06/19/2008 12:00AM

Golden Jubilee loaded with talent


Royal Ascot closes its five-day stand Saturday with Europe's richest sprint race, the $735,000 Golden Jubilee Stakes, a six-furlong affair that has attracted the attention of nine Group 1 winners from places as far flung as Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa as well as England and France.

Defending titleholder Soldier's Tale will have his work cut out for him, especially as he has not run since his head victory last year over the ever-present Takeover Target. An Australian speedster, Takeover Target runs right back after his second-place finish in the five-furlong King's Stand Stakes on Tuesday, a race he won in 2006, but serious challengers abound, as this race also includes four Group 2 winners.

Marchand d'Or is one of four Golden Jubilee runners coming off a group race score, that in the Group 2 Prix du Gros-Chene in which he beat Tuesday's King's Stand winner Equiano by a neck. On that form, the Freddie Head-trained two-time Group 1 winner has a slight edge over Takeover Target.

The likely favorite, Sakhee's Secret, beat Marchand d'Or two lengths into fourth in the Group 1 July Cup but has since finished the same margin behind Marchand d'Or when that one was second in the Haydock Park Sprint Cup. Sakhee's Secret was just a neck second in the five-furlong Group 3 Palace House Stakes last month, but Marchand d'Or may have the edge over the Henry Morrison trainee at this stage.

Aidan O'Brien saddles last year's French 2000 Guineas winner Astronomer Royal who ended a five-race losing streak with a win in the Group 3 Greenlands Stakes last time. War Artist from South Africa and Seachange from New Zealand both have chances for a placing, but Godolphin's Diabolical, winner of the A.G. Vanderbilt at Saratoga last year, looks in to be in a tough spot off his seventh-place finish in the Dubai Golden Shaheen.

* Maraahel will attempt to pull off a Yeats-like triple in the $294,000 Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes off a pair of narrow seconds in Group 3 company. However, this 1 1/2-mile contest may see a changing of the guard with his lightly raced Michael Stoute-trained stablemate Spanish Moon poised for victory after a recent course and distance listed score. George Strawbridge's St. Leger winner Lucarno is an upset possibility despite his ninth-place finish in the Brigadier Gerard Stakes, which was run on unsuitably soft ground over a 1 1/4 miles that was much too short for him.