Ascot’s best unlikely to haul in Winx

Source: Tony Arnold – The Australian /

It is going to require a Frankel-like performance for Winx to lose her top spot in the official World’s Best Racehorse rankings over the six days of elite racing at Royal Ascot, England, this week.

Indeed, the biggest loss for the historic six-day meeting, commencing tomorrow, is that Winx herself will not be there, having only days ago returned to stable routine from her mid-year break to prepare for what everything points to her bid for a fourth consecutive Group I Cox Plate in late October.

Both the Group I Queen Anne Stakes (1600m) and the Group I Prince of Wales’s Stakes (2000m) were the two objectives pencilled in during the lengthy debate by Winx’s connections whether to go to Ascot or not.

During her late autumn spell, the handicappers’ panel of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities, in its third assessment for 2018, made Winx outright topweight on the WBR rankings at 130, ahead of the now retired US dirt runner Gun Runner (129), with British-trained Cracksman (Europe’s top-rated runner of 2017 on 130) introduced for 2018 on 125 after his impressive debut when winning a French Group I by four lengths.

Another new name on the ­revised third assessment, from January 1 to May 6, was Kentucky Derby winner Justify, ranked fourth on 124.

The fifth WBR rankings issued on Friday for racing January 1-June 14, had the ratings for the top four unchanged but with two newcomers among the 27 racehorses rated 120 and above — Harry Angel (top-rated sprinter on 125 for 2017) on 122 and English Derby winner Masar on 121.

And it is appropriate to note that among the top-rated 27 there are five Australian-bred horses: Winx (130), Happy Clapper (equal best miler) on 123 and the sprinters Trapeze Artist (123) and the Hong Kong-trained duo Ivictory and Mr Stunning on 120.

That the WBR handicappers’ panel are tough markers is underscored by the fact Cracksman did not improve his rating for having won the Group I Coronation Cup (2400m) — he was, in fact, made to work hard to snatch victory from a 50-1 shot that had not won for 20 months. And Justify remained on 124 despite having won the Preakness-Belmont Stakes double to complete the US triple crown.

When he completed the US ­triple crown in 2015, American Pharoah won a top rating of 128, ahead of outstanding Hong Kong miler (and Australian-bred) Able Friend and 2015 English Derby winner Golden Horn equal second on 125.

But by year’s end, and after his swashbuckling Group I Breeders Cup Classic triumph, American Pharoah achieved the top rating of 134, with Golden Horn, the subsequent winner of the Group I Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, second on 130 (Winx, incidentally, appeared among the top 25 for the first time in 2015, on 123.)

The undefeated Justify may well continue to climb the rankings, having the Breeders’ Cup Classic as his year-end target.

But the select few that could threaten Winx for top honours for the next rankings update, January 1 to July 12, are Cracksman and Harry Angel.

Cracksman, a first crop son of the freakish, unbeaten Frankel, is odds-on to take the Prince of Wales Stakes at Royal Ascot on Wednesday while Harry Angel has Royal Ascot’s final day highlight on Saturday, the Group I Diamond Jubilee Stakes (1200m), and next month’s Group I July Cup (1200m) in his crosshairs.

Indeed, the Godolphin-owned Harry Angel (by Dark Angel) has also been spoken of as a down under visitor for the $13m The ­Everest (1200m) at Randwick in October.

Harry Angel is 5-2 favourite for the Diamond Jubilee Stakes with Australian Group I winners Merchant Navy (trained now for Coolmore Stud by Aidan O’Brien) and Redkirk Warrior second and third favourites, at 3-1 and 13-2, respectively.

Merchant Navy, by Fastnet Rock, was bought by Coolmore after the colt won the $1m sprint sponsored by Coolmore on Victoria Derby day in November and he won a Group III in Ireland last month on his first outing for O’Brien.

British-bred Redkirk Warrior, trained by Team Hayes, returns to his old stamping grounds after building his reputation in Australia as an outstanding sprinter through a Group I treble over 1000m and 1200m (twice) at ­Flemington.

In February, Redkirk Warrior stormed from last to win the Lightning Stakes and in March defended his Newmarket Handicap title leading throughout. Merchant Navy was a close third in the latter but was in receipt of 5.5kg from Redkirk Warrior. They meet on level weight terms of 58.5kg in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes.

Ironically, Redkirk Warrior won his first two starts over 2000m — the second at Ascot — for trainer William Haggas who will surely have a double take at the Australian raider in the pre-race parade. Haggas had him originally and has himself a dual entry to saddle among the 27 left in the £525,000 ($937,000) sprint at the latest declaration stage.

But the lightly-raced One ­Master, by Fastnet Rock, who is a Listed winner over 1400m at Ascot but a forlorn 50-1 chance for the Diamond Jubilee Stakes, is an unlikely runner.

His other entry is a genuine 12-1 chance Tasleet, who was beaten by a head margin in this feature 12 months ago and was also runner-up in the Group I Champion Sprint (1200m) at Ascot in October.

Remarkable to find two sons of Fastnet Rock in Europe’s richest sprint race and then to go to the Group I Royal Ascot Gold Cup (4000m), Europe’s marathon championship, to find Torcedor, a NZ-owned son of Fastnet Rock and a well considered 8-1 chance in a race dominated by 2-1 co-favourites Order Of St George (by Galileo and winner of 2016 Gold Cup) and Stradivarius (by Sea The Stars).

A highlight among many set for Royal Ascot 2018 is the third appearance of the US-trained Lady Aurelia, winner of the 2016 Group II Queen Mary Stakes (1000m) and runaway winner of the 2017 Group I King’s Stand Stakes (1000m) and 2-1 favourite to ­defend her title in the same feature tomorrow.

Lady Aurelia is a four-year-old mare by Coolmore Stud’s deceased Scat Daddy, who has been a sensation at Royal Ascot and who is now posthumously celebrated as the sire of US triple crown winner Justify.