Royal Ascot Latest News
Oisin Murphy believes Lightning Spear’s senior status will not prevent him making another bold bid for Group 1 glory in the £600,000 Queen Anne Stakes (2.30pm) at Royal Ascot on Tuesday.
The most valuable race on day one of the Royal Meeting, which has attracted a final field of 15, is one of three contests that fall under the QIPCO British Champions Series in the afternoon. The King’s Stand Stakes and St James’s Palace Stakes are also QIPCO British Champions Series races and, in total, there will be eight before the five-day meeting concludes on Saturday.
Lightning Spear, trained by David Simcock in Newmarket, has been placed in five Group 1 races without quite managing to win at the highest level.
The sequence began when he finished third to Tepin in the Queen Anne two years ago and was extended when he suffered a short-head defeat at the hands of Rhododendron, who he meets again, in the Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes at Newbury last month when Deauville (fifth), Accidental Agent (sixth), Suedois (seventh), Limato (tenth), Zonderland (eleventh) and Beat The Bank (twelfth) were among the supporting cast.
The seven-year-old entire would become the oldest Queen Anne winner since Welsh Rake, who was eight when winning in 1963, but Murphy, who has ridden him on 18 occasions, believes all his powers remain intact.
“He ran right up to the figure he ran up to in last year’s Lockinge, if not better, and so his age doesn’t bother me,” he said. “The fact that he’s officially rated as high now as he’s ever been is testament to David Simcock and his team. I’m told the horse has been freshened up and is in great form. Hopefully he will run a massive race.
“I know him like the back of my hand, which can only be an advantage in races like this. He’s been so unlucky not to win a Group 1 – meeting such as Ribchester and Minding at their peak – and hopefully he will have his day in the sun soon.
“We were delighted with his run in the Lockinge but to get beaten in a tight photo finish is never ideal. You always have an instinct and mine was that we had got beat, although I was hoping beyond hope I was wrong.”
Despite millimetres separating the pair, the Aidan O’Brien-trained Rhododendron has been trading as the 3/1 favourite in the build-up to the race with Lightning Spear available at 8/1. “I imagine the sex allowance is a contributory factor and also the trainer and jockey combinations,” Murphy said. “Aidan O’Brien and Ryan Moore would possibly entice more people than Oisin Murphy and David Simcock.”
Murphy is also full of respect for Benbatl, who will attempt to provide Saeed Bin Suroor with an eighth win in the race after the previous triumphs of Charnwood Forest (1996), Allied Forces (1997), Intikhab (1998), Cape Cross (1999), Dubai Destination (2003), Refuse to Bend (2004) and Ramonti (2007).
Benbatl provided Murphy with his first Royal Ascot success last year when successful in the Group 3 Hampton Court Stakes. He has also partnered the Dubawi colt to three victories at Meydan this year – including in the Group 1 Dubai Turf on World Cup night in March.
“I saw him on Wednesday and he looks great,” Murphy said. “I think the Queen Anne [rather than Prince of Wales’s Stakes] is the right race for him. The straight mile at Ascot will be fine for him and this is possibly his year. He’s a four-year-old now and he is certainly one of the main protagonists.”
Other intriguing contenders in an international renewal include American challenger Yoshida, winner of the Grade 1 Old Forester Turf Classic Stakes at Churchill Downs last month, and Recoletos, from France, who landed the Churchill Coolmore Prix D’Ispahan at ParisLongchamp on his latest start. Lord Glitters, winner of the Balmoral Handicap on QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot in October, steps up in class.
The £500,000 King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot
(3.40) on Tuesday, the first race in the sprint category of this year’s QIPCO British Champions Series, is likely to take less than a minute to run but it promises to be one of the highlights of the year with two of the fastest horses in the world, Lady Aurelia and Battaash, meeting head on.
Lady Aurelia, trained in America by Wesley Ward, has been a star turn at the Royal Meeting for the past two years – cruising home in the King’s Stand last year, in a time 0.01s outside the track record, having been a runaway winner of the Queen Mary Stakes 12 months earlier.
She became the first three-year-old to succeed since Equiano in 2008 in the King’s Stand last year and would become only the fourth horse since the Second World War to win it twice – the other trio being Elbio (1991 and 1993), Equiano (2008 and 2010) and Sole Power (2013-14).
Battaash is owned by Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, whose famous blue-and-white silks were carried to victory by the outstanding Dayjur in the 1990 King’s Stand Stakes.
Like Dayjur, Battaash has speed to burn and he was scintillating when thrashing Marsha by four lengths in the Group 1 Prix de l’Abbaye at Chantilly on his final start last season and the Charlie Hills-trained gelding was tenacious when landing the Armstrong Aggregates Temple Stakes on his reappearance at Haydock.
In the latter race he gave weight and a narrow beating to Washington DC (second), Kachy (third), and Mabs Cross (fourth), who all re-oppose.
