Speedy Ialysos adds spice to Ascot's international flavour

Cumani's charge can move like Greece lightning, writes Sue Montgomery
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The Independent Online

That so-English institution, Royal Ascot, has become a melting pot for foreign invaders since the meeting's Group One dashes, the King's Stand Stakes and the Golden Jubilee Stakes, became part of the hugely valuable eight-race, four-nation Global Sprint Challenge. Raiders have taken to descending on the Queen's favourite garden party from all five continents, with success in the past for Australia, Hong Kong, Spain and France.

This week, perennial visitor Takeover Target is joined by his compatriot, the rising Down Under star Scenic Blast, already winner of the Challenge leg at Melbourne. From South Africa comes J J The Jet Plane and from the States another explosively-named beast, Cannonball. But in among these competitors from mainstream racing nations – nowadays ubiquitous at the top level worldwide – may just be something of a Trojan horse.

It is hardly a hotbed of equine talent, but it seems Greece may soon be the word. The five-year-old Ialysos, produced at a stud near Athens, has proved he is the fastest from his nation since Pegasus; in fact, such was his dominance in his native country – where he is unbeaten in seven starts, all on sand at Markopoulou racetrack – that races had to be cancelled because he had frightened off the opposition.

With nothing left to prove at home, Ialysos joined Luca Cumani in Newmarket to try his luck in a bigger arena. The big, handsome brown horse is owned and was bred by Greek supermarket and retailing tycoon Leonidas Marinopoulos, whose colours have already been prominently carried on the elite international stage this year by Presvis.

On his British debut at Haydock last month (entirely appropriately in the Achilles Stakes), Ialysos extended his unbeaten run to eight. "We had wondered if it all might be a bit of a crazy idea," said Cumani, "and I wasn't sure what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised. He's a good-looking horse, strong and sensible, with a good brain, in fact a pleasure to have in the yard."

Though Ialysos was born and raised in a racing backwater, his background is mainstream, and lightning fast. His sire was So Factual, who won a Nunthorpe Stakes for Khaled Abdullah; his great-great grand-dam Stilvi, a fine servant on the track and at stud for Marinopoulos' father-in-law George Cambanis, finished second in an earlier edition of York's sprint showpiece.

True to his heritage, Ialysos once ran five furlongs in 54 seconds – as a comparison, Equiano took 59.35sec to cover the same distance in last year's King's Stand Stakes – but though he holds an entry in both, Saturday's six-furlong Golden Jubilee Stakes is likely to be his first-choice target ahead of Tuesday's minimum-trip contest.

Though Cumani's first victory as a trainer came in the six-furlong Duke Of York Stakes (with Three Legs 33 years ago) Ialysos is the only sprinter currently resident at Bedford Lodge. "He has to work with milers at home and the Haydock race was a fact-finding mission," he said, "but we liked what we saw, and he's improved for the run. It will be a huge step up from there to taking on the best in the world, but he's earned his Ascot place."

The feature sprints, which carry a total of £750,000 in prize money plus a possible $1 million bonus for victories in three countries, are just two of seven Group One contests in a week which spreads more than £4 million over 30 races in five days. But the one race with the capacity to provide enough crackling excitement to light up Berkshire comes at the other end of the distance spectrum. On Thursday the peerless Aidan O'Brien-trained stayer Yeats will go for an unprecedented four-timer in the Gold Cup.

Yesterday's domestic fare was very much a case of before the lord mayor's show; the day's richest purse, York's £64,000 Reg Griffin Memorial Trophy, went to Swiss Diva, from David Elsworth's yard. The filly provided rider Ryan Moore with a double; other men in form three days before the start of Europe's richest fixture included trainers William Haggas and Richard Fahey, both on the mark on the Knavesmire and at Sandown.

Cumani's charges have been in rude fettle – the Italian has had a near one-in-three strike-rate recently – and this afternoon Ialysos' stablemate Fantasia provides the British-based challenge for the week's Group One bonne bouche, the Prix de Diane at Chantilly.