06/17/2010 12:00AM

O'Brien charge iffy at Ascot Gold Cup distance

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The spirit of four-time Ascot Gold Cup winner Yeats will be hanging over the Royal Meeting on Thursday, but the great stayer himself, now retired, will be absent from the festivities as 13 pretenders to his throne line up for the grueling 2 1/2-mile Group 1 test worth $370,000.

Trainer Aidan O'Brien will try to pick up where Yeats left off with Age of Aquarius, a Galileo half-brother to two group-race mile winners, but he has been only second in his last three starts going shorter and may lack the necessary stamina required to win the Gold Cup.

Manifest is the likely favorite off his convincing eight-length romp in the 1 3/4-mile, Group 2 Yorkshire Cup. By Rainbow Quest, Manifest is a half-brother to English Oaks winner Reams of Verse. A Henry Cecil-trained 4-year-old, Manifest has never been farther than 1 3/4 miles and is a question at 2 1/2 miles despite his breeding.

The Michael Stoute-trained Ask was good enough to beat three-time Arc runner-up Youmzain in the 1 1/2-mile Coronation Cup a year ago and looked like a stayer in the making when he won the 1 15/16-mile, Group 1 Prix Royal-Oak in October, but has not run since then.

The winner might come from the 1 15/16-mile, Group 2 Prix Vicomtesse Vigier in which Kite Wood defeated Kasbah Bliss by three-quarters of a length. Beaten into second as the favorite in the St. Leger Stakes by his Godolphin stablemate Mastery in his previous start last September, Kite Wood is a son of Galileo who is developing into a top-class stayer, but he has never been farther than two miles.

Kasbah Bliss, a former top-class hurdler, was a short-head second over the Gold Cup distance four back at Longchamp in the Group 1 Prix du Cadran and is a known quantity at 20 furlongs. While Kasbah Bliss - a son of Epsom and Irish Derby winner Kahyasi trained by Francois Doumen - lacks a turn of foot, he stays all day and is capable of grinding out a victory with Thierry Thulliez aboard.

The $184,000 Ribblesdale Stakes at 1 1/2 miles for 3-year-old fillies is not one of the better Group 2 races on the European calendar, but this year's renewal features an improving Henry Cecil trainee from the powerful stable of Khalid Abdullah.

Principal Role, an Empire Maker half-sister to Midships - who won the 1 1/4-mile, Grade 1 Charlie Whittingham Handicap - won a 1 1/4-mile listed race at Newbury last time in just her fourth career start and should prevail again with Tom Queally aboard, but it won't be easy. Fifth in the English Oaks, Gertrude Bell is a listed winner at the distance. Fatanah was just a head behind Principal Role at Newbury. Hibaayeb was two lengths third to subsequent French Oaks winner Sarafina in the Prix Saint-Alary, while Middle Club was a short head second to Contredanse in the Italian Oaks.

The Group 2, $133,000 Norfolk Stakes for 2-year-olds at five furlongs is equally competitive. The Henry Candy-trained Dinkum Diamond deserves favoritism off his victory in the five-furlong National Stakes at Sandown, but the preference is for Zebedee. Trained by Richard Hannon, who had the first two in Tuesday's St. James's Palace Stakes in Canford Cliffs and Dick Turpin, Zebedee made it 2 for 2 with a 2 1/4-length course-and-distance win in a conditions race on April 28 and can repeat under Richard Hughes.