Wednesday, 13 June 2012
: Timeform's Adam Brookes runs the rule over the contenders for the Group 1 Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot on June 20...
Miniskirts are still out and fascinators and cravats are no longer permitted, while the prohibition on shorts means John Berry's going to struggle to even get in the Grandstand, but Royal Ascot perennially attracts the smartest horses in Europe and the Prince of Wales's Stakes is set to feature the cream of the middle-distance crop.
One man who will have no trouble with any alterations to the Dress Code is Sir Henry Cecil, whose 73 Royal Ascot successes means he comfortably sits at the pinnacle of the leading trainers currently in operation table. However, with Frankel nailed on to annihilate anything that stands in his way in the Queen Anne, it's unlikely we'll get the opportunity to witness the master of Warren Place's sartorial stylings atop the winner's podium after the Prince of Wales's.
Aidan O'Brien, who has been leading trainer at the meeting three times in the last five years and is favourite to repeat the feat, is sure to be sporting his trademark black wraparound sunglasses, and he'll be fancying his chances of putting his rivals in the shade in the ten-furlong showpiece such is his strength in depth.
O'Brien has won the race only once, with Duke of Marmalade four years ago, but he came mightily close to adding to that when So You Think
succumbed by just a head to Rewilding in a pulsating finish a year ago, and the soon-to-be-stallion is likely to be his main representative once again. Nine weeks on from his Dubai World Cup fourth, So You Think
maintained his 100% record in Ireland with a second routine victory in the Tattersalls Gold Cup, showing himself to be as good as ever, and he's sure to be a force on June 20 with his powerful, grinding style seemingly well-suited to the course's long straight.
St Nicholas Abbey is also amongst the Coolmore
contingent, and he gained a fourth Group 1 win in emphatic style when taking the Coronation Cup at Epsom recently, following up his win in the corresponding race 12 months earlier. There's now little doubt that that last year's Breeders' Cup Turf hero is amongst the middle-distance elite and, whilst he has been beaten both times he's tried ten furlongs, it's fair to say that each race didn't pan out to suit, though if he does surface at Ascot it will more likely be in Saturday's Hardwicke, in which Group 1 winners are unpenalised.
With Excelebration surely more likely to go for the Queen Anne and Await The Dawn and Treasure Beach, who is also in the Gold Cup, sure to be better suited to the mile-and-a-half Hardwicke, further Ballydoyle back-up is likely to rest with pacemakers Windsor Palace and Robin Hood.
The Prince of Wales's Stakes was first run at Ascot in 1862, which means it's 150 years old this year, but the race's success is sure to play second fiddle to Diamond Jubilee celebrations, Ascot set to be adorned with four kilometres of bunting, while 80,00 Union Jack flags are to be handed out to racegoers.
While the monarch will undoubtedly be warmed by mass party popping, we all know there's one thing that would really get the do going and that's a royal Group 1 winner. Arise Sir Michael and Carlton House?
Last year's King George winner Nathaniel, who had also won at the track when taking the King Edward VII Stakes at the Royal meeting, is the leading home hope on Timeform
ratings but a ten-furlong race in such exalted company is not ideal for what will be his seasonal return (missed Brigadier Gerard Stakes with dirty scope), so Carlton House looks the best of the British.
Dual classic-winning filly Dunfermline read the script when starring in The Queen's Silver Jubilee year in 1977 and it's not incredulous to think that Carlton House could play a starring role next week; Sir Michael Stoute has saddled 63 Royal Ascot winners and will be doing his utmost to provide the Queen, who is yet to win the race, with her 21st.
Last year's Epsom Derby third had suffered a setback or two that had kept him off the track since last year's Irish Derby but proved that he retains all of his ability with a convincing reappearance win in the aforementioned Brigadier Gerard at Sandown. While acknowledging that it will require him to take a significant step forward to be fully competitive in even an average renewal of the Prince of Wales's, there's a feeling that he'll prove best around a mile and a quarter this term and there has to be a chance that we're yet to see the best of him.
Of the two British entries that have spent the lion's share of their career in France, Planteur looks to have a stronger chance than filly Testoterone, who is yet to reappear having joined Ed Dunlop following her 1,200,000gns purchase last November.
Planteur has been placed in both the Dubai World Cup over ten furlongs and the furlong-shorter Prix d'Ispahan since joining Marco Botti, but did shape as if ready for a return to a mile and a half would benefit on the latter occasion. He's pretty consistent but is likely to find easier opportunities to gain a second top-level success on the continent.
A horse based in France at present does have a serious chance of landing the prize, however, with Gallic warrior Cirrus des Aigles the animal in question.
The winners of all eight thoroughbred races on Dubai World Cup night were entered for Royal Ascot and Dubai Sheema Classic hero Cirrus des Aigles will be ready to gatecrash the party, especially after the six-year-old gelding, who added April's Prix Ganay to his Meydan win, suffered a surprise defeat at the hands of Golden Lilac in the Prix d'Ispahan last time. Cirrus des Aigles, who is effective at up to a mile and a half, probably found the nine-furlong trip on fast ground on the sharp side that day and is sure to make his presence felt at Ascot, a second prolonged battle between himself and the 2 lb lower-rated So You Think
a distinct possibility.
The aforementioned Golden Lilac, who won the French 1000 Guineas and Oaks last season, is amongst the market leaders for the contest but Andre Fabre's filly, who returned from a nine-month absence (reportedly had a viral infection after suffering her only defeat on her final outing last year) to gain her third Group 1 success, currently does not hold an entry. Ouija Board proved females can do it when beating six of the opposite sex in 2006 and Golden Lilac would need taking seriously if lining up.
The French also have last year's Prix du Jockey Club and Prix Niel victor Reliable Man and progressive filly Giofra entered, while there's even talk of Big Blue Kitten, a horse that's yet to try ten furlongs, coming all the way from North America.
Finally, it's worth remembering that Godolphin farmed the race around the turn of the century, the victories of Dubai Millennium ('00), Fantastic Light ('01) and Grandera ('02) adding to Faithful Son's success in 1998, and the boys in blue hit back with the ill-fated Rewilding last year .
Such a record brings Dubai World Cup hero Monterosso into the picture though whether the former Royal Ascot winner can bring his A-game returned to turf having been given a short break remains to be seen. The Darley operation also has City Style, who is winless in six in Britain, and the unbeaten Farhh in the line-up, though the latter is yet to tackle further than a mile and holds a Queen Anne entry.
Established pair Cirrus des Aigles and So You Think
certainly set a high benchmark, but with the former still still having the option of the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, a race he was second in last year, and no reason to believe the latter is any better than 12 months ago, Carlton House makes most appeal with the fact he has a bit to find on form currently factored into his price.
Back Carlton House @ [7.2] in the Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot on June 20