Sceptical can produce fairytale ending to the week at Ascot

At Naas, Make A Challenge could give Denis Hogan a dream day

Sceptical won last time out at Naas. Photo: Caroline Norris/Inpho

Sceptical won last time out at Naas. Photo: Caroline Norris/Inpho

 

Royal Ascot’s most successful jockey Frankie Dettori has the job of completing a rare fairytale success at the world famous meeting on board the top Irish sprinter Sceptical.

The Denis Hogan-trained horse, bought for just £2,800 out of the Godolphin empire last summer, lines up in Saturday’s Diamond Jubilee Stakes, one of three Group One races on the final day of this unique behind closed doors Royal Ascot.

The logistical headache of having to reconfigure the week’s action due to coronavirus has resulted in a concluding programme of supreme quality.

As expected the three-year-old Group One prizes, the St James’s Palace and Coronation Stakes, contain some of flat racing’s behemoth operations including a handful of runners for Aidan O’Brien.

The game’s major players similarly dot the best two-year-old races of the season so far, the Coventry and Queen Mary Stakes.

They include Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin team, some of whom might end up looking at the big sprint through their fingers.

The regally-bred Sceptical never raced for them and was discarded for the sort of price that’s no more than spare change in bloodstock terms.

It was Dubliner James McAuley who took a chance on the unraced reject along with his brother Stephen and their uncle James Gough.

Sent into training with Hogan in Co Tipperary, Sceptical has proved a revelation, climbing rapidly in the ratings with three wins on the all-weather in Dundalk before blitzing his opposition in a Listed race at Naas earlier this month.

That was under apprentice Joey Sheridan but in such unfamiliar and exalted territory Hogan & Co have opted for the most experienced Ascot hand of hall in Dettori.

“It’s great to have the calibre of jockey that we do riding him,” Hogan said on Friday.

“I suppose softer ground would be a bit of an unknown. My gallop here can get very soft during the winter and he seemed to cope with that alright so I’d be hopeful. But at the same time he’s only raced on the grass once and that was on good to firm at Naas,” he added.

Such inexperience in the context of a top all-aged sprint fold underlines the rare profile Sceptical presents for a race won in recent years by elite performers such as the Australian mare Black Caviar (2012) and Godolphin’s very own Blue Point last season.

Ground versatility

Blue Point’s former stable companion barely registered on racing’s radar at that point. It’s a very different story now although in the circumstances One Master’s proven Group One credentials and ground versatility might prove too much.

Hogan has also taken his two-year-old filly Grammata to Ascot for the Queen Mary Stakes, a race that represents a rare blank on Aidan O’Brien’s Royal Ascot CV, one which More Beautiful looks up to filling.

Jessica Harrington has the Curragh winner Dickiedooda in the Queen Mary ahead of Alpine Star lining up in the Coronation. The O’Brien pair So Wonderful and Love Locket also take their chance in a contest where Quadrilateral sets the standard.

The second of RTÉ’s one hour programmes featuring live racing comes from Naas on Saturday where Make A Challenge could make it a day to remember for the Hogan team.

The five-year-old has had his thunder stolen by Sceptical’s remarkable rise but Make A Challenge too is a bargain buy that has exceeded all expectations.

He has to concede weight in the Listed Sole Power Stakes but still holds an edge on official ratings and will relish some cut in the ground.

Nurse Barbara had no race here earlier this month when her saddle slipped leaving the stalls. Given no similar mishap she can go close in the Polonia Stakes.

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