Royal Ascot 2023

Trackwork tees up Australian challengers for King's Stand Stakes

Australian raiders Coolangatta and Cannonball warmed up for Tuesday’s G1 King’s Stand Stakes with separate workouts on Ascot’s straight track this morning.

Coolangatta will be looking to enhance the formidable record of G1 Lightning Stakes winners at Royal Ascot, with compatriots Choisir, Takeover Target, Miss Andretti, Scenic Blast, Black Caviar and Nature Strip all winning the five-furlong highlight prior to the Royal Meeting.

With co-trainer Ciaron Maher in attendance, Coolangatta and big-race jockey James McDonald worked over just shy of five furlongs and the duo were comfortably clear of lead horse So Chic at the finish.

Maher said: “The idea was to bring Coolangatta here and have a look at the whole surrounds. We did a bit of paddock schooling and then had a nice look at the track. She stretched nicely to the line and James said she took quite a while to pull up. He was beaming about the work and it was everything I wanted to see. She has really thrived since being here – she is in the very quiet surrounds of Lambourn – and she was in need of a nice hit out to keep a lid on her.”

Coolangatta appeared workmanlike as she finished third in a Flemington barrier trial at the end of May, a workout that initially left connections with more questions than answers.

Maher explained: “In the jump out at Flemington, she ran her second fastest half-mile that she has ever run. I still cannot get my head around it, but I guess that is why we have the trackers and stuff on them, because trials can be deceiving. The track was quite damp and, although she ran well as a two-year-old on a damp track, there were a lot of good horses in that trial – but James said it was the weirdest jump out that he has ever been in. Hopefully, it was just that, because she has thrived since then.

“I suppose winning the Lightning Stakes down the straight at Flemington gives you some confidence about handling the track here. Straight track racing can be quite different to some of the tighter tracks at home like Moonee Valley, where she has won before. We have come here thinking that the track would not be a problem.

“It is huge for the owners. On the plane over yesterday, I was watching the Frankie Dettori documentary and he said this is probably the biggest race meeting in the world. The owners are lovers of racing, who like to travel their horses, and they enjoy it. They have had a lot of success in Australia and they were keen to come over and try their luck.

“I was just as keen as anyone to get over here and have a crack at it. There are not a lot of five-furlong races at this level, even at home. Coolangatta is good fresh and, even after her win in the Lightning Stakes, I still feel she is a filly that is developing. We think she is the right horse for Ascot and my training partner Dave Eustace knows his way around here. 

“We had Merchant Navy before he was sold to Coolmore. Aidan O’Brien brought him over here but I think they leased him back to the connections who raced him in Australia, so I was here and experienced that with them.

“I suppose the likes of Nature Strip and Black Caviar were top-line sprinters. They came over with more runs on the board. Coolangatta was quite immature as a two-year-old and early on as a three-year-old, but she has been right up there all the way along. Even James made the comment today, given he rode her in the Golden Slipper, that she has really strengthened up since then. When they keep developing, they keep improving, and hopefully she is still on the up.

“Winning here would be huge. We have had a very good season at home and this would be the icing on the top should it come to fruition. In terms of international racing, the world seems to be getting smaller and we would be keen to come again if we have a horse good enough. Whether it is here, Hong Kong or elsewhere, there are plenty of places that we would like to explore.”

McDonald was one of the leading riders at Royal Ascot last year with three winners, headlined by Nature Strip’s dominant display in the King’s Stand Stakes, and the New Zealand-born rider is looking forward to returning this year.

McDonald said: “Royal Ascot is one of the greatest weeks in racing. I definitely circle it every year and, if I am lucky enough to come here, then I am on the plane straightaway. With the racing and the whole atmosphere, it is one of the best carnivals in the world. It is hard to get rides at Royal Ascot but I should have maybe 11 or 12 rides over the week.

“Coolangatta handled the track beautifully. She ticked a lot of boxes and I was delighted the way she stretched and extended. I let her breeze through the line and she pulled up extremely well. She is a strong five-furlong horse and an extremely talented filly. She is a dual Group One winner who has beaten one of the best sprinters in Australia in I Wish I Win.

“She did it really well over the five furlongs at Flemington, which gives us a bit of confidence coming here. The quality she beat that day in the Lightning was simply sensational – any of those sprinters could travel anywhere around the world and be competitive.

“Nature Strip was a champion racehorse but Coolangatta is getting there and I have no doubt she will run well on Tuesday. This morning has given me a lot of confidence.”

Cannonball is coming in off a third in the G1 Galaxy at Rosehill in March, in what was his first taste of action at the highest level after an impressive G3 win the week before. Trained by Peter & Paul Snowden, the Capitalist colt worked individually over just short of five furlongs.

Peter Snowden said: “Cannonball did a routine piece of work this morning. He is quite a gross colt and he needed that. He arrived here on Friday and had a few easy days, which he had taken the benefit of. The gallop today will bring him back up to the mark somewhat. He will do a bit more on Saturday morning and then he will be ready to go.

“My expectations are always exceeded! He is an inexperienced horse but, in his two starts for me, he has shown that he is well above average. He won the Maurice McCarten in a very fast time and backed up a week later in a Group One, when he probably could have won. He is climbing up the ladder pretty quickly.

“He is a fast horse, he is a tough horse, and he has handled this trip over here like it’s nothing. This is his first time away from home, and the longest he has been on a truck before is two hours. He has just had 24 hours on a plane and it did not faze him one bit. That attitude will carry him a long way.

“The five furlongs of the King’s Stand Stakes is all about speed and toughness, and he has both in abundance. I hope he is flying under the radar, because he should be on form, but I quite like the horse and think he is up to it.

“It is great to be here. Ascot is a world renowned racecourse and everybody knows about next week. The King’s Stand is a big race and, given the Aussies have won it a few times, there is a bit of expectation. There are no guarantees in racing but we will give it a good shot. One of his owners James Harron is from these parts and it will mean a lot to him to be competitive. I am sure the horse will not let anyone down on Tuesday.”

Regarding the success of Australian sprinters at Royal Ascot, Snowden said: “We focus a lot on speed. Our two-year-old races are worth a fortune, colts are now worth a fortune, and it makes sense to get them up and running early. If a colt wins a Golden Slipper and a Caulfield Guineas, they are worth 50 million. With the breeding, we do not think about racing for Melbourne Cups worth eight million when the Everest is worth 15 or 20 million. Our emphasis is just going the other way to you guys here, where it is all about the Classics, which is fantastic for the longevity and depth of breeding. Our mindset is all about speed on speed on speed and quick returns. Whether it is good or bad, I am not sure, but that is what our industry in Australia is built on.”