River Nymph swoops late for Victoria Cup glory

River Nymph came with a wet sail to lift the tote+ Victoria Cup at Ascot for Clive Cox and Adam Kirby.

The duo are no strangers to success at the Berkshire track, and landed the £75,000 pot with the unexposed four-year-old by half a length from 80-1 outsider Eagleway.

River Nymph had looked to have a big future last season when winning consecutive races at Ascot and Newbury, both over seven furlongs.

However, stepped up to a mile for the Balmoral Handicap on Champions Day and the Lincoln at Doncaster on his seasonal return, River Nymph finished nearer last than first on both occasions.

Back over the specialist trip of seven furlongs, Kirby was able to save his mount for a late flourish deep inside the final furlong.

It was a typical big-field Ascot handicap with a furlong to run, with as many as 10 in a line across the track.

Eagleway could be spotted with his bright blinkers, with the favourite Acquitted, top weight Motakhayyel and Zip all to the fore.

River Nymph appeared to have plenty to do at that stage, but under a strong Kirby drive, the 11-1 chance hit top gear and won going away. Escobar was third with Zip fourth.

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The winner is now likely to be stepped up in class.

Cox said: “It looks like he’s a seven-furlong specialist and he loves it here at Ascot.

“It was a very competitive renewal and I’m over the moon as he was 11lb higher than when he won here last season, so I’m very happy.

“I think he’ll be handicapped out of races like the Balmoral now, but to get that win means a lot.

“Quite possibly it will be a Listed race next. He doesn’t like the ground too firm, but he’s the sort of horse who has a change of gear, so is the type to handle a step up in class.

“He could be one to take to France, those races could suit. We’ll just play the cards accordingly.”

Albaflora powers clear to win impressively
Albaflora powers clear to win impressively (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Albaflora ran out a hugely-impressive winner of the tote+ Pays More At Buckhounds Stakes.

Ralph Beckett’s filly hinted there could be more to come from her this season when pushing St Leger runner-up Berkshire Rocco close at the end of last term.

Settled in mid-division by Rossa Ryan, the 4-1 favourite could be spotted travelling ominously well as the field, headed by Without A Fight, turned into the straight.

Ryan just needed to manoeuvre his mount into the clear to enable a smooth passage, but once she saw daylight she quickened away impressively.

Running in the famous Kirsten Rausing colours, she fairly powered away from a decent field with Tribal Craft, the 50-1 outsider, emerging from out of the pack to finish second – albeit seven lengths adrift.

Beckett said: “I thought she’d win, but I wasn’t expecting that.

“We had a frustrating year last year and I left Ascot frustrated after the Noel Murless as I thought she should have won that day.

“She’s in the Hardwicke, which indicates what we felt about her. She could go to the Pinnacle (at Haydock) at the end of this month, but I’ll work it out.

“She’s done very well over the winter and Alyssa (half-sister) did better with age. Given how she’d done over the winter, it was no surprise she won. How good she’ll be, we’ll find out.”

Ryan then doubled up on David Loughnane’s newcomer Go Bears Go (6-1), who made just about every yard of the running against the rail in the tote+ Placepots Pay More Novice Stakes.

The two main market protagonists fought out the finish to the tote+ Exclusively At British EBF Fillies’ Handicap, with top weight Lights On (3-1) just edging out Dreamloper.

Palmer hopeful of big run from Acquitted in Victoria Cup

Hugo Palmer’s Acquitted will compete over seven furlongs for the first time when he lines up for the ultra-competitive tote+ Victoria Cup at Ascot on Saturday.

The four-year-old was beaten just a neck when making his seasonal reappearance in Doncaster’s Spring Mile, his first run since being gelded last year.

Palmer, who hopes that a marginally shorter trip will suit the son of Night Of Thunder, has no concerns about the forecast softer surface for the four-year-old.

“We’re trying a new trip with him, coming back to seven furlongs,” he said.

“I always thought we’d end up going up to 10 furlongs, but he travelled very strongly through the Spring Mile at Doncaster and just got touched off at the finish.

“We know he handles cut in the ground, and a stiff seven furlongs at Ascot should suit him down to the ground – he’s not slow.”

Also among the maximum 29-runner field is George Margarson’s Ropey Guest, who begins his four-year-old campaign after claiming a long-awaited first victory last year.

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The Cable Bay gelding is owned by John Guest Racing, for whom Margarson trained Excellent Guest to win the same race at 25-1 in 2013.

“We won it first time out a few years ago with Excellent Guest, a horse with a similar profile,” said the Newmarket handler.

Excellent Guest was rated 93 at the time, 5lb lower than Ropey Guest’s current mark.

“In an ideal world we could have got him rated 90, but he wouldn’t have got in, so he’s probably on his top mark,” added Margarson.

“He’s shown form at 103, and then they dropped him to 98, which was fair enough for starting out in the handicap world.”

Richard Spencer’s Keyser Soze arrives in winning form, having claimed a mile handicap at Ascot last time.

“He’s come out of his last win at Ascot very well,” said Spencer.

“We’re dropping back to seven furlongs, but I think the rain is going to bring out the stamina in him which should suit.

“Angus Villiers rides again, which is great. He’s a good young jockey who works for us, and I think you’re going to hear a lot more of him this year.

“It’s going to be a stamina test for everything in the race, with the ground being as slow as it will be on Saturday.”

Spencer also runs Tyson Fury on the card, in the Listed Buckhounds Stakes over a mile and a half.

