06/16/2009 12:00AM

Mastercraftsman hangs on in St. James's Palace


Mastercraftsman held off the late challenge of Delegator to win the Group 1, $407,000 St. James's Palace Stakes on opening day of Royal Ascot on Tuesday. The victorious Irish 2000 Guineas winner established himself as Europe's leading 3-year-old miler with a neck victory, the third time in a row trainer Aidan O'Brien has won this race.

Johnny Murtagh had the 5-6 Mastercraftsman perfectly placed just behind his pacesetter, Set Sail, through the first six furlongs. The Danehill Dancer colt led at the quarter pole as Delegator and Jimmy Fortune were briefly short of room. Delegator appeared to have Mastercraftsman beaten inside the furlong marker, but the winner dug in gamely for the score.

Lord Shanakill was 1 1/2 lengths farther back in third, with Evasive fourth. The time for the one-turn, right-handed mile on good to firm ground was 1:39.21.

Fifth in the 2000 Guineas on similar ground when Delegator was second, Mastercraftsman had reveled in heavy ground at the Curragh when landing the Irish 2000, in which Delegator was only eighth. In proving that he acts on fast ground as well, Mastercaftsman was following in the footsteps of O'Brien trainees Excellent Art and Henrythenavigator, winners of the two previous St. James's Palace Stakes. O'Brien also won this race three times in a row from 2000 to 2002 with Giant's Causeway, Black Minnaloushe, and Rock of Gibraltar. Mastercraftsman could next be tried at 1 1/4 miles, according to O'Brien.

Paco Boy proved beyond a doubt that he can stay a mile at the Group 1 level when he won the $407,000 Queen Anne Stakes for older horses. The Richard Hannon-trained son of Desert Style prevailed by 1 1/2 lengths over Cesare to make up for his fourth-place finish last time in the Group 1 Lockinge Stakes. The time for the 11-4 winner on the straight mile course was 1:39.31.

As has been the case of late, the Godolphin runners were hugely disappointing. Gladiatorus, fresh from a 3 1/2-length cakewalk in the Dubai Duty Free, opened up a five-length lead at one point but caved in to finish sixth, beaten 20 lengths. Alexandros, second in the Lockinge, fared even worse as he weakened to eighth, 42 1/4 lengths behind Paco Boy.

The five-furlong King's Stand Stakes was once again all about Australian speed as the 11-4 Down Under raider Scenic Blast dominated an international field to win this $488,000 dash. Trained by Dan Morton, the Scenic 5-year-old had his 14 rivals in trouble at the three-sixteenths pole as he cruised clear under Steve Arnold. He wasn't asked to go all out late, but still held off Fleeting Spirit by three-quarters of a length. The time for the straight five furlongs was a tepid 59.54. Choisir (2003), Takeover Target (2006), and Miss Andretti (2007) had previously won this race for Australia. Scenic Blast goes next in the six-furlong July Cup on July 10 at Newmarket.

Canford Cliffs is the leading British juvenile at the moment by virtue of his six-length romp at 7-4 in the Group 2, $163,000 Coventry Stakes. A son of Tagula trained by Hannon, Canford Cliffs was the eight-length winner of a Newbury maiden in his debut. He covered the six furlongs on Tuesday in 1:13.64.