Friday 15 December 2017

Awtaad can bridge 20-year gap for Prendergast

Conditions will favour Awtaad (p). Photo:
Conditions will favour Awtaad (p). Photo:

Marcus Armytage

The accepted norm for most festivals is that you save the best for last but for a long time now the first day of Royal Ascot has provided its finest sport.

A St James's Palace Stakes boasting three Guineas winners, and a Queen Anne Stakes contested by Tepin, the best turf miler in America, make this a day's racing to savour.

On good ground it would be hard to split the Newmarket Guineas winner Galileo Gold, his Curragh conqueror Awtaad, and runaway French Guineas winner The Gurkha - even Timeform rates them within 2lbs of each other - in the St James's Palace, but conditions will favour of Awtaad (pictured) which, on soft ground, can extend his unbeaten run to five under Chris Hayes.

His trainer, Kevin Prendergast, who at 83 is only a couple of strides in terms of age behind the course's owner and most famous patron, has been training for 53 years.

His last winner at this meeting was Oscar Schindler in the Hardwicke 20 years ago. That's recent by comparison to his previous Irish Guineas winner before Awtaad - that came 40 years ago. Galileo Gold endured something of a rough journey in the Irish Guineas and won the Newmarket 2,000 Guineas on good to soft, but it is hard to envisage Hugo Palmer's colt avenging that two-and-a-half-length defeat by Awtaad on the Irish colt's favoured going.

The Gurkha - the mount of Ryan Moore who's seeking a seventh Royal Ascot jockeys' title in eight years and whose tally of 36 Royal winners is bettered only by Frankie Dettori - won his maiden on heavy at Navan. But the way he won the French Guineas on decent going at Deauville - by over five lengths from First Selection - suggests he is best when he can bounce off the ground.

It would be a major surprise if something else were to come out of the woodwork and beat the three main protagonists. Emotionless has clearly not been straightforward since having a knee chip removed following last year's Dewhurst defeat, although Godolphin clearly have not given up on him yet.

No horse brings a better record to Ascot than American mare Tepin, which accounted for some of Europe's best milers in last year's Breeders' Cup Mile at Keeneland. They described the ground as good that day, but it was horribly loose and nearer to soft.

It was certainly a contributory factor in Golden Horn's defeat in the Turf, so the ground today may not be as much a concern to Tepin as it will be to America's rocket-fast two-year-olds and the ladies who take on the paddock in kitten heels.

Tepin will be running with neither a nasal strip nor Lasix today and will be racing over a straight mile for the first time, but that may not be enough to stop her. If she's vulnerable it is the two French fillies, Erveyda and Esoterique, which may give her most to think about. Both are Group One winners on very soft ground and come here on the back of nice prep runs.

Mecca's Angel will be in her element in the King's Stand Stakes. Last year's Nunthorpe winner is a different class with cut in the ground. She beat the then two-year-old Acapulco, last year's Queen Mary winner, by two lengths at York in the summer, when conditions were perfect for her.

In the Coventry the O'Brien father and son, Aidan and Joseph, come up against each other at Royal Ascot for the first time since Joseph got his licence just over a week ago and announced his intentions with a first day four-timer. Aidan's Caravaggio will be a warm order but I prefer the claims of the Ger Lyons-trained Psychedelic Funk. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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