Racing: Haafhd can repel cosmopolitan challenge

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Royal Ascot is esteemed as a deeply English occasion, morning suits, Royal processions and champagne and Pimms on the lawns. That is one half of the equation at least.

Royal Ascot is esteemed as a deeply English occasion, morning suits, Royal processions and champagne and Pimms on the lawns. That is one half of the equation at least.

For while the Ascot executive squeeze every drop out of tradition on the non-combative side of the running rail, they also understand there are some who actually go for the racing. It is therefore the brief of Nick Cheyne, the clerk of the course, to spend what might be idler moments trawling the globe in search of more exotic elements to add to the Berkshire brew.

Some of the fruit of his labour is in the basket on this opening day, a particularly cosmopolitan affair. We have come to expect the Irish, French and, more recently, the Germans, to launch their boats, but, this afternoon, there are runners also from Hong Kong and the United States. Part of the explanation could be the Choisir effect, following the exploits of the Australian horse which first turned up for action here a year ago today and twice blasted away the best of Britain and Europe.

There are potential glamorous successors to Choisir in the King's Stand Stakes, though the most captivating races of the day are the two Group Ones, the St James's Palace Stakes and the Queen Anne Stakes. The former conventionally allows bragging rights among the various Classic milers who arrive in the Queen's acre for an eight-furlong Armageddon. There are representatives of Guineas form from Britain, Ireland, France and Germany today, including Bachelor Duke, who ran in two of the legs, finishing seventh to Haafhd at Newmarket before showing an improved level to turn round that result and get in front of Azamour in collecting the Curragh equivalent.

"He was still quite babyish going into the English Guineas," Seb Sanders, Bachelor Duke's jockey, said yesterday. "The piece of work he did before the Irish Guineas was just out of this world. He's working to that still now, so we're very hopeful."

Azamour possesses the distinction of having been placed in two Guineas and John Oxx is not entirely perplexed that he now has to face colts which have already beaten him this season.

"The key to my horse is that he has a good, fast gallop and manages to get a position from his outside draw," the trainer said. "I've always thought fast ground would suit him and that will be fine, it's a question of whether our fellow has come on for his race in the Guineas.

"My view is that he has, because he's had a good preparation with no setbacks. He's been working really well and there will be no excuses if he is beaten." Whichever way you twist the spaghetti strands of the form lines, it is hard to argue against Haafhd (3.45) being followed until he is defeated. The 2,000 Guineas winner undoubtedly won a curious Classic, but he was the one horse in the field able to use tactical speed to impose his will on the race.

The Queen Anne Stakes has become a duopoly, with either Godolphin or Sir Michael Stoute responsible for the last eight winners. They have their representatives again today, though neither Refuse To Bend nor Arakan respectively appear as well qualified as those which have gone before. The outstanding horse in the race is the filly which suffered terribly bad luck in both the English and Irish Guineas last season.

Six Perfections (next best 4.20) later proved she can win at the highest level and also confirmed on her reappearance in the Prix d'Ispahan that the magic had survived the winter. Today's generous field should be in her favour and provide a hidey-hole before the French filly delivers her kick.

The King's Stand Stakes, Choisir's race, does not appear to contain an outstanding domestic sprinter and the bookmakers have paid William Haggas a compliment by making his seasonal debutant, Majestic Missile, the favourite. There is a chance then for Cape Of Good Hope (3.05), one of the best sprinters in Hong Kong, where it is difficult to be the best with the world-class Silent Witness around.

For the rest we go to the history books. Aidan O'Brien has won the Coventry Stakes four times in the last seven years and is represented on this occasion by Oratorio (2.30). The trainer to follow in the Ascot Stakes is Martin Pipe, who has collected four times in the last 11 years. He saddles two this time around, but the one to be on is DON FERNANDO (nap 4.55), the eye-catching mount of Darryll Holland.


Nap: Don Fernando (Royal Ascot 4.55)

NB: Six Perfections (Royal Ascot 4.20)



2.30 With Aidan O'Brien's string out of sorts it is worth opposing Oratorio. Kings Quay showed a lot of speed on his debut, Council Member represents the power of Godolphin, but TURNKEY's 11-length win last time may not have been a fluke caused by heavy going.

3.05 The fast pace could help Lochridge, a 6f specialist, to emulate her dam, Lochsong, who won this in 1994, but THE TRADER can make it third time lucky. A close fourth in 2002, he was beaten just under five lengths when fifth to Choisir last year. Runner-up Oasis Dream went on to land the July Cup and The Trader showed he has held his form when third in a Group Two at Chantilly this month with The Tatling a length and a half in fourth. Despite being on a long losing run, Cape Of Good Hope must be considered on his third in the Hong Kong Sprint in December with The Trader in sixth.

3.45 The wayward Antonius Pius (5th) would have finished in front of BYRON (2nd) if he had not collided with the rails near the finish in last month's French 2,000 Guineas. However, that was on soft ground and Byron, who runs in a tongue strap for the first time (as does Antonius Pius), was making his seasonal reappearance that day and has shown he acts on this much faster ground. Haafhd will start favourite on the strength of his 2,000 Guineas success, as Bachelor Duke (seventh) went on to take the Irish version from Azamour. Newmarket Guineas winners have a poor record in this, so Haafhd does not make great appeal at a best-priced 2-1.

4.20 This looks a sub-standard renewal and TILLERMAN, a regular in this event, loves this straight mile on fast ground and looks a better value bet at 25-1 than Six Perfections at 2-1. Norse Dancer and Salselon have ability but temperament problems to match.

4.55 Martin Pipe has won this five times and saddles Penny Pictures and Don Fernando. There may not be much between the latter and LAND 'N STARS. Jamie Poulton's improving four-year-old was 10 lengths clear of Don Fernando (5th) when winning here over 2m last month and is 8lb worse off.