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Zabeel Prince “never better” ahead of Prince of Wales’s Stakes

17 Jun 2019

Roger Varian says his Prix d'Ispahan winner is ready for clash with five other Group 1 winners.

Sea Of Class and James Doyle will be reunited on Wednesday. Picture: Racingfotos.com

Roger Varian believes Zabeel Prince has never been better ahead of the lightly raced six-year-old taking on what he describes as a “superstar field” in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot on Wednesday.

The Group 1 mile-and-a-quarter showpiece, which carries prize-money of £750,000 and forms part of the 35-race QIPCO British Champions Series, has drawn a final field of eight and promises to be one of the highlights of the week.

It features the long-awaited reappearance of Sea Of Class, runner-up to Enable in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe on her final start last season after earlier last-to-first wins in the Darley Irish Oaks and Darley Yorkshire Oaks, while Magical, winner of the Tattersalls Gold Cup on her latest start having also won at the highest level on QIPCO British Champions Day last season, and runaway Prix Ganay victor Waldgeist fly the flag for Ireland and France respectively.

Then there is Crystal Ocean, a three-time Group 1 runner-up who with an official rating of 125 is the highest-rated runner in the line-up. The Sir Michael Stoute-trained five-year-old, winner of two Group 3 prizes this term, was edged out by Poet’s Word in a memorable QIPCO-sponsored King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot last summer and also chased home Cracksman in the QIPCO Champion Stakes later in the year.

Zabeel Prince was unraced as a two-year-old, ran once at three, and only seven times in the next two campaigns. This year he has won his two races in fine style over 1m 1f, landing the Group 3 bet365 Earl Of Sefton Stakes at Newmarket on his return – form that has worked out superbly – before scooping the Group 1 Prix d’Ispahan at ParisLongchamp on his latest start.

“He’s been a delicate horse over the years and has not got many miles on the clock but for some reason he’s been easier to train this year,” Varian said. “Whether it’s because he’s a bit older or had a good winter holiday, I don’t know, but he’s maintained soundness and wellbeing. It’s shone through in his races and I think he could just be going into Ascot better than I’ve had him all year. We are quite excited to run him.

“I think he’s free of any aches or pains at the moment. He’s always threatened to be a good horse – it’s not like he’s suddenly become a good one overnight. He’s always had it in him but he’s not quite had the skeleton to put up with the demands that training and racing sometimes command.

“He’s proved he doesn’t need it soft, although he does handle it. He’s shown two very strong performances on good to firm going this season, so I think he’s pretty versatile. We had the option of dropping back to a mile for the Queen Anne but you’d be brave to argue going up to nine furlongs has not improved him a little bit so we reluctant to do that. Who knows, he might be better over ten than he is at nine.”

Varian is seeking a third Group 1 triumph in a month – Zabeel Prince won in France a few days before Defoe landed the Investec Coronation Cup at Epsom – but appreciates the depth of the opposition.

He said: “The race has got a bit of a superstar look to it. He’s not achieved what some of the others have, yet, but he has run well enough in his two starts this year to at least not be frightened of running. Magical, Sea Of Class and Crystal Ocean are all quality and the horse they should all be talking about, but are not, is Andre Fabre’s [Waldgeist], who was very impressive in the Ganay.

“History tells you it’s always a very good race and as trainer, and a fan of racing, these are the races that I want to be involved in. I feel we can go in with a degree of excitement while also realising there are not many better horses around the world taking part. It’s a privilege to be involved, with a horse who deserve to bet there; we are not just throwing in a 66/1 shot into the line-up.”

Varian has other darts to throw at the board over the five days and will be hoping at least one hits the target because his latest winner at the meeting – and only second in total – was Cursory Glance in the Albany Stakes five years ago. “It’s been brutal for us the past few years and we are hoping to turn that around and get on the scoresheet,” he said.

William Haggas has made no secret of his admiration of Sea Of Class, who many observers thought was unfortunate not to win when a fast-finishing short neck second to Enable in the Arc. Wednesday’s race will be her first start since and while there is no evidence to suggests she has not trained on her trainer admits there is no easy way to determine if all her powers remain intact.

He said: “You never know. Lots of horses don’t go on from three to four. A few fillies do but there are lots that don’t and you never know until you run them. You don’t normally see it at home, especially if they are not really flash, as you never ask them.

“I don’t ask her; you know what she’s like in front, she swishes her tail and doesn’t go whoosh clear. At York [in the Darley Yorkshire Oaks] she did on the bridle, but she was in great form. We are not trying to find out at home, we are just trying to get her fit enough. Then you stand there [on the racecourse] and hope that it’s all going to happen.”

He added: “Her work has gone well. I’d love to have had a run beforehand but it was not to be. She’s got to start somewhere and we always wanted to run in this race.”

Grade 1-winning Japanese challenger Deirdre, who will be ridden by 50-year-old Yutaka Take, champion Japanese jockey 18 times, adds further intrigue. Desert Encounter, who landed the Grade 1 Pattison Canadian International Stakes at Woodbine in October, and Hunting Horn, who landed the Group 3 Hampton Court Stakes at Royal Ascot 12 months ago,  complete the line-up.