Royal Ascot: it’s the big time now for new sprint sensation Sceptical

A Royal Ascot like no other: Stradivarius (Frankie Dettori) cruises to an historic third Gold Cup triumph at Ascot yesterday in front of empty stands. Photo: Edward Whitaker/Racing Post/

The curtain comes down on Royal Ascot for 2020 tomorrow with a mammoth eight-race Saturday programme, expanded to feature three Group 1s, including the Diamond Jubilee Stakes, which features in the Breeders’ Cup ‘Win and You’re In’ Challenge for the second time.

The six-furlong highlight for 4-year-olds and upwards is preceded by the St James’s Palace Stakes and the Coronation Stakes (for 3-year-old colts and fillies respectively), on the final day of the five-day, 36-race Royal Ascot meeting. 

Like the St James’s Palace, the meeting’s top juvenile race, the G2 Coventry Stakes, is also pushed back from Tuesday to Saturday.

Although the Diamond Jubilee was one of two Royal Ascot races originally advertised as £1 million contests before coronavirus struck, all eight G1 events this week at the behind-closed-doors royal meeting have carried reduced prize-money of £250,000.

Few races on the European calendar feature such a cosmopolitan roll of honour as the Diamond Jubilee, winners since the turn of the century including horses from Australia (Choisir and Black Caviar), Hong Kong (Cape Of Good Hope) and the USA (Undrafted).

However, coronavirus means the overseas contingent this season has been seriously depleted, though the usual Wesley Ward team is joined by Breeders’ Cup heroine Sharing. The Juvenile Fillies’ Turf winner represents Graham Motion in the Coronation Stakes.

Diamond Jubilee Stakes: a bit of context

History: first run in 1868 as the All-Aged Stakes, then known as the Cork and Orrery Stakes (after the 9th Earl of Cork, a 19th century Master of the Buckhounds). Elevated to G1 status in 2002 and renamed as ‘Golden Jubilee’ to celebrate the Queen’s 50 years on the throne; duly became the Diamond Jubilee ten years later. Now restricted to older horses as 3-year-olds have the Commonwealth Cup option at same distance.

Star turn: Black Caviar (2012) – thrilling nailbiter as the jockey Luke Nolen notoriously eased up on the ‘Wonder from Down Under’ and she just held on at a royal meeting turned salmon-and-black in her honour.

Most wins (trainer): Vincent O’Brien (5) Welsh Saint (1970), Saritamer (1974), Swingtime (1975), Thatching (1979), College Chapel (1993).

Most wins – jockey: Lester Piggott (10) Right Boy (1958, 1959), Tin Whistle (1960), El Gallo (1963), Mountain Call (1968), Welsh Saint (1970), Saritamer (1974), Swingtime (1975), Thatching (1979), College Chapel (1993).

Breeders’ Cup Challenge

The winner of the Diamond Jubilee Stakes will receive an automatic fees-paid berth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at the two-day championships at Keeneland on November 6-7. A minimum travel allowance of $40,000 will also be provided for all starters based outside North America; the Challenge winner must already be nominated to the Breeders’ Cup programme or nominated by the pre-entry deadline of October 26 to receive the rewards.

Breeders’ Cup past performance

The Diamond Jubilee was introduced to the Breeders’ Cup Challenge only in 2018 and neither race since has produced a runner in the Turf Sprint, where no European horse has made the first three since Diabolical finished second for Godolphin in the first running in 2008. As such, it is hardly surprising that Royal Ascot has had little bearing - though the aforementioned Diabolical did, at least, run in what was then the Golden Jubilee. He was 16th of 17 behind Kingsgate Native. 

Top contenders for 2020

Sceptical (Denis Hogan/Frankie Dettori) – ex-Godolphin Irish sprint sensation changed hands for only 2,800gns at Doncaster last summer before he had run; won four in a row in Ireland, latterly via fluent success in listed race at Naas; connections chose to come here rather than take on Battaash in King’s Stand on Tuesday. This is his first Group race.

Hello Youmzain (Kevin Ryan/Kevin Stott) – third in last year’s Commonwealth Cup for 3-year-olds at this meeting before winning G1 Betfair Sprint Cup on soft ground at Haydock; returns bigger and stronger according to trainer.

One Master (William Haggas/James Doyle) – seven-furlong specialist has won last two runnings of G1 Prix de la Foret at that distance; also has good form at 6f and loves soft ground, which will make this a stamina test for others.

Khaadem (Charlie Hills/Jim Crowley) – seasonal debut for last year’s Stewards’ Cup winner, who had excuses for dismal efforts after; stablemate of sprint star Battaash and trainer likes his chances here as well with meeting’s top jockey riding for retainer Sheikh Hamdan.

The Tin Man (James Fanshawe/Oisin Murphy) – veteran 8-year-old runs in this race fifth consecutive year; won in 2017, having landed Qipco British Champions Sprint over course and distance the previous autumn.

What they say

  • Denis Hogan, trainer of Sceptical: “I suppose the Diamond Jubilee is the more suitable race without having to take on Battaash. 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.”
  • Kevin Ryan, trainer of Hello Youmzain: “He’s in great order and has done well over the winter physically. Last year he was still on the weak side, but he is a bigger, stronger horse this year and more the finished article. He’s working great and we are all looking forward to him.”
  • Charlie Hills, trainer of Khaadem: “He is one I am really, really excited about. At Goodwood he looked really impressive, then unfortunately for him the ground was so soft when he ran those two races afterwards. He had a bit of a foot problem as well leading up to Haydock [Betfair Sprint Cup] which wasn’t ideal preparation, then it was pretty much bottomless when he went to Ascot. Hopefully we can put a line through them. I couldn’t be more pleased with the way the horse has wintered.”
View Comments
blog comments powered by Disqus

More Road to the Breeders’ Cup Articles

By the same author