One of the season's forgotten horses will be aiming to jog a few memories at Ascot on Saturday. It is more than four months since he galloped in anger in front of a British audience, but Vital Equine, one of 15 left in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes yesterday, will be aiming to prove his 33-1 runner-up spot in the 2,000 Guineas was no fluke.
The Eoghan O'Neill-trained colt's effort on the Rowley Mile in May, where he split Cockney Rebel and Dutch Art, was itself something of a point-prover, for although he lost the last three of his six races as a juvenile, he had won the first three, including a defeat of subsequent Derby runner-up Eagle Mountain and Cockney Rebel in the Champagne Stakes.
After the 2,000 Guineas, Vital Equine finished only sixth to his Newmarket conqueror in the Irish version on much faster conditions, before an always-planned summer break.
"We mapped out a programme earlier in the year and have stuck by it," said O'Neill yesterday. "He ran a great race in the Guineas but it was just too quick for him at the Curragh. He just doesn't pick up on firmer ground as he hits it pretty hard."
Vital Equine's rivals on Saturday are set to include the first three home in the most recent pitstop on the miling circuit, the Prix du Moulin principals Darjina, Ramonti and George Washington. "It's a big ask for him," admitted O'Neill. "But one thing that has happened over the summer on his break is that he has got very strong. He's filled out a great deal and it'll be very exciting to take on the big boys." The son of Danetime will have his final pipe-opener this morning. "His preparation has been nice and smooth and we've had no hold-ups with him," added O'Neill. "And if we can get the ground we want on Saturday it will be a big help to him." The Ascot authorities plan to water the straight course if this week's forecast rain does not arrive. Vital Equine is once again an outsider, judged a 20-1 shot, with last year's winner George Washington favourite at 2-1. The enigmatic four-year-old's year-younger stablemates Excellent Art and Duke Of Marmalade are the most likely of the four other Ballydoyle entries to accompany him to the £200,000 fray. Ramonti, already twice a top-level winner over a mile this term, leads the Godolphin attack, and may have pacemaking assistance from either Caradak or Blue Ksar. Though beaten by French Classic heroine Darjina on her home turf last time, the five-year-old had shown his class and battling qualities by taking the Queen Anne, from Jeremy, and Sussex Stakes, from Excellent Art, in photo-finishes.
"You could set a clock by him," said his rider, Frankie Dettori. "Two Group 1 wins and two Group 1 seconds this year. Yes, there's going to be George Washington, that good filly, and Excellent Art in there, but you just know he'll run his usual big race. And I think this one will be made for him.
"Longchamp has a very quick straight off the turn and we were a bit vulnerable to the filly's turn of foot last time. But it'll be a different ball game at Ascot, with a true-run race over a stiff mile."
Darjina, who burst onto the elite scene when she narrowly denied Finsceal Beo in the French 1,000 Guineas, suffered the only defeat of her career when she came to Royal Ascot and finished third in the Coronation Stakes on desperately soft ground. Alain de Royer-Dupré's charge was the sole supplementary entry for the £200,000 contest yesterday.
Saturday's other Group 1 feature, the Fillies' Mile, has attracted 11 contenders, including the current favourite for next year's 1,000 Guineas, the unbeaten French raider Proviso, from André Fabre's yard. Rivals are likely to include Ballydoyle contender Listen and the Ed Vaughan-trained Kotsi, who was supplemented after an impressive weekend display on the Newmarket gallops.
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