Royal Ascot 2023: Australians Coolangatta, Cannonball aim for King's Stand

June 18th, 2023

One year after Australian speedster Nature Strip ran his rivals ragged at Royal Ascot, four of his compatriots will fly the flag at the premier meeting.

Coolangatta and Cannonball seek to follow up in the same five-furlong dash Nature Strip dominated, the King’s Stand (G1), on the June 20 opener.

Artorius is back for another tilt at the six-furlong prize rebranded as the Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee (G1), where he was a barnstorming third (in a dead-heat) a year ago. The Jubilee is also attracting fellow Aussie The Astrologist along with Hong Kong’s hitherto champion Wellington (to be profiled separately).

Nature Strip’s jockey, James McDonald, will be astride Coolangatta in the King’s Stand and Artorius in the Jubilee. Brett Prebble renews his successful partnership with Cannonball, and Damian Lane gets reacquainted with The Astrologist.

Let’s look at the King’s Stand duo here, followed by the Jubilee contenders in another post.

Coolangatta and Cannonball are still really 3yos

Although Coolangatta brings the flashier credentials as a two-time Group 1 winner, Cannonball has a stealthy look as a colt on the upswing. Indeed, Cannonball has form with star Australian sprinter Giga Kick.

Both Coolangatta and Cannonball are still physically three-year-olds on Southern Hemisphere time, but treated as four-year-olds at the weights here. That especially gives pause for Coolangatta as a filly, who will be toting a lot more than she did at home — 130 pounds.

Coolangatta carries the same weight as the British-based favorite, six-year-old mare Highfield Princess, and receives only a three-pound concession from the older males. Moreover, Coolangatta is giving weight to the Northern Hemisphere sophomores, most notably six pounds to the brilliant filly Dramatised.

Both represent the same immediate sire line. Coolangatta is by the outstanding stallion Written Tycoon, who is also responsible for Cannonball’s sire, Capitalist, hero of the rich Golden Slipper (G1) in 2016.

Coolangatta won the key Lightning S. (G1)

In light of Coolangatta’s exploits, her dam, Piping Hot, just sold for A$3 million to Coolmore. Piping Hot, by More Than Ready, is herself a half-sister to 2008 Blue Diamond (G1) winner Reaan.

From the yard of Ciaron Maher and David Eustace, who’ve clinched the Melbourne training title for the 2022-23 season, Coolangatta has raced exclusively in stakes, even starting off in Group 3 company. She was a high-class two-year-old, as evidenced by her favoritism in the Golden Slipper, where she sustained her first loss in third.

Coolangatta tackled older sprinters when resuming as a three-year-old in the Australian spring. After a pace-attending third in the McEwen (G2), she moved forward to beat elders in the Moir (G1) over the same turning track at Moonee Valley. The 11-2 Coolangatta leveraged her early speed on the rail, and light weight, to hold on from her 18-1 stablemate Bella Nipotina by a diminishing head. Bella Nipotina came back to romp in the Manikato (G1), from which Coolangatta was a late scratch due to the heavy going.

Judging by how Coolangatta just lasted going about five furlongs around a bend, she didn’t necessarily look like wanting an extra furlong down a straight. That’s what she attempted, however, in the about six-furlong Coolmore Stud (G1) Oct. 29 at Flemington. A 9-1 chance back among fellow sophomores, Coolangatta traveled well and launched a bid, only to be swamped and relegated to fifth behind favored In Secret. Perhaps the soft going exacerbated any stamina concern, although she won the Moir on a course nearly as soft.

The convincing winner of the Coolmore Stud, Godolphin’s In Secret was at one time under Royal Ascot consideration herself. Connections preferred to keep her home, as the best route to The Everest later this year.

Coolangatta reverted to about five furlongs for her comeback in the Feb. 18 Lightning (G1). The 8-1 shot established her straight-course prowess by toppling elders, including an off-form Nature Strip, in the prestigious dash. Readily stalking Nature Strip, Coolangatta struck the front and held on from the surging I Wish I Win by a half-length.

