St George to maintain O'Brien Gold standard
It has been a slightly frustrating Royal Ascot for Aidan O'Brien but the victory of Highland Reel yesterday will have amounted to some relief and he has three big days ahead, starting this afternoon.
The Co Wexford native has been at this game too long to get excessively worked up, regardless of the vagaries of the sport. Churchill's laboured run on Tuesday continues to mystify connections - "he didn't eat up his full dinner last night, which is a bit unusual as that was the only thing that was different," said the trainer yesterday - but today is a new page.
If you ask O'Brien about a horse that might make a Leger contender, he may be a little reticent: implying as much can be perceived a slight on the speed of said steed. And that is not good for commercial considerations down the line, as precocity is strived for and slow horses are not.
O'Brien's words are generally well thought-out, the product of much rumination, and he knows who his master is. However, John Magnier and his Coolmore partners seem to derive more satisfaction from winning the Ascot Gold Cup - victory in which all but ensures the certainty of not having a career as a Flat stallion - than any other.
Yeats' heroics in snaring the staying heat four times ensured his role in history, and it is hardly out of the question that Order Of St George might emulate the great stallion - or even better.
The son of Galileo is likely to be an odds-on poke in today's feature - the only Group One on the card on day three - and with good reason. He extricated Ryan Moore from a pretty worrying position at a critical point in last year's renewal to score going away.
Perhaps more significantly, he was subsequently good enough to finish placed in an Arc, putting him in a similar bracket to Westerner, a stayer which finished second to Hurricane Run in the big one at Longchamp in 2005.
Few Flat horses have such pace versatility and there was no shortage of swagger about the colt's prep for today at Leopardstown when he stretched away from the smart Twilight Payment. One of his main dangers, Vazirabad, is out, and it is hard to see what can beat him. O'Brien hasn't even bothered with a pacemaker, though Kingfisher had been deemed a possible runner until recently.
Given the flop that he has been at stud, Duke Of Marmalade surprisingly has sired two lively each-way players in the Gold Cup, with Big Orange and Simple Verse both in with chances. They are the two best horses by the sire.
O'Brien's juveniles have performed with credit and at 20/1 Sioux Nation looks worth a go in the opening Norfolk Stakes. The trainer effectively blamed the rain for the Scat Daddy-bred's moderate run at the Curragh last time and he can now show his capabilities on fast ground under Ryan Moore.
O'Brien's first and second in Leopardstown's Guineas Trial, Orderofthegarter and Taj Mahal, represent the barn in the Hampton Court, in which the nod goes to Irishcorrespondent. Michael Halford felt that the ground went against the son of Teofilo at the Curragh, when his Guineas third was hardly a bad run all the same.
Ten furlongs now and quicker terrain mean no excuses for this smart sort, though with Benbatl among the cast - this one took the eye when not beaten far in the Derby at Epsom - it rates a renewal of considerable depth.
The feeling lingers that The Sky Is Blazing is a latent talent. Willie Haggas' Sea The Stars-bred was favourite for Lingfield's Oaks trial and since was beaten in a York handicap, but she now tries cheekpieces and, if she is held up among the pack, she can show more in the Grade Two Ribblesdale at 33/1 under Silvestre De Sousa.
Qatar Racing has four runners in the Britannia Stakes, a handicap for three-year-olds. One of them, Son Of The Stars, gets the nod here for Richard Hannon and Oisin Murphy.
His dad, Delegator, was narrowly touched off in a gripping duel when this age in the course-and-trip St James's Palace Stakes. He was unlucky not to justify favouritism at Newmarket last time, and a 6lb rise makes things no easier, but he has lots of natural ability.
The finale, the King George V Stakes, is one of my favourite races of the week. One must pursue an unexposed one that can improve for this trip, and Drochaid may be the one. His dad, Mastercraftsman, was the only runner in that St James's Palace of eight years ago that Delegator could not master. He tends to implant stamina in his stock, auguring favourably for the prospects of Drochaid, which has raced thus far at a little shorter than today's trip.
On paper, narrow victories at Chelmsford and Epsom in inferior affairs hardly imply he has much going for him, but he is a hardy type, the sort that will give you a big each-way performance.
Aidan O'Brien stretches the enigmatic Homesman out to a mile and a half or so, though a mark of 104 may anchor him now. Handicap debutant Master Singer, by the teak-tough Giant's Causeway, also comes into the argument with John Gosden trying cheekpieces.