ON THE RADAR
Aidan O'Brien will, as usual, send over an immensely powerful team to Royal Ascot next week, with well-bred two-year-olds and long-established older horses featuring significantly. His three-year-olds could well form the backbone of his bid to be the meeting's top trainer - again - and his dual Guineas winners, Churchill and Winter, seem sure to be popular punter choices when they tackle, respectively, the St James's Palace Stakes on Tuesday, 20 June, and the Coronation Stakes four days later. Neither will attract very many each-way players - short odds are certain - but their prices reflect their chances.
Pouvoir Magique appeared unlucky not to collect at the first attempt in the mile-and-a-quarter maiden on Sandown's 8 June evening card. The John Gosden-trained three-year-old colt was held up way off the pace in the early stages, in a race not run at the most strenuous of gallops, and, after making rapid progress from the two-furlong marker, finished third, beaten less than a length behind Jake's Hill. By Le Havre, and out of a mare by Cape Cross, Pouvoir Magique has decent prospects of staying further.
Aidan O'Brien notched his first 2017 two-year-old debutante scorer at Leopardstown that same night, when September ran away with a seven-furlong maiden for fillies, and, although the daughter of Deep Impact probably faced only modest opposition, her five-and-a half-length victory indicated she should hold her own in stronger company. A daughter of Deep Impact, O'Brien's youngster is out of Peeping Fawn, heroine of four middle-distance Group One races in 2007, so is bred to be smart at longer trips.
Earlier that day - in the six-furlong maiden for juvenile fillies at Haydock - Richard Fahey's Maybride narrowly failed to make a successful start to her career against odds-on favourite Ertiyad, going down by half a length after a rousing fight. Fahey's charge, a daughter of Mayson from a family best known for producing sprinters, was prominent throughout and, although not quite able to overcome her more experienced rival, achieved more than enough to suggest she should break her duck in the near future.
I have noted several times previously that Andrew Balding's two-year-olds usually improve markedly for their initial start and that was undoubtedly the case with Carouse, who filled the runner-up spot in a six-furlong novice event at Chester on 10 June. Last of six on his first outing, Balding's charge was a very different proposition on the Roodee, being backed beforehand, racing prominently throughout and going down by half a length. By Excelebration, he should have no trouble staying seven furlongs.
Culturati overcame a lay-off of 610 days when landing a six-furlong handicap, from an official rating of 94, at Newmarket the following afternoon and, judged on the smooth fashion in which that victory was achieved, this four-year-old son of Dubawi has plenty more to offer. Charlie Appleby's colt won by a length and a half from Scorching Heat, keeping on strongly in the closing stages, after taking the lead with a furlong left, and connections are now eyeing a crack at Royal Ascot's Wokingham Stakes.
NOTED ON THE GALLOPS
Richard Hannon should soon be giving a two-year-old colt named Yaafour his first outing and, if this son of Poet's Voice reproduces his homework standard on the racecourse, there seems no reason why he should not win races. A relatively inexpensive yearling purchase (connections paid 42,000gns), he nonetheless possesses a powerful physique - with size and scope - and is related Pattern-class scorers.
Hannon also appears ready to hand Anna Nerium, a juvenile filly by Dubawi, her debut in the not too distant future and she, too, has shown enough at recent exercise to indicate she will be able of get off the mark this summer. Neat compared to her stable companion referred to above, she is a sister to the yard's 2013 Horris Hill Stakes hero, Piping Rock, and, like him, shows plenty of pace on the gallops.
The John Gosden-trained George Villiers is another of Dubawi's offspring but, in marked contrast to Anna Nerium, seems certain to handle at least a mile next term. Before then, however, Gosden's colt, who cost a meaty 750,000gns as a yearling, looks sufficiently precocious to collect as a two-year-old. Out of a Be My Chief mare from a smart family, George Villiers is likely to start over seven furlongs.
STATS THE WAY TO DO IT
Royal Ascot's Gold Cup - Thursday 22 June
I have already made my views clear about the 2017 Gold Cup, due to be staged at Royal Ascot on 22 June, by recommending that readers back Order Of St George to follow up his victory of last year.
Not everyone will agree with my opinion, obviously, and, given that Aidan O'Brien's five-year-old is a short-priced favourite, plenty of punters will be hoping to find an each-way alternative to him.
This week, therefore, I thought it might be sensible to provide a statistical survey of the past decade's Gold Cup results, in an attempt to discover if Order Of St George is a vulnerable market-leader.
Perhaps the first thing to note, granted the few facts already stated, is that favourites have an excellent recent record, after collecting no fewer than seven times in the period covering 2007 to 2016.
