Clive Cox says Positive has had the perfect preparation ahead of his star performer making his reappearance in the St James’s Palace Stakes (3pm) at Royal Ascot on Saturday 20th June.
The mile feature is one of three races on the final day of the Royal Meeting that form part of the QIPCO British Champions Series.
Positive’s exploits as a two-year-old include a narrow victory over Kameko in the Group 3 Betway Solario Stakes at Sandown in late August. The runner-up went one better in the QIPCO 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket this month but Cox has no regrets about his Dutch Art colt not running in the first Classic of the season.
The Lambourn trainer said: “His form has worked out impeccably. Having won at Sandown, and also run such a good race at Goodwood, I hope that Ascot will suit him down to the ground. He’s done especially well over the winter and is a much stronger and more mature individual this year, and I really hope stepping up to a mile will give us grounds for taking a step forward.”
Explaining why Positive missed the Guineas, he added: “I think at this the top level it’s very difficult for any horse to come back quickly after a hard race. We will go to Ascot with a very fresh and able horse. He’s very clean-winded and we’ve done everything we’ve wanted to do with his preparation.”
Reflecting on his final run of last year, when well-held in the Darley Dewhurst Stakes, Cox said: “I think we’d probably seen best of him at that stage. The result was disappointing but he’s had the winter to recover and get over that. At first we blamed the [soft] ground, but I’m not sure. it was just one of those runs that wasn’t up to expectations but he’d been busy enough to forgive him that.
The Group 1 race has attracted a final field of seven runners and offers Pinatubo, who was last season’s champion two-year-old, the opportunity to quickly get back to winning ways after he suffered the first defeat of his career in the QIPCO 2,000 Guineas 11 days ago.
The brilliant bay won each of his six races last year, including twice at Group 1 level, and was acclaimed as the best two-year-old for a quarter of a century in the European Classifications but he had to settle for a close third behind Kameko and Wichita on the Rowley Mile. Pinatubo thrived on his racing last year and Appleby hopes the pattern will be repeated over the months ahead.
He said: “Naturally, you are always disappointed when you lose that unbeaten tag but I take the positive out of a negative and the positives are that he went down on his sword and that last year he improved with each run. Any improvement going forward from the Guineas and they have got him to beat.
“We started at Wolverhampton last season and with each run he became more prolific. Admittedly we stepped him up in grade each time and so his profile was going to go the right way but I feel he’s a horse who enjoys his racing.
“It was not as if he finished a well-held fifth or sixth in the Guineas. He went down by length and a quarter against two very nice horses. The winner is going to go off as the Derby favourite and the second is a big, scopey horse open to improvement from two to three.
“We’ve got the champion two-year-old and he has not disgraced himself in a race run at an end-to-end gallop. He would not be the first good horse to be beaten in the Guineas who has gone to great things as a three-year-old and I’m confident he is up where we need him to be and that he will go into the St James’s Palace in good order.”
Pinatubo will again have the Aidan O’Brien-trained Wichita to contend with. The master of Ballydoyle, seeking a ninth win in the race, also runs Arizona and Royal Dornoch.
Richard Hannon struck with Barney Roy in 2017 and is represented by Threat, a dual Group 2 winner last year, while the unbeaten Palace Pier takes his chance for John Gosden. The champion trainer scooped the spoils with another unbeaten challenger, Without Parole, in 2018, and that horse’s sire, Frankel, also had an unblemished record when victorious in 2011. Frankel, of course, would never be beaten during his flawless 14-race career.