2nd May 2013
It cannot be too difficult for Ascot’s marketing team to attract runners to the royal meeting from all points of the compass. The mere mention that there has been no top-class sprinter trained in Britain since Dayjur will surely do the trick.
Whether that statement, which does not stray too far from the truth, features as part of the cunning plan, we have become used to the challenges from afar, and so accustomed to their successes that I dare say the trophies come engraved ‘Export Only’.
So it came as no surprise when Australia’s Scenic Blast trotted up in the King’s Stand, and just part of the natural order of things that the US should complete a juvenile 5f double with Strike The Tiger in the Windsor Castle and Jealous Again in the Queen Mary.
The shock came on Saturday, when contenders from America, South Africa and Hong Kong were all eclipsed by one of the home team in the Golden Jubilee Stakes, which has lately usurped the Gold Cup’s status as the richest race of the week. Twelve months on from his last victory, in a Coventry Stakes performance that raised hopes of Classic glory, Art Connoisseur came back into the limelight with a career-best effort for his first triumph at the top level.
The Lucky Story colt had won at Leicester and Newmarket before his appearance at last year’s royal meeting, where he scored with something in hand over the subsequent winners of the Dewhurst (Intense Focus) and the Mill Reef (Lord Shanakill), but the rest of his first season did not progress as expected.
Sent off at even money for the Phoenix Stakes, he was fairly trounced by Mastercraftsman, which might seem forgivable now but at the time mounted to a huge disappointment, because the change of gear that had brought him his previous victories was simply missing.
When he turned out a month later for the Gimcrack his effort proved shortlived, but this time there was a genuine excuse, as he came back with a hairline fracture of his off-fore cannon bone that brought his campaign to a premature close.
Art Connoisseur returned in April for quite a serious test, set to give away lumps of weight in the Free Handicap, and when he again finished out of the money it was hard to tell whether he had trained on. But what it did suggest was that the 7f trip wasn’t too far, and that if he was ever to realise his early promise, it would be as a sprinter.
The Golden Jubilee was an ambitious enough target to choose for the colt’s return to sprinting, the more so after he popped a splint last month and was restricted to swimming exercise for two weeks. Getting him to the post at Ascot was a race against time; he could not go there to compete against some of the world’s most seasoned high-class sprinters with any degree of confidence.
But on the day everything that could go right did go right. The stands’ side draw was favourable, the pace, none too brisk early, suited, he was amenable to restraint out the bac, the gap on the rail was available when Tom Queally wanted it and most crucially, the acceleration that had not been seen in public since the 2008 royal meeting was delivered on demand and sustained just long enough to thwart the late-thrusting US raider, Cannonball.
Of course, simply by noting that everything went right for Art Connoisseur on Saturday, we are recognising that the form is not set in stone. Yes, he did give a career-best performance and, in light of his interrupted preparation for Ascot, it is possible that he will be able to raise his game even higher in future.
But he would be no certainty to beat Cannonball again, and the Golden Jubilee form was clearly several pounds below that of the King’s Stand. If Scenic Blast is every bit as good at 6f as he is over 5f, as his form at home indicates, the July Cup will be going down under.
Whatever he achieves in the months to come, Art Connoisseur has provided a fine advertisement for his Tweenhills-based sire Lucky Story, from whose first crop of 54 he comes. The stallion, a brother to Dr. Fong, has been rather neglected by breeders, and this early Group 1 success ought to bring him keener patronage.
It was surprising that Lucky Story realised as little as $95,000 in the Keeneland ring as a yearling, given that his brother had won Group 1 honours in the St James’s Palace Stakes and had gone close again at the same level over the same course and distance as runner-up to Desert Prince in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.
HE WASTED no time in proving that he had been a bargain by winning four races as a juvenile, including a Group 2 double in Goodwood’s Vintage Stakes and the Champagne at Doncaster. A planned challenge for the Dewhurst was aborted after an unsatisfactory gallop at home, but he was still many people’s idea of a likely Guineas contender over the winter.
It was not to be as soundness issues dictated a long layoff, and Lucky Story was not seen again until mid-August, when his second place in the Group 3 Sovereign Stakes at Salisbury suggested that he was every bit as good as ever.
He did not quite match that level of form when seventh soon afterwards in the Prix du Moulin, but any idea that he did not belong in Group 1 company was scotched by his sterling, career-best display in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes when he was the only one to give Rakti a run for his money, going under by half a length.
Lucky Story had only one more start. In the Champion Stakes he was trying 1m2f for the first time, and the ground was the softest he had ever encountered; he finished tailed off behind Haafhd, whom he had beaten in the Champagne Stakes at two.
These are still early days in Lucky Story’s stud career, and Art Connoisseur ranks many pounds above any other of his sire’s stock to date, but want of good mares no doubt has much to do with that. He even lacked numbers in the last two completed breeding seasons, and has only 18 in his yearling crop.
Art Connoisseur’s dam, Withorwithoutyou, was a modest enough runner, but she is a half-sister to two other winners, including Miss Pelling, who scored at Warwick a week ago, and she comes from a family that has produced classic calibre performers such as Balanchine, Romanov, West Wind and Saoirse Abu in recent years. A few more similarly well-connected mares would aid Lucky Story’s cause at stud.