Aidan O’Brien is looking for answers to the future as Declaration Of War tackles a ten-furlong Group 1 event for the first time in this afternoon’s Coral-Eclipse at Sandown.
The four-year-old has won six of his eight starts over a variety of trips ranging from eight to ten-and-a-half furlongs. His only two defeats have come on his first start for O’Brien in the Solonoway Stakes and the Lockinge in April when he ran inexplicably badly.
The true Declaration Of War showed up in the Queen Anne Stakes and having won a Group 3 over nearly 11 furlongs few would doubt his stamina.
However, O’Brien has described him as “all Danzig” in a reference to his sprinting grand-sire and he has been entered in the Nunthorpe over five furlongs. “Declaration Of War is in good form. He came out of Ascot well,” said O’Brien. “He’s run over a mile and two before but obviously not at the top level. We were delighted with him at Ascot, he showed a lot of speed and travelled well through the race and when Joseph (O’Brien) asked him to quicken, he quickened well. Going a mile and a quarter at the top level is different. We should learn a lot about him for the rest of the year. It’s very sharp after Ascot.”
O’Brien also runs Mars, who only has a maiden win to his name but has run with credit in the 2,000 Guineas, Derby and St James’s Palace Stakes where he finished third behind Dawn Approach and Toronado.
The only filly in the race is last year’s Nassau Stakes winner The Fugue, trained by John Gosden and third behind Al Kazeem and Mukhadram in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Ascot.
Roger Charlton would have preferred a longer gap between Al Kazeem’s Royal Ascot win and the Eclipse. Just 17 days separate the two Group 1 contests over ten furlongs. “Ideally you’d probably want three weeks, but the fact is there’s only 17 days and it is hard to tell,” said Charlton. “He’s in good form and I think he’s recovered, but who knows.”
While there were some doubts about the participation of Declaration Of War earlier in the week, Mukhadram’s trainer William Haggas was not surprised to see two O’Brien runners in the field. “Aidan is quite hard to read. You’d have thought if Mars was good enough, he wouldn’t have run Declaration Of War,” he said. “I knew he was going to run two because I booked Joseph (O’Brien) for Fury in the handicap, so he was always coming, but he can’t do the weight on Mars, so either Camelot or Declaration Of War was coming. It’s a Group 1, a championship race and a stallions race so you’re bound to meet a strong field.”
Mark Johnston is keen to see how his one-time Classic hope Windhoek fares dropped in class and trip in the supporting Coral Challenge at Sandown.
Winner of his only start at two, he returned to action in April with a win in a £200,000 sales race and followed up in a Listed race. Both of those wins were over ten furlongs but he appeared not to stay when upped in class behind Libertarian and subsequent Irish Derby winner Trading Leather in the Dante, and the same seemed apparent in the Tercentenary Stakes at Royal Ascot behind Remote. As a result he now finds himself running over a mile for the first time in his career. “We’re dropping him back to a mile,” said Johnston. “Even though he has won over ten furlongs, the last twice in the Dante and in the Tercentenary he’s been travelling like the best horse and then not got home in my eyes. It will be interesting to see how he gets on in a handicap and back at that trip.” Johnston also runs Es Que Love in the hands of Olivier Peslier.
At Sandown yesterday, Group 1 form came to the fore in the Ambant Gala Stakes as Mandour wore down Afsare inside the final furlong. Alain de Royer-Dupre’s French raider had finished third in the Prix d’Ispahan behind Maxios last time out and quickened up stylishly under Christophe Lemaire.
Luca Cumani’s Afsare had looked like claiming the spoils for much of the straight as James Doyle’s mount moved to the head of affairs on the bridle, but he could not hold off the 9-4 favourite who ultimately won cosily by three-quarters of a length. Gosden’s Excess Knowledge made late headway to claim third, just ahead of Mike de Kock’s David Livingston with Guineas third Van Der Neer only fifth.
There is a top-class meeting at Haydock this afternoon too and Harry Herbert does not want the ground to get too much faster for Opinion, the likely favourite in the bet365 Old Newton Cup. Despite winning the Duke of Edinburgh Handicap on a fast surface at Royal Ascot, connections are not keen to keep running him on quick ground. Other than that concern, Herbert, manager of the Highclere Thoroughbred Syndicate which owns the Sir Michael Stoute-trained colt, is keen to see how he can handle a hefty rise in the weights for his Ascot win. “I saw him earlier this week and Sir Michael seems very pleased with him, but he’s gone up 8lb and will need to have improved again,” said Herbert. “The ground should be fine as it is but Sir Michael wouldn’t want it getting much quicker.”
Johnston has four chances in the £100,000 event, headed by last year’s prolific winner Sir Graham Wade.