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Walker to raise his sights for Ascot victor Dreamloper

Ed Walker will select from an array of Group One and Two targets for Dreamloper after the talented filly put her career back on track at Ascot.

Walker was hugely disappointed and at a loss to explain Dreamloper’s lacklustre performance when she could manage only 10th of 18 as favourite in Royal Ascot’s Kensington Palace Stakes.

But she was back to winning form with a vengeance on her return to the Berkshire track for last month’s Valiant Stakes – and the Lambourn trainer is therefore encouraged to factor in top-level assignments such as the Matron Stakes at Leopardstown and Newmarket’s Sun Chariot later in the season.

He has even contemplated a possible trans-Atlantic trip to Saratoga this month – although at present, that challenge for this month’s Grade Two Ballston Spa Stakes is on the back-burner.

Walker said: “I left (Royal) Ascot so gutted and disappointed.

“I (then) did the slightly unorthodox thing of running badly in a handicap and sticking her in a Group race (next).

“But she’s a well-bred filly, and we’d always agreed that the plan was always to try to win the Kensington Palace and then go and find black type after Ascot.

“So just because she threw in the first real dud of her career, I still thought it was worth sticking to the plan.”

Dreamloper belatedly proved her trainer right.

He added: “In her run before Royal Ascot, she and (Sir Michael Stoute’s Valiant Stakes runner-up) Lights On were in a head-bobbing finish which we came out the wrong side of – and then she (Lights On) went and won a Listed race by 10 lengths at Pontefract.

“That gave me the confidence that she is a Stakes filly. So it paid off in spades, which is great.

“Everything from here is a bonus – we’ll aim for Group Twos and Group Ones.

“I’ve entered her up, against colts as well. We actually supplemented her for the Matron – so the Matron, Sun Chariot, and I’m toying with taking her to Saratoga for the Ballston Spa (on August 28).

“I think we’re probably not going to do that, but we’re weighing up our options really. I think the only reason we wouldn’t go to the Ballston Spa is it might just hinder some of her opportunities here, in Ireland and France.

“So we will probably keep her over here for now, and see.”

Dreamloper’s near five-length Group Three win at Ascot came over a mile, but Walker believes she may be equally adept at that distance or a furlong shorter.

He said: “She’s a very good filly. She’s been quite hard to train – she’s always been a bit over-enthusiastic.

Great Ambassador may be set for a rise in class after his fine Stewards' Cup run
Great Ambassador may be set for a rise in class after his fine Stewards’ Cup run (John Walton/PA)

“The girl who rides her every day, Molly Stratton, has done a magnificent job just switching her off – and it’s all come good.

“Where we go from here, I’m not entirely sure (yet). But we’ll hunt black type, with obviously the eye on the big prize of going for some Group One form.

“She’s got bags of speed. They didn’t go fast at Ascot, in the Valiant, and started quickening it up from four out.

“She hit the line really well and won well, but I don’t think it was a massive stamina test. I think it probably really suited her good turn of foot, so I would happily come back to seven.”

He was also enthused by Great Ambassador’s efforts as a close third in Saturday’s Stewards’ Cup at Goodwood – and he too may soon be set for a rise in class.

“I was thrilled and gutted at the same time with Goodwood,” said Walker, who believes Great Ambassador could easily have bagged the famous handicap prize with better fortune.

He added: “If he’s drawn the other side he probably would have won, and he probably would have won if he hadn’t lugged across the track looking for some company.

“It’s gutting, because I think we’ve been second, third and fourth in the race now in recent years. It’s a lovely race to win, and I’ll keep trying.”

The next stop for improving four-year-old Great Ambassador, meanwhile, may or may not be in handicap company – and could involve a further drop in trip.

“Maybe a Portland (at Doncaster next month), five and a half (furlongs),” said Walker.

“It’s amazing how much speed this horse has – (jockey) Will (Buick) said you could bring him back to five.

“I think he’ll end up being a Pattern book horse before the end of the year.

“We’ll see whether we keep trying to win these sprint handicaps, that are nearly impossible to win, or we go up (in class).

“We’ve had a couple of goes (in big handicaps) now. He’s a very good horse.”

Primo Bacio primed for Rothschild bid

Ed Walker is anticipating a bold show from “massively exciting” Primo Bacio as she bids to further enhance the outstanding form of this year’s Falmouth Stakes in the Prix Rothschild at Deauville.

Alcohol Free and Lady Bowthorpe – the two fillies who finished directly, and less than a length, in front of Primo Bacio at Newmarket – both augmented their Group One CVs with victory at Goodwood last week.

In addition, Aidan O’Brien’s Mother Earth – who reopposes on Tuesday and finished just a length ahead of Primo Bacio when they last met – was also the heroine of the 1000 Guineas in May and runner-up in the French equivalent.

They all therefore support Lambourn trainer Walker’s assessment of the “hottest renewal of the Falmouth in history” – and he has no doubt his filly is worthy of her place in a 14-strong edition of the feature race on Deauville’s classy card.

