Tom Collins assesses the Coronation Cup credentials of Group 1 debutant Al Aasy
Coral Coronation Cup (Group 1) | 1m4f | 4yo+ | ITV/RTV
William Haggas hasn't won the Coronation Cup since he began training 34 years ago. That would be dispiriting if you didn't know that he has had only two runners in the race. Will it be a case of third time lucky with Al Aasy?
The Newmarket trainer, who has saddled in excess of 2,000 career winners, rarely sends his best mile-and-a-half talents to Epsom. His lack of Derby runners over the years proves that. And his two previous Coronation Cup representatives – South Easter (2010) and Beaten Up (2012) – finished sixth and fifth respectively behind Aidan O'Brien-trained hotpots.
The betting indicates that Haggas may gain revenge on his Irish counterpart this year. Al Aasy bounced back from a disappointing sixth in the Group 3 Gordon Stakes last July with an impressive last-to-first success on his four-year-old reappearance at Newbury.
On ratings he had every right to win the John Porter, the form of which was franked when eighth-home Euchen Glen won the Brigadier Gerard last month, but there is no denying that he captured the imagination with his effortless performance.
Haggas had this race in mind after his Newbury strike, but Al Aasy, who is entered in the Arc, was reportedly so well in himself that he was given another outing in the Aston Park, again at Newbury. There he sauntered clear of last year's Dante winner Thunderous and 2019 St Leger winner Logician to record another scintillating success.
Whether he was flattered by below-par performances from his aforementioned rivals is up for debate, but an RPR of 124 suggests he's more than good enough to win the Coronation Cup.
The ground may be the biggest question he has to answer. Al Aasy's sole run on going described as quicker than good ended in a fifth-placed finish to Mishriff in the 2020 Newmarket Stakes.
O'Brien relies on Japan and Mogul following the defection of four-time Group 1-winner Love at the confirmation stage. Just 1lb splits the pair on official ratings, but whether they will perform to that high standard is arguable given consistency isn't their primary attribute.
Japan seemed to need every yard of the Derby distance in 2019, but proved his class by plundering the Group 1 Grand Prix de Paris and Juddmonte International. His four-year-old season was a big disappointment with five consecutive defeats, but he bounced back to win last month's Ormonde Stakes. Handling the drop in trip would make him a major player.
Mogul has been campaigned to fill the void left by globetrotting superstar Highland Reel. Aside from a monstrous Hong Kong Vase performance, he hasn't quite lived up to expectations with three short-priced defeats. He now needs to reverse form with Pyledriver, who has beaten him on two occasions.
Pyledriver's ability has never been in question, although his concentration on the job in hand has. All four of his starts since contesting last year's Derby have resulted in wayward finishing efforts, and yet headgear is still to be enlisted. If there's one place you don't want a horse to hang, it has to be Epsom.
Albaflora receives the fillies' allowance but takes a marked step up in class from Listed company, while Highland Chief appears to have plenty on his plate on his return from a 238-day absence with first-time cheekpieces applied.
Race analysis by Tom Collins
Japan v Mogul: brothers in arms
Japan looked to have the world at his feet heading into the autumn of 2019 after toppling Crystal Ocean in the Juddmonte International but, after finishing a laboured fourth behind Waldgeist and Enable in an attritional Arc that year, 2020 can only be described as a disappointment.
Into the void of his downturn in form stepped his brother Mogul, who flourished on fast ground at Longchamp and Sha Tin late in the year.
The question for backers is whether Japan's return to the winner's enclosure at Chester in the Ormonde Stakes over 1m5½f is more encouraging than the distant third posted by Mogul – a horse notoriously difficult to get fit at the start of a campaign – on his second start of 2021 in the Group 1 Prix Ganay over 1m2½f.
"Everything has gone well with Japan and the plan was always to go to Chester to give him confidence ahead of Epsom," said trainer Aidan O'Brien. "That's why Ryan [Moore] has stuck with him. He was delighted with him in the Ormonde Stakes.
"Mogul improved an awful lot from his first run of the season in Dubai to his second start in France. They went very slow [at Longchamp], which wouldn't have suited, and the ground went against him there. Seamus [Heffernan] rides him in most of his work and knows him well."
What they say
William Haggas, trainer of Al Aasy
He's looked better this season, although he's been beating depleted fields. On both occasions the opposition didn't really run up to scratch but he can only do as much as he's done and this will be a much sterner test. Andrew Cooper [clerk of the course] always looks after the ground very well and I won’t be using that as an excuse.
Paul Cole, joint-trainer of Highland Chief
We're very pleased with him, all his work has been fine and he's had a good, clean scope. He was terribly unlucky last year and when he went to France [Grand Prix de Paris] the instructions were to be in the first four, but he came from the back and never quite had time to get there.
William Muir, co-trainer of Pyledriver
I was delighted with his comeback because there is no way you can take a horse to his peak first time out and keep him there the whole season. The object this year is to win a Group 1 and he was always going to improve for his first run – he just got tired in the closing stages. We made a plan to start in the Jockey Club, then come here, then the Hardwicke and the King George.
Ralph Beckett, trainer of Albaflora
She worked well on grass on Saturday, hence her supplementary entry. When the Coronation Cup closed she wasn’t even a stakes winner. I think the track will play to her strengths. Any rain that arrives will suit us even better.
Reporting by Scott Burton
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