Racing at Ascot always attracts a global audience and, over the past decade, there has been an exponential rise in trainers sending their horses to Berkshire from countries such as the USA, Japan and Australia. The latter don’t have many winners at UK festivals but a former Southern Hemisphere runner picked up a notable success at Royal Ascot in summer 2018 and trainer Chris Waller will be looking to fly the flag for Australia once again in October.
Merchant Navy was the latest horse to be bred down under to triumph on the Ascot turf with the four-year-old grinding out a victory in the Diamond Jubilee at this year’s royal event. Having previously been victorious in the Coolmore Stud Stakes, connections were confident of a big run and he was roared home by a smattering of Australians who were in attendance.
It was a typically competitive contest with Merchant Navy holding off French raider City Light and Bound for Nowhere. Although trained by Aidan O’Brien in Ireland, Merchant Navy is a household name to Australian racing fans. It was just his second run in Europe following a switch of stables and original trainer Ciaron Maher was in attendance to watch his former charge make it seven wins from ten on the flat.
The four-year-old had previously been successful at Flemington, Pakenham and in the Group 3 McNeil Stakes at Caulfield but has since been retired to stud and won’t be seen again on UK soil.
Unfortunately, fellow Aussie raider Redkirk Warrior wasn’t as effective and struggled to get involved in the six-furlong sprint.
There will be further Australian interest in October with Finche entered into the Group 2 QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup. Trainer Chris Waller will be hoping that his stayer can be successful in the two-miler and justify the trip to the Northern Hemisphere. It could potentially be a busy month for the four-year-old, who is sired by Frankel, as he also holds an entry for the Qatar Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe, which takes place at Longchamp on October 7th.
Finche has previously been successful on French soil with a victory in the Grade 3 Prix de Reux, beating Tiberian by two lengths. With over $110,500 of prize money to its name, Waller will be hoping that his charge will have the stamina to cope with the Ascot trip. Finche is currently un-raced beyond 1 mile and 4 furlongs but has been staying on nicely during the majority of his performances so far.
It’s been a successful year for Sydney’s top trainer, who has dominated the sport since 2005. His first Group 1 winner came in 2008 when Triple Honour was victorious in the Doncaster Handicap and he’s been crowned Australia’s Champion Group 1 trainer on a number of occasions since.
He currently has a hugely talented string and holds entries to the Group 1 Darley Stakes at Randwick and, at the time of writing, he has an eight-strong hand for the Tab Epsom Handicap.
His most notable inmate is Winx who has recorded 31 victories from 37 outings on the turf. The mare is admired worldwide and hasn’t been defeated since April 2015 when finishing second in the Seven News Australian Oaks at Randwick. Her achievements also include securing two successive Cox Plates in 2015 and 2016. The seven-year-old was recently seen in the Group 1 Colgate Optic White Stakes beating Romain by a comfortable four lengths.
She has broken all sorts of records during her time on the track and made history with a 26th consecutive victory in August and was once again partnered by regular jockey Hugh Bowman. The previous record had been set by Black Caviar who managed to rack up 25 consecutive wins on Australian soil.
There have been many calls for Winx to test herself in the UK but she has remained down under and doesn’t hold any entries for European races. Australian horses travelling to the Northern Hemisphere has become increasingly common and connections are refusing to rule out the possibility of a future venture to Europe.
Chris Waller has also enjoyed success this season with a victory in the Newcastle Gold Cup which took place on September 14th. The trainer had two entries to the contest with Vassal finishing eighth under the ride of Jeff Penza. Stablemate Carzoff had better luck, however, and helped land the prize pot of over $60,000 for connections. Going off the 13/5 favourite, he clinched a narrow victory ahead of Auvray and Just Shine. Both Carzoff and Auvray were identified as key runners to look out for in the Group 3 event in Oddschecker’s preview of the 1 mile and 3 furlong contest and they were separated by just half a length as they hit the line together in a thrilling finish.
It was the second successive year in which Auvray has finished second in the race with the Richard Freedman trained seven-year-old narrowly missing out on top spot yet again. Twelve months ago, he was beaten by a neck as Broadside snuck through to narrowly edge the contest. It’s been a frustrating period for connections but there is little doubt that the perennial runner-up has plenty of quality.
Carzoff was mightily impressive throughout the contest and jockey Kerrin McEvoy gave him a superb hold-up ride. That patient approach resulted in gaps opening up during the latter stages of the contest and McEvoy took full advantage. The pilot was quick to praise his mount and described him as being “in a really good space”. Carzoff was previously untried at the distance but looked comfortable throughout and the five-year-old can now boast back-to-back successes after securing the Wyong Cup at the end of August.
Finche will be taking on a quality field at Ascot with Stradivarius likely to go off as odds-on favourite. There are a number of runners who still need to be supplemented for the contest but he is likely to be up against Kew Gardens, Southern France, Dee Ex Bee and Willie Mullin’s eight-year-old Thomas Hobson. The latter was last seen winning at Doncaster over a longer distance and has the stamina to outlast many of its opponents in this field. This meeting is seen as the denouement of the flat-racing season in the UK and is one of the richest race days on the calendar.
Last season’s renewal was won by Order of St.George who beat Torcedor by half a length, staying on well for Ryan Moore. The 2018 favourite, Stradivarius, finished in third for trainer John Gosden. Thirteen went to post in the 2017 race and whilst there were a number of Irish raiders in the field, there were no Australian representatives present. Connections remain undecided as to whether the irrepressible Order of St George will return to the scene of his victory and bid to defend his crown.
Finche is quite lightly raced and although currently priced as an outsider for the Long Distance Cup, he could potentially go under the radar for this two-miler. As the son of Frankel, he will be incredibly popular with the Ascot crowd. The Sir Henry Cecil-trained wonder-horse remained unbeaten throughout his career with his final outing coming at the Berkshire track. He beat Cirrus Des Aigles by just shy of two lengths in the 2012 staging of the Group 1 British Qipco Stakes shortly before being retired to stud.
Chris Waller has dominated the Australian racing scene for a number of years and he will be looking to add an Ascot success to his list of achievements. Final declarations will be confirmed in the days leading up to the contest and many will hope to see Finche taking his chance in the contest which takes place on October 20th.