Queen Elizabeth II Stakes a race to savour
Most of those who work in broadcast media – especially in the immediate aftermath of a top-class race – are all guilty of looking forward in the present, while winning connections of a horse would probably just like to savour the moment. “What’s next?” is a question often asked post-race and while I’m sure it sometimes irks owners, trainers and particularly jockeys after a big win, racing fans do like to know when they will see the stars of the show again. It gives us something to look forward to.
After Sunday’s Group 1 Prix Jacques le Marois, the above question regarding race winner Palace Pier was answered by his trainer John Gosden; “His main target will be the QEII on Champions Day at Ascot. Everything will revolve around that.” Despite having just enjoyed what was a brilliant performance by the son of Kingman, I couldn’t help but get excited by Gosden’s post-race response.
Why? Because a potential clash between Palace Pier (124p) and recent Sussex Stakes hero Mohaather (123+) is a race every fan should be looking forward to. Not only are this pair now legit top-class horses in their own right – both are now comfortably 120+ performers - but they are breathing fresh air into what had become a recently stagnant mile division, lacking a true star.
It is the freshest of air, tingling with electricity, especially when you consider the exciting arsenal of weapons at Mohaather and Palace Pier’s disposal. Both are blessed with high cruising speeds and potent abilities to quicken - a turn of foot as they say - and these traits engage flat fans no end. This is the brilliance of the flat thoroughbred, speed.
The 2020 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes scenario gets potentially better, too, for all there is a little bit more guesswork involved at the time of writing, as we have yet to see him this season, but Richard Hannon’s reigning QEII winner King Of Change (120+) has understandably become a forgotten horse. So much so, it could prove to be a little naïve in thinking this year’s QEII is just a two-horse race.
Under regular rider Sean Levey, the now 4yo was a pretty ready winner of the 2019 QEII, travelling through his race with a real touch of class before picking up to win nicely on bad ground, beating the right horse, the French-trained, mud-loving The Revenant.
A son of Farhh and a half-brother to the high-class Century Dream, assessing King Of Change’s pedigree and physique, there is every chance of him improving again this season on the back of just six career runs.
I already have him running to 120, and should he be able to just maintain that level, I do believe he will be a significant test for both fellow 4yo Mohaather and the 3yo Palace Pier.
This weekend just gone was all about that 3yo though, and boy, did he impress in the Jacques le Marois. His margin of victory (three-quarters-of-a-length) likely doesn’t do his winning authority justice, and I feel he was value for a little bit more in what turned out to be a war of attrition on officially heavy ground.
Having sat last off what looked to be a strong gallop - helped set by both Circus Maximus and Pretreville - Frankie Dettori’s mount appeared to handle the overall test pretty well, considering the extreme-looking conditions.
OK, Palace Pier maybe didn’t travel as sweetly as he can on what looked desperate ground, but I don’t think he’s ever been a horse to race strongly into the bridle. While the case, such is his class, he still goes through his races nicely and this energy-efficient trait allows him to save his best for the latter parts of a race.
It is here where the still unbeaten-in-five Palace Pier separates himself from his fields usually, and we again saw that at Deauville on Sunday. What I liked about his performance was how in the middle part of the race, Dettori was able to make a length on Romanised, then a length on Alpine Star, before taking another two lengths out of the impressive Coronation Stakes heroine.
OK, at the line, Palace Pier only had three-quarters-of-a-length to spare over the filly, but he beat a top-class 3yo – giving her 4lb - who looked at the peak of her powers and fine on the ground. These pair of Classic generation performers came 5 lengths clear of the third, multiple Group 1 winner Circus Maximus, and the form, despite potential ground concerns, looks rock-solid to my eye.
This won’t be music to the ears of connections trying to beat Palace Pier going forward, but not only is his form now looking genuinely top-class, on Sunday he showed a versatility we had yet to see from him at Group 1 level (only had two starts to be fair).
In his St James’s Palace Stakes success at Royal Ascot, Palace Pier showed a brilliant turn of foot off sedate early fractions, but in the Jacques le Marois, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum’s colt adapted to a more much strongly-run race.
This ability to adjust to different pace scenarios will be a major weapon in his arsenal going forward - along with his turn of foot - especially when he has someone as good as Frankie Dettori doing the steering.
Palace Pier is now starting to look the full package and he’s a horse who we should be incredibly excited about. John Gosden’s patient handling of his inmate has been exemplary and now we are all seeing the fruits of his labour.
The exciting thing? Well, there is maybe even more to come. To be a great horse, you need to be beating top-class performers. In Mohaather and King Of Change, and we also shouldn’t forget about the hugely likable Alpine Star, Palace Pier has horses good enough to push him to ceiling of his true potential, and that’s why this year’s Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on Champions Day at Ascot could be a race to savour.