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Royal Ascot day four – Ward hoping to carry on Camp-ing

A searing Royal Ascot week moves into a fourth day – and the Group One action on course shows no sign of letting up in the Coronation Stakes and Commonwealth Cup.

But the big question on Friday is if the weather will stay on message and, crucially for punters, keep the ground quick or if forecast thunderstorms will drastically alter the terrain.

As the three-year-olds take centre stage in both feature races, uncertainty over conditions is a potential game-changer for all concerned – be it the cream-of-the-crop fillies over a mile in the Coronation or the speed generation in the Commonwealth.

Aidan O’Brien supplies two Classic winners at the top of the market in the former – Mother Earth, superior on Newmarket’s good to firm ground in the 1000 Guineas but then only second in the French equivalent in more testing environs, and the supplemented Empress Josephine who came out narrowly on top in the mud at the Curragh.

Among their principal opposition, the ground is perhaps an imponderable for home hopes Primo Bacio and Alcohol Free – but at bigger odds, Fev Rover’s contrasting fortunes in the English and Irish Guineas indicates a definite preference for a sound surface.

Many of the Commonwealth speedsters’ connections will doubtless curse the rain if it comes in great quantity – although hot favourite Campanelle, bidding to double her Royal Ascot tally after last year’s Queen Mary Stakes victory, did also win on the Group One Prix Morny in the soft at Deauville.

The juvenile fillies kick off the quality as the card opens with the Albany Stakes – and after the three-year-old middle-distance colts have also done battle in the King Edward VII, handicap conundrums abound in the final three races.

For punters, the weather warning applies throughout – to make sure they are not on shaky ground.

The key to the Coronation?

Aidan O’Brien supplies the two likely market leaders in the Group One Coronation Stakes
Aidan O’Brien supplies the two likely market leaders in the Group One Coronation Stakes (PA)

It is four years since Aidan O’Brien last won the Coronation Stakes, with Winter. He has given himself an outstanding chance again this year, though, by supplementing Irish 1,000 Guineas heroine Empress Josephine to join stablemate and Newmarket Classic winner Mother Earth. There will be plenty second-guessing what that could mean – as it did, in different circumstances, when Ballydoyle’s potential six-strong Derby team was pared down, to no avail, to just Bolshoi Ballet. O’Brien is covering two bases this time – but his sons Joseph and Donnacha may yet outdo him, respectively with Pretty Gorgeous and Shale. The home defence, meanwhile, appears well-served too with Primo Bacio, Alcohol Free and several others.

Speed queen Campanelle back for more

Campanelle and Frankie Dettori won the 2020 Queen Mary Stakes
Campanelle and Frankie Dettori won the 2020 Queen Mary Stakes (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

American challenger Campanelle proved herself for the compelling Royal Ascot combination of trainer Wesley Ward and Frankie Dettori in last year’s Queen Mary Stakes. They conquered France in the Prix Morny too, but could not make it a top-level double at the Breeders’ Cup. She faces a field full of rivals with strong form and major potential – but she and the Ward-Dettori axis will be very hard to desert for many. Ward is famed for his winners here, but has so far had a disappointing week. Perhaps his luck will change.

Alenquer – can we trust the form book?

Alenquer (left) just got the better of Adayar in the Classic Trial at Sandown
Alenquer (left) just got the better of Adayar in the Classic Trial at Sandown (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Alenquer’s Sandown success from subsequent Derby hero Adayar makes him the outstanding candidate in the King Edward VII Stakes. The latter’s impressive Epsom performance was a revelation – but the question facing those trying to assess the likely outcome here is how much Adayar improved in his Classic victory. Alenquer beat him half a length back in April, but the reopposing Yibir was just a further neck back in third. Messages are therefore mixed.

Ascot arrival for Boughey in Albany?

George Boughey (centre) celebrating Oscula's victory in the Cazoo Woodcote EBF Stakes at Epsom
George Boughey (centre) celebrating Oscula’s victory in the Cazoo Woodcote EBF Stakes at Epsom (Mike Egerton/Jockey Club)

Newmarket trainer George Boughey is making a big name for himself in a breakthrough season, especially with his two-year-old string – three of whom are among the front eight in the betting for the Albany Stakes. It is surely a matter of when, not if, he opens his account at Royal Ascot. As Boughey nears 50 winners for this year, having already progressed exponentially from two in his debut campaign  in 2019, any one of Cachet, Hellomydarlin or Epsom winner Oscula could prove the first of many on this famous stage.

