The five-day Royal Ascot meeting begins on Tuesday. Berkshire, where Ascot racecourse is located, is going through a dry spell. No rain has been forecast until late Sunday. A decision has been taken to water the course on Saturday. Chris Stickels, Clerk of the Course, confirmed the move. “We will have four millimeters on the round course and eight millimeters on the straight course. We expect the course to be good to soft on opening day on Tuesday.”
Kenny McPeek, a trainer from America, is in England with three horses. McPeek-trained Noble’s Promise will take his chances in Tuesday’s St James’s Palace Stakes in which Canford Cliffs, hero of the Irish 2000 Guineas, is the clear first choice. Noble’s Promise ran with lasix, an anti-bleeding medication, in the Kentucky Derby and finished fifth. Freshmen Tiz My Time and Casper’s Touch, the other two McPeek pupils, will run in races for two year-olds.
Talking about lasix, trainer McPeek has made a comment that has attracted a great deal of comment. “I have no problem running without lasix. I strongly believe that all Graded (in the US) races must be contested by horses who are drug free.”
Another Royal Ascot item of interest is the odds board for leading jockey at the meeting. John Murtagh won the title in 2008 and 2009. The Irish riding ace is a 4-1 chance this year. Richard Hughes dead- heated with four wins with John Murtagh last year but lost out on placed rides. Hughes is the joint favorite at 9-4 with the incomparable Ryan Moore. The double-Classic winning Moore is yet to win the coveted Royal Ascot riding title. Hughes and Moore have several mounts that figure prominently in the market. Frankie Dettori is a generous 12-1.
Here is news from Sandown Park worth reporting. In the third race in Friday’s (afternoon) Sandown card, a 1400-metre event for maidens, Frankie Dettori was on the lead with Toolain with a furlong to go and the maiden moved swiftly to the left. It was so sudden that savvy Dettori, lost his posture and fell. The race was won by Ecliptic, the 5-4 favorite and a Godolphin runner, trained by Mahmood Al Zarooni. Dettori was not hurt and that was great news considering that Royal Ascot is three days away.
Dettori spoke. “I am fine. My horse ran green but he is not nasty. I took it up plenty early enough. The horse saw the big screen, he jinked twice and I fell off.”
Another item from Britain that should be of interest is the banning of a horse owner on a breach of wagering rules. Harry Findlay, who jointly owns Denman, winner of the 2008 Cheltenham Gold Cup, was warned off for six months. The sentence began on Friday. Mr Findlay is not to enter a racecourse. The British Horseracing Authority’s disciplinary panel held that Findlay, on two occasions, laid Gullible Gordon, a horse in whom he had an ownership interest, to lose. The panel emphasized the fact that there was no corrupt motive but a technical violation. Betfair, the betting outfit where the bets were laid, reacted by saying that the punishment was disproportionate.
Mr Findlay made a statement. “I am not going to shout and scream at anyone. I’m a heartbroken man. I have admitted my guilt and I could not have been more expressive about it. I am appealing. Win or lose, I will never own horses in Britain again.”
We will now move to France. Chantilly, on Sunday, hosts the Prix de Diane (French Oaks) and nine sophomore fillies will answer the starter’s call. The race is over one mile two furlongs and 110 yards on the grass. Aga Khan will be represented by three runners. They are all trained by Alain de Royer-Dupre. Rosanara, winner over the Arc weekend last year, and Sarafina , in sparkling form at the moment, are favored in the betting. Deluxe carries Khalid Abdullah’s hopes. Jean Claude-Roget, who won the 2009 edition with Stacelita, will send Zagora postward. Chantilly is right handed and is 45 minutes away by train from Gare du Nord, the main train station in Paris where the Eurostar arrives from and departs to London. The winner of the Prix de Diane will get 404,531 British pounds.
Paris was warm on Friday. The going was soft and is likely to dry out. A shower is forecast before Sunday. The going, it is believed, will be good to soft on Oaks day.
Here is a paragraph on a high profile race in South Africa. In Durban on Saturday, at Clairwood, the Grade I (turf) Rising Sun Gold Challenge will be run. It is a 1600-metre race on the grass for horses three year-olds and up. Pocket Power, winner of the race last year, seeks an encore and is the even money favorite. Mother Russia, the 4-1 second favorite, comes from Mike de Kock’s yard.
It has been confirmed that Churchill Downs will host the 2011 Breeders’ Cup races. Santa Anita hosted the 2008 and 2009 BC and Churchill will now run the 2010 and 2011 championship races. Churchill became a compelling choice after problems at Santa Anita and Belmont (New York) narrowed the field.
Churchill Downs was picked for another reason. Steve Bershear, Governor of Kentucky, signed a bill this year rescinding tax breaks for the 2010 BC races if the BC was not held at a Kentucky track in either 2011 or 2012. It is nice to have a Governor who uses his pen to sign ‘racing-friendly’ bills.
Four races of some significance will be held in America this weekend. On Saturday, Churchill will have the Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap. It is over one mile one furlong on the dirt course. Eleven will run. Blame, Garrett Gomez, comes off an impressive win in Pimlico’s William Donald Schaeffer Stakes ( G III) two Saturdays ago. The Albert Stall Jr trainee is likely to be the post time choice. The Stephen Foster is a race that the connections of Rachel Alexandra considered and rejected.
The Eclipse award-winning Rachel Alexandra, from Steve Asmussen’s barn, will now take on four adversaries in the 1800-metre (dirt) Fleur de Lis stakes that carries a $200,000 purse in the Stephen Foster undercard. Calvin Borel will ride. Rachel Alexandra has suffered two defeats this year and will be trying to halt the negative trend.
Jess Jackson, majority owner of Rachel Alexandra, explained. “As long as she continues to progress, we intend to race her with the expectation that she’ll obtain her fitness level of last year. Our ultimate goal and hope is to enter the Breeders’ Cup in November.”
Belmont Park’s Saturday feature is the Ogden Phipps Stakes, a 1700-metre Grade I race on the main track. Unrivaled Belle, who beat Rachel Alexandra on Oaks day at Churchill in the La Troieene, heads the five horse field and will be seeking her first Grade I win. She is being opposed by Funny Moon who has shown a special affinity for Belmont Park by winning two stakes races in the New York venue. Life At Ten has a string of victories under her belt and has more on her plate.
Zenyatta will go for her 17th consecutive win on Sunday. She will have five distaffers to contend with in Hollywood Park’s $250,000 Grade I Vanity Handicap. It is over 1800 metres on Hollywood’s cushion track and the John Shireffs-trained mare will be attempting to win the Vanity Handicap for the third successive year. Zenyatta will be carrying 129 pounds and if she wins the Vanity, she will break the record (16 wins) set by Cigar, Citation and Mister Frisky.
There will be no show betting in the Vanity. Hollywood Park fears that there will be a minus pool. By law, tracks are mandated to return five cents on every dollar bet. On a two-dollar show bet, (horse finishing 1-2-3) a fan will be able to collect $2.10.
I took a look at Mr Fin Powrie’s web site. It is a treasure house of information. He covers a wide range of subjects. I loved the joke about the gambling farmer and the bookmaker.
Any reaction, be it favorable or otherwise, take a moment to tell me.