The flat racing season to date has already seen a number of runners post stellar performances at the track. From Minding’s dismissal of the field in the 1000 Guineas on these shores, to Nyquist’s impressive Kentucky Derby romp in the States. Best of all though was the performance that came over in France, by way of Japan.
A Shin Hikari had looked a seriously impressive individual when landing an all the way success in the Hong Kong Cup at Sha Tin but many wondered whether the son of Japanese legend Deep Impact could prove as effective in Europe. Chantilly was the venue for the colt’s first European assignment as he lined up for the Group 1 Prix d’Ispahan, with a first experience of heavy ground providing a further question for the Masanori Sakaguchi trained runner to answer.
All wondering has now ceased as A Shin Hikari dispelled any doubts in the most emphatic manner imaginable. In a performance reminiscent of Hawk Wing’s Lockinge success of 2003, the Japanese star simply destroyed the field, recording an official winning margin of 10 lengths. If his Sha Tin win was impressive, this display can only be labelled as monstrous. With Group 1 winners Dariyan, New Bay, Mondialiste and Erupt all well in arrears, there is real substance to a performance that on most ratings is the best by any horse anywhere in the world this year.
A Shin Hikari’s next target is the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes on the second day of the Royal meeting, and if arriving in anything like this form he looks to take the world of beating. The bookmakers have understandably taken evasive action, with Bet365’s shortening of the colt from 12/1 to 2/1 clear favourite being indicative of the general response.
If A Shin Hikari fails to live up to his superstar billing, the one to take advantage could be the Roger Charlton trained Time Test. Whilst not as spectacular as the new favourite for the race, Time Test posted an impressive performance of his own in taking the Brigadier Gerard Stakes at Sandown. It isn’t easy to give weight and a beating to a Group 3 field, especially not on your first start of the season, but Time Test proved up to the task in seeing off course specialist Western Hymn. Having initially been cut to 6/1 from 8/1 by Sky Bet, the momentum building around the Japanese runner has seen Time Test drift back out to 10/1 with the same firm.
Royal Ascot is one of the few meetings of the year with a truly international flavour, and A Shin Hikari won’t be the only global star rolling into town. Hopes have been high for a while now that US wonder mare Tepin would make the journey over. All appeared to be going smoothly, with the apple of trainer Mark Casse’s eye continuing to win with consummate ease back home, however Britain’s differing racing regulations appeared to throw a spanner in the works.
Many horses in the USA race with the benefit of the performance aiding drug LASIX with Tepin included amongst them. The drug is forbidden elsewhere in the world however and it remains to be seen how she performs without it Ascot. What proved to be the issue with regards to her participation though was the nasal strip she utilises to aid her breathing. Whilst in theory not being all that different from a tongue tie, nasal strips are not permitted to be used on British tracks. Before connections would commit to taking up her Queen Anne Stakes entry a LASIX and nasal strip free trial was deemed necessary for the filly, who does suffer from a slight breathing issue. Thankfully all went well as Tepin galloped comfortably without her usual aides. The filly is now 9/2 favourite in the betting with Sky Bet for one of the highlights of the opening day.
Another US-trained filly had long been out on her own at the head of the market for the Commonwealth Cup. The Wesley Ward speed machine Acapulco looked a worthy favourite for the premier sprint of the season for three year olds, having blown the competition away in the Queen Mary Stakes at the meeting last year. Given the blistering pace she illustrated that day, many where beginning to wonder where her main threat would come from, if she was to be threatened at all. Well Acapulco has company at the head of affairs now, following the emergence of a new potential sprinting star.
The only blemish on the record of Karl Burke’s Quiet Reflection prior to the Sandy Lane Stakes at Haydock was a sound beating on her only previous attempt at Group 2 level. If she were to prove worthy of her place in the Commonwealth Cup line-up she really needed to improve on that previous effort. Improve she did, and how. Travelling supremely well throughout, the daughter of Showcasing quickened right away in the closing stages to win as she liked, without apparently coming out of second gear. Her arrival on the scene adds real spice to day fours’ big sprint contest and Coral were certainly impressed, making her their new 7/2 favourite for the race having previously rated her a 12/1 shot. Acapulco hasn’t been forgotten however, and is still favourite in many lists with Sky Bet’s 9/2 being the best odds available.
The big drifter in the aftermath of the Sandy Lane Stakes was the Hugo Palmer trained Gifted Master. Arriving at Haydock seeking a six timer, he simply didn’t have the pace to live with Quiet Reflection in the closing stages in what was his first crack at Group 2 level. Having been as short as 5/1 he is now out to 12/1 in places on the odds comparison sites.
One of the most intriguing runners to emerge as a possible Royal Ascot contender in recent weeks is the John Gosden-trained Cunco. Now there are any number of potentially top class juveniles entered in Royal Ascot’s two year old contests at this stage but what makes this one interesting is his sire.
Having been the greatest flat horse to ever grace the track, there was always going to be an unparalleled interest in the progeny of Frankel when their time came to make their racecourse debut’s. Being the first ever runner of his superstar sire, the spotlight shone particularly brightly on Cunco at Newbury in May. Despite misbehaving in the preliminaries, Cunco soon got the hang of things when the race was underway, flying home in the final furlong to make an impressive winning debut.
Frankel was twice successful at the royal meeting during his illustrious career scoring in the St James’s Palace Stakes and the Queen Anne. Connections will be hoping it’s a case of like father, like son, as it Royal Ascot and the Coventry Stakes which is next on the agenda for Cunco. That’s a big step up in class but who’s to say he won’t be up to it. Looking at our live odds comparison tables the 14/1 with Sky Bet are the best odds currently available, so grab a piece of that while you can!