Racing: Piccolo takes Stand to outplay Games

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The Independent Online
An invitation to join the Queen's procession is difficult to refuse, but after the last two days at the Royal meeting, they may need just the one carriage next year. On Thursday, Geoff Lewis arrived at the course the smart way, but a couple of hours later Lake Coniston, his star sprinter, was beaten. Yesterday it was Jack Berry's turn to trundle down the track. Sure enough, Mind Games, the fastest horse in his yard, started the odds- on favourite for the King's Stand Stakes but could finish only third to Piccolo, a 20-1 chance.

To be fair, the defeat of Mind Games probably had more to do with a failure to stay Ascot's stiff five furlongs than any curse of the Windsors. Berry's colt hit the front with a furlong to run, but was struggling a few strides later and had nothing to offer when Piccolo and the French-trained Struggler quickened again. It was significant that Mick Channon, the winning trainer, claimed afterwards that his colt is a much better animal over six furlongs.

He had also been tipping Piccolo to anyone who would listen, although his starting price suggests that few were sensible enough to do so. "He's a genuine Group One horse and this is his ground," Channon said. "Obviously I'm a bit biased as I live with him, but I've always known he was good and he's been unlucky in his career." This was, perhaps, a slight exaggeration, Piccolo having won last year's Nunthorpe Stakes in the stewards' room, but the colt will have a further chance to advertise his merit when he takes on Lake Coniston in the July Cup at Newmarket next month.

Luck very rarely plays a part in Reg Akehurst's successes, and the trainer's exceptional talent with handicappers was demonstrated once again when Astrac scrambled home from Alzianah in the Wokingham.

"We'd had that race in mind for him since last year when he won at York," Akehurst said, as nearby one of Astrac's owners greeted a bookmaker's rep with the sort of bear hug that can only mean the serious money had been down for almost as long. The winner was running for the first time in 48 days, but this too was part of the plan. "I deliberately put him away," the trainer said. "You know what the handicapper can be like."

Pentire, the Derby-trial specialist who was not entered for Epsom, took his record this season to four wins from four runs in the King Edward VII Stakes, but Geoff Wragg, his trainer, still insisted afterwards that he had no regrets about missing the Classic. "If we had entered him, we would have been tempted to rush him and that would have been no good at all," Wragg said. In any case, Pentire may meet Lammtarra, the Derby winner, back at Ascot in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes.

Beauchamp Hero, just a very useful handicapper before yesterday's Group Two Hardwicke Stakes, had no trouble stepping up in class to provide John Dunlop with his fifth win at the meeting. He was by some way the week's most successful trainer, while the Ritz Club Trophy for the top jockey went to Michael Kinane, with four victories.

After the riches which have gone before, the Heath meeting at Ascot this afternoon is supposed to be a soft landing before we return to Edinburgh and Nottingham on Monday, but for some reason the parachute never seems to open in time. The 13-runner Ladbroke Handicap is as competitive as it gets, and even then three runners, Khayrapour, Salt Lake and Zajko, seem to have the race between them.

Khayrapour was eliminated from Wednesday's Royal Hunt Cup, somewhat unfortunately perhaps since his latest handicap mark of 84 would have allowed him to beat the cut with comfort. A pair of blinkers improved Khayrapour considerably at Newmarket earlier this month, and even a 10lb rise in the weights may not be sufficient to stop him, but at the available odds, Zajko (next best 3.35) is a better investment.

The two other handicaps are the only other televised events worth considering, given the feeble turnout for the Churchill Stakes. Royal Rebuke would be a confident choice if her stable had saddled a winner or two recently, but the hiatus at Roger Charlton's yard could leave the way open for Cask (2.00). FAIRY WIND (nap 2.30) has an excellent chance to end Double Quick's winning sequence.