Fill your boots with Aigles
Channel 4 commentator Simon Holt previews the feature action from Saturday's meeting at Ascot.
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A career-ending injury to St Nicholas Abbey has robbed Saturday's King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot of one of its two class acts leaving the new favourite CIRRUS DES AIGLES boasting outstanding claims.
The French-trained seven-year-old is streets ahead of his rivals on his best form - a minimum of 12lb clear on official ratings - and, providing he can be forgiven a defeat by the reopposing Novellist on his reappearance at Saint-Cloud, he looks sure to take all the beating.
- 3pts win Cirrus Des Aigles, 15.50 Ascot at 13/8 - standout claims on form and can be expected to improve on his reappearance
- 2pts win Cape Peron, 14.40 Ascot at best morning price- will take plenty of beating providing rain eases the ground
- 1pt e-w Loving Spirit, 15.15 Ascot at best morning price- well weighted on Royal Ascot form and has a talented claimer in the saddle
Throughout his career, Cirrus Des Aigles has never been at his best first time out but trainer Madame Corine Barande-Barbe reports that her stable-star is much fitter now and the case for him winning is easy to make.
A multiple Group One winner, the gelding beat So You Think and Snow Fairy - two exceptional horses - in the Champion Stakes at Ascot in October, 2011 before holding off St Nicholas Abbey in the Dubai Sheema Classic the following March.
Twice successful by wide margins at Longchamp last season, Cirrus Des Aigles probably ran the race of his life in defeat when defending his Champion Stakes title last October and making the mighty Frankel work hard throughout the final furlong with Eclipse and King George winner Nathaniel back in third.
That is untouchable form here and if the rain falls as forecast at Ascot - he is particularly effective with some cut in the ground - then current odds of around 6/4 (at the time of writing) may look very generous. They are not great odds for small punters but I would expect bigger players to lump on.
The German-trained Novellist is probably the main danger on his Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud victory from past Melbourne Cup winner Dunaden with a ring-rusty Cirrus Des Aigles fading into fifth.
The son of Monsun is a high-class performer in his home country and, as we saw in this race last year when Danedream beat Nathaniel, German-trained horses should never be underestimated. Johnny Murtagh's mount is solid and consistent but would need to improve a good deal to beat an on-song Cirrus Des Aigles.
The international challenge is completed by the Qatari raider Very Nice Name who belied odds of 66/1 when third behind St Nicholas Abbey in this year's Sheema Classic - form which certainly gives him a sporting each-way chance in this field of eight - and a line through fourth-placed Dunaden suggests he could be quite closely matched with Novellist.
However, Dubai form doesn't always travel too well and, with all his career victories taking place in Qatar against lesser opposition, Very Nice Name remains somewhat difficult to assess.
Of the home team, Ektihaam and Universal have both progressed nicely this season. Ektihaam, unfortunate to slip up on this course in the Hardwicke Stakes at the Royal meeting, had earlier slammed the ill-fated winner of that race Thomas Chippendale over the course and distance in May. He also ran very well against top class Al Kazeem at Sandown in April.
Universal is similarly admirable; Mark Johnston's four-year-old gets better and better and, after finishing third in the Hardwicke, improved again when dominating in Newmarket's Princess Of Wales's Stakes earlier this month.
A potential problem here, though, is that both horses seem best with forcing tactics and it won't help their chances should they engage in an early battle for the lead. And they are both stepping up in class.
Over the years, the King George has always been renowned as a clash of generations and two three-year-olds take on the older horses.
Irish Derby winner Trading Leather is reported in very good form by trainer Jim Bolger and certainly looks progressive, but it is difficult to know what to make of the form at The Curragh given that the first two home in the Epsom Derby - Ruler of the World and Libertarian - both ran stinkers. And, overall, this does not look a strong crop of middle-distance three-year-olds.
Meanwhile, it was surprising - and perhaps significant - that Sir Michael Stoute chose to supplement Hillstar for this race despite a taking defeat of Battle Of Marengo (disappointing since) in the King Edward VII Stakes here at the Royal meeting.
The Rothschild-owned son of Danehill Dancer must be highly regarded but needs to have improved hugely after two failures in handicap company earlier in the season.
Finally, the field is completed by that remarkable international campaigner Red Cadeaux.
Ed Dunlop's stable stalwart is up against it but has run three times over an inadequate 10 furlongs this season - he was an excellent staying-on second to Animal Kingdom in the Dubai World Cup in March - and, while well beaten behind Al Kazeem in the Prince Of Wales's Stakes last time, this distance will be much more to his liking.
Earlier, I suspect that CAPE PERON will take plenty of beating despite top weight in the Deloitte Handicap providing rain eases the ground.
Henry Candy's gelding looked a smart performer in the making when scoring at Newbury and Doncaster (on good to soft going) earlier in the season and was just caught out by a faster surface (despite travelling well) when fifth in the Britannia over this course and distance at the Royal meeting.
Given his conditions (and one suspects he may be pulled out if the rain doesn't arrive), he can turn the tables on runner-up Tarikhi and confirm the placings with Machete Mark (sixth) and Fehaydi (seventh).
The weather could also be key to the outcome of the ferociously competitive Betfair International in which LOVING SPIRIT is fancied to run well.
Sixth behind Lightning Cloud in the Buckingham Palace Stakes here at the Royal meeting, James Toller's five-year-old is well weighted with that horse on his course and distance second (on soft ground) to the smart Jack Dexter last October when Compton (below form recently) finished fourth, Redvers fifth and Bertiewhittle sixth.
Although by no means a prolific winner, the booking of talented 5lb claimer Robert Tart for Loving Spirit very much takes the eye and he runs this seven-furlong course very consistently.