As most of the country continues to be bathed in sunshine the ground will be instrumental ahead of this weekend’s feature race - the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot.
Nine horses have been declared for the mile-and-a-half Group 1, but Eagle Top’s participation hinges on a Friday course inspection by his trainer John Gosden. There is a heavy rain shower forecast on Friday afternoon so it will depend on the amount that hits the track. If the Newmarket handler is happy with the conditions he will go into the valuable and prestigious race with three runners and two excellent chances.
Let’s start with his best chance according to the bookmakers. Oaks winner Taghrooda, who bypassed last weekend’s Irish Oaks to come here instead. I guess there isn’t much to lose with Sheikh Hamdan’s filly as she’s already a classic winner and a very attractive proposition when she retires to the paddock. She also gets a handy age and sex allowance and carries just 8stone 6lbs; 15lbs less than the favourite Telescope which pitches her right in there with a great chance of maintaining her unbeaten record. Paul Hanagan has stayed loyal to his classic winner too so plenty in her favour. It isn’t easy for three year-old fillies in this race though and she will have to buck the trends if she is to win this despite her whopping weight allowance.
I was seriously impressed with Eagle Top at Royal Ascot and he looked like the sort of horse that could make up into a Group 1 performer. That run in the King Edward VII Stakes was only his third, having won his maiden and then he was beaten in a handicap on his second start when he was ‘wrong’. He’s a Pivotal colt, hence why Gosden wants some rain, and having supplemented him for this he must be doing a rain dance at the moment. Can the Gosden trained pair trouble the Sir Michael Stoute trained favourite Telescope?
It’s been a difficult week for the trainer with the news that the mare he trains for the Queen, Estimate, tested positive to morphine and looks set to be disqualified from her excellent second place in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot. Telescope has his trainer’s excellent record in this race in his favour. He has won it on five occasions, his last victory coming with Harbinger 4 years ago. Telescope bounced back to form in the Hardwicke at Royal Ascot, looking impressive when beating stablemate Hillstar. Unlike his Newmarket neighbour, Stoute could do with the ground staying on the quick side for this colt who is at his best on a fast surface. He has never finished out of the front two in his life and is a worthy favourite.
Aidan O’Brien sends Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Magician over for the race. He is the highest rated in the field but has been beaten in all three of his Group 1 starts this season. He wasn’t disgraced at Ascot though when second to the now retired The Fugue in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes, with an out-of-sorts Treve in third; all three broke the track record. The step back up to a mile and a half is no problem as he’s versatile trip wise and won at Santa Anita over 12 furlongs. Mukhadram has been rejected by Paul Hanagan with doubts over his ability to stay the mile and a half one of the factors in his decision. Dane O’Neill comes in for the ride on the Eclipse winner who has his first try at this trip.
John Gosden also runs his leading Leger hopeful and Derby third, Romsdal, who shouldn’t have the pace to beat the protagonists. It looks to be one of the best renewals of this high class all aged middle distance contest for some time and there aren’t many runners you could confidently dismiss. I’m going to go with Eagle Top if Gosden allows him to take his chance. He went on a quicker surface at Ascot and it seems likely the Ascot Clerk of the Course will water the track if the rain doesn’t arrive. In his absence I’d have to go with the favourite Telescope.
The fiercely difficult Longines International Handicap is another of the Saturday highlights. Just the 29 runners in this seven furlong handicap to try and find a winner from! Roger Varian’s Horsted Keynes has been popular in the run up to this after his second place in the Buckingham Palace at Royal Ascot behind Louis The Pious. He looked a touch unlucky there and is a winner waiting to happen in one of these Heritage Handicaps. He’s a proper seven furlong specialist and is still a lightly raced progressive horse.
Bronze Angel was fourth in the Buckingham Palace and has since won at York for which he now has a 3lb penalty, his trainer Marcus Tregoning has been in good form of late but I think a mile brings out the best in this horse. Belgian Bill is a regular in these big handicaps and was seventh in the Hunt Cup behind Field Of Dream but is equally effective over 7f. He didn’t get any sort of run at Ascot and finished full of running and off the same mark, and with Ryan Moore in the plate, is on my shortlist. Field Of Dream will have to win off his highest ever mark but he likes it here.
