Sunday 16 December 2018

Rhododendron leads O'Brien Ascot bid

Trainer Aidan O'Brien. Photo: PA
Trainer Aidan O'Brien. Photo: PA
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

Royal Ascot has been a happy hunting ground for Aidan O'Brien and this year is likely to be no different with Rhododendron and Australian import Merchant Navy set to lead his charge next week.

The Ballydoyle maestro is on hunt for his fourth successive top trainer award - his eighth in total - with Lockinge winner Rhododendron set to tackle the Queen Anne Stakes where he will be accompanied by Deauville.

Irish 2,000 Guineas third Gustav Klimt will go for the St James's Palace Stakes along with U S Navy Flag while Temple Stakes runner-up Washington DC - just touched off by the brilliant Battaash last month - and Battle Of Jericho head for the King's Stand.

Crack Australian sprinter Merchant Navy - a Group One winner Down Under and successful on his first Irish start in the Group Two Greenlands Stakes at the Curragh last month - will take in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes.

Lancaster Bomber got a much deserved success in the Tattersalls Gold Cup last month and is bound for the Prince of Wales's Stakes, Clear Skies is likely to run in a 1m2f/1m4f handicap while recent Leopardstown Listed scorer Giuseppe Garibaldi may go for the Queen's Vase.

O'Brien has also indicated that Mendelssohn - which never got going and was tailed off last in the Kentucky Derby - will venture Stateside again for two more dirt runs ahead of a mouth-watering Breeders' Cup Classic showdown with Triple Crown hero Justify in November.

The brilliant UAE Derby winner was out of luck when stuck in the mud behind Bob Baffert's star but the Coolmore team are keen to have another crack at the big time with last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf victor.

The three-year-old son of Scat Daddy looks set to contest the Grade Three Dwyer Stakes on July 7 before moving onto the Pennsylvania Derby on September 22 and then the Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs on November 3.

Elsewhere, another trainer gunning for Ascot glory is American Wesley Ward, who brings a crack team of ten across the Atlantic Ocean having already amassed nine Royal Ascot winners in the past decade.

Lady Aurelia - which bids for her second King's Stand victory next Tuesday - is searching for the unique distinction of winning at the showpiece Festival for three straight years.

With a reputation for saddling powerful two-year-olds, his five juveniles entries are particularly eye-catching with fillies Chelsea Cloisters, Our Passion and Moonlight Romance all likely to leave an impression next week.

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