by Martin Kelly
A break-through victory for Japan at Royal Ascot looks a distinct possibility and their A Shin Hikari is undoubtedly the most exciting international raider set to grace The Queen’s racecourse at this year’s meeting.
While the global search for talent to come and mix it with the best British, Irish and European runners may not have yielded the same plentiful results as in previous years, Japan and America are poised to unleash potent challenges.
Ascot’s equine recruiter Nick Smith has once again travelled the world over the last 12 months taking in visits to Dubai, South America, Australia, Japan, Hong Kong and America.
Unfortunately a current superstar will not represent the Australian sprinting division, but this was only due to the 11th hour climb-down from connections of the massively exciting Chautauqua.
They had been considering a Royal outing for the five-year-old, who has been utterly dominant in his homeland winning the Manikato, Lightning and TJ Smith in recent starts.
He then shipped to Hong Kong and showed blistering speed to navigate the field and land the Chairman’s Sprint – only for connections to scratch a British exploration the following morning ‘in the best interests of the horse’.
A move which is baffling on many levels, most notably the fact he would have been chasing a £1million Global Sprint Challenge bonus if successful having won in Australia, Hong Kong and the UK.
The Australian sprinting ranks will have a representative with Godolphin shipping over the John O’Shea-trained Holler for the Diamond Jubilee Stakes. The three-year-old gets the six-furlong trip well and is a Group One winner having landed the Canterbury Stakes in March.
But let’s shed no tears for Chautauqua’s absence as there is so much to look forward to and the biggest presence of the week – Her Majesty apart! – will be A Shin Hikari in Wednesday’s Prince Of Wales’s Stakes.
Trained by Masanori Sakaguchi, the five-year-old was progressive in his homeland throughout 2015 before announcing himself on the world stage with a bold, front-running 25/1 win over his countryman Nuovo Record in the Hong Kong Cup last December.
His starting price may have suggested the win was not expected, but the manner of his victory and the fractions he set give it a great deal of substance.
Even so, it was of little surprise that many were still unsure of his credentials when he lined up in France on May 24 for the Prix d’Ispahan. Starting at around 7/1 and racing on the deepest ground he has ever encountered, Yutaka Take’s mount thrived in the Chantilly air and pulverised the field by upwards of 10 lengths.
Any Group 1 won by that margin is astonishing, but the result is given further credence by the fact he had the Prix Ganay winner Dariyan back in second, with the favourite and last year’s Arc third New Bay well held in sixth, albeit on his seasonal return.
Japan’s stock on the global stage has risen in recent years thanks to winners on Dubai World Cup night, Delta Blue’s 2006 Melbourne Cup win and near misses in the Arc with Orfevre twice runner-up (2012 and 2013) and A Shin Hikari’s sire Deep Impact’s subsequently disqualified third-place finish in 2006.
Spielberg managed only sixth for Japan in last year’s Prince Of Wales’s and the country came closest to a win with Agnes World’s silver medal finish in the 2000 renewal of the King’s Stand.
With A Shin Hikari trading as the general 2/1 favourite for the highlight on the second day, expectations are high that he can prove the international highlight and give Japan a first Royal winner.
The first strike for the visitors may come in the opening race on day one with America’s Tepin favourite for the Queen Anne Stakes. Her participation had been in doubt at the end of May due to the fact she races on Lasix and in a nasal strip at home to counteract bleeding and breathing issues.
Both aids are banned under UK jurisdiction and trainer Mark Casse had thrown her transatlantic trip into doubt, but she is thankfully set to make the journey.
With last year’s winner Solow on the sidelines through injury, the mile event is there for the taking and Tepin trades as the 4/1 favourite as she chases her seventh win on the bounce.
That winning sequence includes last year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile, although it is worth pointing out runner-up Mondialiste may have given her something to think about with a clear run through the field.
Her last two wins have come at odds-on against inferior opposition, and while the Queen Anne is lacking a star, she may be vulnerable on her first outing outside America, on a straight mile with no anti-bleeding and breathing apparatus help to assist.
The Queen Anne proved a graveyard for America’s Belmont Stakes and Dubai World Cup winner Animal Kingdom when he tried his hand finishing 11th of 13 runners three years ago. But that hasn’t deterred his trainer Graham Motion – Cambridge-born but Lewisville-based – returning with Miss Temple City.
The four-year-old filly was a 50/1 fourth last summer to Ervedya, Found and Lucida in the Coronation Stakes and she heads back to these shores for the Duke Of Cambridge Stakes. She warmed up for her trip with a win at Keeneland in the Maker’s 46 Mile in April and 12/1 ante-post odds can be got.
The biggest numerical foreign challenge will come from Wesley Ward who will ship seven horses from the States, in addition to Create A Dream who is already in the UK and won on her only start over five furlongs at Ascot.
Ward is of course famed for being the first American to train a Royal Ascot winner and has sent out Strike The Tiger, Jealous Again, No Nay Never, Hootenanny, Acapulco and Undrafted to score.
The latter pair are back again with Undrafted set to defend his crown in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes after winning the Shakertown Stakes as his lead-in race – an event he was beaten in 12 months ago. He is 10/1 to repeat the trick and is a 12/1 chance for the King’s Stand Stakes.
Acapulco towered above her rivals last year and had the appearance of one in advance of her two years as she thundered clear under Ryan Moore in the Queen Mary, before only finding soft-ground loving Mecca’s Angle too strong in the Nunthorpe.
The daughter of Scat Daddy has had a couple of races back this year and looked as good as ever on her latest outing when blitzing the field at Churchill Downs. Her exact target has yet to be announced but such is her talent that she is favourite for both the Commonwealth Cup and the King’s Stand.
Ward is famed for his precocious, big, fast and talented two-year-olds and he will have six based at historic Manton to call on over the week. Names to watch out for are Big City Dreamin, Star Empire and Red Lodge, but the two I am most looking forward to are Silvertoni and Lady Aurelia.
Silvertoni – a grey filly by Tapit - is well regarded in her homeland and has the Queen Mary Stakes or Albany Stakes as her target after her most recent triumph in the Kentucky Juvenile, with Ward saying she is better the further she runs.
Lady Aurelia won as an odds-on favourite on her only start, showing that distinctive Ward speed from the gates to grab the lead and slaughter the field by nearly eight lengths in a track-record time.
The fact that race was over four and a half furlongs would suggest the Queen Mary will be her race, with Silvertoni heading for the Albany, and they look major players wherever they pitch up.
America will also be represented by Eoin Harty’s Drafted, who is another to have won over Keeneland’s four and a half furlongs – albeit not in the same style as Lady Aurelia. Drafted will carry the Godolphin blue silks in the five-furlong Windsor Castle Stakes.
Andre Fabre, Jean-Claude Rouget and Alain de Royer-Dupre will no doubt have a sprinkling of runners over the five days too, adding further intrigue to a strong global presence.
To think that Solow, for France, won last year’s Queen Anne, America’s Acapulco took the Queen Mary, Ervedya also for France landed the Coronation, and Undrafted scorched them in the Diamond Jubilee then this year’s visitors have a fair standard to aim at.
But with Acapulco, Undrafted, the Ward two-year-olds, Tepin and the freakily-talented A Shin Hikari then it’s easy to envisage that tally being matched if not superseded. The internationals add great spice and flare to the most wonderful of meetings and lets hope they keep on coming - and winning - for years to come.