Last year’s champion juvenile Pinatubo has a chance to quickly redeem his reputation in the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot.
Charlie Appleby’s Shamardal colt carried all before him in a perfect two-year-old season, which culminated with a hard-fought win in the Dewhurst but was highlighted by a nine-length romp in the National Stakes at the Curragh.
He had earlier won at Royal Ascot in the Chesham Stakes, the third of six wins last season – but he could then finish only third on his reappearance in the 2000 Guineas.
Aidan O’Brien’s Wichita was second to Kameko at Newmarket and faces Pinatubo again on Saturday – while John Gosden steps Palace Pier sharply up in grade, having won a handicap impressively at Newcastle two weeks ago.
Appleby expects Pinatubo to improve on his Guineas performance.
He said: “I’m really pleased with him. William (Buick) sat on him on Wednesday, and he had a nice breeze.
“You can definitely see this horse has sharpened up for his run in the Guineas. As much as I’m not going to get away from the fact I was delighted with the way we were going into the Guineas, he is a horse, as we saw last year, that progressed race on race – and I feel that race has definitely brought him forward.
“There is a drying forecast, but we have had the rain – although that doesn’t bother me, because he has won on soft ground – and even when he won the National Stakes it was on the slow side of good. The conditions don’t worry me.
“Obviously we have got to re-oppose the horse that was second in the Guineas (Wichita), but you also have Threat and Positive of Clive Cox’s who they think a bit of. So it is a good race, but I couldn’t be any happier with our fellow.”
He added: “It was mixture of emotions after the Guineas. It was disappointing that he got beat and had his unbeaten record tarnished there, but the positive side of it was that I was actually more relieved halfway through the race that the horse was up there travelling away looking like he was going to run a race.
“To be brutally honest, though, I knew going into the Guineas that he looked well and his fitness was there and mentally he was where he was as a two-year-old, but the worry was ‘had he trained on?’. I felt that was the biggest box ticked on the day – that he has proven that he has trained on.
“It is all systems go to Saturday now, and I’m looking forward to it.”
O’Brien, who also runs Arizona and Royal Dornoch, said of Wichita: “We’re not sure about how he’ll cope with the ground really. He’s a big, powerful horse, but you can never be sure until they run on it. He does have a lot of power, so you’d think he’d be OK, and we’ve been happy with him since the Guineas.”
One who may be sneaking in under the radar is Richard Hannon’s Threat.
Winner of the Gimcrack last season, owners Cheveley Park Stud chose to forgo a run in the Guineas to keep him fresh for this.
Hannon said: “I’m not sure about the ground. He is in great form, but it is a very good race. He comes here fresh and well.
“He has been working well. I took him to Kempton last week, and he worked very well. I was going to put him on the grass earlier this week, but the rain didn’t arrive.
“He is in great nick and he has a great chance in what is an extremely good race. They might have had an advantage, having had a run, but we elected to come straight here – and we did that with Motakhayyel (winner on the opening day of the meeting).
“Whether it is too quick to come from the Guineas to here, we won’t know until they are a furlong and a half down on Saturday.”
Palace Pier is the dark horse of the race, having been given quotes for the Derby after taking his career record to three out of three on his return this month.
Gosden never viewed the son of Kingman as an Epsom contender, but steps him up in class markedly for this – despite harbouring concerns about the softish surface.
“I’m not sure about the ground,” said the Newmarket trainer.
“He’s got a smooth action and might find it too tacky, but we’re going to run.
“We went to Newcastle to get a run in, and if he handles the ground I think he’ll run very well.”