Fame And Glory set to crush Rock challenge
JOHN OXX, the man who brought Ireland's 30-year Gold Cup drought to an end with Enzeli in 1999, sends out just his second runner in the Royal Ascot showpiece today when he pits Saddler's Rock in against the reigning champion Fame And Glory.
Following Yeats' four-timer, Rite Of Passage's lung-bursting victory in 2010 and then Fame And Glory's rout 12 months ago, the raiders' fortunes in the marathon Group One have taken a significant turn for the better in recent years.
On all-known form, Fame And Glory is a worthy market leader to make it seven in a row now and Saddler's Rock has plenty appeal as the improver most likely to prevent Aidan and Joseph O'Brien from enjoying yet another famous triumph in what has already been an incredible campaign.
Godolphin's Opinion Poll, successful in a pair of Group Threes on his last two starts, could be the pick of the other seven contenders.
However, Saddler's Rock, a four-year-old that only made its racecourse bow in May of last year, slammed Mickael Barzalona's mount by four lengths when securing the Doncaster Cup in September, while Fame And Glory beat him equally comprehensively on his two visits to the Berkshire track last year.
It's hard to see why Opinion Poll should progress past either horse now, and neither is it easy to imagine Saddler's Rock being quite up to Fame And Glory's standard.
A Group One winner at two, three, four and five years of age already, the 2009 Irish Derby hero is a proper racehorse on his day -- and that is the key to him.
On paper, Saddler's Rock's defeat of Unaccompanied when the pair finished second and third at Leopardstown last month is at least as creditable as Fame And Glory's narrow victory over the same mare off identical terms at Navan previously.
The thing to remember, though, is just how much more O'Brien tends to get out of horses like Fame And Glory come the big occasion.
Granted, Oxx is renowned for his shrewd targeting of the most prestigious cross-channel prizes, but the question here is whether or not Saddler's Rock will be quite good enough. This corner would venture that, when the chips are down, Fame And Glory will prove far superior.
O'Brien's Twirl looks up against it in the Ribblesdale, but Dermot Weld's Princess Highway has a live chance in that 12-furlong Group Two. Successful in both her starts this year, the Street Cry filly had the subsequent Oaks heroine Was back in third at Naas last time.
While Pat Smullen's mount will need to progress again to deny The Fugue compensation for her torturous passage at Epsom, she has the scope to do so on just her fourth career outing.
Earlier, Curragh winner Gale Force Ten could get Ballydoyle's day off to a positive start in the Norfolk, and Piri Wango strikes as being overpriced at up to 20/1 in the Britannia Stakes.
Ger Lyons' dual Dundalk winner has plenty of weight in the mile handicap, but his form is rock solid.
On his third start at the Co Louth venue in early May, he was beaten only a length and a half by yesterday's Windsor Forest victor Ishvana when conceding eight pounds, and the second home there, Slade Power, has also since won in Listed company at Haydock.
With Frankie Dettori booked to ride Piri Wango on what is also just his fourth racecourse appearance, it would be no surprise to see the Mick Kinane-bred three-year-old go very close.
2.30 Gale Force Ten
3.05 Princess Highway
3.45 Fame And Glory
4.25 Piri Wango
5.00 Tales Of Grimm
5.35 Pilgrims Rest