Aidan O’Brien backs Hydrangea to blossom in Duke of Cambridge Stakes

Ballydoyle handler reports four-year-old filly in top trim for Royal Ascot mission

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Aidan O’Brien expects Hydrangea to have taken a big step forward ahead of the Duke of Cambridge Stakes at Royal Ascot on Wednesday.

The four-year-old won two Group Ones at the back end of last season but could finish only second her return in a Curragh Group Two last month.

Hydrangea must shoulder a 5lb penalty as she lines up over a mile, but the Ballydoyle handler is satisfied with her progress.

He told At The Races: “I was very happy with how she ran at the Curragh on her return, as we knew she was going to need the run very badly. She has come on really well since then.”

Hydrangea heads the ante-post market for the Group Two heat, with Marco Botti’s Aljazzi another strong contender, having finished second in the race last year.

Wilamina makes a swift reappearance for Martyn Meade after winning the Princess Elizabeth Stakes at Epsom at the start of the month and she will be partnered again by Frankie Dettori.

Meade said: “Wilamina seems in very good form. She won very nicely at Epsom and we may as well strike while the iron is hot.”

Wesley Ward will be seeking a third Queen Mary Stakes triumph in the last four years as he saddles Chelsea Cloisters.

The American handler sent speed queens Acapulco and Lady Aurelia to win in 2015-16 respectively and Ward highly rates his eight-length Keeneland scorer.

He said: “She would be the best of the fillies we’re bringing this year. This is a race I’ve gotten lucky in a few different times and this filly looks like she’s suited for that type of race.

“It looks like we’re going to have fast ground, which will suit me, and everything looks really positive.”

John Quinn saddles Signora Cabello, who pleasingly won the Marygate Fillies’ Stakes at York last month.

The North Yorkshire handler said: “She’s got everything you like in a horse so it’s fingers crossed.”

“She probably wouldn’t want any rain as she’s so effective on fast ground.

“I don’t think she’d want it soft and it shouldn’t be anyway.”

Headway will be on a retrieval mission as he drops back to seven furlongs for the Jersey Stakes.

William Haggas’ runner was a Listed winner on the all-weather back in March but finished well down the field in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket.

The trainer said: “He’s in really good form. He ran badly in the Guineas. I’m not sure it was the trip – it just wasn’t his day – but he’s in good shape now.

“It’s a particularly strong race this year, but he’d have as good a chance as any.”

Could It Be Love is another dropping back from a mile after contesting both the French and Irish Guineas, finishing second at 33-1 on the second occasion.

O’Brien said: “We think the shorter trip will suit her. She ran a very good race in the Irish 1,000 Guineas under a good, positive ride from Donnacha (O’Brien) and coming back in distance should be a help to her.”

Ryan Moore takes over in the saddle, with Seamie Heffernan aboard stablemate St Patrick’s Day, who is a full-brother to American Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and will be making his debut for O’Brien, having previously been trained by Bob Baffert.

O’Brien appears to hold the key to the Queen’s Vase with Southern France, Nelson and Kew Gardens all boasting sound claims. Moore rides Kew Gardens, who finished a well-beaten ninth in the Derby.

Last year’s winner Zhui Feng is at the summit of the weights for Amanda Perrett in the Royal Hunt Cup – though Afaak currently heads the market for Charlie Hills.

Aidan O’Brien backs Hydrangea to blossom in Duke of Cambridge Stakes

Ascot 15:40, 20 June 2018

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