Melbourne-based handler Danny O’Brien believes the sprinter Star Witness has a leading chance of landing another success for Australia at Royal Ascot next week.
The four-year-old is set to line up in Tuesday’s Group One King’s Stand Stakes and could also run at Royal Ascot on Saturday, June 18, in the six-furlong Golden Jubilee Stakes.
“He’s taken the trip over here pretty well, given it’s 38 hours door to door,” said O’Brien today. “We like to ship the horses on the plane race fit and we’ll just give him one more gallop tomorrow (Friday) to put him spot on for Tuesday.
“Coming to Ascot has been at the back of my mind ever since he won his second start and we’ve been pretty conservative with him this season because of that.
“He’s only raced twice since Melbourne Cup week in November and that has been by design because I was thinking that the races that would really suit him were up here.
“When he ran in the Newmarket Handicap at Flemington last time, there was a Top Gear car rally next to the track and like a lot of the horses he got very worked up and he ran his race before he started.
“I’ve been over here before and got beaten but didn’t want to come back again unless I had one with a good chance and I think I’ve got one now.
“If Star Witness turns up in the form he was in for Melbourne Cup week, which I hope he is, then he is going to be hard to beat. He is also six months older and stronger from then. He was super impressive in a barrier trial before getting on the plane out here.
“He’s going to be covering mares (at Widden Stud) in September and next week is going to be his grand finale. It would be good to finish his career with a big exclamation mark. Anthony (Thompson of Widden Stud) was keen to come here and always knew that Royal Ascot was on his radar.
“It’s difficult for me to evaluate the form of the other runners and I will look at them more after the final acceptance stage. But I do know that he has just as strong form lines as other Australian horses that have run well here before.
“If things went to plan on Tuesday, then he could easily go for the Golden Jubilee. He’s backed up quickly in his races before as he ran twice in seven days in Melbourne Cup week last year.
“It’s great that the Australian horses keep travelling to England and we hope to keep up the good record at Royal Ascot. The race is no afterthought and I certainly think he’s capable of winning.
“Steven Arnold will be on board. He is an outstanding rider - we have had a lot of success together and he won on Scenic Blast (in the 2009 King’s Stand Stakes) at Ascot.
“We’ll be happy to stalk close enough to the pace in the King’s Stand because you don’t seem to be able to make up a lot of ground in the race.
“The prize money is good for these races, £400,000 for the Golden Jubilee would be good in any jurisdiction, but with a colt there is much more than prize money involved - it can make his stud career if he wins a Group One.”
Hong Kong raider Sweet Sanette also goes for Tuesday’s King’s Stand Stakes over five furlongs and the Tony Millard-trained six-year-old mare arrived in Britain on Saturday.
Millard’s wife Beverly commented: “Sweet Sanette is very quick. She will jump and be up with the pace. She would like fast ground, though she has run well on Hong Kong good to yielding.
“She travelled very well from Hong Kong - our vet accompanied her. I was very happy with that and a bit surprised.
“Sweet Sanette can be a bit temperamental - she is not the easiest to work with and a fighter but that is often what makes a good mare.
“She has settled down over the last day or two and her preparations are going well.
“She has been England before. When she moved from South Africa to Hong Kong, she spent her quarantine in England.
“Jamie Spencer will ride here because we wanted a jockey who knew the track. Sweet Sanette has beaten Sacred Kingdom in Hong Kong and, although he is getting on in age, he is still good.
“We think she has come on since her last race and that she will be there at the finish on Tuesday.”
Black Caviar, the world’s top-rated sprinter, is to race at Royal Ascot next year. The Australian-trained five-year-old mare, unbeaten in 13 outings including six Group Ones, will be aimed at the six-furlong Golden Jubilee or possibly the mile Queen Anne Stakes.
Jeff O’Connor, the spokesman for trainer Peter Moody’s stable, announced the decision at a press conference in Newmarket, England, on Thursday, June 9, ahead of Royal Ascot 2011.
