Lacklustre UK but Pletcher shows the way in USA

The weekend’s action proved rather lacklustre, but thankfully Royal Ascot looms large on the horizon.

The Group 3 John Of Gaunt Stakes was as good as it got at Haydock on Saturday. Brecon Rock failed in his attempt to give 5lbs and a beating to an array of decent seven-furlong sorts. Andrew Balding’s Absolutely So enjoyed the rain-softened ground, and came out on top in a bunch finish. The thoroughly exposed seven-year-old got the better of Jallota for his first pattern success. The runner-up had to give the winner 3lbs, and came so close to doing so successfully. The Charlie Hills six-year-old is probably the one to take from the race, and likely to strike again in Group company sooner, rather than later.

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If the action proved rather tepid for many at Haydock, then Godolphin were certainly welcoming an upturn in fortunes at Newmarket. Earlier in the week they had parted company with Chief Executive John Ferguson. His resignation came after an alleged breakdown in relationship with elements of the team. Nevertheless, the ‘Boys in Blue’ ran-in a hattrick of winners on the July Course, thanks to trainer Charlie Appleby. Culturati was arguably the star performer, returning from a tendon injury to win well, and likely book his place in the Wokingham at Royal Ascot.

The team will be keen to paper over the cracks as soon as possible, especially as they head into the royal meeting with several outstanding chances. Ribchester is a short-priced favourite for the Queen Anne on the opening day, and will be tough to beat. Barney Roy is likely to be Churchill’s main challenger in the St James’s Palace Stakes, and their latest recruit, Harry Angel, will join Blue Point in a powerful looking assault on the Commonwealth Cup. With little more than a week to go before the greatest Flat meeting of the season, unrest, though untimely, is unlikely to prevent Godolphin from having a highly productive Royal Ascot.

Whilst action was rather underwhelming in the UK, over in America, Todd Pletcher was once again making headlines as he captured the third leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes. The victory was thanks to a gutsy performance from Tapwrit. The three-year-old is a son of leading American stallion Tapit, and proved a powerful stayer, seemingly improving plenty for a step-up in trip having finished back in sixth in the Kentucky Derby in May.

That Triple Crown opener had also gone the way of Pletcher, when Always Dreaming romped to an impressive success. The horse failed to land the second leg a few weeks later when fading to a disappointing eighth place finish in the Preakness. Nevertheless, landing two from three of America’s famous trio is another outstanding training achievement for Pletcher and his team.

He will next be turning his attention to the UK, and specifically Royal Ascot, as he looks to send over American Patriot to contest the Queen Anne Stakes. The four-year-old colt by War Front was an impressive winner at Keeneland in April, and would be looking to emulate last year’s successful American raider Tepin. He’s not without a chance, though would have to defeat the Godolphin hotshot, Ribchester.

Expect plenty more Royal Ascot ‘chit-chat’ between now and June 20. There’s no meeting quite like it, and it is undoubtedly the highlight of the summer racing calendar.

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