He said: “I’m very hopeful. She’s only had three runs this year, and the only time she had an uninterrupted passage she absolutely trotted up.

“She is massively exciting, and she’s in great form.”

Primo Bacio will face a strong home contingent – including Francis Henri-Graffard’s prolific winner Padovana, Jean-Claude Rouget’s French Guineas heroine Coeursamba and Pascal Bary’s Tahlie, who is seeking a fifth successive victory.

German mare Axana is in the reckoning as well, while the British and Irish challenge also comprises Parent’s Prayer for Archie Watson, Jessica Harrington’s No Speak Alexander and Sheila Lavery’s Belle Image – third and fourth respectively in the Irish Guineas.

Primo Bacio will be having just the fourth start of her three-year-old season, having outrun huge odds to be a close fourth to Alcohol Free on her return at Newbury in April and then won emphatically in Listed company at York.

Walker added: “We haven’t had to do a lot with her since the Falmouth to keep her happy and well.

“This year, we seem to have found the hottest renewal of the Falmouth in history.

“It’s unbelievable really – the Sussex winner, the Nassau winner – and we were only beaten a length and a half, with an interrupted passage (in running).

“We’ve got to turn the form round with Mother Earth – which I wouldn’t bet against her doing.

“We’re just hoping we have a smooth trip, and if she does I think she’ll be bang there.”

Primo Bacio, who will again be ridden by Andrea Atzeni in France, was a late absentee in the Coronation Stakes after a deluge at Royal Ascot turned the ground heavy.

Good to soft is forecast at Deauville, and Walker does not expect that to pose a problem.

Mother Earth will again be among Primo Bacio's opponents at Deauville
Mother Earth will again be among Primo Bacio’s opponents at Deauville (David Davies/PA)

Asked if very testing conditions might be against Primo Bacio, he said: “I don’t know, to be honest.

“She’s such a good-moving filly, with a deadly turn of foot. (But) it was on the slow side at York when she won very well. She’s by Awtaad, who loved the mud and is producing some really good horses with soft-ground form.

“If you forget her pedigree and just look at her physically, you’d say she’s a proper fast-ground filly – but you never really know until you try.”

In any case, he is in no doubt he made the right call to take Primo Bacio out of her intended Group One debut in June.

He said: “At Ascot, it was only going to be the third run of her season – and that stiff mile and really bottomless ground, I just didn’t feel a slog would suit her.

“So I had no regrets missing Ascot, even if she does prove to go with a bit of cut in the ground, because I just think at that time of her season it wouldn’t have been the right thing to do.

“But we’re here now, and she’ll run regardless – (and) I think as long as it is just good to soft ground she’ll be absolutely fine.”

Primo Bacio handed Deauville mission by Ed Walker

Primo Bacio will attempt to break her Group One duck in the Prix Rothschild at Deauville on August 3.

Ed Walker’s filly endured a luckless run in the Falmouth Stakes, eventually finishing a length and a half behind Snow Lantern in fifth.

With some notable rivals due to be in action at Goodwood, Walker is hoping Primo Bacio will be a leading player.

“She goes for the Prix Rothschild at Deauville,” he said.

“She had no luck in the Falmouth. There were two things really, she was a little bit unlucky and she was also very fresh having not run for two months because she missed Ascot.

“She is a very fresh and exuberant filly, she was over-racing. Hopefully that will have brought her back down.

“Andrea (Atzeni) is going to go and ride her. With Alcohol Free and Snow Lantern both going to Goodwood, hopefully she’ll have a good chance.”

Dreamloper bounces back for Valiant success

Dreamloper bounced back from Royal Ascot disappointment with an emphatic victory in the British Racecourses Join Sunflower Lanyard Scheme Valiant Stakes.

A winner at the Berkshire circuit last season, Ed Walker’s filly was sent off favourite to double her Ascot tally at last month’s showpiece meeting in the Kensington Palace Stakes, but could only finish in midfield.

Stepping up to Group Three level for the first time on her return to the same course, the four-year-old looked to have plenty on her plate, with the returning Fillies’ Mile runner-up Indigo Girl and the prolific Lights On among her rivals.

But ridden confidently by champion jockey Oisin Murphy, 13-2 chance Dreamloper moved smoothly onto the heels of the leaders passing the two-furlong marker before quickening up in brilliant style to leave the chasing pack trailing in her wake.

Lights On narrowly beat the slow-starting Waliyak to the runner-up spot, some four and a half lengths behind the impressive winner, with 11-8 favourite Indigo Girl only fourth on her belated seasonal reappearance.

Walker said: “We were so confident going into Royal Ascot – and we still have no idea what happened there, I’ve never found a reason. She just ran flat at a time the horses were running great. There were no excuses.

“Today she showed how good she could be. Oisin was very good on her as well.

