Frankie Looking For a Flying Start

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Frankie Dettori | Francesca Altoft

   Frankie Dettori left it late to win his second consecutive jockey's title at Royal Ascot in 2020, so this time he will be looking for an instant boost via Palace Pier (GB) (Kingman {GB}) in the opening G1 Queen Anne S. on Tuesday. If form is any guide, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum's 'TDN Rising Star' can be fully expected to hand the Italian a 74th winner at the meeting, having been his 73rd on the Saturday of the last renewal when causing a minor surprise in the G1 St James's Palace S. Since that breakthrough success, the John and Thady Gosden-trained bay has enjoyed an almost fault-free run garnering the G1 Prix Jacques le Marois and the G1 Lockinge S. at Newbury May 15, with his sole reversal when third in the G1 Queen Elizabeth II S. due to a combination of deep ground and a lost fore shoe. At this juncture, he is one of those priceless commodities to kick off the Royal meeting; an already-high-class miler probably still only nearing his prime dominating his division. It was in this race in 1990 that Frankie first signalled his arrival on the main stage with Markofdistinction (GB) and there is an argument that the 31-year-older version is as good as any of his profession in recent memory.

“I'm no different to an actor going on stage at the theatre,” he said. “Everybody knows that I'm quite lucky at Ascot. The crowd gets behind me and I love it. I need the crowd, I need the atmosphere. I can smell it, I can breathe it, I can taste it. It's part of me, I'm sorry! I'm addicted to it. You need at least six to win the title, but they're hard to win. Last year, I had three winners going into Saturday. I had a couple of chances but then Campanelle goes in, the filly Alpine Star wins and I had Palace Pier. When that won, great, leading rider again. The one that means the most is the first one. Now that I'm 50, I'm looking back to what I was like. It was sheer excitement. It means everything.”

Aidan O'Brien's day one representation is not as strong as it can be, with no favourites among the six colts he sends to the fixture he has excelled at since his opening salvo in the 1997 G3 Coventry S. It is in that race, long since upgraded to Group 2 status, that he may have his best chance of an opening day winner in The Acropolis (Ire) by Coolmore's first-season sire Churchill  (Ire). A son of the 2012 G2 Queen Mary S. third Hairy Rocket (GB) (Pivotal {GB}), the impressive-looking bay made giant strides from his debut fourth at The Curragh May 22 to his authoritative win at Listowel June 6 and it is noteworthy that he goes it alone from a stable that has done better than normal with its early 2-year-old runners. Drawn alongside the first Wesley Ward runner of the 2021 meeting in Gregory Kaufman's Kaufymaker (Jimmy Creed), he will have to be sharper still to stay within hailing distance of the impressive Apr. 15 Keeneland maiden special weight scorer who has ground to suit.

Ryan Moore is keen on The Acropolis and said, “He had been going well at home before making his debut at The Curragh last month, but the ground was very bad that day and that was no reflection of his true ability. We got a better look at what a promising horse he was when winning impressively at Listowel last week and this son of Churchill and a Queen Mary third promises to be even better on this quicker ground still. He clearly steps up markedly in grade, but he is a horse we like. He is classy and should go well, albeit this is a big field made up of similarly unexposed juveniles.”

Also in the Coventry, Al Shaqab Racing's impressive Listed National S. scorer Ebro River (Ire) bids to give his promising first-season sire Galileo Gold (GB) an early highlight. Also under the care of the Tally Ho Stud's resident's past trainer Hugo Palmer, the chestnut was a commanding presence when scoring by 3 1/4 lengths in that five-furlong Sandown contest May 27 and has a vital experience edge. “He seems to be growing up all the time,” Palmer told the Independent. “We're very excited to run him.”

In opposition is Michael Kerr-Dineen and Martin Hughes's 'TDN Rising Star' Gisburn (Ire) by another first-season sire in Kildangan Stud's Ribchester (Ire). He impressed by 6 1/2 lengths over this trip at Newbury May 14 and trainer Richard Hannon has his sights on a first win in this prestigious affair his father won on three occasions. “It is a race where you find out exactly where you are. You hope that you have got a good horse, but this will tell us,” he said. “I hope we do, he certainly looked like one, but the Coventry will tell us.”

In the G1 King's Stand S., Shadwell's Battaash (Ire) (Dark Angel {Ire}) is a welcome sight following his well-documented setback and it remains the case that the only sprinter to have mastered him in three renewals of this five-furlong dash is Blue Point (Ire) (Shamardal). Making it third time lucky 12 months ago in the absence of that Godolphin luminary, the star of Charlie Hills's establishment may only need to repeat that performance to add a fifth top-level contest to his tally. “He came in a couple of weeks later than usual this year, so we were never going to fit in a prep run but I couldn't be happier with him,” his trainer commented. “They found a tiny hairline fracture in a sesamoid when he had his usual MOT at the end of last year, but that was attended to in December. They've done a great job with him at Shadwell over the winter and spring was so awful that coming back later has probably helped him. We've taken our time and he hasn't missed a beat.”

While Battaash was vulnerable to the strong closer Blue Point, he has pace pressure this time from a new challenger in King Power Racing's exciting 3-year-old filly Winter Power (Ire) (Bungle Inthejungle {GB}). While her emphatic success in Newmarket's G3 Cornwallis S. in October was a step forward on some largely unconvincing juvenile form, it was the manner of her trail-blazing display on her return in the Listed Westow S. over this trip at York May 13 that suggested this was a realistic target. Trainer Tim Easterby knows what it takes to win one of these major sprints and compared his latest stable star with the likes of Pipalong (Ire) (Pips Pride {GB}) after her three-length defeat of the subsequent Listed Scurry S. winner Atalis Bay (GB) (Cable Bay {Ire}). “She's in good form. She has a good draw and will handle the track, so she should run well,” Easterby said.