The four-year-old’s seasonal reappearance resulted in a fourth-placed finish in the Group Three John Porter Stakes at Newbury, where he came home nine and a quarter lengths behind William Haggas’ highly-regarded Al Aasy.

“He’s come out of his Newbury race really well – he was quite fresh that day,” said Spencer.

“He was a bit gassy and a bit keen in the early parts of the race. But hopefully the freshness is out of him now, and I think he’s taken a step forward from his Newbury run, so we’re looking forward to running him.”

Simon and Ed Crisford’s Without A Fight finished second in the John Porter and also heads to the Buckhounds.

Ralph Beckett’s Albaflora returns after being beaten a head into second, and just in front of Without A Fight, over two furlongs further here in the Listed Noel Murless Stakes on her final three-year-old start last October.

Supremacy provides ‘less than perfect’ blood test result

An unsatisfactory blood test has provided an explanation for Supremacy’s lacklustre performance in the Pavilion Stakes at Ascot.

The three-year-old was sent off 10-11 favourite for last week’s six-furlong contest, a recognised trial for the Group One Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot next month.

Supremacy already has winning top-level form – having completed a hat-trick of victories last season in Newmarket’s Middle Park Stakes – but his return this year was a disappointing one as he finished last of eight.

The outcome of a blood test has since shed some light on the uncharacteristically poor run.

Trainer Clive Cox said: “We have had a less than perfect blood result from him.

“We’re leaving no stone unturned in the hope of rectifying the situation, which was far below expectations.

“We’ve had many tests – and without having a complete conclusion yet, we’re hoping we can get him back on the right track.”

Supremacy was in fine shape in preparation for the race, allowing a helpful comparison between test results before and after his poor performance.

Cox added: “He’s a horse of such a high standard – undoubtedly we wouldn’t have been there if we hadn’t been happy with him.

“Although he’s got such a laid-back temperament and way about him, it’s a just a relief.

“It’s flagged up less than perfect, which wasn’t the case before.

“We’ve got a bit of time to decide what’s next, and hopefully that will become clear over the couple of weeks.”

Charlie Hills upbeat on Battaash’s Royal Ascot run

Charlie Hills has issued a positive bulletin regarding the possibility of Battaash defending his crown in the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot.

The seven-year-old, who went unbeaten last season, picked up a small fracture in the winter which led to a longer lay off than usual.

After finishing second to Blue Point in 2018 and 2019 in the King’s Stand, Battaash went one better when beating stablemate Equilateral in the race last June before going on to win the King George Stakes at Goodwood for a fourth time and the Nunthorpe at York for a second time.

“He’s been back with us a week now and straight away he’s settled back into his routine of what he has done for the last few years. I’m really pleased with him,” said Hills.

“He’s not backward in his coat, which is nice as it has been pretty cold weather. I’m really pleased with where we are with him actually.

“At the moment there’s no reason why he wouldn’t make it (Ascot). His weight is pretty good and he’s showing all the same levels of enthusiasm that he always has done, so I’m happy.”

Evergreen Dettori still revelling in the big occasion

Frankie Dettori freely admits that, at 50 years old and in the 34th season of his career, the humdrum days no longer get his juices flowing. But it is very different when he is on his stage.

The Italian has ridden winners around the world, but the place where he comes alive is on a lush green strip of turf in Berkshire.

The speculation is always rife when a seasoned professional with a glittering career behind him might be ready for the pipe and carpet slippers. Just ask six-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Tom Brady, who will be 44 when the season starts – ancient in NFL terms.

Yet certain things get you up in the morning. The aches and pains are lessened by the soothing balm of enthusiasm for the biggest days.

Dettori comes alive in the spotlight. He may have lived in Flat racing’s HQ of Newmarket since arriving in this country from his homeland, but it is Ascot which is his professional home and the Royal meeting, in particular, is the time and place for a clutch of Dettori’s command performances.

And in Stradivarius, he will have a chance of another milestone at the showpiece fixture, after the seven-year-old came through his prep in the Longines Sagaro Stakes on Wednesday with flying colours, beating Ocean Wind by an easy length.

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It was Dettori’s fifth Sagaro Stakes success, although the last winner of the race to go on to land the Gold Cup was Estimate in 2013. Dettori is now seeking a ninth Gold Cup triumph, and a fourth consecutive one with the Bjorn Nielsen-owned Stradivarius, who has the chance to equal Yeats’ four-timer between 2006-2009.

Dettori said: “Horses like Stradivarius are what you get up for. He had been a progressive three-year-old the season before his first Gold Cup when he had improved as the summer had gone on. We knew he had strengthened up over the winter and we genuinely thought we had a real Gold Cup contender on our hands.

“And he has just been so consistent ever since.”

Frankie Dettori leaves the weighing room ahead of the Sagaro Stakes
Frankie Dettori leaves the weighing room ahead of the Sagaro Stakes (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Much like his partner, who is as addicted to the adrenaline kick of a big winner as much he ever was. Probably more so.

Dettori and his trainer, John Gosden, realised that in Stradivarius, a chestnut with distinctive white socks on his legs, they had a rare commodity – a stayer with a turn of foot.

Dettori said: “The ground was against him on his last two runs last year, but he’s been in great form at home and he has the same old enthusiasm he has always had. He has shown us all the right signs throughout the winter.

“Bjorn was a little worried that he may not have the enthusiasm, but he has always had that and he’s shown me no signs that he has lost that. John has been very happy with him and he has the ability to win over shorter trips than the Gold Cup.

“Today, I wanted to be closer to the pace and didn’t want them to get away from me, but he has got a turn of foot and when I asked him to quicken, he got there too soon.