Moody has sent over Hinchinbrook to contest the Group One Golden Jubilee Stakes on Saturday, June 18, and the four-year-old Fastnet Rock colt exercised on the Bury Hill gallop at Newmarket this morning in preparation.
O’Connor said: “Hinchinbrook has been running well behind exceptional sprinters. It is very hard to win a big Group One sprint at home at the moment because of the two stars, Black Caviar and Hay List.
“The plan is to run Black Caviar at Royal Ascot next year - Peter asked me to mention that. As far as her lead-up campaign is concerned, we will get together next month to finalise that. The question is whether we go overseas with her before Royal Ascot. We want her to try and get some world-class prestige.
“Hinchinbrook is probably our (Australia’s) best colt - Black Caviar is a mare and Hay List is a gelding. I think he is terrific value at 12/1 as he is in good form.”
Luke Nolen, who partnered a winner at Ascot during last year’s Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup, has been booked for Hinchinbrook.
The opposition to Frankel, Europe’s best three-year-old miler, in Tuesday’s Group One St James’s Palace Stakes is set to include his Japanese equivalent Grand Prix Boss, the country’s champion juvenile last year and winner of the Grade One NHK Mile on May 8.
His connections know they face a stiff task against the runaway QIPCO 2000 Guineas winner but are not afraid to take him on.
Koji Kubo, assistant to trainer Yoshito Yahagi, commented: “It’s a long distance for us to come over here but Grand Prix Boss had a good trip. He is eating and drinking well and has not taken long to settle in.
“His training has been strong and is going as we would have expected since arriving. We have big hopes for next week.
“I believe that Grand Prix Boss is the best mile horse in Japan and it is very exciting to have him racing against your best horses at Royal Ascot, the most prestigious meeting in Europe.
“Frankel is a superstar, even in Japan everyone knows how good he is, but Japanese racing fans are excited to have a runner against him.
“Mirco Demuro is riding Grand Prix Boss and he won on the horse as a two-year-old. He is probably the most successful overseas jockey in Japan, he knows how to handle the horse and he rides in Europe so we felt he was the best choice.”
American training legend Todd Pletcher is set to have his first runners at Royal Ascot next week with Coronation Stakes contender More Than Real due to have her first start since winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies’ Turf in November and Bridgetown lining up for the King’s Stand Stakes on Tuesday.
Ginny DePasquale, Pletcher’s assistant, reported: “They were here in eight or nine hours and took a day to settle but are very happy now.
“Bridgetown is a trier. He’ll give us his all, we just hope that’s 110 per cent and not just 99 per cent but we’re looking forward to it. Todd makes all the decisions but I assume he thinks Bridgetown could settle behind the speed and then make a good run.
“It’s such a prestigious race and I think this, as well as Wesley Ward’s recent successes at Royal Ascot, could open the door to this beautiful place for more Americans.
“They took their time with More Than Real, she’s had a break and I’m not sure this race was always on her agenda but it fits it.
“I hope she’ll be ready on Friday and won’t need the race. She is definitely bigger, stronger and more mature than last year. She’s very focused on her training and has been doing quite well here.
“She tends to sit off the pace just a bit, though she has only had three starts. The aim would be for More Than Real to make one good run at the end. The track is going to be a little different to what she has experienced but we hope to give her some experience of undulations before the race.
“She has settled in to Newmarket and we’re hoping for the best on Friday (June 17).”
The going at Ascot is currently good. Chris Stickels, Clerk of the Course, revealed this morning: “We had 36 millimetres of rain on Sunday night through Monday and four millimetres yesterday.
“The ground is good. The threat of showers is not far away and there could be some heavy ones at the weekend, with between six and 10 millimetres falling.
“I don’t anticipate watering. Going into next week, the weather could improve but there may be some rainfall on Thursday. Tuesday/Wednesday and Friday/Saturday should be mainly dry.”