Lighting up the stage on the opening day of York’s Dante meeting is the 6f speed fest of the Duke of York Clipper Stakes. Of the 34 runners currently entered for the 2023 race, easily the most intriguing contender is the globetrotting Australian star, The Astrologist.
A four-time winner in his homeland, albeit at no higher than Group 3 level, a 15,000km journey is quite a trek in search of a first career Group 1, but it is a trip which has been successfully undertaken on numerous occasions in the past. If The Astrologist can plot a similar course to the following Aussie stars, he will make the trip more than worthwhile for the Carstons and racing fans down under.
6. 2009 King’s Stand Stakes: Scenic Blast
Daniel Morton’s star arrived at the 2009 Royal Ascot meeting on a high, having already claimed Group 1 glory in the Lightning Stakes and Newmarket Handicap at Flemington. As such, it was no surprise to see the four-year-old sent off as the 11/4 favourite.
Ridden quietly over the first half of the race, the big white face of Scenic Blast loomed large on the outside of the field moving into the final two furlongs. Once asked to quicken, the response was instant, with the gelding putting daylight between himself and the field holding on by an untroubled 3/4l. Scenic Blast never won another race, but his place in the history books was already assured.
5. 2007 King’s Stand Stakes: Miss Andretti
Arriving at Royal Ascot on the back of three successive Group 1 wins; in the Lightning Stakes, Australia Stakes, and Newmarket Handicap, Miss Andretti looked to boast leading claims in an event which was still rated at Group 2 level. The market certainly didn’t miss her, with the Lee Freedman-trained mare sent off as the 3/1 favourite on the day.
Racing just off the pace in a frenetically run affair, we looked set for a closely fought finish as the runners entered the final furlong. However, just as the rest of the field looked to have hit top gear, Miss Andretti found another to quicken clear and score by 1¾. A famous edition of the race for Australia, with three of the first four home hailing from an Aussie yard.
4. 2006 King’s Stand Stakes: Takeover Target
Joe Janiak’s Takeover Target trod a path which would become familiar en route to the 2006 Royal Ascot meeting, with wins in the Lightning Stakes and Newmarket Handicap seeing him start as the 7/1 joint second favourite. With 28 runners going to post, the field split into two groups. Dandy Man was well clear on the far side, but the near side Group held the advantage – spearheaded by Takeover Target, who set sail for home around 2f out. Looking a sitting duck inside the final furlong, the son of Celtic Swing was guts personified to hold on by a tenacious short head.
If judged on consistency over a number of years, Takeover Target would top this list. Returning to the track just four days later to finish third in the Golden Jubilee, he then finished fourth and second in the King’s Stand and Golden Jubilee in 2007, before filling the second and fourth spots in those races in 2008.
3. 2022 King’s Stand Stakes: Nature Strip
The King’s Stand has fallen to an Australian runner five times since the turn of the century, with the most impressive of all being the most recent winner. Unlike Scenic Blast, Takeover Target, and Miss Andretti, this Chris Waller-trained chestnut had managed only second in the Lightning Stakes but, with eight previous Group 1 wins, still held solid claims of being the best sprinter on the planet. Challenging him for that title was the Wesley Ward runner, Golden Pal – leading to a fascinating Australia vs USA battle in 2022.
In the end, there was only one horse in it. Prominent throughout, Nature Strip took up the running around 2f from home, turning on the afterburners to blow the field away and come home alone, 4½l lengths clear of his nearest pursuer.
2. 2012 Diamond Jubilee Stakes: Black Caviar
Narrowly missing out on the top spot is one of the darlings of Australian turf – Black Caviar. In a remarkable career between 2009 and 2013, this sprint sensation racked up a perfect 25 wins from 25 starts – including an incredible 15 wins in Group 1 company.
Whilst no horse managed to master Black Caviar, never did she come closer to defeat than at Royal Ascot in 2012. Arriving with a fully deserved invincible reputation, she was sent off at odds of just 1/6 for one of the hottest sprint contests of the year. All was going to script as she moved clear inside the final furlong, only for Luke Nolen to ease up well short of the line – no doubt giving owner, trainer, and punters unwanted palpitations. However, disaster was averted, as the gallant mare stuck out her neck to prevail by a nerve-shredding head.
1. 2003 King’s Stand Stakes & Golden Jubilee Stakes: Choisir
Topping the pile of Aussie stars to hit these shores is the Danehill Dancer colt who caused a sensation at the Royal Meeting in 2003. Choisir wasn’t the most prolific of sprinters back home but did display his undoubted talent when claiming the Lightning Stakes earlier in the season. However, the cat was not yet out of the bag regarding the Australian sprinting form, resulting in the three-year-old being allowed to go off at 25/1. Springing from the stalls under Johnny Murtagh, Choisir set a blistering pace, and at the 1f mark, it was becoming clear that nothing was going to get to him, as he coasted home to score by a length.
Of course, Choisir is but one of five King’s Stand winners on this list. What earns him the top spot is the fact that he returned to the track only four days later to blow away the best of the 6f division in the Golden Jubilee. Once again too quick for his rivals, Choisir moved over from his middle draw to lead the field up the stands side rail. The petrol may have been emptying close home, but the damage had been done, and Airwave could only get to within a ½l at the line.