Racing: Newmarket alternative attraction for Ascot finale

The finale meeting in Berkshire these next three days brings to an end the sports at Ascot until the Royal meeting of 2006, while the new £185m grandstand redevelopment is conducted.

The revolving door to the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes was spinning like a centrifuge yesterday. For the horses, in went Haafhd and out went Attraction, while the venues taking similar directions were Newmarket and Ascot itself.

The finale meeting in Berkshire these next three days brings to an end the sports at Ascot until the Royal meeting of 2006, while the new £185m grandstand redevelopment is conducted. We are talking builders here and already there are dark rumours that Royal Ascot will be away from its natural home for two years.

But that is for the future and the announcement yesterday that the QEII would be run at Headquarters next year was received with great elation from the Newmarket executive. "Our autumn season is going to be nothing short of sensational next year with the addition of the Ascot Festival, giving us top-class racing on three out of the four weekends between late September and mid-October," Lisa Hancock, the managing director, said. "In a 22-day period we'll be staging no less than 18 Group races, including seven Group Ones."

The relevant equine information yesterday concerned the diverging QEII paths of the two most recent domestic Guineas winners. It had been mooted earlier in the week that Ascot would not be supplying ground firm enough for Attraction and yesterday came confirmation from her trainer, Mark Johnston, that he would be taking his bat elsewhere.

The 1,000 Guineas winner produced her worst effort of the season in the soft ground of the Prix Jacques le Marois at Deauville last month and Johnston was disturbed to learn that Ascot were watering. The Sun Chariot Stakes at Newmarket next week is now the target. "It is down to us feeling more assured, or as assured as we can be, that Newmarket is going to be faster ground. We feel there's a lot less chance of it changing at Newmarket," the trainer said .

A field of 14 was declared for tomorrow's QEII, including Johnston's Lucky Story and the 2,000 Guineas winner, Haafhd, who had also been a consideration for Newmarket's Champion Stakes. However, a Wednesday gallop convinced his trainer, Barry Hills, that Haafhd is a more serious horse than the one which dribbled home ninth to Soviet Song in the Sussex Stakes.

"I spoke to Barry this morning and he's very happy with the well-being of the horse. We have decided to run on Saturday," said Angus Gold, the racing manager to the colt's owner, Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum. "He went well in his winding-up gallop. He's come out of that in fine form and the QEII was always one of the big races Sheikh Hamdan had in mind for him."

The biggest bang among the opening salvoes at Ascot this afternoon will be delivered by the Group Three Princess Royal Stakes, in which My Renee (next best 3.05), a course-and-distance winner last autumn, should display why she has been kept in training this.

With the straight course redundant, a high draw will required for the shorter races on the round course. That means that Bentley's Ball should be in the lead at some point of the televised handicap, but that he may also be overhauled close home by KHABFAIR (nap 2.30).

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