Ascot looms as Simenon returns for Sandown prep
Simenon will warm up for a third tilt at Royal Ascot's Gold Cup when he tackles tonight's Henry II Stakes at Sandown under Ryan Moore.
The last time Willie Mullins' game stayer ran at the Esher track he was placed in its 2010 Classic trial.
Since joining Mullins the following year, he has developed into one of the sport's most venerable long-distance campaigners, recording a famous double at the Royal fixture in 2012, before just being denied by the Queen's Estimate in the Gold Cup a year later.
Last year, Simenon could manage only fourth, having returned from a gallant effort to fill the same berth in the Melbourne Cup. The globetrotter was last seen on a rare home foray over flights at Tipperary in July, when he won the Grimes Hurdle. A stress fracture has kept him sidelined since, so he makes a welcome return in a first-time hood for this evening's two-mile Group Three.
High Jinx and Vent De Force are among some formidable rivals in the eight-runner affair. Still, Mullins' decision to send Simenon on such an excursion ahead of next month's Group One target is surely significant.
Of the various cross-channel raiders on duty yesterday, Gordon Elliott was responsible for the only winner, with Western Home narrowly prevailing at odds of 4/1 in the mares' maiden hurdle at Cartmel under Tom Scudamore.
Naas will be hoping for some reciprocation for its Royal Ascot trials day on the forthcoming Bank Holiday Monday. In the fixture's Lacken Stakes, Eddie Lynam's exciting 2014 Ascot winner Anthem Alexander could clash with Aidan O'Brien's Dick Whittington.
The €65,000 six-furlong contest promises a real treat, with Henry Candy's highly-regarded Limato one of nine English entries across the card. Ken Condon's Nottingham scorer Newsletter is another potential starter, while Mick Halford has said that he intends to run the exciting Toscanini.
Second to Gleneagles in last year's National Stakes, the Godolphin colt made a winning return at Navan recently. "It was nice to get his head in front and give him a bit of confidence and the plan now is to go to Naas," Halford said of Toscanini, which has an entry in Ascot's Commonwealth Cup, a new six-furlong Group One sprint. "He had some terrific two-year-old form right the way through, so we're looking forward to it."
The Qipco Irish Champion Stakes entries have also been unveiled, with last year's Kevin Ryan-trained hero The Grey Gatsby among 60 initial entries.
O'Brien's dual Classic-winning Gleneagles is engaged in the €1.1m 10-furlong Group One, along with 16 other Ballydoyle representatives, which means that the exceptional champion trainer has the same number of entries as 11 English-based trainers combined.
John Gosden's Derby fancies Golden Horn and Jack Hobbs are among those 17, while Condon has put his Epsom hopeful Success Days in and David Wachman has entered his 1,000 Guineas winner Legatissimo.
Dermot Weld's Free Eagle is another classy local entry. Bookmaker Paddy Power make Gleneagles their early 5/2 favourite for the Leopardstown Group One, with Free Eagle next best at 7/2.
Corine Barande-Barbe's evergreen Cirrus Des Aigles is among a strong international contingent engaged.
The multiple Group One-winner's French compatriot Treve will make her reappearance at Saint-Cloud tomorrow. Criquette Head-Maarek's dual Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe superstar faces eight rivals in an extended 10-furlong Group Two under Thierry Jarnet.