Most Australian racing fans are looking forward to this week’s Royal Ascot meeting more eagerly than at any time since Black Caviar’s Diamond Jubilee Stakes win a decade ago.
Australia has had runners since the champion mare’s gripping win, even a winner in the Segenhoe Stud-born Merchant Navy but has lacked the potency it appears to possess in 2022.
Eight-time Group 1 winner Nature Strip is pressing American star Golden Pal for favouritism in a mouth-watering Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes (1000m) on Tuesday, while Home Affairs is favourite for Saturday’s Group 1 Platinum Jubilee (1200m) in which Artorius is a handy back-up.
The powerful Aussie contingent is a throwback to the decade that started with Choisir’s trail-blazing double and ended with Black Caviar, when Australian sprinters were the most feared on the planet.
Covid ensured Australia has not been represented since Houtzen finished down the track in the King’s Stand Stakes in 2019 and it is not just Aussie racing fans thrilled to see them back.
“We’ve missed having the Australians at Ascot and to have three at this level is a really significant bounce back,” Ascot’s Director of Racing and Public Affairs, Nick Smith, said.
“No one gets behind their equine heroes like the Australians. When I see the shots of Fed Square on the BBC coverage of Black Caviar’s win, I am always amazed, even now in the replays.
“The consistency and class of the Australian horses was a benchmark of the quality of our sprints 10 years ago and it is good to see a return to that.”
Australia’s involvement with the Royal Ascot sprints famously started with Choisir, who won the then-Group 2 King’s Stand Stakes and backed up four days later to win what was then known as the Golden Jubilee Stakes.
Takeover Target (King’s Stand Stakes, 2006), Miss Andretti (King’s Stand Stakes 2007) and Scenic Blast (King’s Stand Stakes, 2009) are Australian-trained gallopers to have won at the Royal meeting since.
Aussies also claim Platinum Jubilee Stakes winners Starspangledbanner (2010) and Merchant Navy (2018), who won in their first preparations after being transferred from their Australian trainers to Aidan O’Brien.
Takeover Target, Magnus, Star Witness and Brazen Beau are other Australian-trained sprinters who have run placings in Royal Ascot sprints.
The Paul Perry-trained Choisir is rightly credited as the horse who started it all, but Smith said Takeover Target was just as important in terms of Australia’s long-term involvement.
The Joe Janiak-trained gelding contested both feature sprints in 2006, 2007 and 2008, never finishing further back than fourth.
“I was extremely nervous at the time that it would be a one-off moment in time, especially after Fastnet Rock travelled and never made the track in 2005,” Smith said of Choisir’s success.
“It was probably Takeover Target in 2006 who was the game-changer as he showed it wasn’t just the exceptional Choisir who could do it and then it became a regular feature.”
The five Australian-trained winners at Royal Ascot all won the race now known as the Black Caviar Lightning (1000m) at Flemington earlier in the year, a race that this year saw Home Affairs hold off his Chris Waller-trained stablemate Nature Strip in a thrilling finish.
Home Affairs was then unplaced in the Group 1 Newmarket Handicap (1200m), in which Artorius was an eye-catching fifth placegetter, while Nature Strip’s latest outing resulted in a third-straight win in the Group 1 T.J. Smith Stakes (1200m) at Randwick.
Both Nature Strip and Home Affairs will be ridden by Sydney-based New Zealander, James McDonald, in their respective events with top local jockey Jamie Spencer to partner the Anthony and Sam Freedman-trained Artorius.
Australian-trained sprinters at Royal Ascot
CHOISIR (Paul Perry): Won King’s Stand Stakes and Golden Jubilee Stakes. BELLE DU JOUR (Clarry Conners): 15th Golden Jubilee Stakes.
TAKEOVER TARGET (Joe Janiak): WON King’s Stand Stakes, 3rd Golden Jubilee. FALKIRK (Lee Freedman): 4th King’s Stand Stakes GLAMOUR PUSS (Danny O’Brien): 7th King’s Stand Stakes, 10th Golden Jubilee Stakes.
MISS ANDRETTI (Lee Freedman): WON King’s Stand Stakes, 15th Golden Jubilee Stakes TAKEOVER TARGET: 4th King’s Stand Stakes, 2nd Golden Jubilee Stakes. MAGNUS (Peter Moody): 3rd King’s Stand Stakes, 14th Golden Jubilee Stakes BENTLEY BISCUIT (Gai Waterhouse): 30th King’s Stand Stakes.
TAKEOVER TARGET: 2nd King’s Stand Stakes, 4th Golden Jubilee MAGNUS: 8th King’s Stand Stakes
SCENIC BLAST (Danny Morton): WON King’s Stand Stakes
NICCONI (David Hayes): 4th King’s Stand Stakes GOLD TRAIL (Gary Portelli): 10th King’s Stand Stakes ALVERTA (Paul Messara): 14th Golden Jubilee Stakes *** Australian-bred Starspangledbanner won Golden Jubilee Stakes for Aidan O’Brien
STAR WITNESS (Danny O’Brien): 2nd King’s Stand Stakes, 3rd Golden Jubilee Stakes
BLACK CAVIAR (Peter Moody): WON Diamond Jubilee Stakes ORTENSIA: 9th King’s Stand Stakes
SHAMEXPRESS (DannyO’Brien): 9th King’s Stand Stakes SEA SIREN (John O’Shea): 9th Diamond Jubilee Stakes
BRAZEN BEAU (Chris Waller): 2nd Diamond Jubilee Stakes WANDJINA (Gai Waterhouse): 6th Diamond Jubilee Stakes SHAMAL WIND (Robert Smerdon): 13th King’s Stand Stakes
HOLLER (John O’Shea): 7th Diamond Jubilee Stakes
2018 REDKIRK WARRIOR (D&B Hayes, T Dabernig): 10th Diamond Jubilee Stakes *** Australian-bred Merchant Navy won Diamond Jubilee Stakes for Aidan O’Brien
HOUTZEN (Toby Edmonds): 8th King’s Stand Stakes
– RAS NewsWire