“He is an incredible horse and he has that extra burst.”

Dettori shows no signs of calling it a day just yet. He admitted: “Riding horses like those obviously gives you a spring in your step. I feel like a teenager when the season starts, and I still can’t wait to get going. I am as fit as I have ever been, spending time in the gym, and I look after myself, but I also must be realistic.

“I am very lucky to have a boss like John. He understands me. He’d rather have me up for the weekends and the big days, fresh and hungry, rather than slogging around the country chasing smaller prizes that just don’t motivate me anymore.

“There was a time when I wanted to win every race. I’d have driven miles for a winner, even if it was just a seller. But it is impossible to maintain that level of motivation.

“You never know what is around the corner, but horses like Stradivarius are what it is all about.”

And rather like Stradivarius at the end of his races, Dettori’s stride is not shortening. He is looking forwards. There will be plenty of time for reflection.

He said: “Yeats won four Gold Cup and people said that would never be done again, but for us, the dream is still alive!”

There is a statue of Yeats in the parade ring at Ascot. “Let’s hope they will have to make space for one of Stradivarius,” he added.

Rohaan surges late for Pavilion victory

Rohaan sprouted wings under Ryan Moore to win the Qipco British Champions Series Pavilion Stakes – in which the odds-on favourite Supremacy finished last.

Outpaced at halfway, Rohaan picked his way through the field and showed he is far from an all-weather specialist following his fruitful winter.

For Clive Cox and Supremacy, though, it is back to the drawing board.

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Last season’s Middle Park winner was strongly fancied to put himself among the favourites for the Commonwealth Cup – for which this race is a designated trial – but giving away a 4lb penalty, Supremacy looked beaten soon after halfway as Adam Kirby never looked happy.

Saint Lawrence was up there forcing the pace throughout and was still travelling well entering the final furlong.

He had all the rest under pressure. But David Evans’ Rohaan, sent off at 22-1, came with a withering run to win going away by a length and a quarter. Spycatcher was back in third.

Moore said: “Rohaan has a lovely turn of foot. Dave (Evans) has done some great work with him.

“I think a level track helps him, and he’s been in great form all year and he has a super attitude. The race fell right for him, and I think he will get seven furlongs.

“That was the third time I have ridden him, and he is a very honest horse who has a good turn of foot. The strongly-run race suited him, and he gets this six furlongs well.

“I didn’t think we’d beat an in-form Supremacy. I think he is a good horse – but for whatever reason, he wasn’t running his race at halfway.

“My horse was in good shape, and fair play to Dave and the owners for putting him in here – he got his just rewards.

“Rohaan in the Commonwealth Cup would not be crazy on today’s performance. But the rain just helped on the good ground. It helped take the sting out of the ground.”

Trainer Cox could offer no excuses for the favourite’s run, and said: “I’m going to check on Supremacy. Nothing is obvious at all.

“This is easier ground than we have run on before with this rain, but I’m searching for excuses myself.

“I’m just a bit surprised, because he was first beat. I’ll be disappointed if something doesn’t show, but I’m not aware of it right now.”

Super Stradivarius seals Sagaro success on return to action

Stradivarius returned to action with a smooth success in the Longines Sagaro Stakes at Ascot.

Now a seven-year-old, Bjorn Nielsen’s superstar stayer showed all his old enthusiasm remains intact.

Kept in training in an attempt to emulate Yeats by winning a fourth Gold Cup back at the Royal meeting in June, the Sea The Stars entire cemented his claims as still being very much the one to beat.

Ridden by his old ally Frankie Dettori, he was content to let Stag Horn and Nayef Road set an honest gallop.

With half a mile to run Dettori had been shuffled to the back of the six-runner field, which meant he had to go from the inside rail to right around the pack just after the turn into the straight.

As Stag Horn dropped away John and Thady Gosden could watch on contently as Dettori was still going sweetly with over a furlong to run on the 4-6 favourite.

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His customary turn of foot was in evidence as he went two lengths clear and while he did begin to tire as Ocean Wind and Nayef Road closed in, Dettori did not need to get serious and just kept him up to his work to beat Ocean Wind – who ran well up in class – by a length.

As the chestnut had been well beaten in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and on Champions Day in his final two outings, the Gosdens will have been pleased with what they witnessed and the general reaction from the bookmakers was to cut Stradivarius to 6-4 to win a fourth Gold Cup.

Gosden senior said: “He (Nielsen) is incredibly sporting. To have a horse like this who has won three Gold Cups and four Goodwood Cups and a number of other races has been a dream come true. The old horse has got his enthusiasm still, as you can see. The last two races were bottomless ground and bottomless ground and he didn’t like either of them.

Stradivarius was a joy to behold at Ascot
Stradivarius was a joy to behold at Ascot (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“Frankie has been and sat on him since he has got out of quarantine twice. I’ve been thrilled with him all winter, he’s happy with him. All the people who work around the horse – we’ve all been very pleased with him. The horse has been his normal self.

“He ran a great race with poor old Anthony Van Dyck in the Prix Foy on decent ground. Then it was like a bicycle velodrome race in the Arc, when they trotted then sprinted in heavy ground and he didn’t like it and then the ground here was close to unraceable (on Champions Day), so I ruled those two races out.

“So I had every confidence that the enthusiasm was there. Frankie was over the moon with him – he travelled well and he thought ‘Oh, I’d better not let them get too much rope on me, and the next thing I gave him a click and he’s taken four lengths out of them in half a furlong and I hit the front too soon,’ so that’s a good sign.