Ayaar is interesting for Luca Cumani and Frankie Dettori after his fifth in the Hunt Cup where he was hampered and didn’t get a clear run and was staying on. He enjoys this seven furlong trip. Bunbury Cup winner Heaven’s Guest bids to win another big 7f handicap for trainer Richard Fahey. Fahey has three runners and has booked Paul Hanagan for Majestic Moon who is a consistent performer but is unlikely to get his own way up front. Denis Coakley saddles Gabriel’s Lad who has top weight to carry. I’d love to see him run well and he suits these big fields. Off top weight and from an average draw he may struggle though.
Watchable looks one to keep on the right side of for David O’Meara, Richard Hughes rides. He ran really well in the Buckingham Palace when third to stablemate Louis The Pious. That was only his fifth career start and it was an admirable run for one so inexperienced. He has only been raised 1lb for that effort. As this summary would suggest there are often hard luck stories in this type of contest, but given a slice of luck I hope Belgian Bill can run another decent race.
There is also a quality card at York with the Group 2 Sky Bet York Stakes attracting a decent field. There’s no Farraaj in the line up, mind you, as trainer Roger Varian has decided to give his John Smith’s Cup winner more time to get over his York win with an autumn campaign in mind. That leaves Luca Cumani’s Danadana as the marginal favourite for this mile and a quarter contest from Windhoek. Danadana goes well on the Knavesmire; he’s run twice there in the past winning one and finishing second on the other occasion. He wouldn’t want to see any rain as he prefers a quick surface. Godolphin could dominate this Group 2 with three of the eight runners.
Windhoek is the horse I prefer from that trio as he seems better than ever this season for Saeed bin Suroor and comes here having won a listed race at Sandown on his last start. Bin Suroor also saddles Sharestan whilst Godolphin’s other runner is the Charlie Appleby trained Long John who is a very smart Grade 1 winning import from Australia who won the UAE 2000 Guineas in February. He made a very satisfactory UK debut at Ascot last time out and can do better. He was staying on over that mile trip and the step back up to this trip should suit. He looks the main danger to my fancy. 2013 Oaks runner up Secret Gesture is also in the line up and won her first race since her Oaks Trial win at Nottingham last time out in the rescheduled Warwickshire Oaks. She got a bit caught out for pace that day and I’m not sure this 10 furlongs is ideally what she wants. I’m going with Windhoek as he looks capable of making his mark in Group Company and he has his conditions here.
The Sky Bet Dash is a well contested six furlong handicap. Muthmir ticks all the boxes. He’s trained by William Haggas who excels with his big race handicappers and has a particularly good record at this track over the past few seasons. The four-year-old has only had five starts and is going the right way. He didn’t do much wrong in a decent handicap over this trip at Newcastle last time out when narrowly beaten by a much more experienced horse. The winner that day was ridden by the excellent Graham Lee and he takes over on the horse he beat that day so he will know plenty about him. He can be keen, but hopefully in a race of this nature he’ll settle well enough. Haggas had bypassed a few races with his gelding this term due to unsuitably soft ground so providing there isn’t a downpour before this race he should have everything as he likes it. He is a blue blooded individual too; his younger half sibling is smart filly My Titania. I’ve convinced myself anyway and despite the fact it looks a typically competitive sprint handicap he gets my vote.
I’ll be back next week with a look ahead to Glorious Goodwood and the Galway Festival; I hope you have a successful weekend. Keep an eye on www.sportinglife.com/racing for the final few days of the Go Racing in Yorkshire Summer Festival tipping competition. There are plenty of winners popping up from the ‘Magnificent 7’ and there are sure to be a few more over the weekend; it concludes at Pontefract on Sunday.
Eagle Top in the King George at Ascot @ 6/1 with Sky Bet
Belgian Bill in the International Handicap at Ascot @ 8/1 with Sky Bet
Windhoek in the Sky Bet York Stakes at York @ 7/2 with Sky Bet
Muthmir in the Sky Bet Dash at York @ 5/1 with Sky Bet
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