Australian trainer Gary Portelli, a week into his first visit to Britain, said today that Gold Trail, the six-year-old sprinter he is targeting at Tuesday’s Group One King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot, has never been happier.
The front-running Gold Trail likes to dominate from the start and then go for the line within the last quarter-mile in his races.
Portelli said: “Early on in his career, I tried to have him ridden conservatively to get further. He has got a stride on him like a stayer and the attitude of a stayer. Everyone who rides him cannot believe he is a 1,000-metre (five-furlong) horse.
“He has raced and won over 1,200 metres (six furlongs) but usually stops pretty rapidly over that distance. His record over 1,100 (five and a half furlongs) is excellent - seven or eight attempts for five or six wins.
“Gold Trail has never raced at 1,000 metres because there have not been the races for him in Australia. When he races over 1,100 metres, he is usually well clear 100 metres out, with the others in all sorts of trouble, and then the last 50 metres sees horses coming from everywhere at him. If he has been beaten, it is often on the line.
“I think 1,000 metres will suit him well at Royal Ascot, being more like 1,100 metres back home. The faster the ground on Tuesday, the better, but he did win on a slower track at Randwick one day by four lengths.
“I will walk the track with the jockey Michael Rodd, who is due to arrive on Sunday night, if no volcanoes explode. Michael has not ridden here before.
“I have been here a week and found everything absolutely fascinating - I had been told what to expect but nobody was able to describe it properly.
“It is everything it should be for horse trainers here. I don’t think Gold Trail wants to go home either. He is very happy where he is - it is very rural compared to where we train.
“Newmarket is horse-friendly and a fantastic place for a horse to live. I don’t work him very far - he went over three furlongs today - and during the last week, we have been doing some steady longer work with him. Today was the power work. In the past, he has gone best when I think he needs just a bit more work and that is how he is at the moment.
“I think you can compare him with a high-jumper. Every year, he has gone to a higher height - no way two years ago would I have envisaged training this horse for Royal Ascot.
“Gold Trail ran a great race in Singapore last time. The 1,200 metres and ground were against him there.”
David Hayes is another Australian trainer targeting the £300,000 King’s Stand Stakes. Whereas Gold Trail blitzes for the line, Nicconi is usually held up for a late burst of speed.
He commented: “Nicconi is the classiest sprinter I have had and I believe he can win the King’s Stand Stakes. He is pretty good when he goes. History is in his favour.
“I have 170 horses in training in Australia which is one of the biggest strings in the country. I think the King’s Stand Stakes will get more publicity in Australia than it gets here. From an Australian point of view, it is that race and the Golden Jubilee at Royal Ascot and no others.
“The race has created a lot of interest and people will be staying up all night to watch it.”
Nicconi worked on the Limekilns grass gallop at Newmarket this morning and Hayes, who has visited Europe plenty of times previously though the colt is his first runner, said: “I was so impressed with the quality of the gallop, not the horse, the turf. There are wonderful options for trainers in Newmarket.
“Nicconi did not do much this morning - he was looking at the press.
“If I can find and buy the right horse, I want to set a Melbourne Cup challenger from here, bringing the horse over with the English horses and going into quarantine with them.
“The advantage would be to get to know the horse and have another runner here but I have not found a suitable horse yet.”
Nicconi will be the mount of Frankie Dettori at Royal Ascot.
“It looks like there will be a good true pace in the race with two or three horses going to set it up for a horse coming from the back. One of the main reasons of booking Frankie was if it is a big field, I am sure Frankie has more friends and knows who to follow than the Aussie boys. Frankie was pleased when riding Nicconi last week.
“This is likely to be Nicconi’s last run as he will probably be retired to Widden Stud. If he wins well, we might be tempted by the July Cup as that would enhance his stallion value - generating dual hemisphere appeal.
“There are wonderful international opportunities now and when I have a nice horse I will certainly travel with it.”
All four winners of the Coolmore Lightning Stakes, the first leg of the Global Sprint Challenge at Flemington, Australia, staged this year on January 30, who have contested the King’s Stand Stakes so far have won the Royal Ascot race - Choisir (2003), Takeover Target (2006), Miss Andretti (2007) and Scenic Blast (2009). Nicconi came from last to first to win this year’s renewal of the Australian contest.
Paul Messara, the trainer of seven-year-old Australian mare Alverta, who goes for the six-furlong Golden Jubilee Stakes on June 19 at Royal Ascot, said: “She has settled in very well and I am very pleased with the way she is at the moment. She has come on a lot in the last 10 days, and is starting to thrive. She has put back on 15-20kg of the 40kg she lost on the journey over here.
“She has really enjoyed the work here. I have been on the gentle side with her. She is normally very good when fresh and she is not a horse you want to over-gallop.
“Six furlongs is on the short side for her but the six here is probably like an Australian seven furlongs. She sprints very well and has run Takeover Target to a nose in the past.