“He is comfortable over this trip (two miles). He ran third to Ghaiyyath in a track-record time in the Jockey Club Stakes first time out last year in order to give him a prep. He was in the mix until the last furlong, but it was a track record and he was probably four and a half lengths off the track record over a mile and a half on fast ground.”

All roads now point towards the Gold Cup, without another run, according to Gosden.

He said: “He’s fine. He’s got the speed, but obviously he likes the Gold Cup distance, and I think we’ll come straight back here for the Gold Cup – I don’t see the point in running him anywhere else in between.

“His best surface is good ground like most horses. The summer soft, which we had last year, he can deal with. But when you get autumn, bottomless ground, no – that is not his scene. He has too good an action for that.”

A delighted Dettori said: “These horses are what you get up for. He’s been in great form at home and he has the same old enthusiasm he has always had. I wanted to be close and didn’t want them to get away from me, but he has got a turn of foot and when I asked him to quicken, he got there too soon. He is an incredible horse.

“Bjorn was a little worried that he may not have the enthusiasm, but he has always had that and he’s shown me no signs that he has lost that. John has been very happy with him all winter and he has the ability to win over shorter trips than the Gold Cup.

“Yeats won four Gold Cup and people said that would never be done again, but for us, the dream is still alive!”

Supremacy aiming to advertise Commonwealth Cup claims at Ascot

Supremacy will try to boost his already strong claims for the Commonwealth Cup when he makes his seasonal reappearance in the Qipco British Champions Series Pavilion Stakes at Ascot.

The Clive Cox-trained colt had a tremendous juvenile campaign, winning the Group Two Richmond Stakes at Glorious Goodwood and the Group One Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket. He has to carry a 4lb penalty on Wednesday, for the latter success.

Supremacy was beaten on his racecourse debut last season, and Cox is pleased to be able to run him before next month’s Group One at the Royal meeting, for which he is ante-post favourite at around 9-2.

“I’m delighted that it’s this year and not last, with the chance to have a prep and not go to Ascot first time out,” said the Lambourn trainer.

“He’s done really well, but this is very much his first step back, and he comes to himself when it gets a bit warmer – so while I’m pleased we’re back in action, it is very much his first step of the year.

“He’s a wonderful horse and he’s got such an amazing temperament for a sprinter, which is why I’m really pleased we’ve got a chance to have a trial race in the build-up to Royal Ascot. That is where we’re looking for him to come to the boil 100 per cent.

“I really don’t know if we’ll run him again before Ascot. I’m very happy we’ve got a chance to run on some quick ground. A lot of these horses have been running through the winter and have had recent runs.

“This is his first step back with a penalty. I’m looking forward to getting him back on track.”

Method makes his seasonal bow for Martyn Meade
Method misses out for Martyn Meade (Francesca Altoft/PA)
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Apollo One, Mighty Gurkha and Saint Lawrence are among those taking on Supremacy – but Method will disappointingly miss the race.

Trainer Martyn Meade had been looking forward to the seasonal reappearance of his dual winner, but has ruled him out following unsatisfactory blood test results. He is now set to go for the Sandy Lane Stakes at

“I’m really disappointed because we aimed for this race as the start of his campaign,” Meade told Sky Sports Racing.

“I think he’s such a good horse, we can’t risk him I’m afraid. It’s nothing serious – I’ve erred on the side of caution.

“I think we’re going to go for the Sandy Lane at Haydock, which is not until May 22. The Commonwealth Cup is what we’re focusing on, and I think the Sandy Lane would be an ideal prep race for him going into Ascot on June 18.”

Haqeeqy impressed with his Lincoln victory
Haqeeqy impressed with his Lincoln victory (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Haqeeqy steps up to Listed company for the Charlie Waller Trust Paradise Stakes, after winning the Lincoln Handicap in eyecatching fashion on only his sixth career start.

The four-year-old, by Lope De Vega, produced a decisive turn of foot to win going away by a length and a half at Doncaster last month.

Trainer John Gosden feels this is the right opportunity for Haqeeqy on the back of that victory.

“He did it well. He finished off that race very strongly, and that’s an obvious step to go to a Listed from a race like that,” he said.

Sir Busker (white cap) claimed last year's Silver Royal Hunt Cup
Sir Busker (white cap) claimed last year’s Silver Royal Hunt Cup (Megan Ridgwell/PA)

Sir Busker won the Silver Hunt Cup over the course and distance at the Royal meeting, and also covered himself in glory in two attempts in Group company.

Runner-up in the Celebration Mile, the William Knight-trained gelding was fourth to The Revenant in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes in October.

Sam Hoskins, racing manager for owners Kennet Valley Thoroughbreds, said: “We’re really looking forward to seeing him run back. William is really pleased. He’s grown and has strengthened up even more during the winter.

“I’m sure he’ll come on for the run a little bit, but I’m hoping he’ll be bang there.

“It was a great performance in the QEII, and if he hadn’t have hung all the way across the track he may well have beaten Palace Pier for third.

“That was obviously very different ground to what it will be on Wednesday, but hopefully he’ll run a big race again.

“Ascot suits him perfectly. He likes to be ridden patiently. We won’t see him until late, hopefully.”

Marie’s Diamond, trained by Mark Johnston, won this race last year when it was staged at Newmarket in June because of the pandemic.

Richard Hannon is double-handed with Oh This Is Us and Qaysar, while Paul and Oliver Cole run their two-time Group-race scorer Duke Of Hazzard.

Gold Cup king Stradivarius returns to Ascot for Sagaro opener

Stradivarius starts on the road to a possible fourth successive Ascot Gold Cup when he makes his seasonal debut in the Longines Sagaro Stakes at the Berkshire course.

