well, if lining up, is O’Brien’s four-year-old colt Lancaster Bomber. Fourth in last year’s Guineas and runner-up in the St James’s Palace, he’s a class act on fast ground. Ryan Moore will be aboard the filly, but this fella should not be discounted if given the green light.

This is a tough race to call, with no outstanding miler apparent. I’m a huge fan of Rhododendron but I’m far from convinced that this is her trip. If he runs, I’ll be siding with Lancaster Bomber in the hope that ground and trip will suit him better than his stable companion. Though he’s too old to win, Lightning Spear can run into a place. Best of luck to those taking a punt in this tricky renewal.

Stoute’s Mirage is no Royal Ascot illusion

Ascot's Victoria Cup proved a tough puzzle to crack, with the front three coming home at odds of 20/1, 28/1 and 40s. Yet the trends for the race remain pretty much intact, with seven of the first eight carrying less than nine stone and the first seven home aged four or five.

Having hung up her whip in 2015, Hayley Turner once again proved she has plenty more to offer from the saddle, as she navigated her way through the field with a beautifully timed run, to snatch victory on the David Elsworth-trained Ripp Orf. Last year’s third, Zhui Feng, looked likely to hang on for a stunning success under the burden of 9 stone 10lbs. But as the post approached Turner’s mount kicked in the overdrive, and with just 8 stone 1lb to hold him back, swept to victory.

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Clearly delighted, the winning jockey told ITV Racing: “That was amazing. What a legend of a horse. They gave me some good orders to ride the horse with confidence. The big field suited him and a strong gallop. He just liked weaving through them. I'll be looking forward to my dinner.” Of her return to race riding, she added: “It’s been tough, but Michael Bell, Tom Dascombe and Marcus Tregoning – the old boys who used to help me – have given me a leg up and I appreciate it. Hopefully I’m not letting them down.”

Keyser Soze was sent off the 9/2 favourite but lost all chance of success with another shocking exit from the stalls. Rooted at the back of the field in the early stages, Jamie Spencer began to weave his way through the pack, yet always had far too much ground to make up. The horse is on a winning mark, and if he gets the start sorted, he’ll be winning big before too long.

In my Friday piece I’d given Firmament my confident backing. Sadly, the draw was unkind, and though he ran a solid race, he was always up against it on the stands side of the track. He too looks to be on a tasty mark and should be followed, especially when the ground is rattling quick.

Earlier in the day Roger Varian’s Barsanti put in a strong performance to fend off Sir Michael Stoute’s Mirage Dancer in a mile-and-a-half listed event. Runner-up in last year’s Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot, it’s hard to imagine he’ll improve substantially from five to six, but he’s undoubtedly a solid Group Two performer. Varian arguably has a slightly classier sort in Defoe, though I’d fancy both are just shy of top class.

I’d be slightly more interested in the prospects of Mirage Dancer. He’s a lovely big colt by Frankel, out of a Green Desert mare, and looks sure to improve during the campaign, especially when encountering ground with a little more give. Stoute has a reputation for transforming his four-year-old middle-distance runners, and this fella could be interesting when lining up at Royal Ascot next month. The Hardwicke is a favourite of Sir Michael’s, having landed seven of the last dozen renewals.

In France yesterday, Aidan O’Brien’s US Navy Flag came home a slightly disappointing fifth in the French Guineas. Drawn widest of all, Ryan Moore was keen to get a good position, driving the colt to the front, and possibly doing a little too much in the process. He faded slightly in the final furlong, as Olmedo finished strongest to win. Jean-Claude Rouget's colt is without doubt a classy sort, though this looked a step in the right direction for Ballydoyle’s charge. Moore proved himself human, and should he get the fractions right next time we may yet see this son of War Front capture another Group One.

O’Meara’s Firmament can prove Victoria Cup trend buster

We look forward to another ultra-competitive handicap this weekend, as Ascot plays host to the Victoria Cup.

A maximum field of 29 are expected to go to post for this valuable cavalry charge. The race has favoured four-year-olds in recent times, with six victories in the last 10. Five-year-olds also have a decent record, but it’s rare that any above this age strike gold. Weight carrying is often an issue in such handicaps, and this race is no different. Only two from the last 10 renewals has carried more than nine stone to victory. Of the first six home in last year’s race, all bar Zhui Feng carried less (he was right on the nine-stone mark).

Keyser Soze looks likely to start favourite. Trained in Newmarket by Richard Spencer, this four-year-old ran a cracker on his seasonal return at Newbury, when third in a similarly competitive 22-runner handicap. Slow out the gate that day, he found himself stuck at the back of the field for much of the race. He gradually carved his way through the pack and looked sure to win when bursting to the front less than a furlong from home. Though chinned late on, it’s hard to believe that he would not have won had he not had such a tardy start. It’s a concern that his only visit to Ascot was disappointing, when trailing home in last year’s Britannia Stakes. He also sits on that nine-stone threshold. Nevertheless, that Newbury run was eye-catching, and this fella looks progressive.

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The six-year-old, Louie De Palma, is also towards the top of the market, despite having not been sighted on racecourse for almost four years. Off since a decent juvenile campaign, it would be an astounding piece of training should Clive Cox deliver him victorious in such a competitive event. Based on that two-year-old form, his handicap mark may well be generous, but backing this fella requires a monumental leap of faith from the punter.

The David Barron-trained Kynren has the right sort of profile for this. A progressive looking four-year-old, his seasonal return at Doncaster in the Spring Mile Handicap was full of promise. Third that day, despite a poor draw, he’d battled on bravely having been isolated on the stands-rail for the first half of the race. He’s set to carry 8-11, and though his pedigree suggests he may favour softer ground, he has proved his ability to handle a quicker surface. He could go close.

Raising Sand is older than ideal at six, but his record at Ascot suggests another bold bid is likely. He’s twice a winner at the track and was placed third and fourth in his other pair of visits. He clearly performs well in these big-field events and his handicap mark (just 2lbs higher than last time) suggests he’ll go close again. He lacks a prep-run, which has proved a slight negative for this race. Nevertheless, he looks a serious contender.

Firmament would be another trend buster, but the David O’Meara-trained six-year-old is starting to look very well handicapped, and never disappoints at Ascot. He ran well off a mark of 109 throughout last year and is now down to 102. I can’t see this fella finishing out of the frame, yet he’s currently a 28/1 shot. He’s vulnerable to a young progressive sort, further down the handicap, but I’m convinced he’ll be in the shake-up.

Keyser Soze and Kynren fit the profile and look sure to go close. But I’ll be backing a pair each-way in the hope that they can become trend busters. The well-handicapped Firmament is the main bet. He loves the track, and in O’Meara and Tudhope, we have a potent combination for this type of race. I’ll also throw a few quid at Raising Sand, who also loves Ascot and remains on a fair handicap mark. Both are six-year-olds, hence vulnerable to a younger improver, but I’m convinced both will be in the mix.

Best of luck to those having a punt.

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