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Big Rock back at the scene of his finest hour for Queen Anne challenge

Big Rock back at the scene of his finest hour for Queen Anne challenge
Big Rock back at the scene of his finest hour for Queen Anne challenge

Crack French miler Big Rock returns to the scene of his finest hour seeking to give his new handler Maurizio Guarnieri a red-letter day in the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot.

That brilliant Queen Elizabeth II Stakes success, where the Rock Of Gibraltar colt romped to a six-length success, came under the tutelage of Christopher Head, but owners Yeguada Centurion SL decided on a switch to the Chantilly-based Italian ahead of the new season.

Guarnieri has already made one huge call since Big Rock’s underwhelming return in Newbury’s Lockinge Stakes, replacing the four-year-old’s regular jockey Aurelien Lemaitre with Christophe Soumillon, and he is hopeful the new partnership can combine successfully in the traditional curtain-raiser to the Royal meeting.

“The colt did a good trial nine days ago with two leaders and the new jockey Soumillon sat on the horse,” said Guarnieri.

“We were happy with the horse and Soumillon was happy, so we arrive at Ascot with plenty of hope.

“I know the race will be really hard to win and Facteur Cheval at this moment is the best miler in the world.

“Charyn ran a super race last time at Newbury and so did the horse that won, Audience. So this race is very very hard, but I hope Big Rock has improved from his last race.”

As identified by Guarnieri, one of Big Rock’s biggest dangers could come from fellow French raider Facteur Cheval, who was a brave second behind Big Rock on Qipco British Champions Day.

The testing ground proved to be in Big Rock’s favour on that occasion, but trainer Jerome Reynier is full of confidence following his charge’s thrilling victory at Meydan in the Dubai Turf.

He said: “He knows the straight mile at Ascot because he did so well in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes last year behind Big Rock. The ground conditions are not going to be the same but we saw him performing really well on good ground in Dubai, so we can go to Royal Ascot with a lot of hope.

“Last year he had to face champions like Paddington and Big Rock and it was the first time he had travelled. Goodwood and Ascot were his first times out of France and now as a five-year-old he is more mature mentally and physically and he’s ready to run even better. Now he is in the shape of his life and we couldn’t be any more happier with him.

“We wanted to run him in the Queen Elizabeth Cup in Hong Kong after Dubai, but we thought that would not be very fair on him, so I think it was a good move to not go to Hong Kong to maximise our chances here in the Queen Anne Stakes.”

It was John and Thady Gosden’s Audience who took advantage of both Big Rock and stablemate Inspiral’s below-par efforts when causing a shock in the Lockinge last month.

Audience (left) runs them ragged at Newbury
Audience (left) runs them ragged at Newbury (Steven Paston/PA)

With Inspiral defecting to Wednesday’s Prince of Wales’s Stakes, the five-year-old is tasked with not only proving that Newbury triumph was nothing more than a flash in the pan, but also representing his high-profile connections on the biggest stage.

“I hope he will dispel any thoughts that his win in the Lockinge was a bit a fluke,” said Chris Richardson, managing director of owners Cheveley Park Stud.

“He’s a high-class horse, his fractions for the first four furlongs at Newbury were impressive and the time of the race as a whole was good. I think that indicates he deserves to be taking his chance.”

Roger Varian’s Charyn filled the runner-up spot in the Lockinge, faring best of those who set out to catch the front-running Audience in the closing stages.

He will now bid to regain the winning thread and add to his profitable beginning to the 2024 season under Silvestre de Sousa.

“He is very complete now. He’s a big, strong horse and very uncomplicated,” said Varian ahead of this British Champions Series event.

Charyn has won twice so far this season
Charyn has won twice so far this season (John Walton/PA)

“You could say that at Doncaster and Sandown he didn’t perform any better than he had done at his peak as a three-year-old, when he was bumping into Paddington fairly regularly, but I think his Lockinge run tells you he’s a better horse this year.

“I don’t want to take anything away from Audience, who is a good horse in his own right, but he raced on his own and Charyn destroyed the others, which included some jolly nice ones. For me that was a career best and marked him out as a genuine Group One horse.

“I don’t think he could be any better. He’s thriving at the moment. His condition since the Lockinge has been good and his work in the last fortnight has been very on point. It will be slightly different ground by the look of it and there are some nice French horses he hasn’t seen before but I couldn’t be more pleased with him.”

Royal Scotsman was among those who struggled to land a blow at Newbury, but Paul and Oliver Cole’s star performer showed he retained plenty of talent with front-running tactics employed successfully at Epsom.

Harry Eustace’s Docklands faces the toughest assignment of his career as he attempts to win at the meeting for the second consecutive year, while William Haggas’ Maljoom was an unlucky loser in the 2022 St James’s Palace Stakes and having been seen just twice since, is out to prove he is still a force in Group One company.

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