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Campanelle and Aunt Pearl headline American aces in line for Royal Ascot

Camapanelle and Aunt Pearl head the star quality on course to travel to Royal Ascot this year from America.

Brad Cox’s unbeaten Juvenile Fillies Turf winner Aunt Pearl is in the reckoning for the Coronation Stakes on June 18 – one of eight Group Ones throughout the famous five-day meeting, at which entries for 12 races have been published.

Aunt Pearl’s credentials are due to be tested on her comeback run in the Edgewood Stakes at Churchill Downs later this week.

She is one of eight US-trained Ascot entries, also including Campanelle – winner of last year’s Queen Mary Stakes and fourth to Aunt Pearl at Keeneland, for Wesley Ward – and Brendan Walsh’s top sprinter Extravagant Kid, who could bid to pull off the King’s Stand and Diamond Jubilee Group One double.

Liz Crow, who represents Aunt Pearl’s owners, reports the filly in great form as she bids to extend her record on her three-year-old debut.

“We first want to see how Aunt Pearl performs on Friday in the Edgewood,” she said.

“She is doing great at the moment. She has been training really well and we are excited to see her back out.

“Hopefully, she comes back and wins well – and then we will be able to move forward with the plan of running at Royal Ascot.”

Campanelle provided Ward with his 11th Royal Ascot success last year, before beating the boys in the Prix Morny at Deauville two months later.

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She is one of Ward’s two entries in the Commonwealth Cup, alongside Illegal Smile, while he also has Diamond Jubilee and King’s Stand aspirations with Bound For Nowhere and Maven respectively.

Frankie Dettori celebrates with Campanelle
Frankie Dettori celebrates with Campanelle (Edward Whitaker/PA)

He said: “Campanelle did us proud last year, and the owners are really excited about bringing her back for the Commonwealth Cup.

“I have had my eye on this for some time, because I think the stiff six furlongs on the straight course will suit her really well.

“We are looking to give her a prep race about a month out from Ascot, although where that will be I am not sure yet.

“Our other filly in the Commonwealth Cup, Illegal Smile, will be out in a five-furlong race on the grass at Churchill Downs. How she gets on there will determine whether she travels.”

Bound For Nowhere is a veteran of three Royal Ascot missions already, but it is not yet certain he will return.

Ward added: “Bound For Nowhere made a really exciting comeback at Keeneland recently.

“With him, we are jostling over bringing him to Ascot again or going for a Grade One sprint on Belmont Stakes day. It will be a while before we make a decision on that.”

Wesley Ward is always to be feared at Royal Ascot
Wesley Ward is always to be feared at Royal Ascot (Steve Parsons/PA)

Ward also has high hopes for Maven, and singled out recent Keeneland winner Ruthin as a major contender to add to the yard’s four previous Queen Mary victories

“The filly by Ribchester, Ruthin, produced an eye-opening performance at Keeneland last week,” he said.

“We expected her to run well going into the race. Not all horses produce in the afternoon what they show you in the morning, but she did, and it was great to see.

“She is on a direct course for the Queen Mary Stakes.”

Extravagant Kid has taken his form to a new level at the age of eight, having won the Al Quoz Sprint under Ryan Moore at the Dubai World Cup on his most recent start.

Walsh said: “Everything has been good with Extravagant Kid, and Royal Ascot is the target if all goes well between now and then.

“It was a proper performance from the horse in Dubai.

“Extravagant Kid has entries in the King’s Stand and Diamond Jubilee. Both races have their appeal, and it made sense to enter for both because he is quite versatile.

“We will see how each race is shaping and make our minds up nearer the time. I would not write off him running in both just yet, although I would say it is unlikely.”

A stellar home and European challenge will of course await the trans-Atlantic travellers.

John Gosden’s Lord North holds an entry to defend his Prince of Wales’s Stakes crown – with Aidan O’Brien’s dual Classic-winning filly Love and William Haggas’ globetrotter Addeybb, runner-up last year, also in the mix.

O’Brien’s Battleground won the Chesham Stakes in 2020, and may be back in the St James’s Palace Stakes this time.

Knicks Go clash with Charlatan would be ‘great match up’

Brad Cox’s dominant Pegasus World Cup winner Knicks Go remains in the mix for a mouthwatering clash with the Bob Baffert-trained Charlatan in the Saudi Cup.

Knicks Go earned an automatic berth with an all-the-way success at Gulfstream Park, proving he can stay further than a mile into the bargain.

“He’s done extremely well, he bounced out of the race fine and flew back to New Orleans on Sunday morning,” Cox told Nick Luck’s Daily Podcast.

“It looked like Joel (Rosario) didn’t get to the bottom of him, so hopefully we can head towards the Saudi Cup.

“As a trainer, you try to stay positive but always look at things that could go wrong. Obviously it was our first start without Lasix, he had yet to win at a mile and an eighth and as he’d been so dominant at Keeneland (Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile) – we had to transfer that form to South Florida and he was able to do so.”

