PAT KEANE: Royal Ascot: Bring it on

Two weeks from next Tuesday will see the start of Royal Ascot and there is little doubt those magnificent five days have the potential to make or break a punter, writes Pat Keane.

That most of us now have no choice but to come out and play isn’t even up for discussion, in the light of what happened at the Curragh last weekend and for one or two other reasons as well.

We can basically sum up the entire Royal extravaganza with a glorious simplification, if Aidan O’Brien enjoys a good meeting then, more than likely, so will the punters of Ireland.

Pride of place has to go to Churchill, following that brilliant display in last Saturday’s 2000 Guineas at headquarters. Has a building site ever been lit up in such a manner?

I wrote here a week ago this was one classic that didn’t promise to be much of a spectacle, but I was wrong.

It was actually a great spectacle, with the Godolphin horse, Thunder Snow, revelling in the rain-softened surface. He ran a cracker and attempted to put it right up to the hot-pot.

But Churchill breezed past him with over a furlong to run to score with his head in his chest by two and a half lengths.

Earlier this week Churchill was available at evens for the St James’ Palace Stakes at Ascot on June 20 and it shaped as fair value. That soon disappeared, however, and he was soon a best priced 4-5-and there wasn’t much of that about either.

On the basis of what we saw at the Curragh, I simply cannot envisage any three-year-old beating Churchill over a mile.

The real test, obviously, will come when he takes on the older horses and a clash with the superb Ribchester, easy winner of the Lockinge at Newbury, would be worth seeing.

Churchill is one of a number of O’Brien horses that are certain to go off at tight odds at Ascot, justifiably so.

For instance, who will want to look for an alternative to Ballydoyle’s Winter in the Coronation Stakes?

It is extraordinary to think she didn’t get off the mark last year until her third outing and went to Dundalk to do so.

The improvement Winter has made so far this season has been mind-boggling. She began the campaign rated 89 and went to the Curragh on Sunday, for the Irish 1000 Guineas, on a mark of 116.

She was impressive when winning the Newmarket equivalent, but even better at the Curragh. The manner in which she travelled through the race, and the way she powered clear in the closing stages, was just serious.

This week the handicapper raised Winter by another 2lbs, which means she is now just 5lbs adrift of Churchill. Understandably, there was no layer prepared to offer the magic evens about her for Ascot, since her latest demolition job.

Then there is O’Brien’s Caravaggio, currently a warm order for the six furlongs Commonwealth Cup Stakes at Ascot, 11-10 and evens being freely on offer over the last few days.

If there has been something lacking at Ballydoyle over the years, it has been a shortage of top-class sprinters.

There is every possibility Caravaggio may prove to be just that, a really good sprinter. Unbeaten in five races, including the Coventry Stakes at the Royal meeting a year ago, he made a spectacular seasonal debut when taking a Group 3 in a canter at Naas last month.

If Caravaggio, Churchill and Winter deliver for punters, in a little over two weeks-time, then it might just be a very nice summer indeed.

WHEN you watch Ryan Moore being interviewed on television in Britain it makes for somewhat uncomfortable viewing, at least a lot of the time.

He seems to regard talking to the press as an unwelcome chore and frequently gives the impression he’d much rather be somewhere else.

On RTE over the weekend, though, Brian Gleeson, ably assisted by Ted Walsh, got more out of Moore, twice, on Saturday and again on Sunday, than others have managed in numerous interviews.

I don’t know whether Moore likes Gleeson, or was just pleased to be standing next to Walsh, but he was animated, helpful and, dare one say it, almost happy, as he freely discussed what had unfolded.

He was terrific after Churchill had won on Saturday and again in the wake of Winter on Sunday. It was most enjoyable, with three lads essentially enjoying a chat.

Indeed, there was one particularly delicious moment on Sunday when Gleeson, clearly sensing that the Moore discussion could hardly be going any better, asked him, for the benefit of the viewers at home, to talk them through Winter’s 1000 Guineas success from the start.

Winter covered the one-mile in 1m, 39.78s, with Moore immediately quipping: “that’s a lot of talking.’’ And then he proceeded to do as requested.

OH Seamie, Seamie, Seamie you might have cost us a bundle! Seamie Heffernan doesn’t make many mistakes and has a history of keeping it simple.

At the Curragh last Sunday, he was aboard the so-called Aidan O’Brien second string, Somehow, in the Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup, with Ryan Moore on Deauville.

There may have only been eight runners, but this was some open contest and it was 7-2 the field as the horses left the gate. I had reasoned that Somehow, who handles cut in the ground really well, was overpriced at 5-1 and had a bit on her each-way at 5-1.

What unfolded was a horror show, given Somehow was simply in the wrong place for most of the ten furlongs plus journey.

We prayed for it to open up like the Red Sea in the straight, but everywhere Heffernan tried to go he found his way blocked.

By the time he finally extricated Somehow it was all too late. The bird, Decorated Knight, had flown and Somehow couldn’t lay a glove on him in the closing stages. She did finish second, to save the wager, but that represented mere minor compensation.


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