International challengers ready to fire as Royal Ascot looms
Japanese raider Shahryar headlined the overseas stars on show at the International Challengers Media Morning in Newmarket today, Thursday, 9th June.
Shahryar ranks as one of the world’s top middle-distance performers following his victory in March’s G1 Dubai Sheema Classic. Last year’s Japanese Derby winner aims to provide his nation with a first Royal Ascot success in the G1 Prince of Wales’s Stakes.
Shahryar’s owners Sunday Racing Co Ltd will also be represented later in the week by Grenadier Guards in the six-furlong G1 Platinum Jubilee Stakes. The Frankel colt, who was a G1-winning miler as a two-year-old, captured the seven-furlong G2 Hanshin Cup on his penultimate start in December.
The pair have been preparing for Royal Ascot from Roger Varian’s Carlburg Stables in Newmarket and have been there for just over a week now.
Yasuhiro Matsumoto, Manager of Northern Farm who bred the pair, said this morning: “The transportation went well, especially as Shahryar had experience transporting to Dubai and had Grenadier Guards with him in the same stall.
“We had plans to bring Shahryar for international races. As a result, Dubai was the first and that experience should be very much a benefit to the horse coming to Royal Ascot.
“As a horseman, I want to win races in the UK with Japanese horses. It is a dream and a real honour for us to have runners at Royal Ascot. Many people think the Arc is the pinnacle, but I think many of the best sire-making races are in the UK.
“Shahryar’s optimum distance is 2000m to 2400m. He would prefer firmer ground but I think he can handle softer ground as well.
“Bay Bridge is going to be a strong competitor. In general, when we see high-level international sport, people are fascinated, and I think this will apply to Royal Ascot.
“Because it was Grenadier Guards’ first flight and the fact mentally he is not as good compared to other horses, connections were concerned. But thankfully the horse has transported well and we are happy with his condition.
“Grenadier Guards has won over a mile and seven furlongs, and I think his optimum is seven furlongs. However, Royal Ascot is six furlongs with a hill and potentially tougher ground, which could be equal to seven furlongs in Japan.”
G1 victor Artorius is one of three Australian sprinters on course for the Royal Meeting, alongside Nature Strip and Home Affairs, and will pitch in against the latter in the G1 Platinum Jubilee Stakes.
Artorius won the G1 Blue Diamond Stakes as a juvenile and was twice placed at G1 level in October, including in the Caulfield Guineas. He was a staying-on sixth last time out in the G1 Newmarket Handicap.
Sam Freedman, who trains in partnership with his father Anthony, said: “Artorius is a well-credentialed horse and was a very good two-year-old. He has not won for a little while but has performed well between six and eight furlongs, including in a Caulfield Guineas.
“He presents himself as the right type of horse to bring here for the stiff six furlongs because he probably wants a touch further and a strong pace. He is a drop-out horse and hopefully will be able to grab them late, that’s the plan.
“We were ahead of Home Affairs in the Newmarket Handicap, although we beat him about a length and he gets a good weight swing on us. Home Affairs is more tactical than us and puts himself up on the speed whereas our fella is a bit quirky from the gates and doesn’t have early speed. That is probably to his detriment in Australia, as you have to be up on the pace generally with races around tight bends.
“In the back of our minds throughout his career, we have really wanted to get him to a track like Ascot or the July Course at Newmarket. Straight line speed is his real asset as he has a real good finish on him, but he has to be in touch a little more than he has been in his last few races.
“We went for Jamie Spencer for a reason because he has such a good record on backmarkers at Ascot. Jamie is going to have a sit on him tomorrow at Ascot. The horse lost 9kg on the flight over but has put on 14kg since he arrived, so he needs a good gallop tomorrow.
“It is a dream to come over here with a horse. I worked with Roger Varian for a couple of seasons and saw first hand how difficult it is to win a race at Royal Ascot. To have a runner and be representing the country feels very special.”
Aside from a strong customary raiding party for Wesley Ward, the US challenge includes the Christophe Clement-trained duo of Pizza Bianca in the G1 Coronation Stakes and progressive sprinter Slipstream in the G1 Commonwealth Cup.
Pizza Bianca was one of the leading juvenile fillies in North America last year thanks to her G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies’ Turf success, while Slipstream has scored on his three most recent attempts over sprint distances.