John Gosden, who trains the horse with his son Thady, reports Stradivarius to be in good form but expects him to come on a lot for Wednesday’s comeback outing.

The seven-year-old has to recover from disappointing showings in his last two starts of 2020, although both were run on unsuitable ground.

Stradivarius had been his brilliant self before then, winning a third Gold Cup by 10 lengths and picking up a fourth Goodwood Cup in a row. He also warmed up for a crack at the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe with a good second to Anthony Van Dyck in the Prix Foy at ParisLongchamp.

“He’s ready for a return. Obviously the last two races were both run in exceptionally heavy ground. He wasn’t in love with it. There was no pace in the Arc, then they sprinted,” said Gosden.

“He ran very well in the Prix Foy and did nothing wrong before that.

“He’s a seven-year-old full horse now, so to that extent age is becoming a bit of issue – maybe less so if he was a gelding, but he’s a full horse.

“But he seems happy in himself and is his usually vociferous self, so we’re looking forward to running him.

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“He likes Ascot, obviously, and I feel the trip is right to start him off at two miles. He’s a bigger, heavier horse this year so he may well need his first race.

“We’ll see how he runs. If he needs another race, there’s the Yorkshire Cup – but we’ll see.

“He’s bigger, he’s a seven-year-old and he’s weighing heavier – so to that extent he may need two races before the Gold Cup. We don’t know.”

Nayef Road won this race last year when it was run at Newcastle, but he then had to play second fiddle to Stradivarius at both Royal Ascot and Goodwood.

The Mark Johnston-trained entire is having his first race since finishing third in the Lonsdale Cup at York in August.

“If Stradivarius comes back in the same form as last year then he’ll be extremely difficult to beat,” said the Middleham handler.

“We’ve run some very good horses against Stradivarius and come second. That said, we’ve got a much stronger team this year and it’s going to be very interesting to see.

“I’d say to beat Subjectivist and Sir Ron Priestley (this season), Stradivarius is going to have to be absolutely at his best. So, if nothing else we’re going to see if that’s the case.

“Nayef Road is fine. He did have a setback at the end of last season but he seems to have got over it well, and he’s ready to run.”

As for Subjectivist, who was successful in the Dubai Gold Cup on World Cup night last month, he is likely to bypass the Yorkshire Cup and head for the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot following his convincing victory in the Dubai Gold Cup at Meydan last month.

“He’ll probably go straight for the Gold Cup,” said Johnston.

Of the rest of the field, Charlie Fellowes has given Prince Of Arran stalls practice because his seasoned stayer has been slowly away in his last two races.

The Newmarket trainer believes it has worked the oracle and will help the eight-year-old show the kind of form that has seen him placed in the last three runnings of the Melbourne Cup. He was also second in this race in 2017.

Trainer Charlie Fellowes has been giving Prince Of Arran some stalls practice
Trainer Charlie Fellowes has been giving Prince Of Arran some stalls practice (Simon Cooper/PA)

“He loves Ascot, loves the quick ground. He’s done a bit of stalls work since his last two races, where I wasn’t pleased with the way he jumped out, and that seems to have done the trick,” said Fellowes.

“It’s a tough race, but we’re rated 114, and around Ascot he’s got his perfect conditions. He can run a good race. He’ll have to be very good to beat Stradivarius, but I think we can be in the mix behind him.”

Roger Teal is wary of the task facing Ocean Wind, who was running in bumpers in 2020 but has progressed through the ranks and finished second to the Johnston-trained Sir Ron Priestley in a Listed race at Nottingham last time.

“It’s a big step up for him,” said the Lambourn trainer.

“This horse never stops giving. We’ll see what happens on Wednesday and we can set our stall out for the rest of the season after that.

Ocean Wind (right) takes a big step up in class when taking on Stradivarius
Ocean Wind (right) takes a big step up in class when taking on Stradivarius (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“If he runs well in that company, we know which way we’re headed. If he’s not up to it, we know which other direction to go in. It will be interesting.

“It’s a quality field, but we like our horse and he’s done nothing wrong. He ran an absolute cracker last time. The extra two furlongs will suit him, and we’re happy with him.”

Desert Skyline, Island Brave and Stag Horn complete the seven-strong field.

Stradivarius returns to Ascot in Sagaro Stakes

Three-time Gold Cup winner Stradivarius returns to Ascot on Wednesday when he makes his seasonal reappearance in the Longines Sagaro Stakes.

John and Thady Gosden’s seven-year-old escapes a penalty in the Group Three as he failed to win in three outings following his Goodwood Cup success.

He will face six rivals and they include last year’s Sagaro winner Nayef Road, trained by Mark Johnston, who triumphed at Newcastle as the race was one of a number of calendar changes due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Nayef Road was second to Stradivarius at both Ascot and Goodwood last season.

Frankie Dettori was again jumping for joy from Stradivarius last season
Frankie Dettori was again jumping for joy from Stradivarius last season (Julian Finney/PA)

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There are two improving stayers among the opposition in Roger Teal’s Ocean Wind and Archie Watson’s Stag Horn.

Desert Skyline, Island Brave and Prince Of Arran complete the field.

Clive Cox’s Middle Park winner Supremacy is the star turn among 10 in the Qipco British Champions Series Pavilion Stakes.

As well as his Group One at Newmarket, Supremacy also won the Richmond Stakes at Goodwood.

Martyn Meade’s Method is his chief threat on official ratings, although he was well behind Supremacy in the Middle Park.