“I must give a massive shout to Molly Stratton, who rides her every day. She’s not the easiest filly, and Molly has done a great job with her.”

Considering future targets, the trainer added: “We’ve no plan in mind, but she’s won a Group Three there – so it will be Group Twos and Group Ones now.

“The Sun Chariot could be a shout – but she’d have to take on (stablemate) Primo Bacio!”

Murphy was impressed with the filly’s performance, saying: “She was much more relaxed today, and Ed was thrilled with how she’d been going at home.

“It was a huge step up on what she’s achieved so far, but it was very satisfying to see her go and do that, with her owner here as well.

“Why not step up higher? I’m not sure what races are in mind, but you’d hope she could step up a level.”

Starman proves class act in July Cup

Starman powered to victory for Ed Walker and Tom Marquand in the Darley July Cup at Newmarket.

Always held in the highest regard by his trainer – who took the brave decision not to run in the Diamond Jubilee at Royal Ascot when the heavens opened – the Duke of York Stakes winner went off 9-2 here and looked like he had a bit to do over a furlong out.

But once meeting the highest ground, Marquand’s mount found overdrive to beat favourite Dragon Symbol and defending champion Oxted by a length and a quarter and a short head in this famous Group One sprint.

Art Power, who had blazed a trail on the far side, was just behind in fourth place.

Walker, saddling his first Group One winner, said: “It’s great. It’s taken its time, but better late than never as they say.

“I always believed so much in this horse. I put a lot of pressure on myself and it’s great that belief has been vindicated.

“His only blip was on bad ground at Ascot last season and we’ve been proved to have made the right call in missing the Royal meeting.

“I hoped he’d win a Group One and we dreamed that he’ll be a sprinter of a generation.

“A horse that was going through the grades as quickly as he was, you have to dream.”

While normally unwavering in his faith of his stable star, Walker admitted to having some pre-race doubts ahead of his latest assignment.

“He was so professional at York and today I was really negative before the race. He was messing around (in the pre-parade ring) and if you’d spoken to me then I’d have been pretty doom and gloom,” the trainer added.

“You always dream with a horse like this. They’re all champions when they walk into the yard, but this horse has never let us down.”

The Lambourn handler has another smart sprinter on his hands in recent Group Three winner Came From The Dark, but he does not anticipate the pair locking horns.

Jockey Tom Marquand celebrates winning the July Cup on Starman
Jockey Tom Marquand celebrates winning the July Cup on Starman (David Davies/Jockey Club)

A potential next port of call for Starman could be the Betfred Sprint Cup at Haydock on September 4.

Walker said: “Came From The Dark has to avoid this guy. In my mind, they’re not in the same league.

“He’s a very good horse, Came From The Dark, but this guy has that brilliance. Came From The Dark has got guts and battles it out.

“I think Came From The Dark is more of a five-furlong horse – whereas with this guy, it looks like six is the absolute minimum.

“We’ll look at the Sprint Cup and the Prix Maurice de Gheest.”

It was a special result, too, for Marquand, who was quick to praise Walker and the winner – and also William Haggas.

The rider said: “He was pretty exceptional and has confirmed what Ed has been saying all week. I’m not going to lie – even I was thinking ‘am I over-rating him a little bit?’. That confidence was justified today, and you have to put him in the top tier of sprinting in Europe after that.

“It was an incredible performance. The last few days everyone has been coming in saying it is one of the best July Cups we have seen for a good while. For a horse that has had six runs, I thought he showed relative signs of inexperience still.

“Ed’s comments a week ago were bold, and it is fantastic Starman has justified them today. You have to have seen something pretty exceptional at home to make you think like that. No doubt nerves were kicking in the last 24 hours, and that is why Ed might have found a few negatives – and he did get a bit warm and had other things on his mind.

“But he is a top-class racehorse – that turn of foot he showed up the hill was nothing short of top class.”

Marquand added he felt lucky to have the chance to ride the horse, and that Haggas played his part.

He explained: “Any Group One is special, as they are hard to win, especially on a day like today. I’m very fortunate I ride for the William Haggas stable a lot now. There was a conversation of where I go today. Primarily William is my biggest supporter, and he had horses all over the country – and good horses at that.

“It makes life pretty tricky when it comes to things like that, because loyalty is pretty hard to find in the game, and I’ve got that from William. Today I think it just came to the fore what a great trainer and person he is in that he let me come here and ride Starman, because he had some pretty important horses elsewhere.

“Days like this are hard to come by, and it is fantastic he knew the significance of it.”

Dragon Symbol (right) was second again
Dragon Symbol (right) was second again (David Davies/PA)

Oisin Murphy, who had steered Starman to victory at York, was this time on board Dragon Symbol.

First past the post in the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot before being demoted to the runner-up spot after he was found to have interfered with American challenger Campanelle, Archie Watson’s charge again had to make do with minor honours.

