Bewitched to give O'Brien first taste of Royal glory
Charles O'Brien could secure the biggest success of his career in the most fitting of Group Ones on the final day of Royal Ascot.
The Straffan-based handler saddles the classy grey filly Bewitched in this afternoon's Golden Jubilee Stakes. In 1993, when the six-furlong contest was still a Group Three and known as the Cork and Orrery Stakes, the race provided O'Brien's legendary late father Vincent with the last of his 25 winners at the royal meeting.
College Chapel, the horse that Lester Piggott steered home that day, was owned by Vincent's wife Jacqueline, and Mrs O'Brien also part-owns Bewitched. She shares the four-year-old with her daughter Sue Magnier, wife of John, the Coolmore supremo.
Apart from a sentimental attachment, though, Bewitched has all the right credentials. Since winning a handicap on her seasonal debut last year, she has progressed steadily.
In seven subsequent starts in 2010, the daughter of Dansili won Listed races at Haydock and Naas, before finishing up with a pair of Group Three triumphs at The Curragh and Ascot. When scoring by three-parts of a length here in October, she accounted for the smart sprinter Genki, which also lines out today.
Every one of those 2010 wins came over six furlongs with an ease in the ground, the very conditions that Bewitched will encounter now. This term, O'Brien's stable star has run just once, easily conceding six pounds to Zoffany at The Curragh three weeks ago, form that reads especially well after that one chased home Frankel on Tuesday.
This is another step up, but many of Bewitched's rivals are likewise unproven at this level. Star Witness, the Australian campaigner that stayed on to be second over five furlongs in the King's Stand on Tuesday, is the most accomplished in the field, but whether he will be as effective on the rain-softened ground remains to be seen.
With Johnny Murtagh forfeiting the chance to ride Delegator -- another that won't appreciate the rain -- to remain loyal to Bewitched, 7/1 looks a generous offering about O'Brien recording a landmark first win at the meeting.
In the Hardwicke Stakes that precedes the main event, the hugely promising Await The Dawn represents the current Ballydoyle maestro Aidan O'Brien.
Beaten just once in five starts, Await The Dawn ran out a facile winner of a Group Three on his seasonal bow at Chester at the beginning of May.
There is no doubt he is the one to beat, but he is desperately short at odds-on, so there may be value elsewhere. Passion For Gold, as big as 12/1, is the one to take on side.
In three starts as a juvenile in 2009, the Godolphin runner's only defeat came when he finished third behind St Nicholas Abbey at The Curragh. On his final outing at two, he ran out a six-length winner of a Group One in France on heavy ground.
Passion For Gold then spent all of last year on the sidelines, before clearly needing the run when third to Jet Away at Lingfield in May. Two weeks later, the four-year-old improved to easily dispose of the same horse at Goodwood. If he can build on that again now, he will give the favourite plenty to think about.
O'Brien's first runner of the day is Maybe in the Chesham Stakes. Having had Teolane back in fourth when winning cosily at Naas, this one will be hard to stop.
A better value option may be Nasri in the Wokingham. Dandy Nicholls' charge has won on easy ground before, and has been in good heart, finishing third to Hawkeyethenoo here last time, having won at Musselburgh previously.
He drops a furlong in trip now to six furlongs, but pace is something he certainly doesn't lack. At up to 20/1 here, Nasri is overpriced.
Best Bet: Bewitched