Charlie Appleby, who saddled Masar to win the Investec Derby at Epsom this month, has yet to win a Group 1 contest at the Royal Meeting (four wins overall) but seeks to put that right with Blue Point, the track record holder over six furlongs at Ascot – when beating Harry Angel in last year’s Pavilion Stakes – and whose only defeat in three starts at the course was when a close third in the Commonwealth Cup 12 months ago.
“He’s gone under the radar and has only really run one disappointing race in his life – and that was in Hong Kong last time,” Appleby said. “It was my first experience there and I learnt plenty. We tried to take them on at their own game but sprinting is their forte and it didn’t materialise.
“We gave him a break afterwards and he did well for it. We’ve been winding him up last fortnight and he’s really turned the corner – putting in a serious bit of work last Saturday.
“He showed he’s got the pace for five when he was second to Ertijaal, who we know is in no slouch, in Dubai [in March], and five up the hill at Ascot is going to be ideal. He’s got bigger and stronger as he’s got older. Some may have written him off after last time, but he doesn’t know that.”
The final field of 14 also includes a second American challenger in the shape of Bucchero, a $43,000 purchase who has won his connections $780,000. The six-year-old has an unlikely back story because his dam, Meetmeontime, was rescued by Marion County Humane Society in the summer of 2009 when she was found among 33 neglected horses on a farm in Ocala, Florida.
Other runners include Finsbury Square, winner of the Group 2 Prix Du Gros-Chene at Chantilly this month. He will attempt to give France an eighth King’s Stand success since 1956.
David Probert has plenty of faith in Tip Two Win
David Probert believes Tip Two Win has the attributes needed to win the St James’s Palace Stakes (4.20) at Royal Ascot on Tuesday and in the process provide himself, trainer Roger Teal and proud owner Anne Cowley with a landmark victory.
Neither jockey, trainer or owner have had a domestic Group 1 success but Tip Two Win came close to hitting the jackpot for them when finishing runner-up to Saxon Warrior in the QIPCO 2000 Guineas at Newmarket last month after being sent off at 50/1.
The form is proving strong with Masar, who was third, subsequently winning the Investec Derby, and Roaring Wild, who was fifth, being the easy winner of the Dante Stakes next time before himself finishing third in the premier Epsom Classic.
“He’s not a very big horse but he’s got a big heart and a big stride and he goes there in very good order,” Probert said ahead of a race that forms part of the Mile Category of the QIPCO British Champions Series. “We’ve got experience on our side, he travels good and he’s a got a good turn of foot.
“I’ve never really sat on a horse that it is so hard to get to the bottom of. Whenever you go past the line you think ‘he’ll give me more if I ask him’. He responded well at Newmarket – we just came up against a very good winner, plus the dips and ridges probably caught us out. We are not going to get that at Ascot and the track there will suit him.
“As a two-year-old he was pretty exciting but he’s come on in leaps and bounds over the winter. He’s matured mentally and, while he’s not biggest, he’s filled out in his neck and in his quarters. He feels like the horse he should be with more improvement to come.”
Probert, 29, grew up in Bargoed, a small Welsh town in the Rhymney Valley. He shared the apprentices’ title with William Buick in 2008 but is yet to win a QIPCO British Champions Series race. His sole Royal Ascot triumph came in 2014 aboard Born In Bombay in the Britannia Stakes.
“It’s hard to get these rides in the top races and when opportunities like this come along you have to make as few mistakes as possible and think about the positives, rather than the negatives.
“We’ve got a lot of people backing us and Tip Two Win is pretty popular – I noticed the other day he now even has his own Facebook page. If he can get his head in front and a Group 1 under belt it will be a big achievement for me, Roger and all his team, who would deserve it.”
Without Parole is the one runner in the line-up with an unblemished record and is the rival Probert fears most, although the John Gosden-trained Frankel colt had to dig deep to repel Gabr, who reopposes, in the Matchbook-sponsored Heron Stakes at Sandown last month.
In the past 50 years, a dozen Tattersalls Irish 2000 Guineas winners have gone on to win the St James’s Palace Stakes and Romanised, trained by Ken Condon, seeks to add his name to the list after his decisive defeat of U S Navy Flag and Gustav Klimt, both trained by Aidan O’Brien, at the Curragh.
O’Brien has won the £500,000 feature, which forms part of the Mile division of the QIPCO British Champions Series, on seven occasions via Giant’s Causeway (2000), Black Minnaloushe (2001), Rock of Gibraltar (2002), Excellent Art (2007), Henrythenavigator (2008), Mastercraftsman (2009) and Gleneagles (2015).
Henri-Alex Pantall’s Wootton, who surrendered his unbeaten record when fourth in the Poule D’Essai Des Poulains (French 2000 Guineas), will fly the flag for France, while Chilean has been supplemented, having not seemed to quite last home when fourth in the Bet365 Classic Trial on soft ground at Sandown last time. Kings Shield and Threeandfourpence complete the ten-runner line-up.