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Dual Guineas hero Churchill facing toughest task to date

Churchill seeks to continues his winning spree at Royal Ascot
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4.20 Royal Ascot
St James's Palace Stakes | Group 1 | 1m | 3yo |ITV/RUK 

Churchill heads to Royal Ascot bidding to emulate former Ballydoyle stars Gleneagles, Henrythenavigator and Rock Of Gibraltar by completing a clean sweep of the 2,000 Guineas, Irish 2,000 Guineas and St James's Palace Stakes.

The wonderfully named miler, just the ninth horse to complete the Guineas double, captured the Chesham Stakes at the royal meeting 12 months ago, kickstarting a seven-race sequence of wins that have included four victories at the highest level.

This, though, could be his toughest test yet.

There were excuses for runner-up Barney Roy at Newmarket, while for a brief period at the Curragh Churchill looked in trouble. Fortunately for his backers the panic did not last long and once Ryan Moore woke him up the result was never in doubt.

A similar style of performance is likely as the red-hot favourite, joined by stablemates Lancaster Bomber (beaten five times by Churchill) and Peace Envoy, tries to secure trainer Aidan O'Brien an eighth success in the race.

"All's gone well with Churchill since the Irish Guineas," said O'Brien. "We haven't asked him to do a lot on the gallops but what he has done he's done well. He's a very straightforward colt who'll like the quick ground. We're happy with him."

O'Brien added: "Lancaster Bomber has run some good races behind Churchill and is in good form. The ground will be faster than it was when he ran at the Curragh last time and that should suit.

"We think racing round a bend will suit Peace Envoy. He'll need things to fall his way and we're putting on a hood and blinkers to help him concentrate."


Pros: Dual Guineas hero who is the clear pick on form and should be extremely hard to beat

Cons: Just does enough in his races and faces arguably his toughest ever test

Hannon thinks Barney can do it for Britain

You cannot win a war with words, yet in the darkest hours some of Churchill's rousing speeches undoubtedly motivated Britain and her allies.

If Barney Roy could understand English he would surely himself be motivated by the stirring predictions of Richard Hannon, who, minus a fat cigar, seeks to inflict defeat on Churchill in Royal Ascot's opening-day highlight.

At Newmarket in the 2,000 Guineas, Barney Roy, bought by Godolphin after his success in a Haydock maiden, finished a length second to Churchill, but the Greenham Stakes winner did so despite stumbling badly at a crucial stage, losing much momentum in the process.

For the eagerly awaited rematch, Churchill is the number-one choice of bookmakers, but Hannon believes his yard might well house the winner. One can almost envisage him raising two digits in a V-sign for victory.

"I can see him putting it up to Churchill in a big way," said Hannon.

"He became very unbalanced when he went through the Dip at Newmarket and, in the circumstances, did exceptionally well to finish only a length behind Churchill. He stumbled so badly I thought he'd broken a leg. He ducked down and somehow managed to stay upright before finishing so well."

Hannon, who will again leg up James Doyle, added: "Ascot will suit him much better. He was also having only his third run at Newmarket, so we'll know more this time." 

Pros: Nobody can say for certain he would not have won the Guineas with a clear passage and he may well possess a more immediate turn of foot than Churchill

Cons: Lucky or unlucky, he was beaten by Churchill in the Guineas, in which the winner probably did only as much as was required

Ground worry for bucking Thunder

As befits an occasion such as Royal Ascot, there are a number of offences one must not commit, both sartorially and in terms of comportment. A repeat of the behaviour such as that displayed by Thunder Snow in the States last month would almost certainly be frowned upon most severely.

In the early stages of the Kentucky Derby the British visitor showed absolutely no respect for his Churchill Downs surroundings and behaved as though engaged in a riotous rodeo act, bucking and kicking almost as soon as the stalls had opened.

Similar actions would be most unhelpful, not least because Christophe Soumillon's mount, a Group 1 winner in France as a juvenile, will need to have his mind fixed firmly on the job of racing if he is to have any chance of reversing his most recent two-and-a-half-length Curragh defeat at the hands of Churchill.

"Thunder Snow is doing great and working well," said trainer Saeed Bin Suroor, whose only success in the St James's Palace came with Shamardal when the contest was staged at York in 2005.

"He was second in the Irish Guineas last time and has to take on the winner again, and other stars.

"He's a class horse, although he'd prefer good to soft going, which he's unlikely to get." 

Pros: Apart from a moment of madness in the States he has looked a solid colt who should give his running

Cons: The form book says he isn't good enough to win

Haggas says Rivet deserves his chance

Rivet is reunited with his Racing Post Trophy-winning rider Andrea Atzeni as he seeks to get his season back on track.

Three runs in 2017 have yielded three defeats for an athlete whose owners include Coolmore and Lester Piggott, but his most recent eighth in the Prix du Jockey Club was influenced by his reluctance to settle.

Trainer William Haggas said: "We were disappointed with him in the French Derby but we feel he was too keen and didn't get home. We're glad to be coming back in trip and feel he deserves a crack at it."

Also dropping back in trip is the Richard Fahey-trained Forest Ranger, who took sixth on his most recent start in the Dante.

"He needs to step right up to the mark but there are only eight runners and if he were placed I'd be over the moon," said Fahey.

"Nothing came from off the pace in the Dante, where he was dropped in and it just didn't happen. Maybe he didn't stay. Maybe he wasn't good enough."

It seems highly unlikely Epsom challenger Mr Scaramanga will be good enough, but he has already excelled for Simon Dow, picking up a £115,000 first prize in Qatar before running fourth under a 3lb penalty in Listed company on his home track.

Dow said: "The good news is he won’t have to carry his 3lb penalty. The not-so-good news is he needs to improve 23lb to give Churchill something to think about."

We haven't asked him to do a lot on the gallops but what he has done he's done well