Asfoora ready to fly in King Charles III Stakes

Asfoora will be looking to continue the strong record of Australian sprinters at Royal Ascot in the G1 King Charles III Stakes on Tuesday. 

Five of Australia’s seven Royal Ascot successes have come in the five-furlong highlight, courtesy of Choisir, Takeover Target, Miss Andretti, Scenic Blast and most recently Nature Strip in 2022.

A dual G2 winner at Caulfield, Asfoora has twice placed at the top level for Henry Dwyer, most notably behind Imperatriz in the G1 Moir Stakes at Moonee Valley in September. 

The five-year-old had a taste of European racing in last month’s G2 Temple Stakes at Haydock Park, in which she faded to fourth after travelling strongly.

Dwyer, speaking at a Royal Ascot media morning in Newmarket, said: “Asfoora got here five weeks before the Temple Stakes, so she has been here just over two months. We came over earlier than normal because we tried to avoid the changing of the seasons – in Australia we are going into winter and you are coming out here. If she had stayed any longer in Australia, she would have started growing a winter coat. It has given her a chance to season and settle in.

“We had the initial idea 14 or 16 months ago when she won a couple of 1,000m races at Caulfield. We just knew our options in Australia were limited because we have very few five or five-and-a-half-furlong sprints. All our good sprints are six furlongs and she just doesn’t get that. She is a dyed in the wool five-furlong horse. There is a good series of races over here. 

“We took her to Perth in Australia, which is a four-hour flight from Melbourne, to give her the experience of travelling. We were a bit worried because she is a bit of a wound-up filly, but she took it in her stride and that gave us confidence to come over here.”

Confirming the intention to run Asfoora at Goodwood, York, the Curragh and Longchamp after Royal Ascot, Dwyer said: “What’s the saying, if you are going to be a bear, you might as well be a grizzly bear! We thought we would come over and give it a good shot. She would just be sitting in a paddock in Australia. She has won Group Two and Group Three races but never a Group One, and we thought there were better opportunities for her here to win one than at home, which is what it is all about with residual value with mares. 

“It was particularly strong at home with a horse called Imperatriz, who was rated the world’s best sprinter, and we kept running good races behind her without being able to beat her. We almost came over to get away from Imperatriz more than anything, but she has been retired so we probably pulled the wrong rein there. We are now lacking depth at home, but people I spoke to over here said there probably isn’t heaps of depth in the five-furlong horses this year and it may be the right time to come over. 

“In her right conditions, I think she can win a Group One. We knew we would probably need the run at Haydock a little bit. It was a combination of factors. It was too wet – she handles a wet track but 1,000m becomes more like a 1,100m or 1,200m race. She wasn’t ready for that. But I think at her peak, which she will be at Ascot and beyond, she is well and truly up to it. I think Ascot will be a challenge for her but she will run really well. A stiff five furlongs probably doesn’t suit her, whereas when we go to Goodwood and York, down the hill and on the flat, that is when she will really come into her own. I would love to see her run in the top three or four at Ascot. If she can do that, she will be really well placed for her next two runs.”

Assessing the opposition, Dwyer said: “If you take Big Evs out of the equation – he is clearly the one to beat – the rest of the horses look evenly matched and have finished in bunches in races like the Palace House Stakes and the Temple Stakes. The Greenlands Stakes and Duke of York Stakes were the same with a different winner each time. There is no stand-out and they are all pretty evenly matched. It will be the horse which enjoys Ascot and gets the right run.

“It is hard to quantify but she was always going to improve from Haydock. The circumstances on the day made it hard for her. She was beaten two and a half lengths and I’d be staggered if she couldn’t make up that improvement on the horses in that race. I think there is a bit to come.

“Oisin Murphy is booked to ride. He galloped her on Tuesday and is looking forward to riding her. Mitch [Aitken], who rode her at Haydock, has been her regular rider through her career. We thought it would be good to get him over for that race to get some feedback about how he felt she was going, but we were always going to look for a European jockey after that first run. It’s local knowledge and not being overawed by the situation having ridden plenty of Royal Ascot winners.”

Asfoora will be Dwyer’s first runner at Royal Ascot, although it will not be the first time he has attended the meeting. 

He explained: “I was in Europe briefly as a kid during a gap year. I had a bit of a tour and spent a couple of days with Criquette Head and John Oxx and went to Ballydoyle. I had a whistle-stop tour. I also went to Ascot and have been there more recently. It was great fun, so I thought if it is this much fun without a horse, what would it be like with one? I never thought I'd get an opportunity but here we are.

“We have spoken to a number of [Australian] trainers who have come over, both on the horse side and the social side, and got a few tips there. A win would be amazing but, on a professional level, just running competitively is a win for us. We feel we have got her to her peak – that might not be good enough but if it is it will be a huge thing for us. About 40 friends and owners are coming over for the week. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me. When you have 40 horses, it is tough to find these horses good enough to compete internationally.”

Asfoora with work rider Shinya Mori, picture Ascot Racecourse

Sandringham Stakes contender Kitty Rose is set to be only the second Australian-trained runner in a Royal Ascot handicap, after Café Society in the 2014 Wolferton Stakes.

Kitty Rose will be making her debut for Mick Price and Michael Kent jnr following a promising career in Ireland for Natalia Lupini, which included a Listed victory at Leopardstown last year.

The overseas challenge from the USA includes the Wesley Ward-trained quartet of Ultima Grace (G2 Queen Mary Stakes or G3 Albany Stakes), Saturday Flirt (G2 Queen Mary Stakes or G2 Norfolk Stakes), Burning Pine (G2 Queen Mary Stakes or G3 Albany Stakes) and Honorary American (G2 Norfolk Stakes or Listed Windsor Castle Stakes). All of Ward’s runners are set to be ridden by Joel Rosario. Ward has sent out 12 winners from 85 runners at Royal Ascot.

Fellow US-based handlers Eddie Kenneally and Jose D’Angelo are each due to have their first runner at the meeting, with Cheval De Guerre and Gabaldon targeting either the Listed Windsor Castle Stakes or G2 Norfolk Stakes. Gabaldon won the Royal Palm Juvenile Stakes at Gulfstream Park on 11th May, gaining him an automatic spot into one of the Royal Ascot two-year-old races.