Murphy said: “I’m thrilled for Ed Walker. I was given the choice and I picked the wrong one, but I’m thrilled for their team – and they’re having a fantastic season.

“I hope Dragon Symbol will get his day – we could well look to France next potentially for the Prix Maurice de Gheest.”

Primo Bacio ‘flying’ as Falmouth looms

Primo Bacio’s performance in the Tattersalls Falmouth Stakes at Newmarket on Friday could be one to make up for her Royal Ascot absence.

The Ed Walker-trained three-year-old was an impressive winner of the Listed Oaks Farm Stables Fillies’ Stakes when last seen at York in mid-May.

A run in the Coronation Stakes at the Royal meeting was next on the agenda, but the wet weather put paid to that idea as Walker withdrew the filly when the ground became heavy.

Walker’s top-class sprinter Starman was also an Ascot non-runner for the same reason and joins Primo Bacio in rerouting to Newmarket, with the colt set to contest the showpiece July Cup on Saturday.

“Funnily enough I feel more confident about her, though this is a hard race and she’s taking on the older horses as well,” he said.

“Maybe confident is the wrong word, I’d say I feel more confident she’s going to run a good race.

“At Ascot I just wasn’t sure about the ground or the round course.

“Me knowing the filly, I just didn’t think it was right, she’s a really good filly with a good turn of foot – running a stiff mile in bottomless ground just didn’t feel right.

“It might be a blessing in disguise that we are where we are, she’s really fresh and looking fantastic.”

Primo Bacio has been described as something of a hard puller after her six career starts, but Walker feels she is settling and that some of her perceived over enthusiasm is actually just her naturally high head carriage.

“I think she’s getting better and better in that regard, she’s by a mare called Suvenna and her nickname in the yard is Sassy Sue because she is sassy, she’s got that edge,” he said.

“She’s got a high head carriage which makes her look as though she’s pulling harder than she actually is, but she does that just walking around the paddock – that’s just her.”

Walker’s confidence in the Awtaad filly has been further boosted by the form of Godolphin’s Creative Flair, who finished behind her at York and then went on to take the Listed Abingdon Stakes at Newbury on her next run.

“The Godolphin filly won a Listed race next time,” Walker said.

“And it’s just the way she went through the race and made them look ordinary.

“It’s really exciting to see where she’s going to end up, this filly.

“She’s flying, she’s in really good nick.”

Starman could be champion in waiting for Walker this weekend

Ed Walker’s Starman is poised to take his place at the top of the sprint division when he lines up for the Darley July Cup.

The four-year-old is vying for favouritism in the Group One contest over six furlongs on Newmarket’s July course this Saturday.

Starman was last seen triumphing in the Duke of York Stakes at York, beating Naharr, Oxted and Summerghand in the process.

The performance was the bay’s first of 2021 and Walker was pleasantly surprised to see him strike first time out after a 207-day break.

Starman during his last performance in the Duke of York Stakes
Starman during his last performance in the Duke of York Stakes (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“I was treating it as a prep race, I expected him to need the run and in a way was happy to get beaten as Ascot was the be all and end all,” he said.

“When he won like that and battled like he did, he certainly looked like he was going to tighten up and improve for the run.

“I’m not going to say he’ll be a stone better after York, but I’d like to say he’ll be better for that run.”

Roger Teal’s Oxted went on to take the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot, a victory that further boosts the form of Starman’s York success.

“His form is solid, very solid, Oxted’s taken a bit of time to warm up this year, the Teals were a bit disappointed and now they’re rightly full of optimism again,” he said.

“He’s a very good horse, a two-time Group One winner, and just because we’ve beaten him doesn’t mean I don’t see him as a threat.”

Ed Walker has high hopes for Starman this weekend
Ed Walker has high hopes for Starman this weekend (Simon Cooper/PA)

Starman was also an intended runner in the King’s Stand, but a downpour over Ascot turned the going unfavourably soft and Walker was forced to withdraw him.

The weather left conditions at the Berkshire track similar to Champions Day last season, where the horse was beaten for the first and only time when finishing 14th of 19 rivals on soft ground in the British Champions Sprint Stakes.

“It was an easy decision, but brutal to have to make it. But he’s only been beaten once and that was on that track and in those conditions,” said Walker.

“It just felt like it would have been a brilliant mistake to make when all the horses that beat him on Champions Day were in there.

“I would have felt so stupid, any time you send any horse out into battle you risk injuries or disappointment and I just would have felt really stupid if he’d have been beaten six lengths again and only beaten two rivals and I had run him not liking the ground.”

Newmarket conditions are likely to be far less extreme, with the going at the July course currently described as good to firm and showers expected.

“It looks like it should just be nice ground,” Walker said.

“Worst case (scenario) good ground, probably a bit quicker than that if the rain doesn’t come, so there’s no excuses – may the best horse win.”

