Royal Ascot: Draw bonus puts Gift Horse in right place to thwart Takeover
Saturday 24 June 2006
As everyone now knows, three years ago Joe Janiak bought an unraced cripple for around £450 - the sort of money that might be paid by an abattoir - before turning him into the champion sprinter of Australia. On Tuesday Janiak, a taxi driver who lives in a caravan, saddled Takeover Target to win the King's Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot and today he renews the ordeal of top hat and morning coat in search of an even bigger prize in the Golden Jubilee Stakes.
His pioneering compatriot, Paul Perry, achieved the same double in 2002 with Choisir, and Janiak has always believed that the sixth furlong today would suit Takeover Target better. The horse's nerveless young jockey, Jay Ford, managed to reach the favoured stands' side from a higher draw on Tuesday and it is certainly not sentiment that qualifies him as a warm favourite today.
The only reservation is that he has had precious little time to recover, and some horses are particularly liable to recoil after making a big effort following a break.
It would be ironic if, as is perfectly feasible, Takeover Target were thwarted by the other Australian runner, Glamour Puss, definitely better over this distance and barely a length behind on Tuesday. But a low draw gives home advantage to a horse that has long threatened to break into the sprinting élite in Gift Horse (3.45). He has run just six times since being dropped in trip by his new trainer, and looked better than ever on his reappearance, cruising through the race before tiring in sticky ground.
His former stable may have missed a trick with Gift Horse, but its fortunes this week confirm that James Fanshawe is one of the best trainers in the land. Never mind Soviet Song, to win both mile handicaps at the meeting is an astounding achievement, and a rails draw has sealed Firenze's status as favourite for another stampede in the Wokingham Handicap.
But much more enticing odds are available about Chookie Heiton (4.25), whose trek from Scotland has been rewarded with a berth in the adjacent stall. He has improved since finishing third in this race in his youth, and shaped as though returning to his best at Musselburgh last time.
Though that race placed an unsuitable emphasis on speed and he was caught out wide throughout, he kept on nicely in the closing stages and is now 5lb lower than when beaten only a length in the Portland Handicap last autumn. The booking of Michael Kinane suggests that his shrewd trainer - narrowly foiled with a poorly drawn 50-1 shot on Thursday - means business today.
The classy Shawanda gives Frankie Dettori and Godolphin a chance of salvaging something from the week in the Hardwicke Stakes, but both she and her new yard have had their problems and she is entitled to build on her comeback. Sir Michael Stoute is certainly giving her a hostile reception, saddling three runners including Hard Top (3.05). Still lightly raced, this colt looked sure to improve this year, but his first two runs have been most frustrating. He was foiled by soft ground on his reappearance and then by a farcically slow pace in France last time.
Stoute has every chance of winning the Queen Alexandra Stakes for the same owners with Cover Up (5.30), winner of three Ascot marathons already. But he may regret the sale of a former charge in the Duke of Edinburgh Handicap, as Glistening (4.55) never quite fulfilled his promise last year and caught the eye on his debut for Luca Cumani at Epsom.
Always Fruitful also guaranteed better to come when beaten at the Derby meeting, finishing fast after failing to handle the hill, and has solid prospects in the Chesham Stakes. Marginal preference is for Champlain (2.30) who travelled so well in a fiercely competitive maiden on his debut.
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