Six of the successful market-leaders in that time - Yeats (who started at 8-15 in 2007, 11-8 in 2008 and 6-4 in 2009), Fame And Glory (11-8 in 2011) and Leading Light (10-1 in 2014) - were trained by O'Brien.
Sir Michael Stoute was responsible for the remaining victorious favourite - Estimate (7-2 in 2013) - while the other winners in the past decade were Dermot Weld's Rite Of Passage (20-1 in 2010), Saeed bin Suroor's representative Colour Vision (6-1 in 2012) and Trip To Paris (12-1 in 2015) from Ed Dunlop's stable.
As was the case with Order Of St George last season, five of the ten scorers in the period in question - Colour Vision, Estimate, Leading Light and Trip To Paris complete the quintet - collected aged four.
Six-year-olds have the next-best Gold Cup strike-rate in the past decade - thanks to Yeats (in 2007) and Rite Of Passage - followed, collectively, by five-year-olds (Fame And Glory), seven-year-olds (Yeats in 2008) and eight-year-olds (Yeats in 2009).
Eight last-time-out winners have landed the two-and-a-half-mile Group One prize within my chosen timeframe: Yeats (in 2007 and 2008), Rite Of Passage, Fame And Glory, Colour Vision, Estimate, Leading Light and Order Of St George.
Trip To Paris had finished second on his final start before heading for Royal Ascot two seasons ago, leaving Yeats (only sixth in his 'prep' race for 2009's renewal) as the sole winner in the past decade to have failed to make the frame placings on his last outing prior to taking the Gold Cup.
Earlier course successes definitely seem worthy of consideration, since Yeats (2007/8/9), Estimate, Leading Light and Trip To Paris had all previously registered at least one Ascot victory before their win in the traditional centrepiece of the Royal meeting's Thursday afternoon card.
And a relatively light build-up appears to be advantageous, because eight of the last ten Gold Cup scorers - Yeats (2007/8/9), Fame And Glory, Colour Vision, Estimate, Leading Light and Order Of St George - had had either one or two previous runs in the campaign/campaigns in which they scored.
Rite Of Passage is the only seasonal debutant to have come home in front within the past decade and Trip To Paris was a real statistical rarity, having raced a remarkable five times previously in 2015.
BIG RACE FOCUS
My figures for this term's European older horses - aged four years and up - suggest Ribchester (rated 120) is a banker bet for the one-mile Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot next Tuesday, 20 June.
Richard Fahey's charge, successful last time out in Newbury's Lockinge Stakes, tops my rankings for the division - see below - and is a worthy favourite to land his second Group One event of 2017.
Some highly-competitive clashes seem on the cards in the Royal meeting's other races at the highest level, perhaps most notably in the ten-furlong Prince Of Wales's Stakes on Wednesday, 21 June.
Bookmakers are currently finding it difficult to separate Jack Hobbs and Ulysses at the head of the market and, as my figures should make clear, there is not much mathematically between the pair.
The John Gosden-trained Jack Hobbs, now a five-year-old, has the higher mark (118), theoretically giving him a 2lb advantage over Sir Michael Stoute's improving, year-younger Ulysses (116).
Gosden's entire is arguably better at a mile and a half than at the Prince Of Wales's distance, though, while Ulysses was a decisive scorer over next week's trip on his most recent outing at Sandown.
Leading European older horses of 2017
(ranked in order of ratings achieved by 13 June)
|Rank||Name (age) (gender)||Trainer (country)||Rating|
|1)||Ribchester (4) (colt)||R Fahey (GB)||120|
|2=)||Jack Hobbs (5) (entire)||J Gosden (GB)||118|
|2=)||Order Of St George (5) (entire)||A O'Brien (Ireland)||118|
|4=)||Highland Reel (5) (entire)||A O'Brien (Ireland)||116|
|4=)||Marsha (4) (filly)||Sir M Prescott (GB)||116|
|4=)||Ulysses (4) (colt)||A O'Brien (Ireland)||116|
|7)||Minding (4) (filly)||A O'Brien (Ireland)||115|
|8)||Profitable (5) (entire)||C Cox (GB)||114|
|9=)||Deauville (4) (colt)||A O'Brien (Ireland)||113|
|9=)||Home Of The Brave (5) (entire)||H Palmer (GB)||113|
|10=)||Cloth Of Stars (4) (colt)||A Fabre (France)||112|
|10=)||Frontiersman (4) (colt)||C Appleby (GB)||112|
|10=)||Hawkbill (4) (colt)||C Appleby (GB)||112|
|10=)||Seventh Heaven (4) (filly)||A O'Brien (Ireland)||112|
|10=)||Usherette (5) (mare)||A Fabre (France)||112|
|10=)||Vazirabad (5) (gelding)||A de Royer-Dupre (France)||112|