I Wish I Win ran a stormer first-up over an inadequate trip, spotting the winner lumps of weight. He would later beat Giga Kick in the T.J. Smith (G1) during The Championships.

The Lightning has furnished all of Australia’s Royal Ascot winners. Choisir (2003) won the Lightning en route to his King’s Stand/Jubilee double. Lightning winners Takeover Target (2006), Miss Andretti (2007), and Scenic Blast (2009) prevailed in the King’s Stand. The great Black Caviar captured one of her three Lightning trophies ahead of the Jubilee. Nature Strip is the outlier in that he had won the Lightning the year prior, and rated an unlucky near-misser in 2022 before venturing to Royal Ascot.

But the stiffer five furlongs at Ascot, combined with her impost, make it challenging for Coolangatta to add to the honor roll. She carried a mere 110 pounds in the Moir and 118 in the Lightning, receiving 15 and 11 pounds from the respective runners-up. Can she deliver under 130?

Cannonball is on an upward trajectory

Cannonball, an A$975,000 yearling, is aiming to make himself a stallion. (If you’re feeling a sense of déjà vu with the name, you’re thinking of the Wesley Ward-trained Cannonball who just missed in the 2009 Jubilee.)

This Australian-bred Cannonball is a full brother to Marine One, winner of the about 5 1/2-furlong Rubiton (G2) at Caulfield in 2022. They are out of the Snitzel mare Golconda, third in the 2014 VRC Oaks (G1) and herself the daughter of Group 2 queen Eureka Jewel, runner-up in the 1996 AJC Oaks (G1).

Beginning his career with Anthony and Sam Freedman (trainers of Artorius), Cannonball showed some potential in his juvenile season, capped by a score in the listed Redoute’s Choice S. at Caulfield. He went winless in his spring campaign at three, but the eye-catcher was his third as a 30-1 shot in the Oct. 1 Danehill (G2).

As an about 5 1/2-furlong sprint on the Flemington straightaway, the Danehill is close to the conditions of the King’s Stand, especially if he gets good ground. Cannonball was strung up in traffic and didn’t see daylight until far too late. Still, he went down by a shade over 1 1/2 lengths to Giga Kick, who has since won The Everest, All Aged (G1), and Doomben 10,000 (G1).

Cannonball was subsequently switched to Peter and Paul Snowden, who had trained his sire, Capitalist. He scored first off the bench for his new yard in the March 11 Maurice McCarten H. (G3) at Rosehill, showing good speed to wire his elders at 10-1.

Up in class for the March 18 Galaxy (G1) over the same right-handed course, Cannonball was a 17-1 shot as the lone sophomore. He outperformed his odds in third, stuck waiting for room on the rail before bravely threading the needle.

Cannonball will need a career-best to threaten in the King’s Stand, but it’s plausible to project that he can produce more than he’s shown so far. If he’s a straight-course aficionado who prefers quicker going, he’s spent almost all his time in less than ideal conditions. The one time both prerequisites were met was his placing to Giga Kick.

Postscript on May 29 Australian exercise

Coolangatta and Cannonball, along with Jubilee-bound Artorius, took part in the same 900-meter exercise down the Flemington straight before shipping out.

In the five-horse spin on May 29, Cannonball finished a cozy second on the bridle. Coolangatta (number 3 on the rail) was third, initially thought underwhelming by connections before the data gave reassurance. Artorius was the trailer of the quintet, as expected for a horse of his profile.

Co-trainer Maher sounded slightly let down by Coolangatta’s effort right afterward. But colleague Eustace later furnished a much more upbeat rethink. Compared to the corresponding exercise by the Australian team before Royal Ascot 2022, this leg-stretcher produced a faster time in softer going.

McDonald echoed the same theme about the time in the conditions.

“The trial was no guide. They went way too fast,” Coolangatta’s big-race jockey told “They ran something like seven lengths faster than Nature Strip did last year before he traveled to England, and that was on a good (4), and in Coolangatta and Artorius’s trial the track was a soft (7) to a heavy (8).”

Continue reading for Artorius, The Astrologist, and Wellington in the Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee.