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Royal Ascot: Australian sprinters have great record

| 19.06.2023

Royal Ascot has been a happy hunting ground for Australian sprinters and there will again be some interesting raiders from Down Under this week.

Coolangatta will be looking to enhance the formidable record of Lightning Stakes winners in the King’s Stand Stakes at this meeting, with Choisir, Takeover Target, Miss Andretti, Scenic Blast, Black Caviar and Nature Strip all winning the five-furlong highlight prior to the summer showpiece meeting.

Cannonball, who represents the training partnership of Peter and Paul Snowden, will also contest the King’s Stand Stakes on the opening day and could double up in Saturday’s Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee Stakes over an extra furlong.

Artorius, a Group One scorer at Randwick in March is ante-post favourite for that race, having finished an unlucky third last season, while The Astrologist is a longshot to come out on top following warm-up spins at York and Haydock.

It may be hard to believe, but 20 years ago Choisir was an outlier. The rare Australian entry whose connections dared to dream.

But in the space of one balmy week in June, he would become the antipodean trailblazer who would pave the way for an influx of his contemporaries to dominate the Royal Ascot sprinting scene in years to come.

Nowadays, the cream of Aussie sprinting are a standing dish at Ascot.

But before Choisir stepped out onto the Berkshire turf for the King’s Stand Stakes on the opening day of the 2003 meeting, there had never been an Australian winner in Britain, never mind at the summer’s showpiece event.

That would soon change and sent off at 25/1 in the hands of Johnny Murtagh, Paul Perry’s hulking ball of pace and power would spring out of stall 14 and never look back as he stormed to leg one of a historic double.

A second victory was soon to follow when four days later he again made giant strides from the front to claim the Golden Jubilee Stakes – writing himself into Royal Ascot folklore and quickly doubling Australia’s tally on British soil in the process.

It was the first time a horse had won twice at the same Royal meeting since Stanerra 20 years previously, and his handler fondly remembers some of the characteristics which made Choisir a formidable force.

“He was a fast horse and a very genuine, good horse who loved a straight course,” said Perry. “He was a big, strong horse. It’s gone quick those 20 years. He was a phenomenal horse.

“It was a rare thing to do and felt a bit of a daunting task at the time, with having to travel so far and that, but I suppose what led to the decision was because he was such a big, strong and robust horse, you knew he would travel well and once he got there he would settle in well and eat.”

Having advertised his capabilities over five furlongs in the King’s Stand, there were plenty of question marks over whether the son of Danehill Dancer would be able to repeat the dose over the stiff straight six only four days later.

But Perry was not worried. He knew he had a horse capable of finishing third over a mile in the Caulfield Guineas on his hands and a tough sprinting test was what Choisir craved.

Perry continued: “He ran third in a couple of mile races as a three-year-old and those climbing sort of tracks really suited him.

“It was always in mind (to go for both races) and the way he was in the first race, it held him in good stead for the second. It turned out really well and he was well handled by Johnny.

“We were always thinking of using a local jockey and with Johnny being such a big name and such a good rider, it made sense. He had ridden a few horses for us when he came out here as an apprentice – he came over to have a couple of months here in your off season and we knew him a little bit from there.”

Perry: Ascot is up there with anything

Only Blue Point has been able to replicate Choisir’s achievement and win both big sprinting prizes within the same week since, while a further five Australian speedsters have since made successful raids on the big summer meeting, with Southern Hemisphere representation now part of the furniture as the week encompasses a full international feel.

However, in a parallel universe there would be no Choisir in Royal Ascot history and it is possible there would also not be the likes of Takeover Target, Black Caviar and Nature Strip that followed.

That is because the chestnut powerhouse was being pointed towards Singapore’s valuable sprinting feature before an outbreak of SARS disease curtailed the action, and their loss would be Ascot’s gain, as Perry would go on to have one of the greatest weeks of his decorated career in the training ranks.

He added: “It’s commonplace every year now (for the Australians to travel). Some of our best horses have been over since and I always take great interest in watching them race.

“I would say it was one of the highlights (of my career). I thought winning the Golden Slipper over here was pretty good, but that week in Ascot is up there with anything.

“Being in Newmarket and watching horses work and then the end result of winning both races and meeting the Queen, it was such a great week.

“I’ve been to most big racing meetings in the world as either a spectator or a trainer, we’ve had runners in Dubai, Hong Kong and all over in some big races, but I would say Ascot is right up there with any of them.

“It’s one of the great meetings and such a prestigious meeting. Choisir was a wonderful horse and turned into a great stallion.”

Australian Royal Ascot winners

2022 Nature Strip

Chris Waller’s veteran gelding was already an eight-time Group One scorer Down Under before romping home in the King’s Stand at the age of seven, taking his career earnings to over £10million. James McDonald was always sitting pretty in a prominent position and Nature Strip stormed clear to win by four and a half lengths from Twilight Calls.

2012 Black Caviar

The darling of all Australia had rattled off 21 straight wins before putting her reputation on the line at Royal Ascot and was incredibly sent off at 1/6 to extend her unbeaten record. Peter Moody’s mare majestically forged clear at the furlong pole and looked set for a comfortable victory, but Luke Nolen took things a little too easy close home and she just held on by a head from Moonlight Cloud.

2009 Scenic Blast

The son of Scenic had picked up a couple of Group One prizes at Flemington earlier in the year and was freshened up by a three-month lay-off before being sent off as the 11/4 favourite for the King’s Stand. Given a patient ride from the rear by Steven Arnold, Daniel Morton’s charge made rapid headway to hit the front a furlong out and held off the late charge of Fleeting Spirit.

2007 Miss Andretti

Lee Freedman’s mare had claimed a hat-trick of Group One victories in Australia prior to travelling over and began the King’s Stand as the 3/1 market leader. Her supporters hardly had a moment’s worry, as Craig Newitt was able to take up a handy position and soon took command of proceedings when pressing the button just over a furlong out. Couldn’t back it up in the Golden Jubilee when only 15th of 21.

2006 Takeover Target

The son of Celtic Swing was another dual scorer at elite level at Flemington before making all in the King’s Stand, just holding on by a short head from Benbaun. Didn’t quite last home when third in the Golden Jubilee over an extra furlong. Returned twice more to Berkshire, finishing a head second to Soldier’s Tale in the 2007 Golden Jubilee and a half-length runner-up behind Equiano in the 2008 King’s Stand.

2003 Choisir

As detailed above, the strapping chestnut belied big odds by making all to beat 19 rivals in the King’s Stand and proved that was no flash in the pan by blazing a trail to take the 17-runner Golden Jubilee four days later at 17/2. Three weeks later, Choisir was sent off 9/4 favourite for the July Cup at Newmarket but had to settle for second best behind the outstanding Oasis Dream.

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Tony Kelshaw