ROYAL ASCOT is still more than a month away but we may have already one name not to miss at the big meeting; as recently as the previous Saturday, last year’s impressive Group 2 Coventry Stakes winner Calyx was still under consideration for the 2000 Guineas and his trainer, John Gosden, was still adamant before Ascot’s 6f Group 3 Pavilion Stakes race he was being trained as a miler, with the St James’s Palace Stakes as his target rather than the Commonwealth Cup back at Royal Ascot. However that all changed after Calyx looked a genuine sprinter when quickening in style for Frankie Dettori and blitzing a decent field by four lengths and more.
By the time the dust had settled, Khalid Abdullah’s unbeaten Kingman colt was Commonwealth Cup favourite to follow in the footsteps of Muhaarar, Quiet Reflection, Caravaggio and Eqtidaar in a race widely acclaimed as Royal Ascot’s best innovation in years. Gosden wasted no time in confirming the new plan and said: “Frankie Dettori came back and said, ‘John, he might be bred to be a miler but he likes to sprint’, so all being well, we’ll be back here for the Commonwealth Cup. “It’s a great race now for the 3yos and I think that’s where he ought to go. He clearly showed that today. “I like the fact he travelled on the wing of the track with no cover, yet he still relaxed, and then when Frankie asked him to go he showed real electric sprinting speed. “I’ve been training him diligently to be a miler, but when he goes out there he wants to be a sprinter, which is great.
I haven’t encouraged him to do that, that’s just him. It’s what he wants to do, so we’ll point to the Commonwealth Cup. “I knew he had a bundle of raw ability, but given the fact I’ve trained him to be a St James’s Palace horse, he’s told me clearly what he thinks of that idea. He’s very, very fast and a gorgeous looking horse with a lovely mind.” Dettori, for whom Calyx was the middle leg of a treble, was plainly impressed and added: “It was as good as it looked. He’s so relaxed we thought he’d get a mile but it was all speed. He proved today he has so much power and I think we’ll stick to sprinting. It was full on.” It has been 17 years since Royal Rebel gave Mark Johnston the last of his three wins in the Ascot Gold Cup, but the Middleham maestro is confident Dee Ex Bee, owned by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed and bred by Godolphin, has the quality to bridge that gap next month after coming clear of his rivals to land the Group 3 Sagaro Stakes, over two miles, under an impressed William Buick.
Johnston, who won the Gold Cup with Royal Rebel in 2001 and 2002, as well as with Double Trigger in 1995, admitted to having been frustrated with the absence of a star stayer in his stable over the last decade, making Dee Ex Bee’s emergence as a genuine Cup contender all the sweeter. “You can’t put him up there with Royal Rebel and Double Trigger yet, but thankfully I have a St Leger horse staying in training to go for the Gold Cup, and that’s what I’ve been dreaming of over the last ten years,” said Johnston. This Ascot victory allows him to try and emulate Stradivarius by landing the Weatherbys Hamilton Stayers’ Million this season, which would mean adding the Gold Cup, Goodwood Cup and Lonsdale Cup to this qualifying win. “It takes an awful lot of winning but that’s why we came here first,” said Johnston of the £1 million bonus.
“The staying division gets tougher and tougher. You need a proper Group One horse, ideally one who was a Classic horse at three, and that’s what this horse was.” Middleham Park Racing were at their ‘giant killing’ best as the syndicate turned over US hotpot Lady Pauline with £28,000 purchase Ventura Rebel in the 5f juvenile conditions stakes. Runaway winner on debut at Keeneland last month and half-sister to Ascot darling Lady Aurelia, the Wesley Ward-trained Lady Pauline was hot favourite to score under John Velazquez, but folded late in the final furlong having tried to make all, succumbing to the winner, who had won at Thirsk on his first start. “I don’t think there was any fluke about that,” said Middleham Park’s Tom Palin. “We did it on debut in the same manner and put them to the sword again. “He did a really nice piece of work just over a week ago and Richard Fahey told us this was the race to go for. I’ve never heard Richard be as bullish; he’s a proper horse.”
The Coventry Stakes over an extra furlong is the next target for Ventura Rebel and Palin added: “He’s not slow but the manner in which he finished, all roads lead to the Coventry. He has won both starts so I don’t think we need to run again before.” Godolphin’s Barney Roy was beaten but unbowed on his comeback from an aborted career at stud, doing enough as he finished runner-up over a mile to Zaaki in the Listed Paradise Stakes, giving connections hope he can return to his Group One winning ways later in the season. “We’re delighted to get him back on track but William Buick just thought he travelled a bit too well into it,” said trainer Charlie Appleby, saddling the 2017 St James’s Palace Stakes winner for the first time. “Take nothing away from the winner, but we’ve learned something about our horse, and William said he’d be quite happy to stick at a mile. Whether we run again before Royal Ascot we’ll see, but on the back of that, I don’t think he’d look out of place in a Queen Anne.”
Zaaki, gelded since last season, looks the archetypal improver from the Sir Michael Stoute yard and will have more to offer having now had a run, according to his trainer. “I took a chance running him,” said Stoute, who had feared the race had come too soon. “He had some good form last season but it just tapered off towards the backend. We’ve cut him and he’s bounced back, which is very pleasing, and I think he’s versatile trip wise.” Victory completed another good day at Ascot for Frankie Dettori after earlier wins on Calyx and Muchly, the latter in a 3yo fillies’ conditions race.