CAN you remember ever seeing a 27-runner Group 1 contest? That’s what we have today for the Platinum Jubilee Stakes (4.20), which looks more like Wokingham that takes place 40 minutes after.
However you actually don’t have to go back that far to find such a big field - this millennium in fact. The 2000 Guineas run in 2000 and won by King’s Best had 27 runners, but there is a max field of 25 runners for the Guineas races now, and 20 for the Derby and Oaks.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised given the need for speed is so prevalent in the flat game these days.
The Commonwealth Cup has become something of a sixth classic and there is a clear pattern for an ‘Ascot’ horse now. You could win the Coventry or Albany, Commonwealth Cup and Platinum Jubilee all over the same distance on the same course, from two to three to four. The Norfolk or Queen Mary will have you in a good place also.
Whether that is a particularly exciting plot route for a horse is debatable for the general fan, but if you could get a horse to do that particular treble, you’ve a pretty valuable commodity, and seemingly in line with Cheltenham, Royal Ascot increasingly seems to be where it’s at these days.
Campanelle could complete her own Royal treble today, having blitzed the Queen Mary at two and won last year’s Commonwealth Cup in the stewards’ room.
Her course form is clearly significant but her jockey Irad Ortiz has had a bit of shocker this week, generally looking ill at ease among his surroundings, particularly down at the start when he’s been seen to be constantly adjusting his tack.
He blew the start on Golden Pal in the King’s Stand when looking back to the withdrawn runner when the gates opened and received a five-day ban for an early manouvere on Love Reigns in the Queen Mary.
He’s a world-class pilot, but European racing is a different ball game, not least in 27-runner Group 1 races. A win today you suspect would make up for the whole week.
But it’s to Chris Waller most will look to again. It was a little surprising to hear the Sydney-based trainer’s reluctance to commit Nature Strip to this race after his romp in the King’s Stand, but maybe that was a sign of confidence in Home Affairs, who indeed beat Nature Strip on his penultimate start.
Home Affairs is a dual Group 1 winner already and has relatively few miles on the clock. Prices of and around 2/1 last night are indicative of just how much respect he has been afforded given the sheer amount of horses he faces today.
It’s been a quality over quantity kind of week for Irish-trained runners at Royal Ascot, and that may continue today because Aidan O’Brien looks to have kept another top-notch prospect for the Chesham Stakes (2.30) in impressive Leopardstown scorer Alfred Munnings.
The Chesham is an unusual contest in that only horses whose dam or sire have won over at least a mile and a quarter are allowed to run, hence O’Brien’s fine record in the race – won four times since 2016.
Alfred Munnings is a son Dubawi out of Best In The World, which makes him a half-brother to Snowfall, and he could hardly have looked better first time out, clocking a good time in the process.
Oliver hopeful Gradulations can go well in Ulster Oaks
CO TYRONE trainer Andy Oliver is having a good season with five winners on the board already and he makes a relatively short journey to Down Royal today with five chances to elongate his tally.
His signature hope is Gradulations, who runs in the colours of his wife Saffron, in the BoyleSports Irish EBF Ulster Oaks (3.45). A smooth maiden winner at Sligo last time, she has a nice progressive profile and Oliver is hopeful of a big run in the €31,500 handicap.
“She won well at Sligo and she has a nice profile now,” he said.
“She has a nice weight here and hopefully she can run well - she’s in good form.
“The ground is fine for her. She is a big filly but she is versatile ground-wise, as long as it’s safe. I think her mark looks okay but you only really find out about that when you put them into this sort of company.
“To be honest I’m slightly rueful I didn’t have her in the Ulster Derby. I don’t think she’d have any problems at that trip but this is a nice option for her and I’m happy to let her take her chance.”
It’s worth noting that both the second and third from Gradulations’s Sligo maiden run in the first race on the card, so she could receive some sort of form boost.
Aidan O’Brien goes for back-to-back wins in the Ulster Derby (4.25) with two runners, Cougar and Shark Bay, but if there is a trainer to follow in this race, it’s Jim Bolger.
The Coolcullen handler won this three times in four years from 2014 and he runs Manu Et Corde. The son of Teofilo has disappointed in the two Derby trial races at Leopardstown but could improve for the step up in trip and drop down in class today.