'I'd be staggered if she couldn't make up that sort of improvement' – Asfoora team expecting improved performance at Royal Ascot

Trainer Henry Dwyer has said he would be 'staggered' should Asfoora not be able to make up the two-and-a-half lengths she has to find with her Temple Stakes conquerors heading into the King Charles III Stakes at Royal Ascot next week.

ASFOORA winning the Metcap Finance Schillaci Stakes at Caulfield in Australia.
ASFOORA winning the Metcap Finance Schillaci Stakes at Caulfield in Australia. Picture: Racing Photos

An eight-time winner from nineteen starts in Australia, Asfoora has plenty of solid sprinting form in the book, including Group 2 and Group 3 victories over five-and-a-half furlongs at Caulfield and a second-place finish to Australian speedster Imperatriz in the Group 1 Moir Stakes at Moonee Valley last September. Ultimately, those performances would hatch Dwyer's ultimate plan, with Asfoora now set for a lengthy spell in Europe as she searches for her elusive first Group 1 success.

"We had the initial idea 14-16 months ago when she won a couple of 1,000m races at Caulfield," said Dwyer, speaking to the media before watching his mare work in her new surroundings in Newmarket.

"What's the saying? If you are going to be a bear, you might as well be a grizzly bear!

"We thought we would come over and give it a good shot. There's nothing in Australia, so she would've been sat in the paddock there.

"So, we thought, with the series of races as it is – she's won a number of Group 2's and 3's in Australia but never been able to win a Group 1 – I thought it would be a better opportunity over here over five furlongs to win a Group 1 than at home, which is what it's all about.

"A few of the people I spoke to over here said that there wasn't heaps of depth in the five-furlong horses this year, so if you were going to come over, this is the year to do it – so here we are.

The five-year-old daughter of Flying Artie made a pleasing UK debut when in the Group 2 Temple Stakes at Haydock last month. Prominently ridden by regular rider Mitch Aitken, she failed to get home in testing conditions but emerged with plenty of credit by being beaten only two and a half lengths by the Clive Cox-trained Kerdos.

"At Haydock, we knew we'd need the run a bit and it was just a combination of factors," explained Dwyer. "It was too wet and whilst she handles soft tracks, a wet five furlongs becomes more like a wet five-and-a-half or six furlongs, which she wasn't ready for. I think at her peak, which is what she'll be at Ascot and beyond, she's well and truly up to winning a Group 1."

Whilst Dwyer is clearly hoping to see a bold performance from his stable star at the royal meeting next week, the Ballarat-based handler is also excited to see what the future holds further down the line of her European campaign, with ventures to Goodwood and York both in the pipeline.

Dwyer said: "Ascot is going to be a challenge for her. She'll run really well but a stiff five there might not suit her as well as say when we go to Goodwood or York on the flat and down the hill. I think she'll run a really good race at Ascot though and I'd love to see her run in the top three or four and if she can do that, she'll be really well placed for the next two runs."

With Asfoora's traditionally hot and buzzy temperament, Dwyer felt it was important for her regular rider Mitch Aitken to come over and partner her in the Temple Stakes at Haydock last month. However, with Dwyer always on the lookout for a southern hemisphere jockey to take over at Royal Ascot, it has been confirmed that dual champion jockey Oisin Murphy will take the ride.

"Oisin Murphy is booked to ride at Ascot, and he came out and galloped her on Tuesday," said Dwyer. "He was happy with what he felt, he's looking forward to riding her and we're looking forward to having him onboard. Mitch (Aitken) who rode her at Haydock has been her regular rider throughout her career and we thought it would be good to get him over here for her work leading up to it and his feedback.

"We know Oisin has ridden plenty of Royal Ascot winners and he's a good lad to deal with. He knows the horse now. She'll get ponied down to the gates as she does in Australia and then get a man up with her in the gates to help keep her calm.

He added: "She's a filly that has traditionally been very hot and buzzy, but she's certainly a lot better now. Mentally she's a lot stronger now than she was. She's been a lot more relaxed over here than she can be at home even."

Asfoora, who is a 7/1 chance for Royal Ascot glory with Paddy Power, may have two-and-a-half lengths to make up with her Temple Stakes rivals, but Dwyer is confident his mare has what it takes to reverse the form in what he described as an open race once taking out Michael Appleby's Breeders' Cup hero Big Evs.

"If you take Big Evs out of the equation because he brings different form lines and is clearly the one to beat, then the rest of the horses including Asfoora are pretty evenly matched.

"They've finished in bunches in the Palace House Stakes, the Temple Stakes, the Greenland Stakes, and the Duke Of York Stakes, they were all bunch finishes and won by a different horse each time. There's no standout.

"She was always going to improve, especially with the circumstances of the day. She's got significant improvement to come, how much I don't know but she got beaten two and a half the other day and I'd be staggered if she couldn't make up that sort of improvement. Most of the other horses in that race (Temple Stakes) had a run already whereas she hadn't."

On what it means to him to have a Royal Ascot runner on the horizon, Dwyer said: "I've been a couple of times (to Royal Ascot) and thinking how fun it is, really. Just thinking 'if it is this fun without a horse, imagine how good it will be to actually be involved in it?'. Never thought I would have the opportunity, but here we are.

"Outside of the Melbourne Cup, which is a big thing for us, Royal Ascot is always the global thing that people get out of bed in the middle of the night to watch.

"I always watched it growing up. You don't follow the form over here, it's more about the pageantry and the pomp and the ceremony – the event. That's what we are looking forward to."

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