Ed Walker confident Starman can be a Diamond Jubilee sensation
Ed Walker believes a combination of impressive physique and an ice-cold mind gives Starman every chance of living up to his top billing in the Group 1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Ascot a week on Saturday.
Walker heads to the royal meeting with an enviable line-up of horses with serious chances and the likes of Primo Bacio in the Coronation Stakes, Matthew Flinders in the Royal Hunt Cup and the promising Parachute give him every hope of adding to his sole previous success with 2018 Sandringham winner Agrotera.
But it is clear Walker feels Starman, whose only career defeat came on unsuitably soft ground on Qipco British Champions Day last October, is the one who could propel him to a new level next week.
Walker said: "Oisin [Murphy] got off him at York and said 'Wow! How much ability has he got?' and the next thing he said was: 'What a bus of a ride.'
"He's just such an easy horse to train and to ride. So much of what makes good horses is the brain. How many horses have not realised their full potential because they either fret in the prelims or pull too hard? This is why I think he's as good as he is. He just does his job, licks his pot, goes to sleep, gets up and does the same thing again the next day.
"So many of Aidan's [O'Brien] great horses relax and they're sensible and professional. This guy ticks that box."
Starman completed his final serious pre-Ascot work on Wednesday and Walker impressed on his audience during a press call for the Qipco British Champions Series – in which both the Diamond Jubilee and the Coronation Stakes feature – that the son of Dutch Art is in great shape ahead of his Group 1 date with destiny on June 19.
"He's a massively exciting horse who really has done nothing wrong," said Walker. "He's such a cool horse and very straightforward. He's a massive, imposing horse and a magnificent horse to be around. He's got that presence and is the real head-turner in the string. And he's very good as well."
Looking at the opposition, he added: "Nahaarr got pretty close to us at York and Dream Of Dreams is a Group 1 winner. I kind of feel they're both at their best with a bit of dig in the ground, so I think if it's good, honest, fast summer ground that would play to our strengths slightly. But it's a Group 1 at Royal Ascot and it's not going to be an easy race."
News from elsewhere confirmed the Diamond Jubilee field could be deeper than might have been assumed, with Nahaarr and Glass Slippers both set to line up.
Walker said Tom Marquand expects to be required for Nahaarr, meaning Murphy will keep the ride on Starman.
And Glass Slippers was a notable absentee from the six-day declarations for Tuesday's King's Stand Stakes, with connections of the Prix de l'Abbaye and Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint heroine now turning their attention to the longer of the two sprints on Saturday.
Assistant trainer Adam Ryan said: "It was always the plan to try her at six furlongs at some point this year. She's done well over the winter and looks like she's thrived."
Walker admitted Royal Ascot has been a tough proving ground for him since saddling his first runner at the meeting in 2011, pointing out that his sole runner in 2020 had to be jogged to the start and then refused to load.
"It was always a big deal until I started training and then I went off it because I just got so disappointed with getting beaten the whole time," said Walker. "I had a couple of favourites early on in my career and they all got stuffed. Agrotera certainly rejuvenated my enthusiasm for the meeting."
Walker and owner David Ward have another serious chance of Group 1 honours 24 hours before Starman's race when Primo Bacio attempts to build on the huge promise she showed when running away with a Listed race at York.
"There was nothing except class about the performance," said Walker, who admitted Primo Bacio's unlucky-in-running fourth in the Fred Darling may have been a blessing in disguise, as it removed the temptation of supplementing the filly for the 1,000 Guineas.
"She sat last and quickened past them at York like they were all ordinary and scooted clear. She wasn't stopping at the line and carried on round the bend, with Andrea [Atzeni] struggling to pull her up," he added.
"Ascot will be a different test and with a different tempo of race and a stiffer test of stamina. It will also be a different test of opposition. But we're pretty confident she'll stay."
With Glass Slippers waiting for Saturday, 16 are left in Tuesday's King's Stand, with Battaash cut to 6-4 (from 2) by Coral to repeat last year's success on his seasonal debut.
As expected Prix du Jockey Club hero St Mark's Basilica was not among 15 colts declared for the St James's Palace Stakes (4.20), with 2,000 Guineas hero Poetic Flare – who is set for his fourth Group 1 appearance in 46 days – the best-priced 100-30 favourite with Betfair Sportsbook.
In the opening race of the meeting, the Queen Anne Stakes, Palace Pier will face a maximum of 11 rivals and is now no bigger than 4-9 to add to last year's St James's Palace victory.