Supremacy was a Group One winner in the Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket
Supremacy was a Group One winner in the Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Mighty Gurkha and Saint Lawrence are others in the race with three-figure ratings.

Lincoln winner Haqeeqy steps up in class in the Charlie Waller Trust Paradise Stakes, which is seen as a trial for the Queen Anne.

Ridden by the now suspended Benoit de la Sayette at Doncaster, Jim Crowley takes over on the Gosden-trained four-year-old, who is owned by Hissa Hamdan Al Maktoum, daughter of the late Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum.

Paul and Oliver Cole’s Duke Of Hazzard has his first run since a wind operation, while Sir Busker returns to Ascot having run so well to finish fourth in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on Champions Day.

Haqeeqy shone in the Lincoln
Haqeeqy shone in the Lincoln (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Marie’s Diamond, Prince Eiji and Sir Michael Stoute’s Solid Stone all take their chance.

Six promising three-year-olds line up in the Naas Racecourse Royal Ascot Trials Day British EBF Fillies’ Conditions Stakes, including Charlie Appleby’s Danilova, the beaten favourite in the Sweet Solera last year.

Eve Johnson Houghton’s Brocklesby winner Chipotle faces two other previous winners in Gubbass and The Gatekeeper as well as newcomers War Of Courage and Wrought Iron in the Royal Ascot Two-Year-Old Trial Conditions Stakes.

Stradivarius poised to make Ascot return

Stradivarius is one of the stars set to be on show for Royal Ascot Trials Day on Wednesday.

John and Thady Gosden’s popular stayer is among 14 entries for the Longines Sagaro Stakes – a Group Three contest which acts as a perfect springboard to the Gold Cup at the Royal meeting in June.

Already a three-time Gold Cup winner, Stradivarius has returned to training as a seven-year-old with the primary objective of matching the legendary Yeats in landing the two-and-a-half-mile showpiece for a fourth time.

His potential rivals on his seasonal reappearance include Alan King’s Trueshan – winner of the Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup at Ascot in October – and the Mark Johnston-trained Nayef Road.

The latter was runner-up to Stradivarius in both the Gold Cup and the Goodwood Cup last summer.

Joseph O’Brien is responsible for the three Irish-trained contenders in Baron Samedi, Master Of Reality and Twilight Payment.

Group Three honours are also up for grabs in the following Merriebelle Stable Commonwealth Cup Trial.

The six-furlong contest is set to see the reappearance of Clive Cox’s Supremacy, who claimed Group One glory in the Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket in September.

Supremacy winning the Middle Park Stakes
Supremacy winning the Middle Park Stakes (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

He could be take on by the Charlie Appleby-trained Naval Crown, who was runner-up to Tactical in the Free Handicap last week.

Martyn Meade’s Method and Mighty Gurkha from Archie Watson’s yard also feature among 11 hopefuls.

Plenty of familiar names are in contention for the Paradise Stakes, a trial for the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot.

The 12 entries for the Listed heat include Duke Of Hazzard (Paul and Oliver Cole), Sir Busker (William Knight), Marie’s Diamond (Mark Johnston) and Stormy Antarctic (Ed Walker).

Death of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, aged 99

Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Queen’s consort for almost 70 years, has died at the age of 99.

While never an owner in racing himself, he had been an honorary member of the Jockey Club since 1947 and was a regular companion of the Queen at Royal Ascot.

A statement issued by the royal family read: “It is with deep sorrow that Her Majesty The Queen announces the death of her beloved husband, His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

“His Royal Highness passed away peacefully this morning at Windsor Castle. Further announcements will made in due course.

“The royal family join with people around the world in mourning his loss.”

The Duke of Edinburgh Handicap is staged at the royal meeting each year, but one of the Duke’s most enjoyable tasks at Ascot was when presenting the Queen’s Vase to Her Majesty after Estimate won in 2012.

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The Duke of Edinburgh presents the Queen with the Queen's Vase in 2012
The Duke of Edinburgh presents the Queen with the Queen’s Vase in 2012 (Tim Ireland/PA)

Sir Francis Brooke Bt, Her Majesty’s representative at Ascot, said in a statement: “We extend our deepest condolences to Her Majesty The Queen and the Royal Family at this time.

“We have very happy memories of His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh at Ascot where he accompanied Her Majesty The Queen on so many occasions and shared in her successes.

“One of the most memorable moments was in 2012 when His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh presented Her Majesty The Queen with the Queen’s Vase after Estimate’s victory.”

Estimate would go on to win the Gold Cup at Ascot the following year, providing the Queen with one of her greatest victories as an owner.

Two minutes silence was observed prior to day two of the Randox Grand National Festival at Aintree, while all jockeys sported black armbands.

Sir Anthony McCoy
Sir Anthony McCoy (Mike Egerton/PA)

In his role as a pundit for ITV Racing, 20-time champion jockey Sir Anthony McCoy paid his tribute.

McCoy said: “First and foremost my deepest condolences to Her Majesty the Queen and the Royal family.

“I was very lucky to spend time in Prince Philip’s company at Windsor Castle. He was a very interesting man and a really good polo player in his younger days.

“He was really keen on carriage driving and really good at it as well.

“A moment that really stands out for me was when he presented Her Majesty the Queen with the Queen’s Vase when Estimate in 2012 – I can remember thinking that was a special moment, probably for Her Majesty, but also for horse racing as well.”

Nicky Henderson with the Queen
Nicky Henderson with the Queen (Barry Batchelor/PA)

Leading trainer Nicky Henderson, who has trained many horses for the Queen, said: “It was an enormous shock and it’s a very sad day. I know the whole nation’s condolences go to Her Majesty.

