Great Britain will host the first of four races in the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series to be run in Europe this year when the prestigious Royal Ascot meeting opens at Ascot Racecourse on Tuesday, June 16 – for the first time without spectators due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Breeders’ Cup Challenge is an international series of stakes races, whose winners receive automatic starting positions and fees paid into a corresponding race of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, which is scheduled to be held at Keeneland Race Course, in Lexington, Kentucky, on Nov 6-7.
As part of the benefits of the Challenge Series, Breeders’ Cup will pay the entry fees for the winners of the four races to make respective starts in the TVG Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1), Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2) and Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1). Breeders’ Cup also will provide a minimum travel allowance of US$40,000 for all starters based outside of North America to compete in the World Championships. The Challenge winner must already be nominated to the Breeders’ Cup program or it must be nominated by the Championships’ pre-entry deadline of October 26 to receive the rewards.
In the U.S., NBCSN and TVG will televise the Queen Anne, Prince of Wales’s and the Norfolk as a part of its Royal Ascot coverage. The Diamond Jubilee will be televised live on NBC and TVG.
Taking it to the Max in the Queen Anne
The $317,000 Queen Anne Stakes, on Tuesday, June 16, a ‘Win and You’re In’ qualifier for the TVG Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1), features some of Europe’s leading older milers headed by the Aidan O’Brien-trained 4-year-old Circus Maximus (IRE), owned by Flaxman Holdings, Sue Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith.
Circus Maximus, one of 16 horses entered, established himself among 2019’s top milers when he captured the St James’s Palace Stakes (G1) at last year’s royal meeting on his next start after contesting the Investec Derby (G1). He recorded his other victory in the Prix du Moulin (G1) before finishing fourth in the TVG Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) at Santa Anita.
“The plan is to run in the Queen Anne,” said Alan Cooper, Flaxman Holdings’ racing manager. “They say he is very well so we hope he can live up to his billing. He should run a nice race. As we know it will be his first start for seven months but Aidan is happy with him.
“I think he ran a good race at the Breeders’ Cup. There was a thought he might have finished third with a slightly clearer run but that’s history. We need to focus on going forward and hope he is going to have a good four-year-old career.”
The Queen Anne Stakes could also feature the Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum-owned 7-year-old Mustashry (GB), trained by Sir Michael Stoute, who finished seventh in the race last year after landing the Lockinge Stakes (G1).
Sheikh Abdulla Al Khalifa’s Skardu (GB), trained by William Haggas, finished fourth behind Circus Maximus at Ascot last year and will be having his first start since running fourth in the Celebration Mile (G2) at Goodwood in August.
“He is in good shape but I am just a bit worried he might be underdone,” said Haggas. “We have had a lot of time with him but he is taking some getting fit. He is fit enough to run. James Doyle has been very happy with his work but my feeling is I am not sure whether he is quite there yet.”
Also of interest is the John Gosden-trained Godolphin 4-year-old filly Terebellum (IRE). Making her first start of the year last Saturday (June 6) at Newmarket, the brown daughter of Sea the Stars (IRE) was an impressive winner of the 1 ¼-mile Dahlia Stakes (G2). Ridden by Frankie Dettori, Terebellum also won last year’s Group 2 Nonette Stakes at Deauville.
Addeybb leads Prince of Wales’s Stakes
Haggas hopes ground conditions, which were good (good to soft in places) on Friday, remain suited to his international star Sheikh Ahmed Al Maktoum’s 6-year-old Addeybb (IRE) so he can contest US$317,000 Prince of Wales’s Stakes run on Wednesday June 17, a “Win and You’re In” for the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf.
While racing was suspended in Britain due to the coronavirus outbreak, Addeybb was winning the Ranvet Stakes (G1) and Longines Queen Elizabeth Stakes (G1) in Sydney, Australia, during March and April.
“Addeybb will go if the word ‘soft’ appears in the going,” said Haggas. “He is on course to go but I am not going to run him on fastish ground. There is rain about so we will see where we are. The ground has been very dry for his training. He is fit and full of life and moving well.”
Possible rivals include last year’s Juddmonte International Stakes (G1) winner, Derrick Smith, Sue Magnier, Michael Tabor and Masaaki Matsushima’s 4-year-old Japan (GB), trained by Aidan O’Brien, and Godolphin’s Barney Roy (GB), trained by Charlie Appleby.
Ward out for another Trans-Atlantic Conquest in the Norfolk
Although worldwide travel restrictions have limited the number of overseas participants at Royal Ascot 2020, American trainer Wesley Ward has not been put off and has shipped seven horses to Britain to contest the meeting he describes as ‘The Breeders’ Cup in June.’
Ten-time Royal Ascot winner Ward, who will not travel himself to the fixture, will be predictably strong in the Norfolk Stakes (G2), a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint, on Friday June 19.
Ward has won the US$62,000 Norfolk Stakes twice, with No Nay Never in 2013 and Shang Shang Shang in 2018. He is set to run Ranlo Investments LLC 2-year-old Golden Pal, who finished second on dirt on his only previous start at Gulfstream in April. Ward has described Golden Pal as his best chance of the week.
British opposition will include The Lir Jet (IRE), trained by Michael Bell, who broke the all-aged 5-furlong track record at Yarmouth on his June 3 debut. The colt, from the first crop of 2016 Norfolk Stakes winner Prince Of Lir (IRE), was subsequently bought privately by Qatar Racing.
Bell said: “The track record was a surprise but it wasn’t a surprise that he won because he had been showing up well at home. The conditions were very favorable that day, quickish ground and the wind was helping.
“To break an all-aged track record on debut, carrying 9st 2lb (128 pounds), is not easily done. It was an eye-catching performance which caught the attention of Sheikh Fahad [al Thani of Qatar Racing] and hopefully he will be rewarded.”
Irish sprint sensation Sceptical (GB), a 4-year-old owned by James McAuley and trained by Denis Hogan, is targeting the US$317,000 Diamond Jubilee Stakes (G1), the headline race on the final day of the royal meeting on Saturday, June 20. The winner will earn a guaranteed start in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1).
Sceptical, by Exceed And Excel (AUS) out of Wesley Ward’s 2009 Royal Ascot winner Jealous Again, was bred by Godolphin but never went into training and was picked up at auction by McAuley last August for just approximately US$3,500. He has now won four of his five starts, confirming his status as Ireland’s top rated sprinter with victory in a Listed race at Naas on June 8.
Dettori is booked for the mount in the 6-furlong Diamond Jubilee Stakes, the preferred target over the 5-furlong King’s Stand Stakes (G1) on the opening day of the meeting.
County Tipperary-based Hogan said: “I suppose the Diamond Jubilee is the more suitable race without having to take on Battaash (IRE) [favorite for the King’s Stand]. The distance is ideal and it gives him nearly an extra week to get over Naas.
“With a long season ahead I think it would have been asking too much to run him back so quick. We had thought about going for both races but you can’t be too greedy.”
Other contenders include Haras d’Etreham and Cambridge Stud’s 4-year-old Hello Youmzain (FR), trained by Kevin Ryan, who won the Haydock Park Sprint (G1) last year and the versatile 6-year-old mare, Lael Stable’s One Master (GB), trained by William Haggas, winner of the last two runnings of the 7-furlong Prix de la Foret (G1).