As with most of the major 3-year-old races run so far this term, the G1 St James's Palace S. is wide-open with very little separating the Classic class and the up-and-comers. One who fits into the latter category is Shadwell's Mostahdaf (Ire) (Frankel {GB}), a half-brother to Nazeef (GB) (Invincible Spirit {Ire}) who made such rapid strides last season beginning with a win in the G2 Duke of Cambridge S. at this meeting. If the current Gosden trainee is in the same mould as his year-older sibling, he can be expected to be in the mix given the innate promise of the third of his three straight wins in the Listed Heron S. Getting three pounds from Godolphin's Apr. 13 Listed Feilden S. winner Highland Avenue (Ire) (Dubawi {Ire}) in that mile Sandown contest May 20, he had half a length to spare at the line with Bullace (GB) (Toronado {Ire}) the same margin behind in third.

John Gosden said of Mostahdaf, “Our fellow has come the slow route–it wasn't his fault he couldn't run last year because he had a hiccup. This year he won twice on the all-weather and then the Heron. You could argue, and William Buick felt, that Highland Avenue was on the slower part of the track at Sandown near the rail, while we were more middle to left on the better ground. Having said that, our horse ran a great race and I think the St James's Palace is quite an open affair. I think our fellow will be fine on the ground–he's a lovely horse and we've taken this route before with Without Parole and with King of Comedy who just missed. Palace Pier came from an unobvious direction, too.”

Charlie Appleby has some talented 3-year-old colts in his stable this year and this has long been the target for Highland Avenue, while he also saddles 'TDN Rising Star' La Barrosa (Ire) (Lope de Vega {Ire}). Sixth on testing ground in the G1 Irish 2000 Guineas at The Curragh May 22, last year's G3 Tattersalls S. winner is back on a similar surface to when 3/4-of-a-length second to Master of the Seas (Ire) (Dubawi {Ire}) in the G3 Craven S. at Newmarket Apr. 15. “We have been pleased with Highland Avenue going into this race. The wide draw is a slight disadvantage on the round course at Ascot, but his homework has gone well,” their trainer said. “He learned plenty at Sandown and came forward again for that run, while ground conditions will suit him better this time. We are hoping that he can be a big player as he steps up to the big league. La Barrosa travelled well in the Irish 2000 Guineas but couldn't pick up on the ground. Returning to a faster surface is definitely going to suit and, if he can reproduce his second in the Craven S., it will make him a contender.”

As usual, the form of the May 1 G1 2000 Guineas is key here, with colts whose fortunes diverged in that Newmarket Classic all coming together again. Zhang Yuesheng's G1 Phoenix S. winner Lucky Vega (Ire) (Lope de Vega {Ire}) was not far off glory when a short head and a neck behind Poetic Flare (Ire) (Dawn Approach {Ire}) and Master of the Seas on that occasion and is another who can be forgiven a subsequent dip when fourth in the Irish Guineas on its vastly contrasting ground. Michael Pescod's Apr. 18 G3 Greenham S. winner Chindit (Ire) (Wootton Bassett {GB}) was fifth at Newmarket with no obvious excuses, while the Ballydoyle duo Wembley (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) and Battleground (War Front) were 11th and 13th respectively with only Joseph O'Brien's G1 Vincent O'Brien National S.-winning 'TDN Rising Star' Thunder Moon (Ire) (Zoffany {Ire}) behind.

Ryan Moore is expecting the Rosegreen duo to bounce back here. “Both of our colts are on recovery missions, but it would be unwise to give up on both, I feel,” he commented. “Quite why Battleground didn't run his race at Newmarket we don't know and he was pulled out of the Irish 2000 Guineas due to the worsening ground afterwards, but this is a colt I really rated last season in winning the Chesham at this meeting, the Vintage S. at Goodwood, and then finishing second at the Breeders' Cup. The form horses from the Guineas are the ones to beat here, but if my colt returns to his juvenile form then he clearly has a big run in him. Similar comments apply to Wembley, who just didn't handle conditions at the Curragh last time. His Dewhurst second to Sir Mark's Basilica speaks for itself, and hopefully the first-time tongue-ties for them both prove to be a positive. This looks a very deep St James' Palace though, albeit one lacking a clear stand-out, with the form horses from the Guineas closely matched.”

Ryan Moore also gets the chance to partner the shock GI Breeders' Cup Mile hero Order of Australia (Ire) (Australia {GB}) for the first time in the Queen Anne and said, “We all know that Palace Pier is the one to beat if he brings his A-game to the table and he will be very difficult to beat at that. Maybe the expected fast ground gives us all a window of hope, though probably not, as he won on it earlier in his career and his third in the QEII here last October proves he can have the odd off-day. Order of Australia caused a shock when beating his stablemates Circus Maximus and Lope Y Fernandez in Keeneland and clearly has a solid place chance on that firm-ground win, which was a significant improvement on his earlier form. His improvement since stepping down from a mile and a half was quite something and he wasn't disgraced when sixth in the Hong Kong Mile afterwards in December, too.”

In Wednesday's G1 Prince of Wales's S., Love (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) and Lord North (Ire) (Dubawi {Ire}) are set for their clash as the G1 Champion S. hero Addeybb (Ire) (Pivotal {GB}) was withdrawn by William Haggas. He explained to the Racing Post on Monday, “We've minded him so far in his career and are not going to run him on good-to-firm now at his age. It's going to rain at some time and it's just unfortunate. The next logical place is the [July 3 G1] Eclipse.”

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