Monday 20 November 2017

Mekhtaal can reel in Ballydoyle's big hope

Thomas Hobson, with Ryan Moore up, on the way to winning the Ascot Stakes yesterday. Photo: Getty Images
Thomas Hobson, with Ryan Moore up, on the way to winning the Ascot Stakes yesterday. Photo: Getty Images

Johnny Ward

It is a shade surprising that Aidan O'Brien has only claimed the Group One Prince Of Wales's Stakes twice and he is attempting a third success in the Royal Ascot feature with the admirable Highland Reel this afternoon.

With the weather so warm, expect the son of Galileo to sweat notably beforehand, yet it never seems to stop him from winning. After apparently looking in trouble in the Coronation Cup at Epsom when he was headed around two furlongs out, having been keen to post, he rallied. Indeed, he was well in control at the line - as the ratings suggested he should have been.

Highland Reel is not unlike O'Brien's previous winners of the pivot of day two, Duke Of Marmalade and So You Think: both could travel the world and show a rare constitution. Few come as hardy as Highland Reel, yet today is no formality for a horse with limitations, and preference is for French raider Mekhtaal at the prices. He trades at 12/1.

Andre Fabre was due to run Cloth Of Stars in the race, describing it as "looking winnable", but he does not show up and instead Gallic hopes rest on Mekhtaal, which beat him by a neck on his seasonal return at Chantilly.


He won again there since over nine furlongs, the drop back in distance against the son of Sea The Stars, and he remains pretty unexposed at a mile and a half. In Jean-Claude Rouget, he has a superb horseman bidding to train his first winner in this.

Godolphin got off to a fine start yesterday and have a major player in Jack Hobbs, which won the Irish Derby two years ago. Last year was rather a mess but he appeared to have surrendered none of his quality when hammering Seventh Heaven at Meydan.

The Group Three Jersey Stakes is generally a smarter race than the bracket implies and this year's edition is no different. It can prove an especially historic renewal and throw up a couple of firsts in Dream Castle.

This horse can give Frankel his first Royal Ascot winner as a sire and Josephine Gordon her first winner there. Gay Kelleway, the last female jockey to ride a Royal Ascot winner 30 years ago, says that Gordon "has more bottle than most of the lads".

She may need some of that on Dream Castle, which makes considerable appeal. Surely he will settle better now he gets seven furlongs and a big field, though he still managed to run a blinder when beaten just over three lengths in the Guineas.

Whitecliffsofdover - ridden by Ryan Moore - sports blinkers for the first time, and is one of two War Front colts O'Brien runs in the race. Do not discount apparent rag, Spirit Of Valor, altogether: he was quietly fancied in the Guineas, and far from disgraced then. He should relish conditions, though he has won on soft to heavy.

Happy Like A Fool aims to provide Wesley Ward with his fourth winner in the past decade in the Queen Mary - and three in a row. "She's the most talented of all the two-year-olds I've brought this year," said the American.

"She's a beautiful mind, is extremely talented; a big filly too. If they are big and fast they are usually really good."

Happy Like A Fool stretched away from 11 foes in a dirt claimer in April under Julio Garcia but Ryan Moore takes over. Ger Lyons provides Treasuring, which looked a professional sort at Navan on her second start, and she may come into the place reckoning under Colin Keane.

The Duke Of Cambridge sees Laugh Out Loud as morning-line favourite and she was impressive at Epsom on Derby day, yet this is a good deal tougher for a filly which was once rated 81.

Preference is for Qemah, which was one of the best of her generation last year. She has a smart turn of foot and was a little fresh on her Lingfield return. Jean-Claude Rouget's daughter of Danehill Dancer took the Coronation here last year, with Alice Springs back third, and she has a major chance.

Irish runners are relatively thin on the turf today, the Royal Hunt Cup especially so in this regard. It is fascinating that Abe Lincoln, beaten a short-head in the course-and-distance Britannia this time last year, now bids to return in victory to Berkshire.

However, the Irish may still have the answer in Elleval, named after owner and Mayoman Damien Lavelle - it makes sense if you look closer and work backwards. Oisin Orr's calm style and 5lb claim will be a major help, while his handicap form on Turf at Meydan gives him every chance and he is available at around 40/1.

Ballydoyle throw two at the concluding Sandringham Handicap, Rain Goddess and Asking. The Jim Bolger-trained Bean Feasa has had little chance to run on fast terrain but when she did, at Leopardstown in a Guineas Trial, she was impressive, scoring easily at Asking's chief expense.

That was by no means a great trial but she seems ground-reliant, and she may have the class to defy a big weight under Kevin Manning. Another Irish rider, Pat Smullen, has a nice each-way chance in Present Tense for John Gosden.

Irish Independent

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