Too Darn Hot can get back to winning ways at Royal Ascot, according to Mike Cattermole who also fancies Mabs Cross and Fun Mac to run well on day one.
Too Darn Hot has a big chance to set the record straight and gain his revenge on Phoenix Of Spain in a thrilling rematch for the St James’s Palace Stakes on an outstanding opening day of Royal Ascot 2019.
Last year’s champion two-year-old has been beaten on both his starts this term but has had valid excuses. Having been forced to miss the 2,000 Guineas after a training setback, he was clearly below peak fitness in the Dante Stakes, with connections aware that the Derby was just over a fortnight away.
To his credit, he ran well for 95% of the race before a combination of conditioning and the trip found him out behind Telecaster.
Then, a shock change of plan – most unlike John Gosden who has admitted as such since - saw him come out again just nine days later in the Irish 2,000 Guineas and this time, his old rival Phoenix Of Spain, just under two lengths behind him in the Champagne Stakes at Doncaster at two, powered home from the front to beat him by three lengths.
Skardu, third in the Newmarket Guineas when possibly racing on the disadvantaged far side, appeared to have no excuses this time in fourth but did reverse form with Guineas winner Magna Grecia in fifth.
Gosden has since revealed that Too Darn Hot had also had a flu jab between York and Ireland and, given his recovery time after York was limited anyway, there is a decent argument for a much-improved display this time.
That said, Phoenix Of Spain, who had also missed Newmarket as he wasn’t ready either, was making his reappearance at the Curragh and there has to be chance that he might come on again, too.
After all, he has progressed with every start he has made.
Tactics could be the key and if Phoenix kicks on with Too Darn Hot trying to close him down in the straight, we will be in for a treat.
Shaman represents the French Guineas form, having chased home Persian King at Longchamp, but he needs to step up again as does German Guineas winner Fox Champion and the unexposed King Of Comedy, Too Darn Hot’s stablemate, who has lots of talent but showed a worryingly high head carriage at Sandown.
Royal Marine has been disappointing and I can’t get excited about the Aidan O’Brien trio, with Ryan Moore’s choice, Circus Maximus, dropping back in trip from his sixth in the Derby and wearing blinkers.
As always, the Queen Anne Stakes opens the proceedings and looks a wide-open renewal with any number of possibilities. Accidental Agent bids to become just the fifth horse to win the race two years running and the first since 1907.
He shaped well when third in the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury, but then didn’t all of the first five in that key race? They all reoppose here.
Mustashry won that pretty decisively and seems to be getting better with age. He was well on top at the end, showing a good turn of foot to beat Laurens, said to be short of peak fitness, by two and a half lengths with Romanised fourth and Le Brivido fifth.
Mustashry had had the benefit of a run to sharpen him up but must be respected here. He chased home Lord Glitters in the Strensall Stakes at York last August and Lord Glitters (below his best in the Lockinge) was runner-up in this 12 months ago. Lord Glitters also chased home Beat The Bank (another Lockinge flop) here at Ascot on the round course last July.
In truth, there is little between a lot of them at their best and some might fancy stallion flop Barney Roy to pick up the pieces, although it is hard to know how much of his old ability he retains, even if he showed a good turn of foot in Listed company last time.
Laurens looks sure to run her race - as she always does - but is vulnerable to a horse with a turn of foot so I will stick with Mustashry to give Sir Michael Stoute a fourth win in the race.
Aidan O’Brien has won the Coventry Stakes eight times and sends out four this year. It’s no surprise that Ryan Moore sticks with Amazon who romped home by eight lengths at the Curragh and could be very good.
That said, Threat did the job very well on his debut at Newmarket over five furlongs and looks sure to improve massively over six as he took some time to pull up. Richard Hannon rates him very highly indeed and he is just preferred.
The King’s Stand Stakes offers another mouth-watering rematch between Blue Point, Battaash and Mabs Cross, the first three home in last year’s race.
All are outstanding Group One-winning sprinters and at his best, Battaash is the king. However, he couldn’t shake off Blue Point 12 months ago and has yet to win at Ascot.
Blue Point loves the course and has a three from four record here. He also beat Battaash at York when the pair were third and fourth behind Alpha Delphini and Mabs Cross. Blue Point has been thriving in Dubai this year and looks set to make a bold defence of his title.
For all of his brilliance, Battaash is a bit of an enigma as he cannot be relied upon to produce his best every time.
However, he had a breathing operation in the winter and he certainly looked back to his stunning best at Haydock when landing the Temple Stakes.
Mabs Cross was third, beaten just over three lengths, lost a shoe and had a penalty for her Group One win in the Prix de l’Abbaye last October (Battaash fourth) so she is now 5lb better off.
In truth, there isn’t a great deal between them. Paul Mulrennan believes that the stiff track is going to suit Mabs Cross much better than Haydock and, given that she might have improved since last year, the call is to go for her as a rock solid each-way shot.
Willie Mullins has won the Ascot Stakes four times in the past seven years, three times with Ryan Moore who has been snapped up for the mare, Buildmeupbuttercup, a two-time bumper winner who has some useful form at up to a mile and a half on the Flat.
Gordon Elliott is trying to get in on the act too and has booked Frankie Dettori for Batts Rock, last seen winning a maiden hurdle at Downpatrick.
Coeur De Lion was given a lot to do when sixth last year and comes here 2lb higher after a convincing win in the mud at Chester. He makes the shortlist with York runner-up Mancini who shapes as though the trip will suit.
However, at 16/1 with Sky Bet at the time of writing, Fun Mac deserves another chance. A veteran of Royal Ascot, he is 7lb lower than when a close second in this race in 2015 and has run in the Gold Cup and Queen Alexandra Stakes (twice) since.
After six months off, he shaped well in the Chester Cup (fifth).
Finally, last year's 2,000 Guineas fourth Elarqam looked right back on track when winning well from Willie John at Goodwood last time – a breathing operation looks to have helped – and the form was boosted in France over the weekend.
He has to go well in the closing Wolferton Stakes but I am not sure I can see him giving 8lb to Magic Wand who takes a drop in class here after tackling Group One company on nine of her last ten starts.
A ready four-length winner of the Ribbesdale here last year, she was a fine runner-up in the Pegasus World Cup in January and close third in the Man O’War Stakes at Belmont Park last time out.
So long as the ground isn’t too soft, she rates as the best bet of the day.
DAY ONE SELECTIONS
3.40 MABS CROSS (EW)
4.20 TOO DARN HOT
4.55 FUN MAC
5.30 MAGIC WAND