JAPAN should bid his rivals “sayonara” in the Group 1 Prince Of Wales’s Stakes (3.00) at Royal Ascot today.
Although beaten half a length and a nose behind stablemate Anthony Van Dyck in the Derby at Epsom last June, the Aidan O’Brien colt made great strides in the second half of the summer.
Having routed his opponents in the King Edward VII Stakes here 12 months ago, Japan stepped up to the top level to lift the Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamp and York’s Juddmonte International.
The Knavesmire triumph proved that Ryan Moore’s mount can show his best at this afternoon’s mile-and-a-quarter distance, and Japan should prove a class apart.
1 ZHUI FENG
3 ALTERNATIVE FACT
ZHUI FENG, who won the real thing three years ago, is well treated for the Hunt Cup consolation.
The seven-year-old hasn’t exactly been a frequent winner since his success here in 2017 – Amanda Perrett’s stable stalwart has hit the target just once in the interim.
Zhui Feng has work to do with the fancied Ouzo on their running – they returned second and fourth – behind Bell Rock at Newmarket 10 days ago.
But my selection is four times the price of the favourite, is proven on the track, and is refitted with cheekpieces – last employed for a narrow defeat at Goodwood in August, when Zhui Feng was competing from a British Horseracing Authority rating 4lb higher than today.
The shortlist is, not surprisingly, very long – with return-to-action scorers Maydanny and Presidential of interest, along with Alternative Fact, who didn’t get the breaks at Haydock Park on his comeback .
1 RUSSIAN EMPEROR
2 FIRST RECEIVER
RUSSIAN EMPEROR is taken to make amends for a near-miss at this level eight days ago.
A promising third to stablemate Iberia at the Curragh in July on his sole outing as a two-year-old, the Aidan O’Brien-trained son of Galileo scored by a short head at Naas in March on the first day of the Irish turf campaign.
Russian Emperor was then sent off the 11-8 favourite for the Group 3 Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial – in which Ballydoyle fielded three of the five runners – at Leopardstown last Tuesday.
Cormorant, at 12-1 the least fancied of the trio, came out on top, with Russian Emperor beaten half a length in second and Iberia third.
But Padraig Beggy had things to himself at the head of affairs on the first-time-blinkered winner, and, with stable-companion New World Tapestry in the line-up, Russian Emperor and Ryan Moore should have a stronger pace to aim at here.
First Receiver deserves a crack at this level after his wide-margin success at Kempton Park last time.
The Queen’s runner has more to offer – a comment that applies to Mascat – while Juan Elcano boasts the best form, courtesy of his fifth in the 2,000 Guineas.
1 WIN O’CLOCK
WIN O’CLOCK has the profile to give Hollie Doyle a landmark Royal Ascot victory.
The three-year-old son of Australia marked his racecourse debut with a fourth at Kempton Park in December, achieving the same placing at Chelmsford City four weeks later.
The handicapper gave the Roger Charlton trainee a rating of 75 after his third back in Sunbury at the end of January, and Win O’Clock proved well ahead of that assessment when moving up from a mile to 10 furlongs at Haydock Park nine days ago.
Sent off at 4-1 in a field of 10, my selection travelled with comfort before settling matters by two and a quarter lengths from Aquilieo.
A 4lb penalty for that win means Win O’Clock is 5lb well in and, with further progress to come over a mile and a half, Doyle’s mount can follow up.
Kipps, who narrowly missed out at Haydock the previous afternoon, Convict, who signed off for 2019 with a handsome score at Newmarket in October, and last season’s Listed second Wyclif are all capable of playing a supporting role.
JAPAN looks a worthy favourite to capture the third Group 1 prize of his career.
The four-year-old son of Galileo was slow to come to hand for Aidan O’Brien in his Classic year – he finished fourth in the Dante Stakes at York before a close third to stablemate Anthony Van Dyck in the Derby at Epsom.
But Japan would go on to prove himself the best middle-distance three-year-old colt in Britain and Ireland, running away with the Group 2 King Edward VII Stakes from Bangkok here last June before a half-length call in the top-level Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamp the following month.
Ryan Moore’s mount stepped back to this afternoon’s 10-furlong trip to edge out favourite Crystal Ocean in the Group 1 Juddmonte International at York in August, and wasn’t discredited when fourth to Waldgeist in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp on his final start.
Japan is expected to make a winning return, with Headman, Barney Roy and Addeybb the most convincing candidates for the minor medals.
1 BELL ROCK
3 DARK VISION
BELL ROCK gets the vote to defend his unbeaten record in handicaps.
Successful in a seven-furlong novice event at Newmarket on his only start as a juvenile, the Andrew Balding-trained son of Kingman faced some stiff tasks at three last year.
Sixth to King Of Comedy in the Listed Heron Stakes at Sandown Park in May, Bell Rock beat just one home behind Circus Maximus in the top-level St James’s Palace Stakes here 12 months ago, before a last-of-six finish in the Listed Sir Henry Cecil Stakes at Newmarket’s July meeting.
But, starting out in handicaps off a mark of 98 at Newmarket 10 days ago, Oisin Murphy’s mount finished strongly to beat Ouzo by a neck.
There is more to come from an improver 1lb well in under a 5lb penalty and this strongly run mile should suit Bell Rock down to the ground.
Dangers lurk at every turn, with Montatham, Qaysar, Dark Vision and Kynren feared most of all.
1 SUNSHINE CITY
2 CHIEF LITTLE HAWK
3 GET IT
SUNSHINE CITY represents a stable with an impressive record in Royal Ascot’s two-year-old races.
Since Strike The Tiger won this race at 33-1 in 2009, Kentucky-based Wesley Ward has found the Royal heath a fertile hunting ground, with a further nine victories – including six for juveniles.
Sunshine City was expected to make a winning debut at Gulfstream Park at the end of April – she started the even-money favourite in a field of eight – and didn’t disappoint, coming with a strong run to score by a length and a half.
Ward puts the blinkers on Frankie Dettori’s mount here, and, with any amount of progress forthcoming on her second start, Sunshine City makes plenty of appeal as she bids to beat the colts.
Get It and Tactical recorded a good time when podium finishers behind leading Norfolk Stakes fancy Eye Of Heaven at Newmarket and have to enter calculations, while Chief Little Hawk won with authority at Navan and also warrants respect.
1 RANCH HAND
2 FUJAIRA PRINCE
3 EDDYSTONE ROCK
RANCH HAND was an expensive failure in the Cesarewitch when last seen – but shouldn’t be written off.
Punters made Andrew Balding’s son of Dunaden the 11-2 market leader to carry the Mill Reef silks to victory in the second leg of the ‘Autumn Double’ at Newmarket last October – but Ranch Hand ran well below expectations to finish 15th behind Stratum.
Prior to that disappointment, the four-year-old had a progressive profile, marking his handicap debut with a fluent two-length margin over this trip at Haydock Park in September.
David Probert’s partner is 5lb higher in the weights, but has had just six career outings – of which four have been on turf – so is a long way from reaching the bottom of the barrel.
Collide picked up where he had left off – with a win – at Chelmsford City – eight days ago and poses a threat under a 5lb penalty, while Fujaira Prince and, at bigger odds, Eddystone Rock are others to throw into the mix.
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