Ascot, England // It is a marker of how Godolphin have morphed in recent years that some of their best chances this week are for trainers from outside the fold.
On Tuesday it was Richard Fahey’s Ribchester who flew the Royal Blue standard here when he won the Queen Anne Stakes, while Barney Roy also came up with the goods for Richard Hannon in the St James’s Palace Stakes.
It is a similar situation today.
John Gosden saddles two strong chances for Godolphin this afternoon and Andre Fabre plays the supporting role.
Gosden will send Dubai Sheema Classic winner Jack Hobbs in to the fray in a wildly competitive Group 1 Prince Of Wales’s Stakes, while he also has Laugh Aloud as the favourite for the Group 2 Duke Of Cambridge Stakes in which Fabre’s Usherette also takes part.
No owner has won the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes more than Godolphin, but their five winners were all sent out by their retained trainers. Since Mahmoud Al Zarooni’s Rewilding won in 2011, horses have increasingly remained with their original trainers after Godolphin purchased them. Now that former chief executive and racing manager John Ferguson has left, it remains to be seen whether this strategy will continue.
Straight after Jack Hobbs’s emphatic success over Coolmore’s Seventh Heaven in a rain-swept Dubai in March, Gosden suggested Saturday’s Hardwicke Stakes over the same 2,400-metre distance would be a logical target. Gosden has clearly had a rethink and does not expect the drop back to 2,000m today to be an issue, particularly on the sort of quick ground the son of Halling won over in the 2015 Irish Derby.
“Jack Hobbs is in good form and I am happy with him,” Gosden said. “It was always the plan to go to Royal Ascot after he won in Dubai, we had the choice of this race and the Hardwicke over a mile and a half later in the week.
“He will be running on ground quicker than he won on in Dubai but he has gone well on a fast surface before.”
Jack Hobbs will once again be ridden by William Buick, and Godolphin’s second string will be Charlie Appleby’s Scottish, the mount of James Doyle.
Buick does not envisage the going to be a problem, either.
“Obviously he’s dropping back a couple of furlongs, but he showed a lot of pace in Dubai when he wore the blinkers first time,” the jockey said.
“He was very good there; he travelled very well and he’s run well in two Champion Stakes there so he’ll be comfortable enough at the trip.”
There have been some notable tussles between Coolmore and Godolphin in this race down the years, most notably Rewilding’s stunning verdict over So You Think, and the Irish operation believe that the tungsten tough Highland Reel can gain his revenge.
Highland Reel failed to handle the soft conditions at Meydan and finished a sulky last behind Jack Hobbs, but returned to Europe to fend off the twin-pronged Godolphin attack of Frontiersman and Hawkbill in the Coronation Cup in some style three weeks ago on good ground.
The short turnaround is unlikely to be a problem for a horse who has raced in seven different countries during his 22-race career.
“He’s an incredibly versatile horse and, while it’s not been long since Epsom, we’ve been happy with what he has done since then,” O’Brien said.
“He’s a typical Galileo – he’s very sound mentally and physically, and very consistent.
“He has a lot of natural ability, a lot of natural tactical pace and obviously he stays very well too.”
Meydan form will also be represented by Decorated Knight, the Jebel Hatta winner who was sixth in the Dubai Turf behind Ribchester and subsequently won the Tattersalls Gold Cup in Ireland.
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