06/19/2006 11:00PM

Takeover Target all out to win

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Edward Whitaker / Racing Post
Araafa, Alan Munro up, wins the St James's Palace at Ascot. His trainer, Jeremy Noseda, called facing older horses "the obvious next step."

ASCOT, England - Australian invader Takeover Target scored one for the little man in the King's Stand Stakes, while Araafa's victory in the St. James's Palace Stakes established him as Europe's leading 3-year-old miler on opening day of Royal Ascot on Tuesday.

A reported 55,000, including Queen Elizabeth II, attended the meet's opener. It was the first full day of racing at Ascot since September 2004. In the intervening time, its 1960's-era stand was razed to make way for the new $350 million state-of-the-art grandstand.

In winning the $370,000 King's Stand, Takeover Target - bought as a yearling for just $1,000 by taxi driver Joe Janiak - matched the feat of his countrymate Choisir, who won this same five-furlong Group 2 dash in 2003. Takeover Target's Australian rider, Jay Ford, had him close up to the pace throughout, but had to pull out all the stops to secure his short-head victory over Benbaun. Pivotal Point was third, while another Australian, Falkirk, finished in a dead heat for fourth with Dandy Man, just three-quarters of a length behind the winner. Takeover Target covered the straight five furlongs in 59.79 seconds on good to firm ground.

"To do something like this in a foreign country is really special," said Janiak, who until recently had been driving a cab in Queanbeyan, a suburb of the Australian capital of Canberra. Janiak will see how Takeover Target comes out of the King's Stand before deciding whether to wheel him right back on Saturday for the six-furlong Golden Jubilee Stakes, a race Choisir also won three years ago.

Araafa had been much disparaged after his victory over George Washington in the Irish 2000 Guineas on May 27, so his decisive victory in the $462,000 St. James's Palace Stakes was sweet vindication for his trainer, Jeremy Noseda.

Once jockey Alan Munro put Araafa, a Mull of Kintyre colt, on the lead 2 1/2 furlongs from home in the Group 1 mile, the issue became academic. He had no trouble holding French 2000 Guineas third Stormy River safe by two lengths as the 2-1 favorite. A pair of Aidan O'Brien trainees, Ivan Denisovich and Marcus Andronicus, were third and fourth. The winning time for the right-handed, mostly uphill mile was 1:39.79

"The obvious next step would be to go against older horses," said Noseda. "The races would be the Sussex Stakes, the Prix Jacques le Marois, the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, and the Breeders' Cup Mile, which is one I'd really like to go after - it's the ultimate late-season prize for milers."

The other Group 1 mile on the card, the $462,000 Queen Anne Stakes, was riddled with controversy. Kieren Fallon guided the 6-1 Ad Valorem to a 1 1/2-length tally over Court Masterpiece, but had to withstand a stewards' inquiry for having bumped the favored mare Peeress, who eventually finished fourth, approaching the eighth pole.

Peeress then bumped the game Court Masterpiece, but the stewards held Fallon blameless as far as the result of the race was concerned. They did, however, mete out a four-day suspension to Fallon for having committed the non-foul.

Ad Valorem, who had been winless for more than a year, clocked 1:40 for the straight mile, and is a candidate to meet both Araafa and Proclamation, third in the Queen Anne, before the year is out.

Sergeant Cecil a threat in marathon

Thursday's feature at Royal Ascot, the $395,000 Ascot Gold Cup, was the meeting's centerpiece until World War II, but a de-emphasis on stamina, even in Europe, has cost the 2 1/2-mile marathon much of its glitter. It never fails to emerge as an intriguing contest, however, and this year's renewal is no exception.

The Group 1 contest will be headed by last year's runner-up, Distinction, a 7-year-old gelding trained by Michael Stoute. After coming within a neck of the redoubtable Westerner last June at Royal Ascot at York, Distinction went on to win the two-mile Group 2 Goodwood Cup before failing in the Melbourne Cup.

He will be challenged by Sergeant Cecil, another 7-year-old gelding, who was voted England's most popular horse last year by dint of his unprecedented triple in stayers' handicaps: the Northumberland Plate, the Ebor Handicap, and the Cesarewitch Handicap. Last time out, he was a good second over 1 3/4 miles in the Group 2 Yorkshire Cup.

Sergeant Cecil may have an edge over both Distinction and the 5-year-old Smart Strike gelding Tungsten Strike, who is coming off a win in the two-mile Group 2 Henry II Stakes at Sandown Park three weeks ago.