Mother Earth and Empress Josephine give O’Brien strong Coronation hand

Aidan O’Brien is in the enviable position of being able to run two 1000 Guineas winners in Mother Earth and Empress Josephine in the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot on Friday.

Mother Earth was ridden by Frankie Dettori to victory at Newmarket, where Ryan Moore preferred Santa Barbara, and she subsequently went on to finish second in the French equivalent.

Empress Josephine, meanwhile, caused something of a surprise in the Irish Guineas and has been supplemented for this latest Group One assignment.

“Mother Earth is very well. We were happy with her in the Guineas (at Newmarket) and at Longchamp. We thought this race was really going to suit her,” said O’Brien.

“She’s versatile enough – fast ground or easy ground (won’t bother her).

“Empress Josephine won her maiden very well, then disappointed next time on fast ground over seven furlongs in Leopardstown – but we think it was the pace. It was too strong and she got caught in the middle of it.

“We think that was the reason. She handled very soft ground at the Curragh, but we are going to know a lot more (after this). She’s in good form and I’m looking forward to seeing her run.”

It could perhaps been seen as a tip in itself that Sir Michael Stoute has decided to run Potapova after just two wins at Chelsmford and Redcar – but she is certainly bred for the job hailing as she does from a famous Cheveley Park Stud family.

“Sir Michael has always believed she is hugely talented. I know she has only run twice, but she has impressed on both occasions,” said Cheveley’s managing director Chris Richardson.

“I think it was a 50-50 call. It’s a tall order putting her in against such proven opposition, but she has been working nicely and he felt she deserved to take her chance.

“She’s in good form and she shouldn’t mind the ground if we get the rain that is forecast.

“She’s from a family we know well, Russian Rhythm (grand-dam) won several Group Ones and Safina (dam) was placed in the Sandringham at Royal Ascot for us.

“This is the last chance to run her just against three-year-olds, and she was never going to be ready in time for a Guineas.”

Richard Hannon’s Snow Lantern has already shown her jockey Sean Levey, and trainer, great potential as she seeks to emulate her dam Sky Lantern as a Coronation Stakes winner.

Levey has won a Newbury maiden impressively on Snow Lantern, and rode her mother on the Marlborough gallops when she was in her racing prime several years ago.

“I rode Sky Lantern at home when she was around,” he said.

“Snow Lantern is a lot more forward-going, being by Frankel. Her mother was the other way around – she was inclined not to light up the gallops, whereas this filly is not shy of putting her best foot forward.

“I think me and Richard both stand together as far as thinking she’s a very good filly.”

Hannon tells the same tale, from what he has seen at home.

“It would sound arrogant to say that I doubt she’ll get beat because she’s not good enough – but if she does everything right she’s an extremely good filly,” he said.

“At York she just didn’t settle and she did everything wrong. Sean said that when she took hold of the bridle after just a furlong and a half she held her breath.

“She didn’t breathe properly through the race, and that’s why she finished so tired. But she’s done everything right at home, and also when we took her to Newbury last week for a gallop down the back straight with Mums Tipple and Ouzo.”

Alcohol Free (purple) just prevailed in the Fred Darling at Newbury
Alcohol Free (purple) just prevailed in the Fred Darling at Newbury (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Andrew Balding’s 2020 Cheveley Park Stakes heroine Alcohol Free followed her successful Fred Darling return by finishing only fifth behind Mother Earth back at Newmarket for the 1000 Guineas.

Her trainer Andrew Balding said: “I think and hope that she’s better than her Guineas run.

“Things didn’t pan out for her there – she was drawn on a wing slightly and gave away a couple of lengths by lugging into space. She’s better than that.”

Classic pair Mother Earth and Empress Josephine set for Coronation clash

Classic winners Mother Earth and Empress Josephine head 13 contenders for the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot.

The pair are both trained by Aidan O’Brien, with Mother Earth having lifted the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket at the beginning of May – before finishing second when trying to double up in the French equivalent later in the month.

Empress Josephine landed the Irish 1,000 Guineas for the Ballydoyle team, despite not making her racecourse debut until March this year.

O’Brien’s sons Joseph and Donnacha will be in opposition on Friday – respectively with Pretty Gorgeous, a Group One winner as a juvenile but only seventh in the Irish 1,000 Guineas on her seasonal bow, and Shale, also a top-class two-year-old who finished fifth in a Guineas trial in April.

The home defence is headed by Primo Bacio – bidding to continue her swift rise through the ranks for Ed Walker, having won a York Listed heat by a cosy three lengths last time after finishing a close-up fourth in the Fred Darling as a 100-1 shot.

Fred Darling winner Alcohol Free will re-oppose, but she has two lengths to find with Mother Earth from Newmarket – where she finished fifth in the Guineas.

Newmarket third Fev Rover will try her luck again – with Potapova, an unbeaten eight-length Redcar novice winner, a fascinating entry for Sir Michael Stoute.

Jessica Harrington’s Oodnadatta and the Henry de Bromhead-trained Flirting Bridge further enhance the Irish challenge, while German 1000 Guineas winner Novemba adds an extra international element.

Richard Hannon’s Snow Lantern and Lullaby Moon, from Ralph Beckett’s yard, complete the line up.

Levey targets Royal Ascot breakthrough

Sean Levey is out to break new ground by claiming his first winner at Royal Ascot next week.

The Swaziland-born rider has been a pioneer for black jockeys in Britain – becoming the first to ride in the Derby in 2016 when steering Humphrey Bogart to fifth place, before claiming Classic glory two years later aboard Billesdon Brook in the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket.

Success at the Flat season’s showpiece meeting has so far eluded Levey, but he is hoping to put that right on his return to Berkshire.

“My form at Ascot alone is very good – but when it comes to Royal Ascot, not so much,” he said.

Billesdon Brook and Sean Levey winning the 1000 Guineas
Billesdon Brook and Sean Levey winning the 1000 Guineas (Tim Goode/PA)

“I wouldn’t say I’ve been unfortunate. I’ve been placed many a time, mostly in handicaps and what have you.

“I’m disappointed it hasn’t happened yet, so I would just like the box ticked now.

“It’s a bit of a monkey on my back, that one.”

It has been quite a journey for the 33-year-old son of Epsom-based apprentice Mick Levey and Swazi mother Tini.

The family moved away from Africa shortly after the turn of the century, initially to Croydon in south London before heading across the Irish Sea to allow Mick Levey to work for Aidan O’Brien.

NewSean Levey has carved out an excellent career for himself market Races Day Two – July 10th
Sean Levey has carved out an excellent career for himself (George Selwyn/PA)

Levey said: “I wouldn’t say it was a huge culture shock as far as moving from Africa to Ireland was concerned – they’re not too far apart, to be fair.

“I did live in Croydon for a bit and I found that quite difficult. Being closer to London and being more closed, I found that quite tough. I preferred the open nature of Ireland, which is similar to Swaziland.”

Although only a teenager at the time, it did not take long for Levey junior to become part of the riding team at Ballydoyle.

“I was still at school, so I started working there on a weekend,” he said.

“I had a season pony racing and was meant to do a second season. But as luck would have it, I ended up just doing a summer in Ballydoyle and ended up signing on there as an apprentice.

“I won a few Listed races and Group races for Aidan and had the opportunity to ride, I think, in every Classic in Ireland. I rode in the Arc for him and a few other Group Ones, including the German Guineas, and I won the Irish Cambridgeshire on a horse called Poet (2009).

“It was a privileged apprenticeship. There’s no doubt he gave me a lot of opportunities, and I’ll be forever grateful.”

After six years on the Ballydoyle books, Levey made the bold move to return to continue his riding career in Britain in 2011.

Jockeys of ethnic minority were even rarer then than they are now, but he does not believe his opportunities have been diminished by his race.

“This has all been highlighted since the poor fella in America (George Floyd) was killed, but you’ve got to remember that I’ve been riding since I was 17,” said Levey.

“I was signed on for one of the greatest trainers in the world as a teenager, and thinking about the colour of my skin wasn’t at the forefront of my mind.

“I’d had massive opportunities as an apprentice and was wanting momentum over here. I was chasing my dream – and as much as racism exists in every walk of life, it’s becoming smaller and smaller worldwide, especially in countries like this.

“I was taken aback actually when they asked ‘how does it feel to be the first black jockey to win a British Classic?’, or ‘how does it feel to be the first black jockey to have a ride in the Derby?’.