Starman winning at Lingfield on his racecourse debut
Starman winning at Lingfield on his racecourse debut (Mark Cranham/PA)

This weekend’s contest looks to be hugely competitive, with Starman and Oxted joined at the head of the market by Dragon Symbol – who was first past the post in a dramatic renewal of the Commonwealth Cup – and Jersey Stakes winner Creative Force, though Diamond Jubilee champion Dream Of Dreams is notably absent due to injury.

“It feels like a real championship race, you have all the best horses of the generation in there, but it’s a shame not to have the Diamond Jubilee winner there alongside the King’s Stand winner,” Walker said.

“Starman has got an opportunity to be the sprinter of his generation because he’s only got the one blip on his record, I’d love to think he could be the next Muhaarar.

“He’s done absolutely nothing wrong bar that run on bad ground, I just don’t know how much is up his sleeve – only he can answer that question and hopefully he does answer it on Saturday.”

Came From The Dark well and truly out of the shadows

Came From The Dark registered the biggest success of his career as Ed Walker’s grey just got up to deny Arecibo in the Coral Charge at Sandown.

The five-year-old only won one of his five outings last season, but since being gelded he has improved no end.

Unlucky in the Palace House at Newmarket, having won at Newbury before then, Walker had hoped to run him in the King’s Stand Stakes at Ascot after that, but a setback prevented him from doing so.

Instead he lined up in this Group Three and Tom Marquand always looked in control.

While Arecibo hit the front with a furlong to run having taken over from Lazuli, Marquand did not even have to resort to the whip, riding out his mount with just hands and heels to reel in the King’s Stand runner-up and win by a neck at 5-1.

“It was frustrating to miss Ascot, he picked up a niggle after Newmarket but fair play to the team at home and the vets, they gave me the confidence to drive on to today,” said Walker.

“I was gutted to miss the King’s Stand as I think it would have been perfect for him, but it worked out perfectly today and we can go for some nice races later in the year.

“He’s been frustrating until this year, I always felt he was better than he was showing. I think I took a year too long to geld him, that’s been the making of him. It’s all come together this year.

“He loves Haydock, for whatever reason. The easy six suits, so we’ll work back from there (Sprint Cup), but I’m not sure where next. If we go to the Nunthorpe he might get too far out of his ground, so we’ve a bit of head scratching to do.”

The winner was cut to 5-1 from 12s for the King George Stakes at Goodwood by Paddy Power.

Walker anticipating favourable ground for Starman at Newmarket

Trainer Ed Walker is confident conditions will be suitable for Starman in the Darley July Cup at Newmarket on Saturday week.

The Upper Lambourn handler was ruing his luck when rain fell at Royal Ascot, forcing him to withdraw his crack sprinter from the Diamond Jubilee Stakes.

The four-year-old was a leading fancy for that six-furlong Group One feature on the back of victory in the Duke of York Stakes on the Knavesmire.

His only defeat in five career starts came on soft ground at Ascot when he was well-beaten in the Qipco British Champions Sprint in October.

“He’s on track for the July Cup. He’s in good nick and he’ll work on Wednesday,” said Walker.

“I think we’ll be all right with the ground. Newmarket was very quick last week and they tend not to get much of the rain. I’d be very surprised if it’s any softer than it was when he won at York.

“We’d be seriously unlucky if we had to re-think again. It would be hard to re-think again as he hasn’t got many options. I’m sure it will be fine.”

A setback prevented Came From The Dark from running at the Royal meeting but he is fully recovered and on course to return to action in the Coral Charge at Sandown on Saturday.

Came From The Dark (second left) is set to return to action in the Coral Charge at Sandown
Came From The Dark (second left) is set to return to action in the Coral Charge at Sandown (David Davies/PA)

The five-year-old has his second attempt at a Group Three contest after finishing second in the Palace House Stakes at Newmarket in May.

“I think we’re going to head to Sandown. It should be nice ground there,” said Walker.

“It was a real shame we missed Royal Ascot with him because the five there would have been perfect, but this stiff five will suit.

“You just tend to need a bit more luck at Sandown. I hope the race pans out for him but he’s in great shape. I’m looking forward to seeing him back.

“He had a setback after Newmarket which was not a major one but we couldn’t train him for 10 days or so. It was frustrating rather than disastrous.”

Starman set to miss Diamond Jubilee date

Ed Walker will assess conditions at Ascot on Friday, but concedes Starman is “pretty unlikely” to line up in Saturday’s Diamond Jubilee Stakes.

The four-year-old had been the ante-post favourite for the six-furlong feature on the final day of the meeting before deluge of rain arrived in Berkshire overnight, turning the ground to heavy and forcing an inspection before racing.

Starman has won four of his five starts to date, with his only disappointing effort coming on soft ground over six furlongs at Ascot in October, and Walker feels conditions have gone against his stable star.

He said: “I think it’s pretty unlikely he will run. I’ve got a runner in the last race, so I’ll have a good look at the track and make a call, but I’d say it’s pretty unlikely.