The Saudi Cup sees the field only take one turn and Cox is in two minds whether or not that will be in Knicks Go’s favour.

“It’s hard for me to say if a one-turn mile and an eighth will suit him,” said Cox.

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“He went really quick the other day, there was a horse on his outside – I thought 46 (seconds) for the half-mile was quick enough, but he was able to stay on.

“He’s able to get into that one big cruising speed where he’s comfortable and I think he’s able to put horses away between the half (mile) to three-eighths pole. I think he’ll adapt to the one-turn.

“He doesn’t have to lead, he’s just naturally gifted and is quick from the gate. You’d like to think he doesn’t have to lead, but he’s performing well with the style he has right now.

“Charlatan is a very good horse, obviously lightly-raced, but he’s got crazy good numbers. He’s a freak talent, but he does lack some experience. If we decide to go to Saudi, it would be a great match up, it really would.”

Joel Rosario returns on Knicks Go following his Pegasus win
Joel Rosario returns on Knicks Go following his Pegasus win (Marta Lavandier/AP)

Another star in Cox’s barn is dual Breeders’ Cup Distaff heroine Monomoy Girl, who could take on the boys at some stage this year having stayed with Cox following her sale for $9.5million.

“There were definitely different views from the people who had interest in her, but I feel very fortunate that Spendthrift were able to purchase her,” said Cox.

“Their plan was to continue to race her all year and try to get her back at the Breeders’ Cup, which I think is probably the right thing for her.

“It’s been mentioned we might take on the males. We’ve picked out a few races like the Bayakoa and Apple Blossom as short-term goals, then (we’ll) reassess as the year goes on.

“I’d prefer an opportunity before then (Breeders’ Cup) and that would then give us the opportunity to go in the Classic or remain with the girls in the Distaff. It would be great for racing, I do believe.”

Excitingly for British fans, Cox’s Aunt Pearl, who beat Mother Earth and Miss Amulet in the Juvenile Fillies’ Turf at the Breeders’ Cup, is still being considered for Royal Ascot.

“Royal Ascot is still on the cards. She’s back training. We’ve just given her an opportunity to catch her breath while there wasn’t much going on for three-year-old fillies in the States,” said Cox.

“The Coronation Stakes would be what we are looking at. I’ve only seen videos, but she looks like she’s filled out and she looks amazing.”

Cox also has three contenders for the Kentucky Derby at this stage.

He said: “We’ve Essential Quality, but we’ve got some other colts. Caddo River has a lot of speed, Mandaloun will wear blinkers on his next start – he has a lot of talent but needs to put it all together mentally.”

Aunt Pearl produces power-packed performance in Juvenile Fillies Turf

Aunt Pearl was a brilliant all-the-way winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf at Keeneland.

Brad Cox’s filly was the clear favourite to extend her unbeaten record to three following a Grade Two victory at the track a month ago and took a step up to the highest level in her stride with an awesome front-running display.

Florent Geroux’s mount made a smart start and quickly opened a clear gap over the rest of the field, with Wesley Ward’s Queen Mary and Prix Morny heroine Campanelle leading the chasing pack for much of the way under Frankie Dettori.

In truth, however, the remainder never looked like landing a blow on Aunt Pearl from the home turn, as she kept pouring it on and passed the post with plenty in hand.

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The Irish pair of Aidan O’Brien’s Mother Earth and Ken Condon’s Miss Amulet made late gains to finish second and third respectively, with Campanelle weakening into fourth.

Cox said: “She did a similar opening quarter to what she did in the Jessamine Stakes here – I felt pretty confident she would have some kick left and she certainly did.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt (she can improve) and if you dig into her pedigree a little bit it looks like she could maybe even go beyond a mile.

“She’s a super talented filly and I’m very proud of her.”

Geroux raised the possibility of a trip to Britain for Aunt Pearl in 2021, saying: “She’s phenomenal – she’s purely gifted.

“Her workouts in the morning have been exceptional. She goes so fast, but she comes back to me (settles).

“I hope we can go to England with her next year – that would be great.”

Syndicate spokesman Michael Dubb said: “We have bought a lot of horses overseas through Liz Crow and this was one of the fillies. We knew from the beginning that she was the best.

“Brad is a genius. He plots everything and has enormous attention to detail. In fact he just lives and breathes horses. I do think she is in a league of her own and wherever we go, it will be another great ride.

“She has so much natural speed that we decided to let her roll as there was no reason to take it away from her.

“We will talk to the partners and of course to Brad, we will leave it up to him to plot a campaign.”

Asked if a trip to the UK could be on the agenda, Dubb said: “I leave everything up to my trainer and I don’t want to start telling him where he should run.”

Of Campanelle, who was trying a mile for the first time, Dettori said: “I had to chase her out of the gate before restraining her and that meant giving the winner four lengths.

“I think she would get seven furlongs, and at least we tried.”