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Ascot win makes Alpha Centauri a Breeders' Cup contender

Ron Flatter  
VSiN.com

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Las Vegas

It was not a day for favorites early Friday at Royal Ascot. Not until the blue-blooded filly Alpha Centauri hit the turf with a performance that made her a serious Breeders’ Cup contender.

Owned and bred by the Niarchos family built on a Greek shipping fortune, sired by the Danehill stallion Mastercraftsman and trained by the first lady of Irish racing Jessica Harrington, Alpha Centauri (11-4 U.K., 5-2 U.S.) humbled an accomplished but overmatched field to win the Group 1 Coronation Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.

Colm O’Donoghue rode her to a six-length runaway from Threading (7-1, 6-1) with Veracious (14-1, 10-1) another 1¾ lengths back in third. Alpha Centauri was timed at 1:35.89 for the right-turn mile, a record for a course made firm by dry, warm weather the first three days of England’s biggest week of racing.

“We’ve always been happy with the filly,” said Alan Cooper, the Niarchoses’ racing manager. “Going into the race we were very nervous looking at the form of the others, but we’ve shown them all today.”

It was the first Royal Ascot victory for Harrington, 71, who came up short when Alpha Centauri was a beaten favorite last year.

“We were very disappointed when we she was second in the Albany Stakes, but that’s racing,” Harrington said. “Some things happen, and some things don’t happen. It’s great when it all comes together.”

Friday’s race made it clear that Alpha Centauri needs to be on firm turf. She lost on soft and heavy tracks by an average of 8¾ lengths on either side of a seven-month winter break. Coming back to a good surface last month at the Curragh, she won as a 12-1 long shot in the Irish 1,000 Guineas, raising expectations for a winning effort Friday against a field that included two other Guineas winners that failed to hit the board.

“What she wants is good ground; what she doesn’t want is heavy ground,” Harrington said. “She is a very big filly (1,146 pounds), and I think when she is on soft ground she physically can’t get her feet out.”

“Alpha Centauri has a lot of pace and is a top-class filly at a mile,” O’Donoghue said. “She has a high cruising speed and can quicken off of that as you saw today in beating the track record.”

Even though this was not a win-and-you’re-in race, the victory still stamped the gray filly as a major player for the Breeders’ Cup Mile this fall at Churchill Downs. Alpha Centauri is already a best-priced 6-1 co-favorite in Europe with Without Parole, the winner Tuesday of the Group 1 St. James’s Palace for Canadian owner-breeder John Gunther. Alpha Centauri even shortened to 5-1 at Ladbrokes.

For now Cooper is only focused on the summer. “There is a race at Deauville (France) in the middle of August that the family sponsors,” he said. “It might be an option. We can dream, plan and see where the owners would like to take her.”

Earlier Friday, maiden winner Eqtidaar (12-1, 16-1) broke through in his group debut, drifting across the course late but still emerging as a half-length winner in the Group 1 Commonwealth Cup, the fourth running of the six-furlong sprint for 3-year-old males. Sired by Invincible Spirit, Eqtidaar finished just ahead of Sands Of Mali (15-2, 8-1) to extend Sir Michael Stoute’s Royal Ascot record to 78 training wins. The American colt Gidu (40-1, 24-1) chased the lead and finished an impressive sixth for trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velázquez. Gidu is owned by Zayat Stables, still without a graded or group win since American Pharoah won the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Old Persian (9-2, 7-2) pulled away in the final furlong in his group debut to win the Group 2 King Edward VII, a 1½-miler also known as the Ascot derby. The 3-year-old Godolphin colt sired by Dubawi is 3-for-4 this year with each win ridden by William Buick for trainer Charlie Appleby.

The day began with Main Edition (7-1, 6-1) winning the Group 3 Albany, a six-furlong sprint for 2-year-old fillies. Now 3-for-3 for trainer Mark Johnston, the filly sired by Main Lobster finished a neck better than La Pelosa (12-1, 13-1). Stillwater Cove (25-1, 23-1), an American runner trained by 10-time Royal Ascot winner Wesley Ward, set a blistering early pace before fading to 13th in the field of 19.

Ron Flatter’s racing column is posted every Friday morning at VSiN.com and appears daily through Royal Ascot. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod, also posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. Guests today include Daily Racing Form chief photographer Barbara Livingston and southern California handicapper Bob Ike. Please subscribe and post a review where available at Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music and Stitcher.

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