Called To The Bar might well be the longest-priced of those chasing the Weatherbys Hamilton Stayers Million at Royal Ascot on June 20, but if you listen to trainer Pia Brandt you are unlikely to underestimate his chance.
The Chantilly-based Swede has long had the Ascot Gold Cup in mind for the 5-year-old, and she admits that the tantalising prospect of a tilt at the £1m bonus - won in its inaugural year by Stradivarius - has been on her mind since Called To The Bar won the last of this year’s expanded list of qualifying races at Longchamp at the end of last month.
Brandt, world-ranked 168 in the latest TRC Global Rankings (and 12th in France), said, “It’s very exciting to have such a big bonus available to staying horses and of course the £1m has been in our heads since Called To The Bar won at Longchamp, but we won’t think too much about the rest of the series until we’ve seen what happens at Ascot."
She added, "So far as Called To The Bar’s preparation is concerned, it’s so far so good. He’s been very well since Longchamp and we know he travels well. I ran Bathyrhon in the Gold Cup in 2015 and he finished a close fifth to Trip To Paris. Called To The Bar is a similar sort of horse, as he is a stayer with a turn of foot, but I would say he is better in the head than Bathyrhon.”
Brandt, who trains around 75 horses alongside her husband Joakim, is under no illusions about how difficult it will be to win the Gold Cup, let alone the bonus, but she is confident Called To The Bar will run well.
She said: “What Stradivarius did last year was very impressive, as I don’t think anyone thought it was possible. The distance will be new to Called To The Bar, but he relaxes well, and so long as he settles he can produce a good turn of foot. Like any trainer, I would prefer it not to be too firm, but otherwise I wouldn’t have any concerns. The most important thing is that we are able to run our own race.
“Our first Ascot runner was L’Amour De Ma Vie, who was second in the Duke of Cambridge in 2014, and our second was Bathyrhon. Maybe it will be third time lucky.”
Called To The Bar’s three-length defeat of Way To Paris in the Prix Vicomtesse Vigier at Longchamp at the end of last month was his sixth in a career that has already taken him to Dubai and the United States for earnings just short of £500,000. He was also a little unlucky when second in the G1 Prix Royal-Oak on his last start of 2018, having been carried very wide on the first bend.
Brandt has always had an eye for a chance and has been a regular in the better races in the UK on the all-weather, picking up a good prize when Fresles took the Fillies' And Mares' Championship on Finals Day at Lingfield in 2015. Called To The Bar’s American trip, where his G1 second at Belmont Park earned £179,000, confirmed her willingness to travel far and wide.
She said, “In France, a lot of the top races aren’t open to geldings so I have to look elsewhere. Called To The Bar ran really well at Belmont, and he’s also been to Dubai. We like to look for the best opportunities, wherever they are.”
If Called To The Bar’s blue silks with white stars look familiar, that’s because they are. He runs for Brandt herself and for Fair Salinia Ltd, the latter recalling Sven Hanson’s 1978 Oaks and Irish Oaks winner. The silks were also carried to multiple G1 success by the mare Pride.
Brandt said: “Sven is a fellow Swede and came to France before we did. We got to know each other and we’ve had some success, as well as a lot of fun.”
Whatever the outcome on Gold Cup day - and Brandt is optimistic - the trip to Royal Ascot should certainly be fun.