The flying wizards from Oz will once again be at Royal Ascot, with Takeover Target, winner of the King's Stand Stakes two years ago, leading the raid on Tuesday's opening-day sprint feature. The globetrotting nine-year-old gelding showed himself as good as ever in Singapore last month with a narrow defeat of compatriot Magnus, who will again oppose next week.
But this year the home side may have more to say about the destination of the first British leg of the Global Sprint Challenge, a series that has lifted the profile of specialist speedsters. And in particular, with two three-year-olds, old rivals Fleeting Spirit and Kingsgate Native.
Fleeting Spirit, from Jeremy Noseda's Newmarket yard, is currently favourite, on the strength of her scorching return to action 18 days ago in the Temple Stakes at Haydock. Kingsgate Native, trained by John Best at Hucking, Kent, will be making his seasonal debut in the five-furlong dash, now restored to top-level status after 20 years.
The pair have met once before, when the filly narrowly beat the colt in the Molecomb Stakes at Goodwood, but thereafter their paths diverged. Fleeting Spirit took a conventional route for one of her sex, talent and aptitude (Lowther-Flying Childers-Cheveley Park). But Kingsgate Native boldly went where few juveniles had gone before.
He broke his maiden in a Group One contest against older horses, the Nunthorpe Stakes, and very nearly made it a double in that company, running a brave second in the Prix de l'Abbaye, ridden on both occasions by next week's pilot Jimmy Quinn. His performances prompted the Cheveley Park Stud to acquire stallion rights, though he will still race in the colours of Epsom-based former bookmaker John Mayne.
The return of the Native is eagerly awaited, not least by Best. "We haven't run him simply because there hasn't been anything to run him in without carrying a penalty," he said, "but he's in excellent order. We've had no hold-ups at all and he had a decent racecourse gallop last week, and he's showing us he's still got the appetite for it. It's going to be a tough rematch with Fleeting Spirit – that run at Haydock looked incredible – but we're up for it."
One of the son of Mujadil's weapons last year was his unusually mature physique. "If someone had told you he was a four-year-old, you'd have believed them," said Best, "and of course against the older horses he was getting all the weight allowances. The concern must be that some of the others may have caught him up.
"But he has definitely progressed physically, nonetheless, and I'm delighted with what we've got. Jimmy said he was like a little bull and when Chris Richardson [Cheveley Park director] came down last week to see him he was very pleased. I see him every day and it was good to have a fresh, objective eye confirm what I think."
Kingsgate Native's first experience of a racecourse came at the Royal meeting, when he was beaten a head in the Windsor Castle Stakes over Tuesday's track. The colt handles most ground but, with his tactical hat on, Best is hoping for some ease. "I'm glad the King's Stand is when it is," he said. "Fine weather is forecast all week, so I think they'll have to produce genuine good ground on the first day, because it will dry up from there. And Fleeting Spirit wants it as fast as it can get."
Kingsgate Native is also in the Golden Jubilee Stakes on the meeting's final day. "We'll see how things go on Tuesday," said Best. "It looks as if he's still a serious horse – I wouldn't swap him for anything – and it's going to be an exciting week."
Phillip Makin is in hospital with a crushed vertebra following a fall on the gallops. The accident happened while Makin was exercising horses at David Barron's Thirsk stable and the jockey could be out of action for a month.Reuse content