Quality Group 1 action is presented to us on day three of this year’s royal meeting where we could see a new staying champion crowned in the Gold Cup at 4.20, but not before the classy middle-distance fillies have strutted their stuff in what is essentially the Ascot Oaks.
Not looking too far from those at the top of the market could be the key on Thursday as the big hitters look to flex their muscles. Here are three of the best:Embed from Getty Images
3.05 Ascot (Hampton Court Stakes – Group 3) – KEY VICTORY
Charlie Appleby has firmly cemented his place among the top rank of trainers now and he can further enhance that reputation with another Royal Ascot winner in this race hot on the heels of his Group 1 winning sprint achievement with Blue Point courtesy of Key Victory.
In a competitive race for three-year-old’s we cannot be very confident, however I can’t get away from the fact that I feel Key Victory reached a level comparable with the best of these having only had two runs, meaning natural improvement should take him past his competition today.
His third run was a slight letdown when failing to shine in the French Derby, though the racing style there as well as the very soft ground would not have been to his liking and so we look at his classy Newmarket Stakes win in May as the main piece of evidence when assessing his chances.
An unfurnished horse then, he readily pulled clear of Old Persian who went on to frank the form and it seems a mile-and-a-quarter on good, fast ground is right up his street.
Appleby’s other runner, Nordic Lights, may yet be able to help the boys in blue to a 1-2 in this race though Hunting Horn and the scopey looking Wadilsafa are obvious dangers too.
3.40 Ascot (Ribblesdale Stakes – Group 1) – WILD ILLUSION
Bearing in mind the utter demolition job Sir Michael Stoute’s Sun Maiden did when breaking her maiden last time, as well as the untold amounts of improvement set to come, it’s easy to see why the bookies have been running scared of the daughter of Frankel and to coin an old racing phrase; she could be anything.
She didn’t beat much at Salisbury of course, however the margin of victory (12 lengths) could have been almost anything she wanted it to be and it’s very hard for us, or the BHA for that matter, to assess the performance.
Whatever happens today she’ll go on and win big races (she’s in the Irish Oaks) but on this occasion rather than get swept up with the prospect of what might be, we should maybe be a little bit clever and play safe with a filly we already know is good and that’s Guineas fourth and Oaks second Wild Illusion.
Charlie Appleby, who else, guided the Dubawi filly to those placings and he is adamant she is ready to go again having come out of Epsom perfectly well. The jury is still out on whether she truly stays this trip and my feeling is that whatever happens today she will drop to 1m2f in time, however the point is that she stayed it well enough on a tricky and testing course such as Epsom to have enough confidence that she can cope at Ascot.
Magic Wand and Perfect Clarity may be a couple coming out of the pack but I’d like to see Appleby and Goldolphin get a deserved Group 1 win into Wild Illusion before others, possible Sun Maiden, take over the fillies’ middle-distance division for the rest of the year.
4.20 Ascot (Gold Cup – Group 1) – STRADIVARIUS
John Gosden’s talented young stayer can truly announce himself in this division with a famous win over Aidan O’Brien’s stout champion Order Of St George one feels, so long as he doesn’t find the trip too much at this stage of his burgeoning career.
For most the two-and-a-half miles is an unknown, however there is confidence behind his stamina and in all fairness it’s usually class that gets a good Gold Cup horse home at Ascot and Stradivarius certainly has that.
Winning at this meeting last year when very inexperienced, Stradivarius followed that victory up with a very good win against the older, established stayers in the Goodwood Cup when in receipt of weight and in taking care of the likes of Big Orange put himself in an early poll position to be the latest staying superstar.
The fact that he readily stepped up to two miles last summer to beat seasoned horses when very much an immature horse tells you that the distance is probably not a stumbling block, so all things being equal we should see his best performance here.
He couldn’t quite win the St Leger when stepping back down in trip to 1m6f last autumn, but kicked off his four-year-old campaign with a very taking win in the Yorkshire Cup over what would not be an ideal trip these days and having been not fully wound up by his trainer for his seasonal reappearance.
With his season so far revolving around this, he will no doubt be in tip-top condition for the big day and I fully expect him to improve past the admirable six-year-olds Order Of St George and Vazirabad of France.