Royal Ascot is the ultimate goal and it is crunch time for Team Gosden

ROYAL ASCOT is where the very best at Clarehaven Stables shine the brightest. Think of all the wonderful winners and brilliant racehorses that John Gosden has saddled at Britain’s flagship Flat meeting.

Covid was a horrible period for all but Team Gosden momentarily lifted the gloom behind closed doors when he and jockey Frankie Dettori regularly enjoyed top-class winners. In 2020, Palace Pier was brought on steadily through the ranks to peak in the St James’s Palace Stakes. Slowly away, he won nicely under Dettori and took notable a scalp in Pinatubo.

It was a classic training performance from Gosden and a trademark ride from Dettori. A match made in heaven.

Things have been a little tougher since, however. Just three years later, there was the Dettori-Gosden sabbatical when Royal Ascot didn’t go to plan in 2022. Dettori had a rare off week in the saddle and Gosden was far from impressed. The Italian recovered last season to end his riding career in the UK in good style.

Dettori has moved on and is enjoying an Indian summer in America to end his time in the saddle. The Gosdens have not started the 2024 season with much punch.

Life after Dettori has been tough for Team Gosden. John and his son Thady Gosden are fourth in the trainers’ championship in 2024 with a reasonable enough 20-per-cent strike-rate for the season but the number of group successes is the interesting figure.

John Gosden (right) and Frankie Dettori enjoy victory in 2017 with high-class Cracksman

John Gosden (right) and Frankie Dettori enjoy victory in 2017 with high-class Cracksman 

The pressure is on Kieran Shoemark as new No 1 jockey at Clarehaven after a tough start to 2024

The pressure is on Kieran Shoemark as new No 1 jockey at Clarehaven after a tough start to 2024

 As of Thursday, June 6, Gosden has had only three winners from 28 runners in Group races. A poor overall record for an established top-class yard like Clarehaven. They’ve also only ran three two-year-olds all year. It’s quite the puzzle for the team who won the 2023 British trainers’ title.

Is this where the big-race experience of a Dettori is missed or is this a sign that Gosden has less top-class horses to go to war with in 2024? The answer seems to be a little bit of both.

The No 1 job at Clarehaven is a demanding one and Kieran Shoemark has been thrust in because he’s part of the furniture at the yard since a youngster. The 27-year-old has suffered some tough beats at the start of the season. Search his name on social-media outlets and it’s not hard to locate the voices of plenty of disgruntled punters.

There are probably three lacklustre rides worthy of analysis and context. Emily Upjohn was disappointing in the Coronation Cup when the defending champion was not fully fit and too keen to do herself justice. Ryan Moore

tactically dominated on Luxembourg and for all that more things were in the favour of the winner than Emily Upjohn on the day. The bare fact remains that it was a second straight start Shoemark had failed to settle Emily Upjohn fully as she was beaten in Meydan. Disappointing but forgivable.

Moore comprehensively outrode Shoemark again at Chester when Point Lonsdale beat Arrest in the Ormonde Stakes by six-and-a-half lengths. He struggled to get Arrest organised around the quirky trace despite him winning there last year and was too wide when the race developed. On the flip side, however, the ground was becoming unsuitably quick for the St Leger runner-up.

Palace Pier's win in the St James's Palace Stakes was a high point at Royal Ascot

Palace Pier’s win in the St James’s Palace Stakes was a high point at Royal Ascot

 Then there was Inspiral in the Lockinge Stakes. Along with Emily Upjohn, she was expected to need the run and Gosden gave out pre-race instructions for Shoemark to move from the centre of the track to the rail from a seemingly unfavourable draw. Shoemark did exactly that and Inspiral’s run flattened out. An understandable run but there would be a hint of bemusement for Shoemark in seeing lesser-fancied stablemate Audience win unchallenged from the middle of the track — the exact place the trainer ultimately did not want the favourite to be.

If there have been some ordinary rides on the early-season big occasions from Shoemark then the blame shouldn’t solely lie at his door if Royal Ascot doesn’t go to plan. There have been some bizarre placing decisions from Team Gosden.

Friendly Soul looked extraordinary on Guineas weekend only for her to run deplorably 10 days later in the Musidora Stakes when failing to back up that big effort. Surely the turnaround was too quick and it was very unlike Gosden to race a high-class prospect so rapidly.

Maybe it was out of desperation to have a runner in the Oaks, a race which he has exclusively plundered between himself and Aidan O’Brien for the last decade until Dermot Weld bucked the trend last week with Ezeliya.

There was plenty of evidence that Arrest needed soft ground in his two-year-old and three-year-old days not to run him at Chester on good ground. And the four quick runs of God’s Window this season in trying to force his way into the Derby picture looked optimistic at best. He finished 12th of 16 at Epsom.

Plenty of Classics have been staged in Britain, Ireland and France this season and Gosden has had next to nothing in them. Before racing yesterday, the Gosdens had four winners from 37 runners in the last two weeks. Shoemark, outside the top ten in the jockeys’ championship, has had five winners from 37 rides in the last fortnight. The Gosdens’ No 1 rider is short of confidence but seems to have little support.

Dettori won't ride at Royal Ascot this year but is still riding out in America to end his career

Dettori won’t ride at Royal Ascot this year but is still riding out in America to end his career

 Dettori isn’t riding at Royal Ascot this year but he will be there and Shoemark might feel his presence more than most as an extra weight on his shoulders.

This is the week of the racing calendar that Team Gosden come into their own. But there are major doubts this year in all aspects of the operation at Clarehaven.

Inspiral is expected to win the Queen Anne Stakes on the first day of the royal meeting. Emily Upjohn should go mightily close at least on her best form in the Hardwicke Stakes. The Hardwicke is also an option for Arrest if the rain arrives.

The pressure is on and this time there can’t be any excuses for Team Gosden.

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