Saddler’s Rock can strike gold at Royal Ascot for Curragh trainer John Oxx

Conditions ideal for the Irish raider but Dermot Weld will be hoping for overnight rain for Rite Of Passage

Saddler’s Rock rates a solid selection to lift the Gold Cup for Ireland at Royal Ascot.

Saddler’s Rock rates a solid selection to lift the Gold Cup for Ireland at Royal Ascot.


Having endured the agony of three runner-up finishes in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, victory for the champion jumps trainer Willie Mullins with Simenon in today’s Ascot Gold Cup would provide an attractive twist to flat racing’s greatest staying prize. But another Irish hope in Saddler’s Rock could unravel the snappy storyline.

What is undeniable, though, is the influence the visitors are expected to have on this historic prize with the 2010 winner Rite Of Passage and Aidan O’Brien’s El Salvador joining both Simenon and Sadler’s Rock in a day three highlight that for home fans revolves around the royal-owned favourite Estimate.

A filly owned by the Queen and trained by Michael Stoute could hardly be more Royal Ascot establishment and Estimate will be her owner’s first Gold Cup winner if she continues her progress to the top level. For the visitors her presence will possibly add even more of a frisson to a traditional pot that continues to hold an immense attraction in the current speed-obsessed bloodstock environment.

Career best
What the stayers usually provide is continuity and Simenon certainly does that. Having provided Mullins with his first win at the meeting last year in the Ascot Stakes, he followed up later that week in the Queen Alexandra and looked to serve up a career best on his return to action in the Chester Cup last month when enduring a nightmare passage.

What he isn’t – yet – is a proven Group One performer, something Rite Of Passage definitely is, but while quick going will be to Simenon’s liking, the 2010 winner’s injury-plagued career in recent years make the conditions a vitally important consideration. And a “mixed” forecast hardly provides clarity.

The Rite Of Passage camp will hope for showers to take the sting out of the going but John Oxx’s priority for Saddler’s Rock is different, and straight-forward – pace. Saddler’s Rock can be hard to catch right but quick going and a quick pace are vital and it looks like he might get both today. Last year, he finished third to Colour Vision off a farcical tempo and pulled so hard that his final placing was actually meritorious on softish ground.

Switch him off
If Declan McDonogh can switch him off, and there’s no repeat of the saddle misfortune that ruined his chances in Dubai in March, then Saddler’s Rock can secure his trainer a first Group One prize in almost four years.

Coach House is a major Irish contender for the opening Norfolk Stakes and Alive Alive Oh will fill a similar role in the following Ribblesdalde Stakes where she carries the colours of Sue-Ann Foley, daughter of top owner JP McManus. Hugely progressive in two starts this season, the Duke Of Marmalade filly is joined by Ballydoyle’s Irish 1,000 Guineas placed Just Pretending.

Both fillies will attempt to continue Ireland’s good record in the “Ascot Oaks” but a value alternative could be the Stoute runner Elik, who can’t have the ground fast enough and who should relish a step up to the mile and a half.

The Coolmore-owned Wentworth could turn out to be a handicap blot on the Britannia Stakes but his route is determined by a 30 draw. Better value can be had from the lightly raced Secret Talent, who is drawn on the other side in two.