'Everyone Stops to Watch Royal Ascot': Internationals Muster for Britain's Big Week

Cheval de Guerre and Kelly Wheeler | Emma Berry


NEWMARKET, UK — Even the larks were still wiping the sleep from their eyes when Kitty Rose (GB) was put through her paces on Thursday morning. The Listed-winning daughter of Invincible Army (Ire) was bred in Britain and has raced in Ireland but will be flying the flag for Australia at Royal Ascot next week having recently joined the stable of Mick Price and Michael Kent Jr.

The co-trainers' representative Ben Elam is currently overseeing the filly's preparation in Newmarket, where Kitty Rose arrived a week ago from her original training base with Natalia Lupini. It turns out that you can take the boy out of Australia but you can't take Australian ways out of the boy, and Elam was out super early with the three-year-old on Newmarket Heath, ahead of most of the town's thousands of equine residents and his fellow visiting internationals.

Over the years, Newmarket has played host to plenty of superstars from foreign lands. Hacks as old as this one still count their blessings that, in one memorable morning, they were able to see two greats from opposing hemispheres – Black Caviar (Aus) and Frankel (GB) – out exercising on the same expanse of turf within moments of each other. 

Nobody yet knows who will be the stars of this year's show, which Elam refers to as “the pinnacle of racing around the world”. In these parts, we like to think that's true, while acknowledging that the world of racing is ever evolving, with new, hugely valuable races springing up with frequency. But Royal Ascot, with its centuries-long history plus plenty of pomp and circumstance, still has the rizz with which to pull in contenders from far and wide. 

Kitty Rose heads to the Sandringham H. on Friday. Later in the year, her connections are eyeing The Golden Eagle, which was run for the first time just five years ago for A$7.5m. This year that purse is up to A$10m. Few could argue with that as an incentive, but racing is also about fun and, let's face it, what's more fun than flying halfway round the world to take part in one of the most recognised sporting events while wearing a silly hat and later toppling over at a car park picnic after a little too much fizz? Not much, right?

“She has lofty goals back in Australia,” Elam admits. “This is more an experience for our owners though. Royal Ascot is the biggest race meeting in the world – not just the spectacle that it is but the racing is incredible. All our owners will be coming out, there's a big entourage of them.”


Kitty Rose and Ben Elam | Emma Berry


In the next few days, Elam will be joined by Michael Kent Jr who is currently on his honeymoon. Both men are returning to the UK after stints working respectively for Andrew Balding and William Haggas, while Elam also did six months on the bloodstock scene in Europe with Johnny McKeever and Arthur Hoyeau. The latter was instrumental in the deal to secure Kitty Rose.

“We did a deal that saw clients of ours take ownership of the horse before the season started,” Elam explains. “First time out she was beaten not far by [subsequent Irish 1,000 Guineas runner-up] A Lilac Rolla, who is a good filly.

“She's an utter professional and a straightforward filly. She's very relaxed which will stand her in good stead not only for Royal Ascot, which is a massive occasion, but also for the travel out to Australia and to compete out there. It's good for her to have that exposure at Royal Ascot because she's going to be facing big crowds when she goes to The Golden Eagle – that's her target for the end of the year.”

He adds, “Royal Ascot is the pinnacle of racing around the world. Everyone stops to watch Royal Ascot, and for us to be afforded the opportunity to have a runner in our name, for Mick and Michael, it's not something that a lot of people have done, but of course we don't shy away from giving Natalia and her team the credit for preparing the horse because they've done a terrific job. We're very proud that she is going to run under our name at Royal Ascot.”

Just along the row from where Kitty Rose is stabled at the yard of Charlie Fellowes is a new arrival, the two-year-old American colt Cheval de Guerre. A son of Caravaggio, who won both the G2 Coventry S. and G1 Commonwealth Cup on his Royal Ascot appearances, Cheval de Guerre was a recent acquisition by John Stewart of Resolute Racing, who will be represented by three runners at Ascot through his partnership with Qatar Racing. The other two, both based in Britain, are the Richard Hughes-trained Palace Green (GB) (Sea The Moon {Ger}) and Listed Surrey S. winner Evade (Fr) (Wootton Bassett {GB}), trained by Archie Watson.

Cheval de Guerre, a tall, strong colt, wandered about his new temporary home as if he'd lived there all his life. He appeared totally relaxed as he went for a walk and a trot with Kelly Wheeler and, with just the one race under his belt for Eddie Kenneally, his good temperament will be a plus if he can remain as composed next week at Ascot. 

Similar comments apply to Gabaldon (Gone Astray), another grey juvenile heading for the Windsor Castle S. He is stabled just across town at the National Stud and had a steady canter on the Cambridge Road Polytrack under Jesus Mangual. A winner over five furlongs at Gulfstream Park on his sole start, he is a first Royal Ascot runner for trainer Jose Francisco d'Angelo.


Asfoora and her lead pony Angus | Emma Berry


Oisin Murphy appears to be the go-to jockey for the incoming horses. He will be aboard both Kitty Rose and Cheval de Guerre, and he will also get the leg-up on the five-year-old mare Asfoora (Aus) (Flying Artie {Aus}), whom he rode in a gallop on Tuesday morning. Australian runners have won seven races at Royal Ascot over the years and five of those wins have come in the recently renamed opening-day sprint, the G1 King Charles III S., which is her target.  

Twice a Group 2 winner in her home country, Asfoora, trained at Ballarat by Henry Dwyer, was also second to Imperatriz (Aus) in the G1 Moir S. last September. She was an early arrival in England, landing back in April, and warmed up for Ascot by running fourth in the G2 Temple S. on May 25.

“We came over earlier than normal because we tried to avoid the changing of the seasons – in Australia we are going into winter and you are coming out here. If she had stayed any longer in Australia, she would have started growing a winter coat. It has given her a chance to season and settle in,” explains Dwyer as he waits for Asfoora to canter by.  

“We had the initial idea 14 or 16 months ago when she won a couple of 1,000m races at Caulfield. We just knew our options in Australia were limited because we have very few five or five-and-a-half-furlong sprints. All our good sprints are six furlongs and she just doesn't get that. She is a dyed-in-the-wool five-furlong horse. There is a good series of races over here.”

After Ascot, Asfoora's owner-breeders, Noor Elaine Farm, are eyeing potential runs at Goodwood, York, the Curragh and Longchamp through the remainder of her stay.

“What's the saying, if you are going to be a bear, you might as well be a grizzly bear! We thought we would come over and give it a good shot. She would just be sitting in a paddock in Australia,” says the sporting trainer. 

“In her right conditions, I think she can win a Group 1. I think at her peak, which she will be at Ascot and beyond, she is well and truly up to it. I think Ascot will be a challenge for her but she will run really well. A stiff five furlongs probably doesn't suit her, whereas when we go to Goodwood and York, down the hill and on the flat, that is when she will really come into her own. I would love to see her run in the top three or four at Ascot. If she can do that, she will be really well placed for her next two runs.”

Dwyer is a tad more laidback than his mare, who was a little on her toes on Thursday morning but had Jamie Lloyd's lovely dun pony Angus for company. The trainer, who is looking forward to saddling his first runner at the royal meeting, adds, “A win would be amazing but, on a professional level, just running competitively is a win for us. We feel we have got her to her peak – that might not be good enough but if it is it will be a huge thing for us. About 40 friends and owners are coming over for the week. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me. When you have 40 horses, it is tough to find these horses good enough to compete internationally.”




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