Donn McClean: Naas trials leave O'Brien with a hot hand for Royal Ascot

Etoile’s Group 3 win leaves her primed for the Albany Stakes, writes Donn McClean.

O'Brien: four winners on trials day at Naas.
O'Brien: four winners on trials day at Naas.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

IT WAS ROYAL Ascot trials day at Naas on Sunday. There were no top hats, no tails, no royal procession down the straight, but there was good racing and there were plenty of potential pointers.

There was Royal Ascot precedent too. Caravaggio won the Group 3 Goffs Lacken Stakes in 2017, then went to Royal Ascot and beat Harry Angel and Blue Point in the Group 1 Commonwealth Cup.

Also, Anthem Alexander won the Lacken Stakes in 2015 and finished third in the Commonwealth Cup. Due Diligence won the Lacken Stakes in 2014 and finished second in the Diamond Jubilee at Royal Ascot. And Alpha Centauri went down by just a neck to Different League in the Albany Stakes at Royal Ascot after she had won the Group 3 Coolmore Stud Irish EBF Fillies’ Sprint Stakes on this day two years ago.

The preamble to this year’s renewal of the Fillies’ Sprint Stakes was dominated by So Wonderful and Peace Charter. When those two met on their respective racecourse debuts, over Sunday’s course and distance three weeks ago, it was Peace Charter who came out on top. Even so, the market determined that So Wonderful was likely to exact her revenge on Sunday, sending the Aidan O’Brien-trained filly off at a shade of odds-on, which allowed Ger Lyons’ filly go off at 2/1.

So Wonderful did not exact her revenge. Peace Charter finished in front of her again, but Etoile beat the pair of them.

Peace Charter ran well. Drawn eighth of eight, she raced well off the far rail from flagfall, but she still kept on bravely to finish second. It might pay to retain faith in Khalid Abdullah’s filly.

Etoile was very good in winning the race though. Aidan O’Brien’s filly was longer in the market than her stable companion So Wonderful, understandably, but she was obviously highly enough regarded at home for her to be allowed make her racecourse debut in a Group 3 race.

A daughter of War Front out of the Sadler’s Wells mare Gagnoa, who finished second in a French Oaks and third in an Irish Oaks, she should be able to step up in trip in time, but she showed a fine turn of foot under Seamie Heffernan when she got the gap on the far side on Sunday, and she ran to the line strongly.

Aidan O’Brien said afterwards that she would probably go for the Albany Stakes now at Royal Ascot — the race in which the 2017 winner of this race Alpha Centauri just missed out — and that makes a lot of sense. This was a good performance from the War Front filly, she had good fillies behind her, and it is reasonable to expect that she will improve on this, her racecourse debut. She is exciting.

So Perfect is also exciting. She was an impressive winner of the other Group 3 race on the day, the Goffs Lacken Stakes. She travelled well for Ryan Moore through the race, and she picked up smartly at the furlong marker to come clear of her rivals.

Fourth in the Queen Mary Stakes at Royal Ascot last year, the Ballydoyle filly made her debut this season in the Fred Darling Stakes at Newbury over seven furlongs, when she was beaten a short head and the same by Dandhu and Iconic Choice in a bobbing finish after racing towards the far side for much of the journey.

She seemed to appreciate the drop back down to six furlongs on Sunday, the distance over which she finished a close-up third behind her stable companion Fairyland in the Group 1 Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket last September. She is not devoid of pace.

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The Commonwealth Cup, the Group 1 six-furlong race for three-year-olds inaugurated in 2015 — the race that Caravaggio won at Royal Ascot after winning this race in 2017 — would appear to be the logical Royal Ascot target for the Scat Daddy filly. That said, Aidan O’Brien did say afterwards that she also has the option of the King’s Stand Stakes, against older horses, over five furlongs. That would be intriguing. The Wesley Ward-trained Lady Aurelia is the only three-year-old to win the King’s Stand Stakes since Equiano won it in 2008.

There were other noteworthy performances at Naas on Sunday. The Ger Lyons-trained filly Kaftan was game in getting up to win the opening maiden under Colin Keane, and Soffia, an appropriate winner of the Sole Power Sprint Stakes for Eddie Lynam, showed a fine turn of foot when Declan McDonogh asked her for her effort, to go and win her race. The Michael Halford-trained Surrounding kept on in characteristically determined fashion under Ronan Whelan to deny Chessman in the Listed Owenstown Stud Stakes, while Port Lions was a gallant winner of the last for Madeleine Tylicki and Billy Lee.

Pistoletto overcame adversity — he raced without his two hind shoes — to land the Coolmore Gustav Klimt two-year-olds’ race; another Aidan O’Brien-trained winner, one of four on the day, and another who could be Royal Ascot bound.

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Donn McClean

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