When a horse develops a liking for a particular track, Ascot is never a bad option and that is certainly the case with Dark Shift, who is looking for a fifth course win in the Moet & Chandon International Stakes.
Trained by Charlie Hills, the four-year-old is in the form of his life having won at Nottingham before taking the Royal Hunt Cup in fine style this season.
Now racing from an 11lb higher mark than at the start of the current campaign, Hills is hoping the grey has one more big pot in him before moving into Pattern company.
“This has always been the plan, to come here after Royal Ascot,” said Hills.
“Obviously we are bringing him back to seven furlongs but I can’t see that being a problem, he’s won over that trip before and I think if the Hunt Cup was over seven, he’d have still won.
“I think he’s pretty versatile where the ground is concerned. We know he handles cut, but it was pretty quick at the Royal meeting and I can’t imagine it will be any quicker this weekend.
“I’d like to think he’s still got another big handicap in him off his current mark and then we can maybe start looking at going up in class.
“Obviously this weekend there’s the draw (10) to take into consideration, too.”
Eve Johnson Houghton saddles the top two in the weights in Accidental Agent and Jumby respectively.
The former is four years his stablemate’s senior and meets his companion on slightly better terms than when they clashed recently in the Bunbury Cup.
Jumby finished third, beaten a length and a quarter, while Accidental Agent was seventh, two lengths further back.
“I think Accidental Agent is a big price, he’s been in such good form this year and I’m hopeful,” said Johnson Houghton.
“He wasn’t beaten far at Newmarket and he didn’t get a clear run through.
“We’ve got him in stall 19 and Jumby in six so we’re either side of the track and I think they’ve both got really good chances.
“Jumby is still improving, but we’ve gone for the cheekpieces just to help Hollie (Doyle) out a bit. He’ll go well. I think he’s definitely a Group horse of the future, but these handicaps are worth so much money you may as well try to win one along the way before you have to go for one.
“Hollie also rides Jumbly (for Harry and Roger Charlton) on Saturday which will confuse her, but I’d like to say we were called Jumby before they were called Jumbly!”
The Clive Cox-trained Aratus won four of his first five races but has found life tougher this season in three outings.
His trainer feels he failed to see out a mile last time out in the Hunt Cup so will appreciate dropping in trip.
“He’s a really nice horse, he was very productive last year and probably didn’t quite hit the line last time over a mile in the Hunt Cup,” Cox told Sky Sports Racing.
“He was highly rated on his performances last year and hopefully he can return to that vein of form. The ground will be fine for him.
“I think he just didn’t get home last time and that he’ll be more at home over seven.”
Others fancied among the 22-runner field include Andrew Balding’s Tactical, owned by the Queen, George Boughey’s Air To Air and the Bunbury Cup winner Bless Him, trained by David Simcock.