View from connections: King's Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot
Last Updated: 17/06/13 11:59am
Shea Shea: Has either won or come nowhere
Mike de Kock is confident Shea Shea can become the first South African-trained Royal Ascot winner in history as he goes for glory in Tuesday's King's Stand Stakes.
De Kock is rightly regarded as a master of his craft on the world stage, having landed multiple top-level prizes all over the globe during the last decade.
The trainer is always a particularly potent force at the Dubai Carnival at Meydan, but a winner at Britain's summer showpiece meeting still eludes him.
Shea Shea certainly has the credentials to break De Kock's duck, having smashed the Meydan track record with a blistering display of speed in the Al Quoz Sprint on Dubai World Cup night in March.
The trainer believes his charge has plenty going for him ahead of his Royal assignment and is keeping his fingers crossed the six-year-old can get the job done in the hands of French-based Belgian Christophe Soumillon.
De Kock said: "His work has always been good. In Dubai when we worked him he flew. He was also training while in quarantine, albeit not as hard as normal.
"I actually think the uphill finish might suit him as he gets going late, but even though he broke the track record twice at Meydan, South Africa has yet to have a winner at Royal Ascot.
"Ascot will be different to what he's used to but he has been to the July Course to work and up the Long Hill gallop so he has had a good go at undulations. Horses cope with most of things we throw at them.
"He's happy, his coat is good, he's eating well and his work has been exceptional. I'm hoping he is in good form. His best form has been on fast ground, though I'm told he has won on soft. Dubai was very fast and firm and he liked that.
"Christophe Soumillon has a good feel for the horse. It would be great to have the win on the CV but if you look at his form, including in South Africa, he's either won or come nowhere. There's no grey area in between so we hope it's another win at Ascot."
One nation who have enjoyed much more success at the Royal meeting is, of course, Australia, with raiders from Down Under having won this race four times in the last 10 years.
Looking to follow in the hoofprints of Choisir, Takeover Target, Miss Andretti and Scenic Blast is the Danny O'Brien-trained Shamexpress, last seen winning the prestigious Newmarket Handicap at Flemington in early March.
O'Brien, whose Star Witness finished a close second in the 2011 King's Stand before placing third in the Diamond Jubilee four days later, said: "He's a horse in a really good space and I think he is still improving - on an upward spiral. I expect him to show that on Tuesday and his next few runs should be the best of his career.
"We were close enough when running second (with Star Witness) to know that we had got most of the preparation right. We are sticking to a similar formula and hoping we can go one better.
"He is going for the July Cup at Newmarket as well and therefore we thought one run at Ascot would be what he needs.
"The reason we have chosen the King's Stand Stakes over the Diamond Jubilee at Royal Ascot is because he has not run for three and a months and will be a bit fresh. It is also a stiff five furlongs which will be ideal for him at this stage."
Heading the home team is Clive Cox's stable star Reckless Abandon. Unbeaten as a juvenile, picking up two Group Ones along the way, the three-year-old was considered a possible 2000 Guineas candidate by some during the winter before work this spring prompted Cox to go down the sprinting route.
He ran a fine race on his seasonal return in the Temple Stakes at Haydock, beaten just half a length into third, and Cox feels his charge will benefit hugely for that run.
"We've got that run (at Haydock) under our belt now, which I think is important, especially from a sprinter's point of view," said the Lambourn handler.
"From a sprinting mentality more than physically it does them the world of good. I'm really pleased that's put him on his game.
"From the end of June and July onwards three-year-olds get a bit of help with weight for age from their elders, but there aren't that many opportunities early in the year. For that reason the Temple was the logical place to go and he acquitted himself really well.
"The ground looks as though it will be near good for the first day and he's a course and distance winner."
The only Irish-trained runner in the field is Eddie Lynam's proven top-class performer Sole Power.
The six-year-old ran a fine race to finish third in last year's King's Stand, but having finished behind Shea Shea twice in Dubai earlier in his campaign, Lynam feels the South African runner will be hard to beat.
"Last year it was good to soft at Ascot and he ran well, which people forget, so as he gets older he's less ground dependent," Lynam told At The Races.
"He loves a fast pace, looking at the draw (stall 14) he has pace around him in Bungleinthejungle and Reckless Abandon, the one negative if I could pick the draw is I'd rather have Shea Shea (stall five) on our side.
"If Shea Shea brings his Dubai form to Ascot it won't matter what the rest of us do. The first time we met him at Meydan he broke the track record, then he went and smashed it the second time. We actually broke the old track record both times but one time we were only fourth.
"If he turns up like that at Ascot I can't see him getting beat but we'll give it a go, our horse is in good form.
"I think Johnny (Murtagh) is the key to him, his improved consistency is down to him and they'll be going for three in a row in England together."
Leading owner Sheikh Fahad fires a formidable two-pronged attack, with Spirit Quartz and Pearl Secret both running under the Qatar Racing banner.
The Robert Cowell-trained Spirit Quartz was fifth 12 months ago, went on to finish second in the Nunthorpe and won a Group Two event at Chantilly on his latest start.
However, retained rider Jamie Spencer has sided with David Barron's Pearl Secret, who won his first four career starts but has not been seen since finishing ninth in the Nunthorpe.
Asked if it was a difficult choice for Spencer, Fahad's racing manager, David Redvers, said: "I don't think it was actually, no. Jamie rode Pearl Secret in a pretty serious piece of work last week and he really couldn't have been more impressed.
"It's obviously a huge call running him in a race like this first time out, but the only two opportunities we've had to run him was on the road (fast ground) and being by Compton Place, that's not what he wants.
"David Barron is keen to run him, he should get his ground and we think he is going to run a very big race.
"Spirit Quartz is a very good horse and incredibly consistent, but he might fall just short at the very top-level. The ground will suit him as well and hopefully he'll run a good race."
Spirit Quartz is one of three runners for Cowell, the others being Temple Stakes winner Kingsgate Native and 2011 King's Stand hero Prohibit.
While the latter's best days may be behind him, Cowell is confident both Spirit Quartz and Kingsgate Native can make their presence felt.
The trainer said: "All three of them are ready to go and are in good order. Spirit Quartz is as fit as a flea and looks fantastic at the moment. He's a very straightforward horse and Joseph O'Brien rides him. He's ridden him before and it won't be a problem.
"Kingsgate Native was very good in the Temple Stakes and with him it all boils down to how he behaves in the pre-parade ring and the parade ring beforehand. If he's on his best behaviour and stays calm, we know he'll run a massive race. If he gets upset, you can pretty much put a line through it.
"Prohibit only ran the other day and it's a day out for him as much as anything. We're not expecting too much.
"I hope both Spirit Quartz and Kingsgate Native can finish in the first four or five and maybe do even better than that, we'll see."
Jeremy Gask is hoping for a bold show from course and distance winner Medicean Man, a winner of a Listed event at Haydock earlier this month.
Gask said: "I'm very happy with him and I'm happy with the draw (stall nine) and the track conditions. He did well out in Dubai earlier in the year, but I think by the time it came round to World Cup night, he'd had enough.
"He seems in really good form at the moment and I think he deserves to take his chance.
"If Shea Shea turns up in the same form he did in Dubai, he's going to be very hard to beat, but this is Ascot, it's a different track for him, so we'll see. We know our horse loves it there."