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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.

Charlatan and Knicks Go square up for Saudi Cup glory

Arguably the two highest-profile dirt horses in America are primed for battle in the second running of the Saudi Cup in Riyadh.

The eyes of a large part of the racing world will be on the Bob Baffert-trained Charlatan and Brad Cox’s Knicks Go at the King Adbulaziz Racetrack on Saturday, as they clash in a must-see running of the $20million showpiece.

Charlatan was considered a leading Kentucky Derby contender last year, before a setback brought his season to a premature halt, while Knicks Go has been a revelation since joining the Cox barn – winning the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and the Pegasus World Cup.

Knicks Go answered stamina questions in tremendous style in the Pegasus – while Baffert’s charge returned to action over Christmas, winning the Malibu Stakes in exhilarating fashion.

Baffert is not in Saudi this year, but sent out Mucho Gusto to be fourth to Maximum Security 12 months ago and enjoyed the experience.

The Hall of Fame trainer said: “It was exciting last year, it was different. The facilities were really great. It was a great experience – it went pretty smoothly, and there was a great atmosphere.

“We just made it off his lay-off in time to run in the Malibu in December – and after that race we were thinking about the Pegasus, but it was coming back a little bit too quick. I really had to rush him into the Malibu.

“I think the Saudi Cup is perfect timing for him. It’s $20million, one-turn mile and an eighth – and I think coming off a seven-eighths race, the way he did it, it’s a perfect distance for him.

“He’s got a great mind on him and he’s a good gate horse. It’s challenging to go to Saudi or Dubai or wherever. You need a horse who has a really great mind – and he’s got a great mind.”

The son of Speightstown has run only four times, but Baffert is not fazed at the task in hand for Mike Smith’s mount.

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He said: “I think his talent makes up for his (lack of) experience and I think he has enough experience – he doesn’t know what it’s like to lose, and I think that’s a good trait.

“I think the race fits the bill perfectly for him. To win these races you need to be way the best. I’ve won the Dubai World Cup, because I had way the best horse. You have to have way the best horse when you are travelling that far.”

On facing Knicks Go and the threat his speed poses, Baffert said: “They’re sort of the same type of horse – Knicks Go, I think two turns he likes better because he can get away from his competition. Speed horses like that are so dangerous going two turns – going one turn a mile and an eighth is a different story.

“I think to put the horse where he is more comfortable (is best), don’t chase. I think when you chase, those speed horses beat you if you chase them, because you get tired. The break is so important. Charlatan was chasing a pretty fast horse (Nashville) last time – and he got to him pretty easily.

“Charlatan is a really talented horse and he’s just maturing and getting really good now.”

Cox could hardly be happier with Knicks Go, who won a Grade One as a juvenile and is now fulfilling all his potential at the age of five. He is on a four-race winning streak for his new stable and could even go on to the Dubai World Cup, should all go well.

Cox said: “He’s continued since the Pegasus to show us what he showed us prior to the Pegasus and prior to the Breeders’ Cup. This race is back a little quick, but one thing that gives us confidence is that he won the Pegasus without Lasix, and this race is without Lasix too.

“Another thing is this is five weeks from the Pegasus, and it was five weeks between his allowance win where he broke the track record at Keeneland and the Breeders’ Cup.

“He had a little bit of a freshening of a couple easy weeks after the Breeders’ Cup and before the Pegasus, so this is sort of a second race off a lay-off for him. Hopefully, after the race, he gives us confidence that he can travel internationally and compete.”

He added: “Right now we’re treating him as if this is his time to shine. If he’s able to do well in the Saudi Cup and then do well in Dubai, that would be very special. If he were able to win the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, Pegasus, Saudi Cup and Dubai, it would be very similar to what Arrogate did with the Travers, the (Breeders’ Cup) Classic, Pegasus and Dubai.

“If he were able to do something like that, it would go down as one of the great streaks in racing history.

“It seems like two of the better horses obviously have a lot of speed and will make this a very good race.”

“We would try to get through these two and then ship him back to the States and work our way back from the Breeders’ Cup after this. Whether that’s the Dirt Mile or the Classic, his runs in Saudi Arabia and Dubai will tell us which one, so it’s one race at a time.”

Drawn in five, Knicks Go will not have to look far to see Charlatan (nine) when the stalls open.

Cox said: “He doesn’t have to have the lead, he’s just a really honest horse who likes to be forwardly placed. When the gate comes open, we’ll let the jock (Joel Rosario) play the break and place him accordingly.

“The post will be important, obviously. I watched the race last year several times, and it’s hard to get a read on it because the horse on the lead (Mucho Gusto, fourth) was so far off the rail and then (Midnight Bisou, second) was actually glued to the rail – so it’s hard to know how the track plays. It seems like two of the better horses obviously have a lot of speed and will make this a very good race.”

British hopes are led by the John Gosden-trained Mishriff (David Egan), who ran a fine race when second in the Saudi Derby last year on his way to winning the French Derby.

Connections are happy to have been handed a wide draw.

Mishriff is one of two runners for John Gosden in the Saudi Cup
Mishriff is one of two runners for John Gosden in the Saudi Cup (Edward Whitaker/PA)

“John Gosden said all along he wanted a wide draw to stay out of the way of the kickback and the speed at the beginning from the American horses. With stall 12, he probably got his wishes there,” said Ted Voute, racing manager to owner Prince Faisal.

