Harry Angel can prove he’s a horse for the Ascot course
Dermot Weld aiming to bridge 18-year gap with Ulster Derby victory
Adam Kirby riding Harry Angel win The Duke of York Clipper Logistics Stakes at York in May. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images
The ‘horses for courses’” theory will be thoroughly tested when Harry Angel lines up for Royal Ascot’s final day feature, the Diamond Jubilee Stakes.
Europe’s top-rated sprinter has to battle an international field including rivals from Australia, the US, France and a trio of Aidan O’Brien-trained stars from Ballydoyle.
Most of all perhaps, Harry Angel has to overcome a belief that no wins from his previous four starts at the track make him a very opposable favourite.
If faith in ‘horses for courses’ forgets how form can fluctuate according to the interests of a horse’s human connections then dismissing it ignores how mercurial these creatures can be.
Red Rum probably did love Aintree more than anywhere else but it was also where he was most fully tuned-up.
So while the week’s final Group One highlight can be billed in classic Godolphin v Ballydoyle terms, or as a trans-Atlantic clash, maybe even a hemispheric one, it ultimately could come down Harry Angel v Ascot.
The uncertainty is factored into his price as it’s hard not to suspect if this race was at Newmarket, York or just about anywhere else this outstanding sprinter would be shorter than he is.
What’s important to consider though is that it’s not like Harry Angel has turned his nose up at the place.
Getting beaten a nose on your career debut is hardly a disgrace. Neither was getting edged out by Tuesday’s King’s Stand winner Blue Point, or finishing ahead of that one, and only just behind Caravaggio, in a vintage Commonwealth Cup.
As for a Champions Day defeat in October that came at the end of a long season and on soft ground very different to Saturday’s.
Harry Angel’s trainer Clive Cox isn’t losing sleep over a zero from four Ascot record and can hardly be expected to talk down his chances. Yet he looked to nail the quandary anyway when he said: “I think it’s more coincidence rather than a serious problem.”
There are so many variables in top sprinters anyway that others may have worries more concrete than theoretical.
None more so than Aidan O’Brien whose latest star Australian import, Merchant Navy, has to labour under a November 14th, 2014 birth-date. That makes him a three year old by Southern Hemisphere standards yet an older horse here.
There was plenty to like about Merchant Navy’s European debut in the Greenlands when beating his stable companion Spirit Of Valor. Ratings-wise however he faces a task in trying to get the better of his compatriot Redkirk Warrior who was superior to him at Flemington in March.
The American Bound For Nowhere will attempt to emulate his Wokingham Stakes-bound stable companion Undrafted who won the Diamond Jubilee three years ago.
Harry Angel doesn’t have that sort of winning course form. But the minute plus it takes to run his latest go at Ascot could see it being fifth time lucky.
Crystal Ocean should prove too big an obstacle to Ballydoyle in the Hardwicke where last year’s winner Idaho goes again although Joseph O’Brien may have a good shout at the Windsor Castle with Dom Carlos who won well at the Curragh a couple of weeks ago.
The concluding Queen Alexandria can emerge as a Willie Mullins-Gordon Elliott showdown although the champion jumps trainer looks to hold a potentially decisive edge with Thomas Hobson.
Both men will face off too at Gowran’s National Hunt Saturday fixture although the home feature in Ireland is Down Royal’s €70,000 Magners Ulster Derby on the flat.
It is 18 years since Dermot Weld last won Down Royal’s biggest flat prize with the subsequent Melbourne Cup hero Media Puzzle. In contrast Jim Bolger has won it in three of the last four years. The old rivals could dominate the finish with Sheberghan and Change Of Velocity.
The pair met in the Spring when down the field in a maiden. Both have won since but this will be the first time Sheberghan, a son of Sea The Stars, has encountered fast ground. That may see a significant step up from his Sligo success last time.
Ger Lyons’s Kafu made his debut in a decent Curragh maiden behind Decrypt and can kick off a quick double for the trainer who also has Nigg Bay in the sprint handicap.