“His only defeat so far came on soft ground here last year.

“It’s frustrating as not only is it a lovely opportunity at Royal Ascot, but some of the other races he might go for, like the Maurice de Gheest and the Sprint Cup at Haydock, are often run on soft ground, so it’s frustrating to lose a summer target to freakish weather.”

Starman holds an entry for next month’s July Cup at Newmarket and Walker added: “We’ve just got to hope the weather improves and it dries up now.

“He is entered in the July Cup, so that is an option if the ground dried up.”

The wet weather also forced the withdrawal of Walker’s Coronation Stakes contender Premio Bacio.

Newmarket is also an option for the filly, who impressed in victory at York.

Walker said: “I’m not sure where we will go yet.

“The Coronation had been her target since she crossed the line at York, so it’s frustrating we couldn’t run.

“She’s in the Falmouth Stakes at Newmarket, so we could have a look at that, but the ground would have to improve.”

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.”

Starman tops 13 in Diamond Jubilee

Starman will take on 13 rivals as he bids for a first Group One victory in Saturday’s Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot.

Ed Walker’s charge made rapid strides last term, winning his first three starts before meeting with a first defeat when upped in company to the highest level on soft ground on Champions Day.

The four-year-old made a victorious start to 2021 when landing the Duke of York Stakes, where he beat the reopposing Nahaarr – trained by William Haggas – by a neck.

Summerghand (fourth), Ventura Rebel (fifth), Art Power (sixth), Emaraaty Ana (seventh) and Final Song (ninth) will all also try to reverse York form at Ascot.

The third home, Oxted, won the King’s Stand earlier in the week.

Dream Of Dreams was just denied by Hello Youmzain this race last year and he is back for more, while Glen Shiel, who landed the British Champions Sprint last autumn, returns to Group One level after finishing fourth in Ireland on his seasonal bow.

Ballyogan Stakes winner Sonaiyla is the sole Irish-trained runner for Paddy Twomey while Namos represents German trainer Dominik Moser.

Charlie Hills’ pair of Garrus and Royal Commando complete the field along with Happy Power, who is trained by Andrew Balding.

Broome headlines a four-strong team for Aidan O’Brien in the Hardwicke Stakes.

The five-year-old failed to sparkle in 2020, but has been in fine form so far this year, winning his first three starts before going down by just a short head to Helvic Dream in the Group One Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh last month.

Japan and Mogul finished third and sixth respectively in the Coronation Cup at Epsom two weeks ago and they line up again along with Tiger Moth, who finished second in last year’s Melbourne Cup but trailed home last in the Tattersalls Gold Cup on his return.

Hukum heads the home defence for Owen Burrows after winning a Goodwood Listed heat last time, with Haggas upping Ilaraab significantly in company to Group Two level after winning six handicaps on the bounce and rising to a rating of 111.

Haggas has a second string in Pablo Escobarr, while Wonderful Tonight, a dual Group One winner for David Menuisier at the end of last year, is set to make her seasonal bow.

Mark Johnston’s duo of Sir Ron Priestley and Thunderous, plus Bangkok, Deja, Highest Ground, Logician and Albaflora round out 15 declared runners.

A field of 19 runners has been declared for the Jersey Stakes, with Creative Force, Naval Crown and Khartoum prominent in the betting, while O’Brien’s Point Lonsdale leads 10 declarations for the Chesham Stakes.

The Wokingham has drawn a maximum field of 28 plus three reserves, with Snazzy Jazzy carrying top weight under claimer Laura Pearson.

A full field of 19 will go to post for the Golden Gates Stakes, with three reserves waiting in the wings, while 20 run in the Queen Alexandra Stakes, including Chester Cup hero Falcon Eight.

Starman tops 16 hunting Diamond Jubilee honours

Ed Walker’s Starman heads 16 confirmations for Saturday’s Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot.

The four-year-old has raced five times in his life, winning four starts with his only defeat coming on soft ground on Champions Day.

He returned to action this season with a win in Duke of York Stakes, beating the reopposing Nahaarr by a neck.

Archie Watson’s Glen Shiel was victorious on Champions Day and he returns to the scene of his finest hour.

Having provided Hollie Doyle with a first Group One winner, he is expected to strip fitter than on his seasonal return in Ireland when he finished fourth.

Sir Michael Stoute’s Dream Of Dreams is the same age as Glen Shiel as a seven-year-old and will be looking to go one better than when narrowly beaten by Hello Youmzain 12 months ago.

Last year’s winner, who has been retired, was trained by Kevin Ryan who this year relies on Emaraaty Ana.

Northern trainers are well represented with Tim Easterby’s Art Power, the David O’Meara-trained Summerghand and Ventura Rebel from Richard Fahey’s yard also in the mix

There is interest from overseas in the shape of Dominik Moser’s German runner Namos, while there are two Irish-trained runners, Harry’s Bar for Ado McGuinness and Paddy Twomey’s mare Sonaiyla.