Unbeaten filly Spendarella is set to be another US-trained runner in the G1 Coronation Stakes for Graham Motion and Gainesway Farm. The trainer/owner combination saddled Sharing to finish second in the 2020 running of the mile highlight for three-year-old fillies.
Motion’s assistant Alice Clapham said: “Spendarella did not run as a two-year-old because she wasn’t quite ready. She broke her maiden in January and then we ran her back in a Stakes race at Gulfstream before winning again at Keeneland.
“When they decided to bring her here, Graham wanted to freshen her up rather than running once more because she had run three pretty consistent races.
“She has ended up racing prominently because she breaks well but I think she is pretty versatile and William [Buick] will be able to do whatever he likes with her.
“Sharing was a little more accomplished than this filly coming here. She had won at the Breeders’ Cup and had more experience, but this filly has done nothing wrong and has a great temperament for shipping.
“When she won at Keeneland, there was cut in the ground. Her two runs before that had been on firm, so we were a little worried, but she seemed to handle it really well. Famous last words but I don’t think the ground will matter either way.”
John & Thady Gosden sent out four winners at Royal Ascot last year, their first season in partnership, and John issued updates on some of their biggest hopes for the week, including Stradivarius as he goes for a fourth win in the G1 Gold Cup.
Stradivarius failed to emulate Yeats’ record 12 months ago, coming home fourth behind Subjectivist after a troubled run, but the eight-year-old made a successful return in the G2 Yorkshire Cup last month.
John Gosden said: “It is one thing training an eight-year-old gelding and another thing training an eight-year-old full horse, but Stradivarius is happy and well and I hope the weather holds up for him.
“He runs how he runs and knows how to race. He doesn’t like being left with too much to do but on the other hand if you get there too soon, that is not a good idea either. He is an old pro now.
“I think he is still up to running a huge race in the Gold Cup, as long as the ground is not soft or heavy. He was probably in his prime at five or six, but at eight you have to face the fact it could be like a boxer getting back in the ring too late in their career. But he seems up for it at the moment and the plan was always to run here and then Goodwood, so we are sticking to that.”
Lord North is set to be the stable’s sole representative in the G1 Prince Of Wales’s Stakes, with Mishriff likely to wait for the G1 Coral-Eclipse at Sandown Park in early July.
Gosden said: “Lord North has won the race before but we are very frightened of the Japanese horse [Shahryar] and another very good horse trained here in Newmarket called Bay Bridge.
“Our fella is a grand horse and I think he needs to be ridden a little differently compared to the Tattersalls Gold Cup, when he sat too close to the pace.
“I think it is going to be a fabulous race, as it should be. I like Bay Bridge – he has always been a lovely horse and, to me, he could be better than the rest.”
Reach For The Moon will bid to give Her Majesty The Queen a 25th Royal Ascot win in the G3 Hampton Court Stakes, having finished second on his return in the Listed Heron Stakes at Sandown Park last month.
Gosden said: “We are thinking of the mile and a quarter option for Reach For The Moon rather than the King Edward VII Stakes.
“He has pleased us in his work since Sandown – he has gone nicely – and we are very happy with him.
“It would be amazing to give Her Majesty a winner and we hope he goes there with a nice chance.”
Of his other potential runners, Gosden said: “Inspiral will go in the Coronation Stakes, as could Grand Dame.
“Inspiral is coming to herself now. It has taken a long time but I think we are beginning to see the filly of last year. Hopefully, she can put in a big performance.
“We are all looking at the one filly [Homeless Songs] who dotted up in the Irish 1,000 Guineas. She looked very smart.
“It is great when you have all the Guineas winners turning up. It is like the grand finale and you find out who the best is.
“The Oaks and Ribblesdale are tight enough time wise, that’s for sure, but Emily Upjohn could run. It is a very important race and I have won it before with fillies who have run in the Oaks.
“If she doesn’t run here, you are then waiting until the end of July for a couple of options. She has been eating well, looking well and had a canter this morning. We will see how she is and make the decision late.
“I am not sure where Francesco Clemente goes. He is in the King Edward VII Stakes and we will take a look at that but no decision has been made.
“We have some nice two-year-olds, including Far Shot who won at Yarmouth yesterday – he will go for the Windsor Castle. Then the filly who nicely won at Goodwood [Fully Wet] will go for the Albany. I think we have some possibilities there.”