“Prince Philip has been a remarkable man and Her Majesty’s absolute stalwart for so many years. He has served this country and served Her Majesty so well.

“I know racing wasn’t his favourite sport, but I know he enjoyed many other equestrian activities.

“It was a wonderful life of serving our Queen and country and I think we should all be saying an enormous thank you for what he’s done.”

Herbiers one of the highlights as curtain comes down on Ascot’s jumps season

Oliver Greenall has a valuable race on the bet365 Gold Cup undercard in the sights of Herbiers following the four-year-old’s narrow success in the Betfred Juvenile Handicap Hurdle, as the curtain came down on Ascot’s jumps season.

The Malpas trainer felt Herbiers would prove typical of the horses that come over from France and enjoy cut in the ground, but his observation that the gelding scored on a better surface in a bumper has been borne out by the son of Waldpark proving versatile in handling all surfaces.

Under Paddy Brennan the 12-1 shot made a big move to lead between the last two flights, and stayed on in determined fashion to hold Royaume Uni by half a length.

Greenall believes his charge has improved with each run and said: “We thought he had a little bit in hand, and while it was soft when he won at Hereford he was very happy on the better going today. It was very professional the way he came up for Paddy at the last.

“He’s qualified for the final at Sandown which is worth £75,000, and that’s where he’ll go.”

Venetia Williams reached the 50-winner milestone when Funambule Sivola dominated the Age Concern Bracknell Novices’ Handicap Chase from start to finish under Charlie Deutsch.

The 11-10 favourite was already well clear of Rikoboy when that rival unseated at the last, leaving Monsieur Lecoq as the only other finisher.

“He loves his racing and is so quick over his fences,” said the jockey.

“He has a great way of going and will come up long when you ask him. I always thought he’d find more if anything came at me and I got a very good feel from him off that ground.”

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It was a double celebration for the Williams/Deutsch team as the latter bettered last season’s score of 34.

He added: “I’d been on 34 for a week or so and was itching to get to 35. I always set a target to beat my previous score, and am delighted that Venetia has reached the half-century. She has the horses in brilliant health.”

Few horses with recognised talent have frustrated as much as Singlefarmpayment, but the 11-year-old was given a fine ride from Adrian Heskin to take the Berkshire Women’s Aid Veterans’ Handicap Chase.

Well aware that he could not get to the front late enough, Heskin took a couple of tugs on the Henry Oliver-trained 9-4 favourite going down the back and waited until jumping the last to ask his mount the ultimate question.

The combination then quickly asserted to go clear of Crosspark.

Heskin said: “That is a weight off my shoulders. This horse has plenty of history and his last win was in 2015. He was beaten a short head at the Cheltenham Festival and plenty of lads have tried on him, but he’s tricky.

“Today he jumped too well going down the hill and then put in a good jump two out, and to be fair I should have waited a bit longer.

“These races give all the older chasers their turn to win again, and have to be a good thing for the sport.”

Singlefarmpayment (right) got his head in front again
Singlefarmpayment (right) got his head in front again (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Heskin, meanwhile, sees Alan King’s Tritonic as a horse to look forward to at Aintree if the gelding is given the green light to do so after his underwhelming run in the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham.

He said: “I’m confident we didn’t see the real Tritonic at the Festival. Maybe three quick runs stacking up might have found him out. Aintree is a track that would really suit him, and as far as hurdling’s concerned we’ve got a real good horse going forward.”

For Nicky Henderson and owners Chelsea Thoroughbreds, Cascova responded positively to the fitting of earplugs to settle better than in his previous outing at Newbury in the Parents And Children Together (Pact) Maiden Hurdle.

The 7-4 favourite had 7lb in hand of his rivals on the book and was ridden stone cold by Nico de Boinville to cruise into contention two out and quickly put the race to bed when given the office, scoring by eight lengths from Manvers House.

Nico de Boinville scores aboard Cascova
Nico de Boinville scores aboard Cascova (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

De Boinville said: “He probably ran to his mark and so did the others. It was a nice even gallop and that set us up nicely for the finish. I think the earplugs helped relax him. He’s got the size and scope to go chasing next year, but there should first be a nice handicap awaiting him over hurdles.”

With South Terrace a late absentee after injuring a hip in the box and Ecco underperforming, Stoner’s Choice seized the advantage to take out the Sky Sports Racing Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle under Max Kendrick.

Kendrick changed his original plan to hold up his Fergal O’Brien-trained mount and made the running. One by one his rivals fell away and the 11-4 chance scored by six lengths from Bells Of Peterboro.

This was a fourth success of the campaign for Stoner’s Choice, and Kendrick observed: “When the two horses I thought might go forward didn’t I decided to press on myself and the horse soon got into a lovely rhythm.

“He’s still a novice, and was very novicey to start with (this season) but has kept on improving. Not many novices win with a double penalty.”

Defi Sacre jumped well for James Best
Defi Sacre jumped well for James Best (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

The superior jumping of Defi Sacre proved crucial at the business end of the Berkshire Community Foundation Handicap Chase.

Approaching the final fence James Best’s mount was defending a diminishing lead from Marracudja, but his rival made a mistake that handed the initiative back to Defi Sacre who scored by four lengths.

Best has been a regular sight on trainer Richard Hobson’s horses over the last two and a half years and he said: “This horse has been very good to me and did very well in climbing the handicap last season. The key to him is that he pings off this better ground.”

