Jenny - Clean

THE Australian challenge at Royal Ascot in the UK got off to a disappointing start last night (AET) with Nicconi and Gold Trail finishing unplaced in the Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes (1000m).

Australia’s expected flag bearer in the second leg of the Global Sprint Challenge (GSC), Nicconi, made ground to finish fourth without ever looking a winning hope, while Gold Trail was always struggling and beat only two runners home.

The $A520,000 King’s Stand went to the Barry Hills-trained and Michael Hills-ridden Equiano who repeated his 2008 win in the race and in doing so became the ninth multiple winner of the prestigious sprint.

Hopes of an Australian-trained victory at Royal Ascot now rest with the Paul Messara prepared mare Alverta who takes on a strong field in Saturday night’s (AET) Group 1 $A780,000 Golden Jubilee Stakes (1200m) – the third leg of the GSC.

Jockey Frankie Dettori said Nicconi, who started second favourite on track at 10/3, was behind the eight-ball after missing the start slightly and then found himself behind two horses that took him nowhere.

“He was never travelling as well as he obviously did when he won the Lightning (Stakes at Flemington) but he was always chasing,” Dettori said.

Dettori said with a better run Nicconi “would have finished a little closer, but he wouldn’t have weighed in.”

Trainer David Hayes said Nicconi was “gallant in defeat”, but he was obviously disappointed with the end result after entering the race with lofty expectations.

“Unfortunately he missed the start which you cannot afford to do in a 1000-metre race and then he copped a check at the 300-metre mark which didn’t help,” Hayes said.

“The horse ran the quickest last 400 (metres) and finished off well for fourth, but it was a disappointing result as we came here to win.

“He’s definitely looking for 1200 or 1400 metres but at this stage he’s likely to be retired to stud without having another race,” he added.

“It’s just unfortunate that, because of the Australian quarantine laws, if he runs in the July Cup (at Newmarket on 19 July) he would miss the start of our breeding season.”

Nicconi will stand at Widden Stud (NSW) next season and their representative Anthony Thompson said overnight that he’d already taken bookings for 82 mares.

Hayes said he had enjoyed his first experience campaigning a horse in the UK and would love to do it again.

“I’m also looking at buying a couple of horses to race in Melbourne during the spring before I go home, but it’s not easy finding the right ones,” he explained.

There is a chance Equiano, who showed brilliant speed to lead after a slight stumble at the start, could come to Melbourne for next year’s Festival of Racing.

Hills wants to take the six-year-old to Hong Kong in December for the final leg of the Global Sprint Challenge and could continue on to Melbourne for the Group 1 Coolmore Lightning Stakes (1000m) at Flemington in early 2011.

Jockey Michael Rodd said Sydney galloper Gold Trail wanted to get on the wrong leg from the start and he was fighting against him all the way.

“It was also his first time racing on a straight track and we know he is a better horse than that,” Rodd said reflecting upon the horse’s below par performance.

He said there was still a chance that Gold Trail could race again in England as long as he had taken no harm from the race.

Even more disappointing than the Australian raiders was the heavily-backed local favourite Kingsgate Native, who firmed from 7/2 to 5/2, but never looked likely finishing sixth.

Equiano (9/2), won by a length-and-a-half from Markab (14/1) with Borderlescott (16/1) a neck away in third, three-quarters-of-a-length ahead of Nicconi.

The race time of 59 seconds was the fastest since Australian sprinter Miss Andretti raced to victory in 57.44sec in 2007.

Outside of the King’s Stand, the highlight of the day came in the Queen Anne Stakes (1600m) when champion French mare Goldikova, a dual US Breeders Cup winner, claimed her ninth Group 1 victory holding off a late charge from defending titleholder Paco Boy.

RACING VICTORIA MEDIA RELEASE

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