Cape Byron, Garrus, Happy Power, Royal Commando and Final Song complete the list.

Starman spearheads ‘strong’ Ascot squad for Ed Walker

Ed Walker feels he is taking his strongest ever team to Royal Ascot next week – headlined by Diamond Jubilee hope Starman and live Coronation Stakes contender Primo Bacio.

Walker only has one winner at the showpiece meeting to his name – Agrotera in the 2018 Sandringham Stakes – but with leading chances in two of the features races of the week, which are both part of the British Champions Series, as well as a handful of chances in the handicaps, Walker is counting down the hours until it all kicks off on Tuesday.

“Every year you build towards Royal Ascot as soon as you start working them. Most years they whittle down through injury or not being good enough – for example last year we had one runner, Swindler, who had to be jogged to post and then wouldn’t go in the stalls,” said Walker.

Ed Walker (right) receives his trophy after winning the Sandringham Stakes with Agrotera in 2018
Ed Walker (right) receives his trophy after winning the Sandringham Stakes with Agrotera in 2018 (Nigel French/PA)

“That’s kind of normally how Ascot rolls for me, so it’s great this year to be going with what looks a strong team, but I’m under absolutely no illusions it’s the hardest place on earth to win races having tried and failed so many times and only been successful once.

“So many boxes need to be ticked to win any race, but it’s exaggerated at Ascot.

“I kind of went off it when I started training as I got so disappointed in being beaten the whole time! I had a couple of favourites early in my career – Riggins, Axiom, Nicholascopernicus – and they all got stuffed, so I thought it was easier to go and win at Windsor on the Monday of Ascot week instead.

“Agrotera certainly rejuvenated my enthusiasm for the meeting. Even though it was only a handicap, I probably didn’t appreciate until after how big a deal it was – the eyes of the racing world are upon it.”

In Starman, Walker has the new kid on the sprinting block having won four of his five races with his only defeat coming on Champions Day last year on very testing ground.

“Starman is a massively exciting horse who has done nothing wrong. He’s very straightforward. He’s massive, really imposing and a magnificent horse to be around, he’s got that presence and is the real head-turner in the string. He’s obviously very good as well,” said Walker.

“He did his last piece of work this morning, which went very well, we’re really happy with him and everything so far has gone well since York.

“It was just a routine work at Kingsdown over six furlongs. It’s quite a stiff gallop and I remember when I moved here (ex-jockey) George Baker, who is now a huge part of our team, told me not to expect good horses pulling clear of lead horses like at Newmarket because it’s totally different. They don’t work as flamboyantly as they do on the Al Bahathri or the Limekilns.”

Starman began his season with a win in the Duke of York Stakes
Starman began his season with a win in the Duke of York Stakes (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Walker explained why, as a four-year-old, Starman has only run five times.

“He’s so big I kind of missed the boat with him on grass at two, the ground had gone when he was starting work and David Ward (owner) is not a big fan of all-weather racing. He’s a purist in that respect and didn’t fancy taking him to an all-weather track for his debut, so we left him alone,” he said.

“He was working away last spring and looked really good, quite exciting, but then Covid struck. Then he was just ticking along waiting for resumption.

“David and Sue (Ward) were keen to see him debut, so I had to wait another month before I could run him before owners were allowed racing and the only suitable race was at Lingfield, so I had to twist his arm to run on the all-weather which paid off.

“Tom Marquand would have ridden Starman, but I’ve just heard today he’ll almost certainly be on Nahaarr, so Oisin (Murphy) will keep the ride going forward, which is great as he knows him. At least we know now. We couldn’t be happier with everything really.

“When Oisin got off at York, the first thing he said was ‘how much ability has he got?’ and what a bus of a ride he is.”

Primo Bacio finished fourth in the Fred Darling at Newbury at 100-1 before bolting up at York and is now a leading fancy for the Coronation Stakes.

“She’s really blossomed this year into a good filly. She had her excuses last year. Apart from not handling the all-weather that well, and she doesn’t work quite as well on it, I still can’t fathom how she managed to get beaten at Chelmsford,” said Walker.

“She was very unlucky at Newbury. It may have been a blessing in disguise or it may have cost us a Guineas, who knows. It would have been hard not to run in the Guineas having won a trial. She would have been backing up quite quickly, though. We had a conversation about supplementing but quickly canned it and the break freshened her up and put her spot on for York.

“This will be a different test to York. She was 14-1 to beat a conditions winner and a maiden winner and she’s now 11-2 to beat a Guineas winner, so it’s a slightly different test. Andrea (Atzeni) will keep the ride.”

Away from the Group Ones, Walker also has some lively chances in the handicaps.

He said: “Parachute is going for the King George V Handicap, I hope he gets in – historically he should do. I think he’s a well-handicapped horse. You need to be in that race to feature, but I think he is. We’ll probably enter in the Queen’s Vase as well as a back-up, which sounds ludicrous given that is a Group Three.

“Stormy Antarctic could run in the Wolferton. He’s such a legend of a horse. You’d fancy him if the ground was soft.

“It will be safe ground at the start of the meting. He owes us nothing and it was great to see him finally win on home soil again at Goodwood. He’s looking and moving better than ever.

“Whether we go, I don’t know. There’s a Group Two in Italy at the end of the month but the travelling and everything, I just don’t know.”

Stormy Antarctic has been a grand servant to Walker down the years
Stormy Antarctic has been a grand servant to Walker down the years (Tim Goode/PA)

Of his other possibles, Walker added: “Matthew Flinders (Royal Hunt Cup) hasn’t run at Ascot before but I think it will suit him.

“York seems to be a disaster for him, he’s run there three times but I think he boils over walking across the Knavesmire, so we’ll take every precaution to get him to post as quietly as we can.

“I think a fast-run, straight mile will be ideal. He’s in danger of being a little disappointing because in my mind I always thought of him as Group horse. I hope it’s his last run in a handicap.

“Dreamloper (Kensington Palace Stakes) loves the track and trip and will love fast ground. She’s a little quirky and just needs to relax. She ran in a hood last time and Tom (Marquand) felt that just blunted her in the finish, so we’ll take that off. She got 5lb for finishing second which is infuriating, but I still believe she’s well handicapped.

“Popmaster (Palace of Holyrood House Handicap) has form with Rohaan and Diligent Harry. Arguably his best form is on the all-weather, twice we’ve run him on turf he’s been beaten much to my surprise, so he’ll run in a visor. I don’t think he’s ungenuine but maybe lacks concentration.

“We hope a stiff five furlongs will suit. I think this race will really suit him as he likes to come through horses.”

Stormy Antarctic sparks Festival celebration at Goodwood

Stormy Antarctic secured his first British win in over five years as he powered home in the Listed MansionBet Beaten By A Head Festival Stakes at Goodwood.

Ed Walker’s charge won the Craven Stakes back in April 2016, but has largely been focussed on major overseas targets in the interim, chalking up four wins in Group Two and Three company, as well as placing at the highest level on multiple occasions.

Now an eight-year-old, Stormy Antarctic had finished second in a couple of Listed heats so far this year, but relishing the testing conditions at Goodwood, he roared back to form under Richard Kingscote.

Stormy Antarctic was travelling noticeably well turning into the straight as pacesetter Winter Reprise just started to feel the pinch and Walker’s runner seized control with a furlong to run in the 10-furlong heat.

Kingscote urged him clear and he passed the post three and a quarter lengths ahead of the staying-on Desert Encounter, with Winter Reprise third.

“I must admit this feels like my first winner as he’s such a hero and flown the flag for the yard for so long,” said Walker

“He hadn’t won (in Britain) since George Baker rode him in the Craven and is such a loyal servant.

“My hopes rose when the rain came, as he’d run so well under a canny ride at Windsor. And the race cut up well for us, while Richard got him beautifully settled.

“We did pencil in a Group Two in Milan at the end of June, but the ground will probably prevent that and we may well look after him by keeping the miles down and freshening him up.”

Simon and Ed Crisford’s Flotus (7-4 favourite) justified strong market support when making a striking impression on debut in the MansionBet Bet 10 Get 20 EBF Maiden Fillies’ Stakes.

Silvestre de Sousa was on board and said: “She was slow from the gates and took time to settle, but when I pulled her out, I just needed to let her go.

“She didn’t like being covered up and she preferred a clear run. It might have been because there was not enough pace.

Flotus was very impressive in the opener
Flotus was very impressive in the opener (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“She feels like that (Royal Ascot). I just gave her a little push and she quickened very well, as if she was on good ground, she feels really nice.”

The former champion jockey quickly doubled up on David Menuisier’s November Handicap third Nuit St Georges (4-1) in the MansionBet Watch And Bet Handicap, before further adding to his tally with Rhoscolyn (12-1) in the Download The MansionBet App Handicap.

Hukum returned to winning ways for Owen Burrows in the MansionBet Best Odds Guaranteed Tapster Stakes.

Hukum (left) jut drifts into the rail causing Morando to be short of room
Hukum (left) jut drifts into the rail causing Morando to be short of room (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

While the 5-6 favourite hit the front on the bridle, the testing ground began to take its toll as he drifted to the rail, briefly causing De Sousa to stop riding on Morando.

That allowed On To Victory to run on into second, beaten a length and a half.

“We thought a lot of him and he did us proud last year, and he did well physically through the winter,” said Burrows.

“He ran a respectable race on his comeback in the Gordon Richards, a race that turned into a sprint which didn’t suit us.

“It was the exact opposite in the ground today. He travelled into it well, but made a little bit of hard work putting it to bed.

“He’s in the Coronation Cup, but that will come too soon and the plan is to go for the Hardwicke.”