“I hope we’re good enough to beat the American horses. It would be wonderful if a European horse could. It’s what dreams are made of.”

Mishriff is joined by stablemate Global Giant (Frankie Dettori) – while Hollie Doyle partners Extra Elusive for Roger Charlton, and Andrew Balding runs smart all-weather performer Bangkok (Ryan Moore).

Andrew Balding is worried about Bangkok's low draw in the Saudi Cup
Andrew Balding is worried about Bangkok’s low draw in the Saudi Cup (Alan Crowhurst/PA

Balding is concerned with Bangkok’s low draw.

“Whether he’s streetwise enough for a draw like that (stall two) we’ll find out, but I don’t know until it plays out,” said the Kingsclere handler.

“Hopefully he can run with credit.”

Knicks Go poised for Saudi Cup duty

Brad Cox has given Knicks Go the green light for the $20million Saudi Cup and should that adventure go well he will then head on to Dubai.

The Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner followed up in the Pegasus World Cup – and Cox now has his sights set further afield.

He told www.thoroughbreddailynews.com: “As long as he breezes well this weekend, we’re going to the Saudi Cup. We plan to ship him out Monday.

“The owners (Korea Racing Authority) would like to go to the Saudi Cup and they’ve made that clear. I looked for a reason not to run him back in four weeks and he’s given me no indication that would not be a good idea.

“That’s why I’ve said I want to see him breeze one more time before we put him on a plane. He really rebounded from the Pegasus in great shape and in good order. He’s not giving me any reason to not run him, so we’re going to press forward.”

Knicks Go is likely to meet Bob Baffert’s Charlatan, a dual Grade One winner himself.

“It will be a good match-up between those two,” said Cox said.

“Our horse does have to make the adjustment back to one turn and we don’t know how he will handle that. I do like that he handled not having any Lasix at Gulfstream just fine. That’s a positive and one thing we have going for us. He’s in great form right now and, hopefully, we can keep him that way.”

Cox added a short flight to Meydan for the Dubai World Cup is “definitely under consideration”, should all go well in Saudi Arabia.

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.”

Knicks Go blitzes Pegasus World Cup opposition

Knicks Go added to his Breeders’ Cup success with a brilliant victory in the Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park.

The former Grade One-winning juvenile is unbeaten since joining Brad Cox and confirmed his quickly-attained status as one of the best horses in the world with another dominating effort from the front – just as he had done in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.

Swiftly away under Joel Rosario in the $3million showpiece, the five-year-old had Last Judgment for company through the early stages, with the well-fancied Tax just behind that pair.

But Rosario’s partner always looked to be doing it easily and once his rider pressed the button at the top of the stretch it became just a matter of whether he would see out nine furlongs, on what was his first try at the trip.

The red-hot favourite answered that question in emphatic style, galloping all the way to the line to comfortably account for old foe Jesus’ Team and Independence Hall.

Asked to sum up the performance, Cox told NBC Sports: “I’d say greatness was the word – great horses do great things and he did something great, so I’m very proud of him.

“When a horse is up front and they are going that quick, you are always a little concerned, but Joel has a lot of confidence in the horse and the horse has confidence in him, so it worked out great.”

The win opens up even more options for Knicks Go, with obvious options available in the shape of the Saudi Cup over nine furlongs and the Dubai World Cup at a mile and a quarter.

Cox added: “If he gets the right set up I do believe he can get a mile and a quarter. It’s a mile-and-a-quarter pedigree.”

Essential Quality proves all class for Godolphin in Breeders’ Cup Juvenile

Essential Quality maintained his unbeaten record to spark Kentucky Derby dreams for Godolphin with victory in the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Keeneland.

Much of the pre-race discussion focussed on the Steve Asmussen-trained Jackie’s Warrior, who had won each of his previous four starts and was all the rage to cement his place as winter favourite for next year’s ‘Run for the Roses’.

Joel Rosario was forced to take a lead behind the red-hot pace on Jackie’s Warrior – who has looked so brilliant from the front – but once he did hit strike for home it was for just a matter of strides before huge outsider Hot Rod Charlie took over and threatened to cause a major shock.

Luis Saez looks to the skies after claiming Breeders' Cup Juvenile glory with Essential Quality
Luis Saez looks to the skies after claiming Breeders’ Cup Juvenile glory with Essential Quality (Mark Humphrey/AP)

However, Essential Quality came from further back under Luis Saez and ultimately won with authority – completing a big double for trainer Brad Cox following the success of Aunt Pearl in the preceding Juvenile Fillies Turf.

Hot Rod Charlie was second ahead of Keepmeinmind in third, with Jackie’s Warrior only fourth.

Cox – recording his fifth Breeders’ Cup winner – said: “It was a tremendous effort from Luis, who stayed at him the whole way.

“He has an amazing amount of stamina and is a spectacular horse for the Godolphin operation.

“I was hoping he wouldn’t flatten out, but that never looked like happening and moving forward we will point him at the Kentucky Derby.”

It was a first Breeders’ Cup victory for Saez, who said: “Today he was very focussed and really responded when I got at him. He ran right by them.”

Asmussen felt the strong early pace contributed to Jackie’s Warrior’s downfall.

He said: “It (the pace) was too much too soon.

“He’d accomplished a lot coming here and obviously we planned on winning and ended up coming fourth.

“Pace makes the race and it did not set up well for us today.”