Jeremy Scott considering best move with Dashel Drasher after Ascot heroics

Jeremy Scott has been taken aback by the reaction to Dashel Drasher’s success in the Betfair Ascot Chase on Saturday.

In providing Scott with a first Grade One victory since Melodic Rendezvous in the 2013 Tolworth Hurdle, the eight-year-old continued his steep upward curve, winning his third race in succession – all at Ascot.

Whether he runs again this season, though, has still to be decided, with Scott considering the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham and the Bowl at Aintree.

“He’s come out of the race really well,” said Scott.

“Originally I wasn’t that keen to run him again as he’s had three hard races all in a row.

“We’ll look at Cheltenham, but I think that’s unlikely, possibly Aintree, but it’s very much a case of we’ll see how he goes.

“It’s very exciting, but when I looked through there are really very few options. There’s the possibility of Aintree, but he’d probably have to step up to three miles there. Obviously there’s the two-and-a-half-mile race, but on likely quicker ground and a tighter track it could be too sharp for him.

“It will all very much depend on the ground, I wouldn’t want to be running him on fastish ground.

Looking back on the weekend, the Somerset-based trainer said: “To a point I think we were lucky that we ended up in a race with one who was rated immeasurably higher (Cyrname) than the rest of us who were all rated pretty similar.

“The reaction has been absolutely outstanding. People love horses like him who always pull a bit more out of the bag. They really latch on them, it’s lovely.”

Dashel Drasher records landmark Ascot Chase victory

Dashel Drasher delivered a famous Grade One success for trainer Jeremy Scott and jockey Matt Griffiths in the Betfair Ascot Chase.

The front-running eight-year-old, scoring over course and distance for the third time in succession, took on favourite Cyrname early on the final circuit and then outpointed the latter’s stablemate Master Tommytucker up the straight to win by a hard-fought two lengths.

Dashel Drasher, sent off at 4-1, jumped well throughout and, after mastering Cyrname – who was again disappointing and quickly faded to be pulled up – he battled all the way to the line to keep Paul Nicholls’ second string at bay by two lengths.

Somerset trainer Scott was understandably emotional as he reflected on just his second Grade One win – and first in eight years – with a horse he bred as well as trains.

“This is very special, and you could say it was our Gold Cup,” he said.

“I don’t often get emotional, but I definitely had a bit of a welling up there as he won.

“My wife (Camilla) bred his dam – and she went on to win five point-to-points in a row.

“It’s a great thrill – but we had to think we were tilting at windmills against Cyrname.”

Scott need not have worried about that as Griffiths’ determination to put pressure on the favourite from the outset paid off, with Cyrname again failing to rediscover the form which made him the top-rated chaser in Britain after a wide-margin win in this race two years ago.

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“At home, he doesn’t blow your socks off – but on the racecourse, he digs deep, doesn’t he,” Scott added.

“Our plan was to put Cyrname under pressure, go out hard and fast.

“But we fluffed the first fence, and Cyrname looked to be cruising away with it.

“But as soon as we got upsides him and went half a length up, he wilted.”

Dashel Drasher, previously successful in handicap and Graduation company this season, was taking a steep rise in class – and also had to turn round Haydock form with Master Tommytucker, who had beaten him by almost 20 lengths there in November.

He has a Cheltenham Festival option in the Ryanair Chase but is no certainty to be going there – this year, at least.

“He’s in the Ryanair Chase, but let’s get him home and see how he is before making any plans,” said Scott.

Matt Griffiths riding Dashel Drasher clear the last but had to battle hard all the way to the line
Matt Griffiths riding Dashel Drasher clear the last but had to battle hard all the way to the line (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“He had an injury last year, so we’re not that keen to over-race him.”

Scott reserved praise for Griffiths, adding: “It’s great for Matt, who is a stalwart.

“He broke this horse in, as he does most of the horses, and is an integral part of the team.”

There were some anxious moments on the run-in, after Dashel Drasher made his only slight mistake and then began to look vulnerable – but as he has previously, he found more when asked.

Scott added: “In fairness to the horse, every time he has run here, he has done exactly the same thing – and Matt has always said ‘he’s always got a little bit left up his sleeve’.

“So that was kind of what I was hoping – but I have to say, watching it, I wasn’t quite sure. It didn’t look great!”

Griffiths felt he had to be slightly more conservative at the fences than on earlier Ascot visits with Dashel Drasher.

“Today his jumping was efficient, but that’s all,” he said.

“I couldn’t chuck him at the fences like I’d done before.”

The looming presence of Daryl Jacob on Master Tommytucker was an evident concern too, entering the straight, and Dashel Drasher had to be brave as well as accurate to see off the smooth-travelling runner-up.

Griffiths added: “I was wary coming into the straight that Daryl, was right behind me – and when my horse missed the last it was a relief when he picked up again.

“I’ve been part of his life since the first day he ran, so it’s massive to be associated with the horse.

“It’s a dream for everyone at the yard – and especially for Jeremy, because it is his first Grade One win for quite a while, and it makes it extra special that he’s a home-bred.”

Dashel Drasher has improved dramatically at Ascot of late, despite often jumping slightly left, and Griffiths does not anticipate a significant preference to race right-handed will dictate future plans.

He said: “I think he’ll be fine going the other way – even though he does tend to jump to the left, he never does it violently, and I thought he was a bit straighter today.

“If that was his last run of the season it wouldn’t be the end of the world – because next year he will stay further and he could be a Charlie Hall or Hennessy (Ladbrokes Trophy) horse.”

In the British Horseracing Authority stewards report following the race, a respiratory issued was cited by a representative of Nicholls for the performance of Cyrname.