TUESDAY’S Gr1 King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot could be a showdown between Australia and South Africa, writes STEVE MORAN.
Dual Dubai winner Shea Shea, trained by Mike de Kock, represents South Africa, while Danny O’Brien – twice previously a visitor at the Royal meeting – saddles Newmarket winner Shamexpress for Australia.
Only a brave man would declare one or the other a guaranteed winner. However, history suggests that the odds against either one of the two winning ought to be relatively short. Backing one and saving on the other – if the odds allow – looks a smart play.
Since Choisir blazed the trail for Australia in 2003, visitors have dominated the King’s Stand, winning seven of the past 10 renewals – four to Australia and one each to France, Spain and Hong Kong. And one of the three locally trained winners was an acquisition from Europe – Equiano, who repeated his 2008 success in 2010 with a new stable.
Shea Shea (Gary Gillespie) cantering on the work track at Newmarket. (Steven Jell).
If you’ve eliminated the English and European sprinters from the list of winning chances in international sprints around the world in recent years, then you are bound to be a long way in front. Thus I’ll be surprised if it’s not Shea Shea or Shamexpress.
O’Brien, who ran second with Star Witness in the 2011 King’s Stand and seventh with Glamour Puss in 1996, goes to Ascot with a good degree of confidence but is wary of De Kock’s charge.
“Mike de Kock’s got a horse who won twice in Dubai and who looks quite promising. The horse is called Shea Shea and he’ll be the testing material from what we’ve seen,’’ O’Brien told Australian reporters after Shamexpress won a jump-out (unofficial barrier trial) down the straight track at Flemington on 31 May.
In that jump out, Shamexpress beat John Sadler-trained Linton, who last Saturday won the Grade 1 Stradbroke Handicap over 1400m at Eagle Farm in Queensland. That’s an obvious tick for the O’Brien-trained son of O’Reilly, as is the fact that he’s a last-start winner of the G1 Newmarket Handicap at Flemington – a race also won by Australia’s past three King’s Stand Stakes winners, Scenic Blast, Miss Andretti and Takeover Target.
He did win the Newmarket with just 50kg, while his three predecessors won that feature handicap with 56kg or more. Shamexpress is a southern hemisphere three-year-old but will be weighted as a four-year-old with 59kg in the Ascot sprint. However, he’s an early foal, born in August, so is close to turning four.
The form from this year’s Newmarket has not been spectacular – in fact, some would say poor – but runner-up Moment Of Change did run a 2.50-length second to Black Caviar in the G1 Lightning Stakes on his previous start. “I think he’s the right horse for the race. It’s a tough five (1000m) but that will suit him,’’ O’Brien said.
The undulating Ascot course does provide a stiff finish to the straight-course sprints and many would argue that you need more than a 1000m performer to win at that distance in the King’s Stand. However, it is hard to imagine that’s an issue for Shea Shea, despite his two major wins in Dubai coming over a relatively soft 1000m. He’s won over 1400m at home in South Africa and on both occasions in Dubai was full of running through the finishing line.
South Africa’s recent record in the race, direct and indirect, is also better than numbers might suggest. National Colour ran sixth in 2008 but was the second horse home on the far side of the course and she went on to run second in the Nunthorpe.
Mythical Flight was a well-beaten 11th in 2009 but I doubt he was ever quite on song in the UK. Sweet Sanette, who originally raced in South Africa but represented Hong Kong, was a brave third in 2011, with the horse of many homes, War Artist, finishing fifth (the first four that year were all drawn desirably wider).