NAAS’ Royal Ascot Trials Day card is the headline act of the weekend in Ireland as hopeful connections attempt to rubber stamp their credentials for a trip to the Berkshire bonanza next month.
RTE will show live coverage of a likely informative card from 1.40pm to 4.10pm, with a pair of Group 3s and two listed events taking centre stage.
Caravaggio progressed from a win in the Goffs Lacken Stakes (3.45) on this card back in 2017 to win the Commonwealth Cup at the Royal Meeting on his next start, and Aidan O’Brien could attempt to repeat the trick with The Antarctic this time.
Last season’s Middle Park Stakes second needs to bounce back from a disappointing seasonal return on extremely testing ground at Navan and faces a rematch with Listed Committed Stakes winner Ocean Quest, but one trainer out to upset the big guns is Jack Davison.
Not many horses progress immediately from winning a 0-85 three-year-old handicap at Nottingham to taking on group-class sprinters, but not many horses win with the spectacular ease that Thunderbear obliged with on his recent trip to Britain.
Davison is upbeat about his chances as the Co Meath-based trainer bids to go one better than two years ago when former stable stalwart Mooneista finished runner-up in the race to A Case Of You.
“Ronan Whelan admitted that he’d hardly ever ridden an easier winner in his career last time” Davison told The Irish Field.
“He looked like a group horse running in a handicap. I think gelding him has brought about a lot of improvement, as well as removing the headgear. He’s taken a little time to come to himself properly. I think if it was a listed race last time he still would have won.
Bold bid expected
“This is obviously a big step up but he’s justified his place in the line-up. We’re optimistic he’s up to this level. We’ll find out more about him on Sunday but we’re not just going there to make up the numbers and hope he’ll be competitive.”
In the other Group 3 contest on the card, the Coolmore Stud Irish EBF Fillies Sprint Stakes (2.45), Paddy Twomey is out to make an immediate impact with new recruit to his stable Ribchestina.
Sunday’s contest will be her first start in the colours of Team Valor and Gary Barber, having joined Twomey’s yard privately following a smart maiden win on debut for Sheila Lavery over this course and distance last month. Twomey supplied the runner-up in that event so would have had a solid handle on the form.
“Ribchestina is a nice filly,” said Group 1-winning trainer. “She impressed me when winning on her debut and we were delighted to be able to add her to the team. We think [runner-up] Vanity Pays is a very nice filly too so hopefully it looked to be a good race.
“The ground is likely to be a bit better this weekend but I think she should be fine and she has the experience of previously winning at the course.”
Lavery still has the chance to get on the scoresheet in her own right on Sunday, preparing last season’s Irish 2000 Guineas runner-up New Energy for a crack at the Listed Owenstown Stud Stakes (3.15).
However, connections were left disappointed by the four-year-old’s seasonal reappearance when fourth of six runners in the Group 3 Amethyst Stakes at Leopardstown.
“We don’t really know why he ran below himself,” said Lavery. “He had a missed a bit of work after spiking a temperature in the lead-up but I wouldn’t be using that as an excuse. We thought he was ready to go and seemed well but he really disappointed us.
“Maybe he was just a little ring-rusty on his first start of the season or didn’t like the sticky ground but we were hoping he’d run a lot better and maybe then go on to the Lockinge Stakes this weekend. Instead we’re coming here with him. Hopefully he’ll put his best foot forward.”
There is also British interest in the card, with Tees Spirit (Adrian Nicholls) and Arecibo (Robert Cowell) taking on leading domestic hopes Moss Tucker (Ken Condon), Mooneista (Joseph O’Brien) and Ladies Church (Johnny Murtagh) in the Listed Sole Power Sprint Stakes (2.15).