ROYAL ASCOT THOUGHTS
One could be forgiven for thinking the Irish at Royal Ascot is all about Aidan O’Brien, the perennial champion no bigger than 4/7 to be top trainer at the meeting despite recently ruling the likes of Pink Dogwood, Monarch Of Egypt and Etoile out of the week ahead.
It is true that of the 49 Irish-trained winners at Royal Ascot since 2013, O’Brien has had 28 of them but that still leaves room for other Irish yards and not just the bigger operations like Weld, Bolger and Mullins; in that period, there have also been winners for Joanna Morgan, Charles Byrnes, David Marnane and Jarlath Fahey amongst others.
Irish success at the meeting has been remarkably consistent at Royal Ascot in recent years, the last six years producing totals of eight, eight, eight, ten, seven and eight winners in that order.
Le Brivido is the shortest-priced Irish runner in the opening Queen Anne on Tuesday but a more interesting one may be HAZAPOUR who is making the unusual move in going back to mile having run in the Derby last season, avoiding the ten-furlong division in between.
That looks some astute placing by Dermot Weld as the horses in that department like Magical, Sea Of Class and Waldgeist are better than those he will face here; this is a competitive Queen Anne but not a top-class one.
Hazapour is not good enough to win on what he has done thus far but he won the Amethyst well and there should be more improvement to come as he missed a chunk of time with injury last season. It is difficult to forget how strongly he went through the Derby last year and having Frankie Dettori on board is another positive.
Weld tends to be selective with his runners at Royal Ascot and with that in mind it could be significant for later on that he has opted not to run Falcon Eight in the Ascot Gold Cup, perhaps thinking that race will come too early in his development, the horse not having even made his debut this time last year.
Irish representation in races like the Gold Cup will still be strong however and in general do very well when the emphasis is on stamina; since 2013, there have been 80 Irish runners in races over 14 furlongs or more at the meeting with 14 winning and 30 places for an actual over expected of 1.25. That brings in the Gold Cup, the Queen’s Vase, the Queen Alexandra and the Ascot Stakes.
The last-named handicap has been particularly good for Irish horses lately with wins in each of the last five years, Willie Mullins having three of those. Mullins goes at the race again with Buildmeupbuttercup but Noel Meade’s SNOW FALCON is an intriguing runner.
He was a progressive second-season chaser last year by way of Galway through Listowel to Down Royal before a setback ruled him out over winter but there was promise in both his spring runs at Fairyhouse and Punchestown, impressing with how he travelled behind Kemboy and Al Boum Photo in the Gold Cup.
It looked at if he was going to run out of road thereafter, the jumps season proper at its conclusion, but his trainer may have found a creative solution to that by running him back on the flat and it is worth pointing out that he is currently the highest-rated jumper in the field with a mark of 156 over fences.
As a nine-year-old, he may lack the gears for the flat but some ease in the ground will help and he competed well in races like the Irish Cesarewitch back in 2017 and has improved over jumps since.
The Hunt Cup has historically not been a good race for Irish horses but Portage and Settle For Bay have changed that in the last three years and the latter is back for another tilt at Wednesday’s feature handicap. He had a wind operation since returning from Dubai and while his first start back was disappointing, his last run was better allowing that he was ridden to pick up the pieces.
I would also give a chance to KING’S FIELD. Hugh Taylor made the point on the Royal Ascot preview programme elsewhere on the site that this race tends to suit a hold-up horse with good form on the all-weather and Joseph O’Brien’s four-year-old fits that profile.
He was progressive at Dundalk last backend, his December win coming in a good time, and while things didn’t go right in Dubai where he picked up an injury, he shaped well over a trip too sharp on return at Naas, looking as if the run would bring him on.
It would be folly to go through an Irish-focussed Royal Ascot preview and not put forward an Aidan O’Brien runner and his HERMOSA looks the pick of the short-priced runners of the meeting in the Coronation Stakes; indeed, she could well be shorter than her current odds-against.
Few had her pegged as a high-class miler at the start of the season but her Guineas double marks her down as the best of her generation at that trip, colts included, and her Curragh win was notably good on time-figures. She will take all the beating.
The Curragh Guineas Weekend tends to produce more than its share of winners over the five days of Royal Ascot and a less obvious one might be FLAG OF HONOUR in the Hardwicke. That race can sometimes cut up which may be the case this year and while Masar is clearly a big player there is a chance he will need the run.
Flag Of Honour has been on pace-making duties for Magical thus far in the 2019 but can do better relieved of that role and ridden in his own right with the step up to 12 furlongs likely to suit too.