“I didn’t look at it in that way at the time, but I am half-Swazi and I can speak Swazi, so I’ll take it – and if it benefits anyone looking in, then so be it.”

Jockey Sean Levey
Jockey Sean Levey (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

People from all over the world ride out in yards across Britain and Ireland.

Levey believes a lack of information, rather than systemic racism within the sport, is the main reason why many have not gone on to become jockeys – but feels improvements have and are being made.

Levey said: “What I am seeing, and should be seeing, is a lot more black and Asian people coming into racing.

“In Ireland there was only me – in England there is me and Royston (Ffrench) and Silvestre de Sousa, obviously.

“Now the next crop of apprentices are coming in, and I do see a lot more. If what we have done is give others the confidence, I think that is ultimately what everyone is looking for.

“(We want) to reach out to those urban areas where people don’t get the opportunities and show that the sport is open to anybody who would like to come into it.

“Rather than dwelling on ‘racing needs to change because it’s racist’, I personally don’t feel that that’s the case, but I do feel like more information needs to be put out there for people to know that they are more than welcome through those doors.

“I think what everyone has been doing in the last couple of years is making people more comfortable to take that chance, to get a licence and give it a go. It’s exactly the same with female jockeys.

“Sometimes people look at it the wrong way and think we’re trying to eradicate racism in racing because it’s rife, but that is not the case. I think everyone is just trying to say the doors open to anyone who wants to come in if they’re willing and want to give it a shot.”

“We want everyone to know you will get the opportunity if you work hard.”

Levey can look forward to a strong book of rides at the Royal meeting, with Snow Lantern chief among them in the Coronation Stakes – a race which is part of this year’s QIPCO British Champions Series.

The daughter of Frankel is out to emulate her dam Sky Lantern, who won the same race in 2013, but does need to bounce back from a slightly underwhelming performance at York.

“She’s in good order and all set to go,” he said.

“It was a slightly disappointing run at York – things didn’t really go our way. She was keener than you’d like on that occasion – and as a result, she didn’t quite run as well as we thought she would.

“She seems to be doing the right things at home and hasn’t put a foot wrong since. I’d like to think that if she runs her race nice and settled then she’ll have a big chance.”

Happy Romance winning at York
Happy Romance winning at York (David Davies/PA)

Another filly Levey believes can make her presence felt at Group One level is Happy Romance.

Together, they have already won five races – and she is viewed as a lively outsider for the Commonwealth Cup.

Levey said: “Happy Romance is one that does all the talking on the track. She’s very straightforward, an absolute pleasure to ride and has plenty of ability to boot.

“I think Ascot is her track – she ran really well in the Queen Mary last year. She’s shown she wants better ground, and a stiff track will suit her style of running – she’s more an off-the-bridle kind of sprinter, rather than an ‘all guns blazing’ kind of sprinter.

“Against her own age group, I would give her a good chance.”

Empress Josephine joins Coronation Stakes contenders

Aidan O’Brien’s Guineas winners Mother Earth and the supplemented Empress Josephine head the 15 remaining fillies in the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot.

Mother Earth beat Saffron Beach at Newmarket, and then put up a bold display in the French equivalent when beaten just over a length by surprise winner Coeursamba.

Empress Josephine was supplemented for Friday’s Group One following her last-gasp win at the Curragh over stablemate Joan Of Arc – who has been taken out at the six-day stage. O’Brien has also left in Friendly.

His two sons Joseph and Donnacha both have live chances too.

Joseph’s Pretty Gorgeous and Donnacha’s Shale met several times last season with both enjoying a degree of success – but they also need to put disappointing runs on their reappearances behind them.

Henry de Bromhead has supplemented Flirting Bridge, second to Joan Of Arc in a 1,000 Guineas Trial, while Peter Schiergen has also added Novemba to the possible field.

Sir Michael Stoute has left in the unbeaten Potapova, impressive in her two starts to date but set for a massive leap in class.

Alcohol Free could represent Andrew Balding – having won the Fred Darling and finished fifth in the Guineas – while Ed Walker’s Primo Bacio, so impressive at York last time out, is another lively contender.

Richard Hannon’s beautifully bred Snow Lantern, Richard Fahey’s Fev Rover, third at Newmarket but bogged down in heavy ground at the Curragh, My Generation, Lullaby Moon and Oodnadatta complete the list.