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Royal Ascot day one: Poetic Flare primed for St James’s Palace Stakes

Sun 13 Jun 2021

The St James’s Palace Stakes is naturally high on the agenda for most QIPCO 2,000 Guineas winners, but it is surely unprecedented for one to come here having also taken in both the French and Irish equivalents - and all in the space of just 22 days.

That however is the case with Poetic Flare, who was a short-head winner from Master Of The Seas on quick ground at Newmarket, finished sixth to St Mark’s Basilica on very testing going at Longchamp, then underlined how extraordinarily tough he is when finding only his stable-mate Mac Swiney a short head too good on ground that was officially heavy in places at The Curragh, a race he also might well have won.

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Having also had a successful prep run before Newmarket, Poetic Flare will be having his fifth race of the season - a remarkable schedule for a horse of his calibre. It’s one that very few trainers would even contemplate - but while Jim Bolger jokes that his bold approach might even be considered by some to be reckless, he reports the colt continues in rude health.

Bolger, who won both the 2,000 Guineas and the St James’s Palace with Poetic Flare’s sire Dawn Approach in 2013, said: “It’s been an extraordinary season, with just one real hiccup (at Longchamp) and another that was self-inflicted at The Curragh (where a tendency to wander under pressure possibly cost him the race).

“Nothing went right in the race at Longchamp and we’ve drawn a line through it. He came back very quickly to finish second at The Curragh, so he’s very, very hardy - you couldn’t do that with every horse. The biggest trouble I have is keeping the weight off him. He’s a great doer, and he still has to do plenty at home, despite the schedule.”

He added: “Dawn Approach was pretty hardy too and took it well, but he wouldn’t have been the same as Poetic Flare. I might have had one or two others like him, and I remember when I won the four-year-old hurdle at Aintree in 1978 with Beparoejojo she had to have a blow out on the morning of the race, but I’ve never had a colt of his quality who needed as much work as he does.

“He’s very well and I think he has a big chance - the bookmakers seem to think so too. He goes on any ground too, which is a big advantage. It was good to firm when he won at Newmarket, but personally I’d prefer it if there was no firm in the description as horses last longer that way.”

Dawn Approach beat Toronado in an epic battle for the St James’s Palace Stakes barely two weeks after finishing last when getting lit up in the Derby, a race which hadn’t initially figured in Bolger’s plans. Hopes are high that Poetic Flare can emulate him.

While neither of the other Guineas winners is present in a race that is often regarded as the defining race for three-year-old milers, Poetic Flare will nevertheless need to be at his very best in what looks an open St James’s Palace Stakes which, unlike the Queen Anne Stakes, is run on the round course, where tactics and luck in running tend to play a bigger part.

Many of Poetic Flare’s opponents have already raced in Group 1 company, and he had Battleground, Chindit, Thunder Moon and Wembley among those behind him at Newmarket, and Lucky Vega, La Barrosa and Wembley again behind at The Curragh.

All have viable chances on their best form, while Mostahdaf and Highland Avenue, separated by just half a length at the end of Sandown’s Heron Stakes, are potentially top-class milers who have arrived via a very different route, as has Mark Johnston’s classy Sandown handicap winner Naamoos.

The Heron Stakes route is one that Mostahdaf’s trainer John Gosden is very familiar with, for Without Parole completed the same double in 2018, and King Of Comedy failed to do so only very narrowly the following year. As an unbeaten Frankel half-brother to last year’s Duke Of Cambridge and Sun Chariot winner Nazeef, there’s no question that Mostahdaf ticks a lot of boxes, and though Gosden has said that his three-year-olds are sadly his “worst in living memory”, he has at least this one exception.

He said: “You’ve got the boys who came through the Guineas, some of whom have had a tough time, and I can see a horse like Battleground coming into play with the change in the ground, while you must never underestimate Jim Bolger. Chindit also interests me.

“Overall, I think it’s a good edition of this race. Our fellow has come the slow route, but that’s not his fault, and this year he won twice on the all-weather before the Heron. He may have been on the better ground in that very soft going, but having said that he ran a great race.

“I think our fellow will be fine on this ground. He’s a lovely horse and we’ve taken this route before. Palace Pier also came an unobvious route, missing the Guineas last year.”

Highland Avenue, the mount of William Buick and a good winner at Newmarket previously, looks the Godolphin number one, but James Doyle warns that we shouldn’t underestimate stable companion La Barrosa on the quicker ground.

Doyle said: “He ran very well in the Craven when second to Master Of The Seas and then went for the Irish Guineas on what was obviously quite testing ground. “He travelled into the race really well there but didn’t quite see it out. I think he’ll be seen to much better effect on quicker ground at Ascot, and on his Craven run he’s entitled to go well in what’s obviously a tough race.”

Heron Stakes third Bullace, Sir Michael Stoute’s Dee Stakes runner-up Maximal, and Ontario - a third runner for Aidan O’Brien, who has already won the St James’s Palace a record eight times - complete a field of 13.

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