Take Scenic route at full blast

Australian sprint ace can extend overseas dominance in Royal Ascot speed test
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The Independent Online

Right, let's cut to the chase. Forget the style, which will define the next five afternoons for so many patrons of Royal Ascot, and concentrate on the substance. For you don't get much more substantial than half a ton of thoroughbred racehorse, hurtling five furlongs in under 57 seconds. Let's hear it for Scenic Blast, the fastest thing out of Western Australia since Dennis Lillee.

The Ascot management's endeavours to introduce international depth to its sprints have seen five of the past six editions of the King's Stand Stakes plundered by overseas raiders. As a level-weights dash over the minimum trip, this is the meeting's purest test of speed – and the trends duly imply an inferiority in the raising and preparation of our indigenous sprinters.

Since 2003, when Choisir bullocked through the home team twice in five days, it has become increasingly apparent that the best Australian sprinters operate in a wholly different timbre. So when Scenic Blast is preceded by the awed admiration of those who have tried to beat him on home soil, there must at least be a possibility that he will prove in a class of his own.

The beauty of the situation is that nobody can make any lucid comparison between his own achievements and those of, say, Amour Propre. The bottom line is that the odds can only represent an intuitive gesture of respect. That is a highly unusual dilemma for the bookmakers, nowadays. And anyone who has seen videos of Scenic Blast doing his stuff Down Under will surely share the instinct that they have been rather too generous. Over five furlongs, our sprinters tend to slash and burn. They go flat out and the last man standing wins the day. But Scenic Blast just relaxes at the back before cutting down the front-runners, with all the leisure of Greg Norman's practice swing.

This does raise problems of its own, of course, in that Steven Arnold could scarcely face a greater crucible for his first ride in this country. He is, moreover, drawn wide and will be desperately hoping that the field does not split, potentially leaving him with an inadequate "target". All things being equal, however, even these imponderables may leave the true odds against Scenic Blast (3.05) much shorter than the 100-30 on offer. After all, Amour Propre would hardly be the first emerging three-year-old to be brought to heel by more mature rivals at this stage of his career.

The meeting certainly starts with a tremendous fusillade, with this race sandwiched between two other Group Ones. Favourite for the Queen Anne Stakes is Gladiatorus, an eye-watering winner on Dubai World Cup night. Anyone who backs him today, however, presumes that horse and rider will continue to thrive in a very different environment. Sheikh Mohammed's fidelity to Ahmed Ajtebi is touching but his young compatriot lacks the class and experience of Godolphin's retained jockey, Frankie Dettori, who makes do with Alexandros. Gladiatorus himself, meanwhile, has left the yard that produced parallel vigour in Eastern Anthem, already disappointing since his own return to the fold.

Paco Boy remains vulnerable over a mile, while Cesare's stable is enduring a quiet season. The most progressive contender is Main Aim (2.30), supplemented – by men practised in good horses – after two brilliant performances over shorter distances this season. His pedigree entitles him to cope readily with the extra furlong, without losing that critical edge of pace.

Sir Michael Stoute also saddles an improver in the St James's Palace Stakes, but Evasive did not wholly convince as a miler in the 2,000 Guineas. Delegator could also prove worth a try over sprint distances in time, despite finishing second that day. He has in the meantime sunk without trace in a Curragh mudbath, behind Mastercraftsman, who was himself reversing Newmarket form. Mastercraftsman was just as impressive on fast ground last summer, and must go well. But he is now odds-on, and had looked suspiciously as though he was on a plateau before that performance in quite atrocious conditions. By the same token, it seems a bit early to be writing off Delegator (3.45). After all, the Derby success of Sea The Stars shows how special a colt it took to stop him in the Guineas, and this turning mile gives him every chance of lasting home.

Mastercraftsman's trainer, Aidan O'Brien, relies on Air Chief Marshall (4.20) in the Coventry Stakes. This colt has gained plenty of experience in bad ground, and could prove value, at 10-1 with William Hill, now that he is given a chance on better terrain. Canford Cliffs was certainly impressive at Newbury, but looks an unpalatable price.

Kayf Aramis (4.55) confirmed himself somewhat unreliable at Goodwood last time, but the race may have come too soon after his extraordinary display at York.

While Mister Manannan is a worthy favourite in the last, Clashnacree (5.30) is hard to resist at much bigger odds, having twice shown terrific speed before fading over a sixth furlong. This race is over the same stretch of ground as the King's Stand, however, so we can only hope that they have managed to repair the scorch marks left by Scenic Blast.

Chris McGrath

Nap: Scenic Blast (3.05 Ascot)

NB: Kayf Aramis (4.55 Ascot)

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