Alex Hammond: On Rocky Ground
Royal Ascot has got off to a good start for punters, including followers of this blog; let’s hope we are saying the same in a few hours!
The Coronation Stakes is Friday’s feature and there is a classy entry for this Group One for three-year-old fillies over a mile of the round course. We have been waiting a while to see My Titania this season as John Oxx has had to delay her return to action due to a slight setback before the 1000 Guineas and then the soft ground ruled her out of the Irish equivalent.
She ran three times as a juvenile and didn’t do much wrong. She has a tendency to ease up once she hits the front and did that when winning the Park Stakes at the Curragh last September, but the race has worked out pretty well; the third was none other than Tarfasha who finished second in the Oaks earlier this month. She is another by Sea the Stars and gave him his first Group winner as a stallion. He is really making his mark in the breeding world; it could be a pivotal week for the stallion.
The Olly Stevens-trained Lightning Thunder has finished second in two Guineas already this season and it appears that her regular jockey Harry Bentley has paid the price for the double defeat as Olivier Peslier will take over on Friday. It can be a tough industry, but her chances won’t be harmed by the booking of Peslier and she deserves compensation for those near-misses.
Rizeena missed the Irish Guineas after a trickle of blood was found in her nostril after a piece of work. That isn’t a worry, but her performance at Newmarket could be and I wonder if this trip just stretches her a bit.
Kiyoshi comes here a fresh horse as this is her first run since finishing third in the Cheveley Park Stakes last September. It is a slight concern that the ground is quickening up as she prefers to get her toe in, but she’s a classy filly despite what were one or two wayward performances as a juvenile. She did win the Albany at this meeting on quick ground last year though.
Sandiva disappointed in the Guineas, but beat subsequent Guineas fifth Euro Charline in the Nell Gwyn and it’s hard to say if this mile trip is her optimum, but she deserves another try at it despite her Guineas flop.
Lucky Kristale was another who ran below expectations in the Guineas, but George Margarson is having another bash at the mile trip and I hope she runs a decent race for her hard working connections. In form Richard Hughes rides her for the first time. If she doesn’t run well here then it could be that she drops in trip in future. It’s a tricky race and there a few fillies I haven’t mentioned who could bounce back after disappointing efforts, but I’m going to side with My Titania.
Saturday is the final day and it’s not an easy one for punters.
The feature is the Diamond Jubilee and Tuesday’s King’s Stand winner Sole Power will not run in this six furlong contest after that impressive win as he is tired after his efforts.
His stablemate, Slade Power, is in the reckoning, although I’m concerned there won’t be enough give in the ground for him as fast times have been the order of the day so far and there is no significant rain forecast.
Aljamaaheer represents Roger Varian and he must have strong claims over a trip he is unexposed over. Last term he was running in some of the top mile contest with credit. He was third in the Lockinge, second in the Queen Anne and he won the Group Two Summer Mile at this track. He dropped in trip and ran over six furlongs on his first run this term and looked unlucky not to win the Abernant at Newmarket for which he was well fancied.
He is the sort of horse that needs holding up and luck in running, but looks hard to leave out of equations.
Gordon Lord Byron is a consistent performer over a variety of trips too and has been acquitted himself well from six furlongs to a mile. Drying ground could be an issue for him too though sadly.
Due Diligence has won three of his five starts for Aidan O’Brien and is only a three-year-old. He likes fast turf and started his life in America and is one to keep on the right side of. He was impressive at Naas last time out and looks to have a huge amount of potential.
Like Due Diligence, Astaire is a member of the Classic generation. Kevin Ryan, who trains the colt, will know how smart he is as he is also responsible for Hot Streak, who ran well in the King’s Stand on Tuesday.
Astaire won the Gimcrack and Middle Park last year and started his season in the Greenham, but his trainer has decided to stick to sprinting with him. He ran well to be second to Maarek over six furlongs at York last time out and there should be more to come.
Maarek reopposes, but the ground doesn’t look like being in his favour. Pearl Secret also ran on Tuesday, but is another that seems ground dependent and unless there is an unexpected shower it won’t go his way.
With so many of the possible runners looking in need of significant rain (or watering!) I’m going for a sprinter who looks to have lots of potential in Aljamaaheer with Due Diligence also on my shortlist.
That leaves us with just the small matter of the Wokingham Handicap, with a maximum field of 30 for this six furlong contest. It’s difficult to give a strong view before declarations have been made, but Rocky Ground staked his claim for this race at Windsor earlier this month.
You may remember he slipped up after the post, unshipping Andrea Atzeni on that day. He’s a lightly raced horse who looks capable of progressing into Group company at some point.
Intrinsic would have strong claims if he gets a run, but that’s not certain. If he does he could be well handicapped. It looks like it could be a good day for Newmarket trainer Roger Varian as he trains both my selections on Saturday!