Caravaggio warms up for Royal Ascot with seasonal debut at Naas
Three-year-old likely to be kept to sprints and aimed at Commonwealth Cup
Caravaggio and Seamie Heffernan win the Keeneland Phoenix Stakes last year. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho.
The hugely exciting Caravaggio makes a somewhat belated start to his three year old career when Naas hosts its Royal Ascot Trials fixture on Sunday.
Considering the unbeaten colt was probably the quickest Aidan O’Brien juvenile of 2016 there’s a certain irony to him being relatively slowly out of the 2017 blocks when he lines up in the EMS Lacken Stakes.
Of those other top Ballydoyle two year olds from last season, Churchill has already won at Newmarket and is odds-on to do the Guineas double at the Curragh while Rhododendron was an unlucky 1,000 Guineas loser and is clear favourite to land the Oaks.
Even relatively unexposed middle-distance stable companions got their seasons up and running while Caravaggio was kept away from the classics in order to wait for this weekend’s Group 3 test.
In any other yard the temptation to try and stretch the stamina of this brilliantly precious Phoenix and Coventry Stakes winner to a mile would have been nigh on irresistible.
But Ascot’s new six furlong Group 1 option for three year olds – the Commonwealth Cup – has helped O’Brien steer the son of Scat Daddy down the sprinting route while Churchill & Co dominate the mile and middle-distance fields.
Caravaggio is already a 4-1 favourite for the Commonwealth Cup and although many of Ballydoyle’s horses have stepped up for a run this season, a heady 116 rating leaves his eight opponents facing an uphill task.
The untimely death of Caravaggio’s sire Scat Daddy in late 2015 was a major blow to Coolmore Stud’s American arm and considering their investment in the bloodline there’s a lot riding on one of his best sons enjoying a successful three year old career.
So despite Somehow lining up against Ribchester and Galileo Gold in Saturday’s Group 1 Lockinge at Newbury, it’s not hard to argue that Ballydoyle’s principal weekend focus will be on the Group 3 feature at Naas. Sure enough Ryan Moore will be on duty with little doubts as to which of the Englishman’s five rides is the most important.
Jessica Harrington runs Khukri in the race but summed up most feelings when she conceded: “Khukri won well at Navan and the Lacken Stakes looks the logical place to go but I probably didn’t expect to run into Caravaggio.”
The in-form trainer is likely to fancy her chances of upsetting Ballydoyle much more in the preceding Listed sprint where the giant Alpha Centauri will attempt to confirm placings with Actress from their course debuts.
Alpha Centauri won by two and a half lengths on that occasion but Actress has won since and looks likely to appreciate the extra furlong here.
However so too should Alpha Centauri whose promise is such that Harrington admits she “could be anything.” Should we win her second race in similarly impressive style there’s no doubt she will become a prime Ascot candidate.
Dali is already a 16-1 shot to follow in Caravaggio’s footsteps in next month’s Coventry but the course winner faces no easy task in the Listed Rochetown Stakes.
The English raider Simmy’s Copshop is another winner although the value option could be Ken Condon’s filly Mamba Noire who won well at Cork on her debut and is being targeted at the Queen Mary Stakes.
Whitecliffsofdover is rated 114 after his Free Handicap success last month and looks a standout in the Owenstown Stakes.
Naas has been given an extra date on Tuesday, June 20th, with the replacement of a cancelled Sligo card on the same date. The Sligo track has failed to recover in time from remedial drainage work although officials are hopeful racing will be possible there in July.