Yeats can produce fourth chapter in golden chronicle

Three-times victor set to defy doubters despite poor performance at Navan
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He returns to his greatest stage as one of the outstanding stayers in Turf history, and his quest for an unprecedented fourth Gold Cup has long guaranteed him top billing at this year's meeting. Anomalously, however, Yeats is today set to go off at odds against for only the third time in 15 starts since he first announced himself here, back in 2006.

Sentiment permits the Ladies' Day crowd only one allegiance. But those with more pragmatic agendas will be asking just where the fault lines lie between achievement and fidelity. The bookmakers have drawn them at 9-4. And even those inclined to desert him after that alarming performance at Navan in the spring should surely persevere with Yeats at those odds, so superior is his best form to that of his rivals.

Pleas in mitigation were entered at Navan, after all. At the age of eight, he is entitled to have become lazier, and the ground was much softer than he cares for. He has, moreover, tended to reserve his very best for high summer and, in the hands of another Royal Ascot legend in Aidan O'Brien, it is safe to assume that whatever fires remain were always going to burn brighter this afternoon than on any of the 364 days in between.

Those prepared to abandon Yeats must meanwhile decide which rival could conceivably be backed without embarrassment against him. In fairness, Geordieland would himself have won two Gold Cups but for Yeats, and he caused some to revise their old wariness about his quirks with a wholehearted defeat of Patkai at Sandown last time. But Patkai in turn seems quite a box of tricks, and these horses both demand the sort of indulgence never sought by their mighty rival.

The chances are that Yeats (3.45) will either win, or finish well down the field. Certainly, it is hard to see him beaten on anyone else's terms. And the bottom line is that he has earned too much respect over the years to be discarded now, on a stage that suits him so well, at odds like these.

Even if his champion proves finally to be on the wane, O'Brien should again be among the winners today. Freemantle (4.55) looks rock solid in the Hampton Court Stakes, having looked a legitimate Derby colt when just collared in the Dante. As a son of Galileo, he can prove these rivals variously deficient in stamina, class and courage.

Johann Zoffany (5.30) is by the same stallion and will adore the step up in trip for the King George V Handicap. As always this field is full of improvers, and some punters will doubtless be concerned by the inexperience of O'Brien's son, Joseph. But the young man has already shown himself a competent rider, and he will be claiming 7lb with the best of the draw.

It would not be wholly surprising to see Totally Devoted go well for the stable at a big price in the Ribblesdale Stakes, up in trip on better ground. But she meets several fillies who are only now coming into bloom, not least the pair trained by Sir Michael Stoute. His stable jockey, Ryan Moore, has favoured the very promising Leocorno but that makes the price against July Jasmine (3.05) hard to resist. Given a nice, educational ride at Lingfield last time, she can show the benefits here.

Stoute's second string should not be underestimated in the Britannia Handicap, either. Desert Creek looks suspiciously like a top-class miler in the making, but the odds reflect that and there should also more to come from Mirrored (4.20) in receipt of 10lb. Monsieur Chevalier, meanwhile, sets an intimidating standard in the opener, but may lack the scope for improvement of Tawaabb (2.30).

Chris McGrath

Nap: Johann Zoffany (5.30 Ascot)

NB: Freemantle (4.55 Ascot)