Cazoo Sandy Lane Stakes (Group 2) | 3yo | 6f | ITV4/RTV
The Sandy Lane Stakes was promoted to Group 2 status in 2015, with the intention of creating a trial for the newly minted Commonwealth Cup. Only one winner, Quiet Reflection in 2016, has doubled up at Ascot but rather like its purported target race, the Sandy Lane has built its reputation on what winners do later in the season.
Four of the six winners since 2015 won at least one Group 1 subsequently. In the other two years, the runners-up were Limato and Dragon Symbol. It would be entirely reasonable to suggest that in that time the Sandy Lane has been the most powerful non-Group 1 for three-year-olds run in Britain.
The field for this year's running would give plenty of optimism the trend will continue. On Racing Post Ratings, and more surprisingly the early market, Go Bears Go is the one they have to beat, but three-year-old potential often starts to take over from two-year-old achievement in this race and the likeable Go Bears Go is all about the latter.
Admittedly, Go Bears Go won the Commonwealth Cup Trial this year, but he clearly had fitness on his side relative to his three rivals, including Ehraz who ran so well at Newbury last week. Reopposing Mill Reef winner Wings Of War towered over Go Bears Go at Ascot and is expected to close the gap with a run behind him.
Horses like El Caballo and Flaming Rib have already taken steps forward this year and are likely types to keep improving. Caturra might be a Mehmas-sired Flying Childers winner, but his scope, pedigree and promising reappearance all give hope that he too might improve this year.
Two runners at big odds worth mentioning are Beauty Inspire and Gis A Sub. Beauty Inspire was out relatively early last season and hasn't been seen since winning the Anglesey Stakes in July, but he looked bound for Group 1s then and has potential, even allowing for his relatively precocious pedigree.
Gis A Sub came to hand a bit later last season despite being an expensive breeze-up purchase in the spring. He had his finest hour when second to Lusail in the Gimcrack and his two runs since, in deep ground at Chantilly seven weeks later and when clearly rusty at Hamilton on reappearance, have not allowed him to show any improvement from that run.
The fact he is a 33-1 shot indicates just how informative this race is likely to be for the season's sprint programme.
Burke: 'I don't think we've seen the best of him'
Will the El Caballo fairytale continue? Karl Burke – and the market – suggests it might.
The chapters so far have been pretty fanciful: he cost just £30,000 as a yearling yet has been a remarkable flagbearer for Grange Park Racing, earning more than £120,000 in winning his last five races including on All-Weather Championships finals day at Newcastle last month.
But could the semi-retired psychiatrist, the green energy firm owner and the other members who pay their £1,500 down and £130 a month now be heading to Royal Ascot? The three-year-old is in the Commonwealth Cup there next month.
Burke said: "I'm sure he can keep his run going. He goes there with a good chance in a very competitive race.
"It's going to be a fast-run race which will suit, he ran with the choke out for three furlongs at Newcastle and did really well to finish off.
"He's a lovely horse and I don't think we've seen the best of him yet."
Loughnane 'pretty hopeful and confident' over Go Bears Go
Go Bears Go appears primed to show yet again why he was hailed by David Loughnane as the best horse he has trained.
He looked smart when a close second in the Norfolk Stakes on just the second run of his life last June and is out to strengthen his position for the Commonwealth Cup this time.
Amo Racing's colt, who went on to win the Railway Stakes at the Curragh and finish second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint last year, made a successful start to his second season in the Group 3 Commonwealth Cup Trial last month.
Go Bears Go scored determinedly from the front that day and Loughnane said: "That's his strongest trait, he's a tough, hardy animal and he loves to battle.
"I can't wait to run him. He seems to have come out of Ascot extremely well and he's raring to go. He's the one they've all got to beat. We're pretty hopeful and confident."
What they say
Clive Cox, trainer of Caturra and Wings Of War
The form of Caturra's run in France is working out well. He's come back from there fresh and well and I'm excited about him. Wings Of War had a penalty at Ascot and probably needed the run. He's a high-class performer and I think it's about to happen again with him but he wouldn't want any more rain.
Hugo Palmer, trainer of Ever Given and Flaming Rib
Both produced career-best performances to win at Chester and they'll need to do so again here. It's a very good race, but both are progressive and in good form.