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Aidan O’Brien’s principal Royal Ascot contenders

13 Jun 2017

Master of Ballydoyle has bright prospects of achieving more Champions Series glory

Winter won the QIPCO 1000 Guineas before following up in the Irish equivalent. Picture: Racingfotos.com

Aidan O’Brien scooped ten of the 35 races in the QIPCO British Champions Series last year and has picked up from where he left off this term – winning four of the first seven contests in the 2017 Series.
Can the master of Ballydoyle continue his domination at Royal Ascot next week, when there will be no fewer than eight QIPCO British Champions Series races over the five days? We look at his potential challengers.

Tuesday:
Queen Anne Stakes

O’Brien has saddled the winner of the meeting’s opening race three times since 2006 – none of them returned shorter than 5-1 – but he has no obvious candidate this time, with his only entries being Somehow and Cougar Mountain. Ribchester, winner of the Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes last time and the Evens favourite, is the most likely winner.

King’s Stand Stakes
An open renewal in which Lady Aurelia and Marsha head the betting. O’Brien, who has never won a King’s Stand, has six entries to shuffle with his principal hope being Acapulco, who is a top-priced 11-2. Her days on the racecourse are numbered because she is in foal to Galileo but the 2015 Queen Mary winner has done little wrong in her career and was a fluent winner at the Curragh last month when having her first run for the stable.

St James’s Palace Stakes

Churchill is hot favourite to provide O’Brien with an eighth winner of the race since 2000. The Galileo colt was last season’s champion two-year-old and has extended his winning sequence to seven this term with successive victories in the QIPCO 2000 Guineas and Irish equivalent. He looks the stable’s best hope of an opening day success.

Wednesday:
Prince of Wales’s Stakes

The absence of Minding will be lamented by O’Brien. She would have been a short-priced favourite to chalk up a fifth QIPCO British Champions Series triumph had she not met with a setback. In her absence he has four possibles – the pick being Highland Reel and Deauville. The former is arguably at his best over 1m4f but did chase home Postponed in the Juddmonte International over 1m2f last year.

Thursday:
Gold Cup

Order Of St George won the Gold Cup last year and must have bright prospects of becoming O’Brien’s first dual winner of the race since the mighty Yeats, who won the staying showpiece four years in succession between 2006-2009. Order Of St George looked on good terms with himself when winning his prep race at Leopardstown last time and is no bigger than 11-8 in the betting.

Friday:
Commonwealth Cup

All eyes on the unbeaten Caravaggio, who was a Group 1 winner over 6f as a two-year-old and won in fine style on his return at Naas. Ascot will hold no fears for him, either, to judge by the way he won the Coventry Stakes at the meeting last year. Most bookmakers quote him at Evens.

Coronation Stakes

Few people will be in a hurry to oppose Winter, who is the general 4-6 favourite. The grey was an emphatic winner of the QIPCO 1000 Guineas at Newmarket last month and followed up in stunning fashion in the Irish equivalent. She looks on a different plane to the other three-year-old fillies over a mile.

Saturday:
Diamond Jubilee Stakes

O’Brien has Acapulco and Washington DC entered but, barring setbacks, the pair seem more likely runners in the King’s Stand Stakes. Perhaps the trainer will look to split them up, with Washington DC taking his chance over the extra furlong.

CONCLUSION
Last year O’Brien won one of the eight Series races at the meeting – Order Of St George preventing a blank. It will be a surprise if he is not more prolific this time, with Churchill, Order Of St George, Caravaggio and Winter all short-priced favourites for their respective races. None are bigger than 11-8 in the betting. His prospects in the other four races seem less obvious, although Acapulco will have her supporters in the King’s Stand and Highland Reel would be interesting if allowed to take his chance in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes.