ROYAL ASCOT will never capture the imagination in the same way as Cheltenham, but it is a good second and from next Tuesday through Saturday, the greatest flat meeting in the world will be the focus of much of our attention, writes Pat Keane.
Two weeks ago here, we advanced three Aidan O’Brien-trained horses as bankers, Churchill, Winter and Caravaggio, and nothing has happened in the meantime to change one’s mind.
It looks certain now that both Churchill (St James’ Palace Stakes) and Winter (Coronation Stakes) will go off at odds-on, but the pair still represent the double of the week.
Caravaggio (Commonwealth Cup) won’t be quite so short and the optimistic punter might be tempted to add him to the mix as well.
Others who are sure to be at prohibitive odds are Ribchester (Queen Anne Stakes) and Order Of St George (Gold Cup).
I don’t think we have actually seen the best of Ribchester yet and he was seriously impressive when landing the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury last time.
The one little worry is if the surface came up rattling fast. Richard Fahey’s charge does operate on any ground, but seems very effective when there is some cut.
This is a meeting that is set to house a number of so-called good things, but the bet of the week is surely that they won’t all win!
If Ribchester doesn’t prove the weak link in the chain then could it be Order Of St George? The defection last Tuesday of French challenger, Vazirabad, saw Aidan O’Brien’s charge on offer at around evens yesterday.
Of the hotties he represents, at least to my way of thinking, the worst value of all. He did enjoy the perfect preparation when easily taking the Saval Beg Stakes at Leopardstown towards the end of last month.
The ground was on the quick side then and Order Of St George has no trouble handling such conditions, at least in lesser company.
But I believe he likes an ease and when the five-year- old won the Gold Cup a year ago the ground was soft.
If he is short enough on the exchanges then laying him may be the way to go, on the basis there are more ways of skinning a cat then just backing a winner!
Much interest, of course, will centre on Jessica Harrington, together with her relatively new lieutenant in Colm O’Donoghue.
There is no doubt this shapes as a marriage made in Heaven, with O’Donoghue proving a powerful force in the saddle and an intelligent and articulate one on the ground.
They team up with a few chances, but it is their two-year- old filly Alpha Centauri, who is probably the best prospect.
She has just been very good in winning both her races so far, at Naas, and we know will have a big physical advantage over the opposition, which is some edge.
One wonders what juveniles Aidan O’Brien will send into battle - his two-year-olds this season haven’t been anything to be getting overly excited about thus far.
Two, though, that would be worth a second glance are Clemmie and September. We know Clemmie was the real Churchill’s wife’s name and the equine varieties are brother and sister.
Clemmie was well touted, but easy to back, on her debut at the Curragh when third to Jim Bolger’s Gasta, in a 15-runner maiden.
The bare form is ordinary, leaving Clemmie with loads to prove, but when did that ever stop O’Brien before?
In contrast, September made a spectacular debut when taking her maiden at Leopardstown nine days ago, but O’Brien could well decide that Ascot comes too quickly.
And finally, it will be fascinating to note how Wesley Ward’s considerable team does.
A recent article on him in the Racing Post indicated he has no notion of heading back to America empty-handed.
Indeed, he was, to say the last of it, more than bullish. Now, this is no brash, silly Yank in the Trump mould. No, Ward is a fine operator and has to be respected.
THE stewards disqualified Willie Mullins’ newcomer, High Haven (5-2), after she had beaten Mr Everest (10-1) by a head in a 12 furlongs maiden at the Curragh last Sunday.
High Haven edged to her left well inside the furlong pole and bumped her rival.
If she had kept a straight line, it is only a guessing game as to which of the pair would have won.Not so long ago there is no way the result would have been reversed, with the perception being that you literally had to kill someone in this country to de demoted.
We have long argued here that, in calls such as this, the verdict should always favour the sinned, rather than the sinner.
That was precisely the conclusion reached by the stewards and, hopefully, this is very much a portent of what is to come.
IT’S not often a summer jumper has the capacity to get you excited, but that was the case with Willie Mullins’ Townshend at Roscommon on Monday night.
I thought he was vulnerable, in this two-miles conditions chase, conceding weight all round, including no less than 23lbs to smart hurdler, Landofhopeandglory.
But Townshend gave an exhibition of jumping, speed and staying power and, essentially, won with any amount in hand.
A six-year- old on the upgrade, he gives the impression of being a lot better than your typical summer campaigner.
IS Jim Bolger’s Verbal Dexterity, now I wonder if he’s called after anyone in particular, as good as he looked at the Curragh last Sunday?
Verbal Dexterity scored by nine and a half lengths and Curragh maidens are simply not won by National Hunt distances.
The son of Vocalised clearly has plenty of ability, but the ground was testing, so it might be wise to wait before getting too carried away!
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