Timeform Australia’s Gary Crispe Previews Royal Ascot from an Australian point of view.
Unbeaten champion mare Black Caviar in 2012 was the last winner for Australia at Royal Ascot, coincidently the same meeting also featured the highest ever Timeform rated galloper Frankel whose demolition of the Queen Anne Stakes field remains one of the freakiest performances ever seen on a racecourse anywhere in the world.
This week’s Royal Ascot meeting does not boast a galloper of the calibre of either of those two fine thoroughbreds but it does contain horses from 10 overseas countries including Australia who will have its biggest contingent ever – four strong representatives.
On Tuesday Oakleigh Plate winner Shamal Wind tackles the five furlong G1 King’s Stand Stakes, Wednesday Criterion the G1 Prince of Wales’s Stakes over 10 furlongs and on Saturday, the final day, Newmarket Handicap winner Brazen Beau and Australian Guineas winner Wandjina both line up in the G1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes over the straight six furlongs.
Australia can also lay some claim to champion Hong Kong miler Able Friend who began his racing career in Australia before being sold to Hong Kong where he has become one the highest rated horses in the world courtesy of outstanding performances in the former British Colony.
Able Friend will kick proceedings off in the first race of Royal Ascot – the G1 Queen Anne Stakes up the straight mile course where he is opposed to brilliant French galloper Solow and Lockinge Stakes and 2000 Guineas winner Night Of Thunder in what will be a new experience for the Hong Kong superstar.
Able Friend has been unbeatable at home but the tough uphill mile course at Royal Ascot is likely to present a new test for him, some saying it is akin to nine furlongs or even longer on a flat track.
If that is so, Able Friend will indeed have his work cut out to hold out Solow who runs a strong mile and Able Friend’s one pound advantage on Timeform weight adjusted ratings may soon evaporate.
Able Friend will be trainer John Moore’s first Royal Ascot runner and he will be ridden by regular jockey Joao Moreira who has already tasted success at Ascot in a Shergar Cup.
That said the race is sure to set the tone for the week just as it did in 2012 when the mighty Frankel created a buzz for the entire meeting – his win remaining a talking point for the full five days.
If history is any guide Shamal Wind certainly looks a great chance to create it in the King’s Stand Stakes. Australia has provided four past winners of the King’s Stand Stakes and none were able to win the Oakleigh Plate prior. The best result in the Oakleigh Plate by an Australian King’s Stand Stakes winner was a third placing achieved by both Choisir (2003) and Takeover Target (2006).
The main lead up race for Australian gallopers going into the King’s Stand Stakes has been the G1 Newmarket Handicap, Takeover Target (2006), Miss Andretti (2007) and Scenic Blast (2009) all completed the double which begs the question as to why Brazen Beau is not contesting the King’s Stand Stakes.
Shamal Wind has not raced since her Oakleigh Plate win, her trainer Robert Smerdon attempting to win first up, something the mare has become very good at being successful four of her five first up attempts.
Although rated just 118 on Timeform ratings, in a year where the opposition looks below par, that figure is good enough to put her in the finish.
Shamal Wind will receive a three pound mare’s allowance which brings her weight adjusted rating to a competitive level – something the market has been confirming all week as her odds have tumbled from double to single digits.
The prospect of a fast pace will suit Shamal Wind who will be closing off fast under Britain’s champion rider Ryan Moore.
For Aquanita trainer Robert Smerdon it will be his first Royal Ascot runner and he has left nothing to chance peaking the mare for Tuesday’s assignment,
Classy Irish Sprinter Sole Power poses the biggest threat to her winning chances but the now eight year old will himself be looking to create his own piece of history – aiming to become the first horse to win the race three times, while local mare and speed machine Mecca’s Angel will give the field plenty to chase.
Meanwhile on Wednesday Criterion, a dominant Queen Elizabeth Stakes winner over 2000m at Randwick during the Championships in Sydney, faces one of the strongest Prince of Wales’s Stakes field assembled in the last 15 years.
The David Hayes trained galloper who is Timeform rated at 127 off that performance on rain affected ground will face opposition from crack Irish galloper Free Eagle (Timeform rated 128p) , Irish Champion Stakes winner The Grey Gatsby (128), Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome (127) and Japan super star Spielberg (126).
There is no doubt his chances would be considerably enhanced by rain, the prospect of which looks rather bleak on current forecasts.
Criterion’s best ratings have been recorded on rain affected ground, but his Timeform ratings on firmer footing reveal he is still capable of running well.
On those weight adjusted ratings he has some three to four pounds to find in order to threaten as a winning chance but it would come as no surprise to see him in the placings.
An enthralling battle awaits the Australian runners in the G1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes up the testing straight 1200m at Ascot on Saturday.
History shows the majority of past winners have been proven to run a strong 1400m in their form prior and this statistic augers well for the Australian pair – Brazen Beau who was runner up to Almalad in the J J Atkins Stakes over 1600m at two, while Wandjina is a winner over 1600m in the Australian Guineas and boasts a similar profile to 2010 winner and former Australian galloper Starspangledbanner .
While the likely composition of the Diamond Jubilee Stakes is shaping up as below par, Brazen Beau must produce his 126 Timeform rating from his Newmarket Handicap win to be a winning chance.
And the tempo of the Diamond Jubilee is crucial to his success as his Newmarket victory was achieved with a huge tempo related bias in his favour. It is unlikely to be repeated at Royal Ascot.
On the other hand Wandjina has been a steady improver under champion trainer Gai Waterhouse’s guidance – Australia’s First Lady of Racing aiming to put the disappointing memories of Bentley Biscuits 2007 Kings Stand failure behind her.
Wandjina has not raced since his narrow defeat in the G1 All Aged Stakes over 1400m at Randwick when multiple group one winner Dissident narrowly held him out on the line.
Since then Waterhouse has kept Wandjina fresh but fit through barrier trials. He looks certain to improve again on his Timeform rating of 123 achieved in the All Aged Stakes and his courage in a tough finish is beyond question.
Champion rider Damien Oliver has one winner from 17 rides at Ascot but has not ridden there since Magnus’s unplaced run in the 2008 Kings Stand Stakes – the same horse supplying Oliver with his only placing at a Royal meeting when third in 2007 Kings Stand Stakes behind Miss Andretti.
While both Australian horses have strong chances on Timeform weight adjusted ratings, they will however face solid opposition from local sprinters G Force (126),Mustajeeb (121+) and Due Diligence (121).