After a sparkling return to action, all eyes will be on Palace Pier as he bids to claim further big-race honours in the Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes at Newbury.
The Kingman colt was brilliant in beating Pinatubo and Wichita in a pulsating climax to the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot – and handled more testing conditions to double his Group One tally in the Prix Jacques le Marois at Deauville.
He was beaten for the first time when third on his final start of 2020 in the QEII at Ascot in October, but a lost shoe in bottomless ground emerged as a viable excuse and he looked back to his brilliant best when making a successful reappearance in last month’s bet365 Mile at Sandown.
Palace Pier is odds-on to claim a seventh win from eight career starts in this weekend’s feature event, but John Gosden is taking nothing for granted.
“The race (at Sandown) has brought him on and we’re pleased with him going in at this stage,” said the Clarehaven handler.
“It looks a good edition of the race and we wouldn’t want to see a lot more rain. He lost a shoe and had a slight injury in the QEII when the ground got very soft, so hopefully it’s not that – it can happen at Newbury.
“We’re pleased with him, but I have plenty of respect for the opposition. Lope Y Fernandez comes over and he ran exceptionally well at Leopardstown. Sometimes the Lockinge can come up a little bit weak, but not this year.”
The horse rated the biggest threat to Palace Pier by bookmakers is Lope Y Fernandez, who bids to provide trainer Aidan O’Brien with a third Lockinge success following the previous triumphs of the brilliant Hawk Wing (2003) and Rhododendron (2018).
The four-year-old ran in Group One company over a variety of different distances last season, but sticks to a mile after making an impressive return over that trip in a Listed event at Leopardstown last month.
O’Brien said: “We were delighted with him last year. The Irish Guineas was a messy race and it didn’t really tell us if he was a sprinter or a miler.
“After that we messed around with him a bit, but in all fairness he took it well to say it wasn’t far from ideal.
“At the end of it all we decided this horse was a miler. His last run at the Breeders’ Cup was good and we decided we’d get him ready for this race.
“He’s done very well physically and mentally and has settled down. We were delighted with his run at Leopardstown. We’re looking forward to it.
“We’re delighted Palace Pier is running, everyone wants to see the big horses in these races.”
Top Rank is stepped up in class by James Tate after landing a sixth win from eight outings in the Doncaster Mile in late March.
“Palace Pier has won on soft before, so I’m not sure if that was why he was beaten at Ascot, but in any case you’ve just got to concentrate on your own horse. The ground looks like it will suit our horse anyway,” said Tate.
“Trip-wise with him we’ve looked at both alternatives – dropping back to seven furlongs and going up to 10. He doesn’t pull, so I wouldn’t rule out a mile and a quarter one day.
“He may be five but has not been over-raced. I’m very hopeful this season will be his peak season, so it seems like the right one to be having a go at the Lockinge.
“He’s in good form, so we’ll have a go.”
The William Haggas-trained My Oberon filled the runner-up spot behind Top Rank in the Superior Mile at Haydock last September and renews rivalry off the back of winning Newmarket’s Earl of Sefton Stakes.
Haggas said: “He seems fine. I was going to run him in the Prix d’Ispahan, but it’s complicated (travelling to France) so we’re going for the Lockinge.
“I’m not sure he’ll enjoy the ground much but nothing ventured, nothing gained.
“He’s definitely improved. It was a good run first time out – he beat a couple of solid yardsticks.
“Hopefully he’ll show a bit more improvement.”
David O’Meara’s Lord Glitters and John Quinn’s Safe Voyage both make the journey from Yorkshire.
The globetrotting Lord Glitters returns to home soil following a successful stint in Dubai, where he won twice, while Safe Voyage has been off the track since finishing last in the Breeders’ Cup Mile in November.
O’Meara said of Lord Glitters: “He’s had a very good winter. He came back and freshened up nicely.
“He won’t mind the soft ground. Although he’s won on fast ground abroad, he handles slow conditions absolutely fine as well.
“He was let down a bit, but he got turned out every day. He’s now ready to go again.”
Quinn said of Safe Voyage: “We went to Keeneland, but it just went against us. He’s had a nice break, we’re happy with him and he’s training well.
“It’s a good race, but we’re hoping for a good run.
“He’s a very good horse, we’re pleased with him. He’s moving well and it’s fingers crossed. We’re looking forward to it.”
Source : Sky Sports