Probably the most intriguing contest at this years Royal Ascot, the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes enjoys the presence of some of the best middle-distance horses from all around the world. A truly fascinating contest to see all these international stars going head to head.
The waiting is over; the eagerly anticipated return of Dermot Weld’s Free Eagle has arrived. Thought to be a potential Derby winner as a juvenile, he had his fair share of problems as a three year old but came back from a year long break on Irish Champions Weekend to win a Group 3 in scintillating style. He ended the season with a fair 3rd place in the British Champion Stakes, when the soft ground was probably against him.
Ascot’s 10 furlong track and fast ground should suit this exciting individual down to the grounds. I can’t wait to see him back on the track. Big things are expected and Mr. Weld has proved in the past to be well able to produce Free Eagle first time out. He is the horse they all have to beat here.
The Domestic Challenge
Last seasons brilliant Irish Champions Stakes winner The Grey Gatsby has been slightly disappointing in two starts this season. While one could say he came up against a superstar at Meydan over a trip slightly too sharp, there weren’t too many excuses for him at the Curragh the next time.
He’ll appreciate the quick ground here but has to produce his brilliant best if he wants to play a prominent role in the outcome of this race. That says it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him bouncing back to his brilliant best with conditions very much to suit.
Already a Royal Ascot winner, Cannock Chase must be respected. He’ll love the ground and the track. You could make some excused for him in his two stars this year, although he doesn’t seem to have physically improved over the winter and my perception is he’ll find it tough against top class older horses.
Western Hymn has been a revelation this year. He proved to cope with quick ground at Sandown when winning the Brigadier Gerard Stakes last month. He’ll need to take another step forward to feature prominently in this race, though. The same goes for The Corsican. An improving sort, but much more is required here.
The Foreign Raiders
The French Ectot was a 6/1 fancy for last years Arc. For all the right reasons. A Group 1 winner over 1m as a juvenile, he stepped up to 1m 4f winning the Prix Niel as a prep for the big one. He was disappointing in the Arc itself and hasn’t been seen since then. That’s a major worry of course, but if he’s fit, healthy and improved, he’s a major player.
The other French horse Gailo Chop has been beaten by Solow on his seasonal reappearance last month. He’s a good middle-distance horse, but has, however, doubts about his ability on this top level as well as on fast ground.
Potentially the most interesting raider from overseas is Australia’s Criterion. His record in Group races is staggering. He won big races from 6 furlongs up to 1m 4f and has been competitive against internationals before. After smashing his opposition in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes over 10 furlongs at Randwick, connections came up with the idea to ship him out for some of the big races in overseas.
First step was Hong Kong. Criterion was far from disgraced in the QEII at Sha Tin, finishing a fine third. He’s now over in England, reportedly has settled well in to his new surroundings and a big run is expected. He’d probably prefer a bit of rain, however his Hong Kong performance proved he can be competitive on quick ground as well.
The Japanese send out Spielberg. He’s a Group 1 winner at home, beat super mare Gentildonna back in November and acts on fast ground. He’s a serious horse & also stays further, though usually seem to take a while to hit top gear and that might find him out around Ascot.
Verdict: Assuming Dermot Weld has worked his magic again, one would think it takes a special horse to beat exciting Free Eagle. If you want to say something negative about him, then it is the form of his Leopardstown win, which isn’t great. Whether he has improved from three to four is another question mark. Nonetheless I am seriously tempted to take the 3/1 on offer as I thought he’d be a bit shorter. But….
…. I find it impossible not to have a bet on Criterion @ 11/1, which is way too big in my book. Fast ground isn’t ideal, but he handles it fine. He has a high cruising speed and is likely to be in the perfect position turning for home, chasing the pace. He’s able to sustain a high tempo for a lengthy period of time and Ascot as a track may suit absolutely perfectly. He’s the value for me.
Criterion @ 11/1 VCbet – 5pts Win