“Coming to Ascot is something all Australians would like to do and I hope to be back again.”
Joy And Fun, one of two Hong Kong-trained horses going for the Group One Golden Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot on Saturday, June 19, is another who has settled in well since flying to Britain.
Trained by Derek Cruz, the seven-year-old gelding by Cullen found the softish ground in the Group One KrisFlyer International Sprint at Kranji, Singapore last month unsuitable when plugging on to be sixth over six furlongs. He had previously won the US$1 million Al Quoz Sprint over six furlongs on fast turf at Meydan on Dubai World Cup night at the end of March.
Cruz’s sons Trevor and Martin have been in charge of the horse. Trevor, 27, said: “His ideal conditions would be very similar to the conditions in Dubai - a nice firm, fast track and warm weather. He really thrives with better weather.
“He has been in Britain for nearly two weeks and has settled in well. Joy And Fun is a really solid seven-furlong horse so in terms of stamina he will be fine.
“He won in Dubai and it was a natural progression to come here for the Golden Jubilee Stakes and the Darley July Cup.
“He travels very well which is another incentive - he has maintained his weight. The race tactics will be discussed between my father and Brett (Doyle).
“Brett is a very seasoned professional and his knowledge of Ascot will be a help. He has been Joy And Fun’s regular jockey for over a year and knows him very well. Fingers crossed that we get the right conditions.”
Martin Cruz added: “We stay optimistic and will see what happens a week on Saturday. We really respect the other Hong Kong horse Happy Zero and the local horses such as Showcasing.”
Carl O’Callaghan, the colourful 34-year-old American-based trainer just a year into holding a licence, has a star in Kinsale King who won the Group One US$2-million Dubai Golden Shaheen over six furlongs on Tapeta at Meydan on March 27 and is now going for the Golden Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot on June 19.
He partnered Kinsale King, a five-year-old Yankee Victor gelding, in a canter at Newmarket this morning and said: “The dance I did after he won in Dubai has been bringing the horses into my barn. We had a good time and that is how I felt after winning a US$2 million race halfway across the world.
“Ascot has been on my agenda since Wesley Ward won races at Royal Ascot last year. I knew if I had the horse I could come here and my owner said let’s try it.
“Kinsale King’s feet are very important - the old saying is no foot, no horse. We spend four or five hours on his feet when we shoe him - he is very delicate and we take really good care of him. That is the reason I came over myself - I know his feet.
“Kieren Fallon flew out last week to work Kinsale King at Belmont in New York and they did a good stiff half-mile and covered six furlongs in 1m 12s and change - that is pretty fast and the horse did it relatively easily.
“Guinness is very healthy - it has got a lot of yeast in it and helps a horse. He will not do a whole lot between now and the race
“I started out with two or three horses last year. I think I had five or six before I left for Dubai and we now have 25 in training and more on the way so it will be about 50 when I get home.
“I don’t want to get too big - I like quality more than quantity. I like to develop a horse and get the best out of every single horse whether it is a good one or a bad one.
“I have been playing the guitar since I was child. We have four CDs - Irish country and a bit of everything - and all the proceeds go to Cure Cancer For Kids.
“If Kinsale King wins at Ascot, then I will be going home (to Ireland which Carl left for America as a 14-year-old). We have brought the American flag and the Irish flag with us. Either way, we will celebrate.
“Home in Co Clare is Newmarket-on-Fergus. I know I am a good person with a lot of passion for the game and I strolled back in there (Belmont) - I didn’t want to be where I was (on the streets) - it gets you down. I wanted to be back up on my feet and stay focussed.
“I love communicating with horses - I think they talk to us. It is just like with human beings, if you give and give, you will receive.
“I was sixteen and a half when I started work for John Kimmel at Belmont Park - it has been a good climb since.”
Kenny McPeek, another American trainer, is mounting a three-strong challenge on Royal Ascot races, with three-year-old Noble’s Promise going for the Group One St James’s Palace Stakes, with two-year-olds Tiz My Time and Casper’s Touch due to line up in the Albany Stakes and Chesham Stakes respectively.
McPeek said: “Noble’s Promise needs to be shortened back to a mile after running in the Kentucky Derby.
“There were not Grade One mile races available in America for him and the timing is right for us to come to England.
“He has had his three-year-old prep races and finished a close third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He missed a breeze before that race otherwise we might have had the champion two-year-old.
“He is a really nice colt and a mile will be his ideal distance. I have shocked the world before with my Belmont winner. I think it important for international racing that there is an American presence in this race. He goes on the grass and synthetics and was very competitive on dirt.
“The jockeys feel he is going so good that they make their moves too soon and I hope Kieren Fallon will be patient on him. He has been working right-handed at home and did so again today.”
The American trainer believes that medication-free racing should be introduced for all Graded contests in America, because he feels that the breed is being undermined by the constant use of Lasix and other medication.
For more information, please contact Nick Smith, Head of Communications at Ascot Racecourse, on 07771 791449.