Denis Hogan is excited to see Sceptical test his powers at the highest level in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot.
A son of Exceed And Excel out of a Royal Ascot winner in Jealous Again, the four-year-old has made rapid progress since finishing third on his Dundalk debut last October.
After rattling off a hat-trick of wins at Ireland’s sole all-weather venue, Sceptical made a smooth transition to the grass when running out a hugely impressive winner of the Listed Woodlands Stakes at Naas earlier in the month – booking his ticket for Saturday’s final Group One of the Royal meeting.
Hogan said: “It is exciting. There’s so much about the horse – I just hope everything goes well on the day really.
“My job is done at this stage. I’m happy the horse is over there now, he’s settled in well and is grubbing (eating well).
“We’re very happy with him going into the race.”
Following his Naas triumph, Sceptical was initially pencilled in to contest Tuesday’s King’s Stand, with Frankie Dettori subsequently booked for the ride.
However, connections had a change of heart and decided to wait for this weekend’s six-furlong feature – with the Italian maestro on board.
“It’s great to have the calibre of jockey that we do riding him,” Hogan added.
“I suppose softer ground would be a bit of an unknown. My gallop here can get very soft during the winter, and he seemed to cope with that all right, so I’d be hopeful. But at the same time, he’s only raced on the grass once, and that was on good to firm at Naas.
“There’s a chance the ground could dry out again yet, so we’ll see.”
Sceptical is set to face nine rivals, including Kevin Ryan’s Hello Youmzain, the William Haggas-trained One Master and Khaadem from Charlie Hills’ yard.
The two-year-olds are given one final chance to shine this week, with the colts contesting the Coventry Stakes and the fillies lining up for the Queen Mary.
Mark Johnston fires three bullets at the former – with Qaader, Army Of India and Thunder Of Niagra all stepping up in grade after winning on their respective racecourse debuts.
Charlie Johnston, assistant to his father, said: “In a normal year these horses would have met each other in a National Stakes or a Woodcote, and you work your way towards this level. Now we have three once-raced maiden winners against each other.
“On homework, before they ran, Army Of India was probably top of the pile. On the strength of what they beat you would probably lean towards Thunder Of Niagara, and on visual impressions you would probably lean to Qaader.
“All three have earned the right to be there, and we just hope at least one is good enough basically.”
Charlie Appleby has high hopes for his Newmarket scorer Creative Force.
“He popped away very professionally on his debut when he pretty much made all that day,” said the Godolphin trainer.
“He is a half-brother to Persuasive, who was proven in slower ground. The ground doesn’t bother me, and mentally he has come forward.
“He is a nice straightforward and professional horse that won’t look out of place on Saturday.”
Curragh winner Admiral Nelson heads the betting for Aidan O’Brien, with Tom Dascombe’s runaway Haydock scorer Lauded another in the mix for what promises to be an informative contest.
O’Brien also houses the favourite for the Queen Mary in Most Beautiful. American trainer Wesley Ward has saddled three previous winners of the race in Jealous Again (2009), Acapulco (2015) and Lady Aurelia (2016) and is this year represented by Campanelle and Royal Approval, who finished first and second in the same race at Gulfstream last month.
Ward said: “The two fillies ran against each other first time up, and Royal Approval was actually the favourite on the book, but Campanelle won really well – and it was the fastest time for a turf race (for two-year-old fillies) in the US this year.
“Campanelle is a filly with real quality, and the time of the race was a Breeders’ Cup quality time.
“She’s a bigger, longer type of filly but has plenty of speed to her. She goes there with a big chance, I think.”
The Johnston team has Pelekai and Sands Of Time in the mix.
Charlie Johnston said: “Pelekai and Sands Of Time were both very impressive on debut. Both have a lot of speed, so whether they will be able to replicate that in these conditions I couldn’t be 100 per cent sure.
“I don’t think they have worked together. Pelekai came to the party quite late. She only did two or three pieces of work in the weeks leading up to Newcastle and threw her hat into the ring very swiftly.
“There was probably a bit more substance to Pelekai’s form, but Sands Of Time did nothing wrong on her debut.”
The Silver Wokingham and the Wokingham itself are two devilishly difficult sprint handicaps for punters to decipher on a hugely competitive card, while the two-mile-five-furlong Queen Alexandra Stakes brings Royal Ascot 2020 to a close.