Picture perfect Caravaggio looks to Royal Ascot glory
Bad boy artist Caravaggio provides the naming inspiration for a horse that has the makings of becoming a real master, writes James Toney.
Aidan O'Brien's gifted colt is unbeaten in five starts and heads the field for the group one Commonwealth Cup, today's showpiece Royal Ascot sprint over six furlongs.
There will be rivals in what looks a mouthwatering renewal with American raider Bound for Nowhere a potential surprise package and Blue Point and Harry Angel both top-quality contenders.
But Caravaggio looks to have all their measures, following his Royal Ascot win in last year's Coventry Stakes and flawless performances since, including the group one Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh last summer.
The Commonwealth Cup is a relatively new addition to the Royal Ascot programme and the distance suits O'Brien's charge perfectly, with five furlongs too sharp and the step up to a mile still unknown.
"I think the Commonwealth Cup was a wonderful idea, especially for Caravaggio," admitted O'Brien.
"It's a great race because when you have a brilliantly fast two-year-old it gives you another option.
"We did not want to risk losing his brilliance by trying to extend him over too far. He's so fast but there's no indication he won't get further in the future.
"It's competitive but we're relaxed and he's pure class."
Wesley Ward's Bound for Nowhere has been matching up with new Royal Ascot legend Lady Aurelia - who chalked up her second win in two years on Tuesday - during training.
And while the classy filly had his measure, he believes his big unbeaten colt is coming good at the right time.
"He's immensely talented and we've been very patient with him," said Ward. "We've matched him with Lady Aurelia a few times and he's proved a very valid foe - beating her in one of the works we did.
"Considering how good she is I've got to say he's got a big, big chance."
After the disappointment of losing out on an eighth career Gold Cup on Thursday - the ever-popular Big Orange edging out his stayer Order of St George in a photo finish - O'Brien will saddle the favourite in the other of Friday's Qipco British Champions Series races.
Dual Classic winner Winter will be odds-on to add to her success in the English and Irish 1000 Guineas in the Coronation Stakes.
Her biggest rival could be French filly Precieuse, whose connections gave the go-ahead for trainer Fabrice Chappet to supplement her for the race after an impressive victory in the French 1000 Guineas.
"I think she's versatile regards the ground," added O'Brien, who has two other entries in the seven-strong field. "It was quick ground at Newmarket and slow at the Curragh, but she seemed fine on both and we are very happy with her."
O'Brien started the week as favourite to saddle more winners for his Coolmore Stud connections than arch-rivals Godolphin, whose preparations were hit by the sudden exit of chief executive John Ferguson in the days before Royal Ascot.
It's been some time since the days of domination for Sheikh Mohammed's dark blue silks but a man hardly prone for being demonstrative is at least smiling this week.
Ribchester and Barney Roy both delivered group one successes in a first day treble for the boys in blue and O'Brien had to wait until a third of the way into the meeting before the classy Highland Reel delivered a winner in the Prince of Wales's Stakes.
O'Brien - who has dominated British flat racing for the past decade - needs a big Friday with his rivals leading 5-2, with 12 races to come.
Meanwhile, principle Godolphin trainer Saeed bin Suroor - who won a power play with Ferguson for the ear of the Sheikh - insists his owner remains as committed to racing as ever.
The current diplomatic crisis in the Gulf has certainly taken the focus of Dubai's ruler away from a week he loves more than any other.
But results will bring some light relief away from problems on the home front.
"Sheikh Mohammed loves the racing and the horses and he often comes to the stable to talk," said Bin Suroor. "I give him options but it's still teamwork and Iâ€™m very positive for the future."