The one sight I was determined not to miss at Royal Ascot was that of the Queen from over the water coming to claim the hearts of English racegoers. The commanding way in which Treve won the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe last October stamped her as something very special and she should have been worth going a long way to see. But it turned out that the damp turf of Longchamp in the autumn and the quick ground at Ascot in June were not all the same to her. Although sheer quality brought her home in third in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes, the fizz had escaped Treve’s bottle before they left the stalls and Frankie Dettori reported that she ran flat all the way. It provided an opportunity for John Gosden’s The Fugue, owned by Lord and Lady Lloyd-Webber, to remind us that she deserved to have won an Oaks and is a top filly in her own right. She has now won Group Ones at three, four and five.
They would never have dreamt of taking on Treve on the soft in Paris, said the shrewd and sporting winning trainer, who paid tribute to Criquette Head-Maarek for taking the risk of bringing over her charge, but on fast ground at Ascot in June they reckoned they had a squeak against her. It turned out to be more of a barn door than a squeak and this year’s Royal Ascot had already proved John’s payback occasion when Kingman, the horse that neither he nor this column had dreamt of being beaten in the 2,000 Guineas, exploded down the Ascot straight to defeat his Newmarket conqueror Night of Thunder comprehensively.
To complete the happiness at Clarehaven Gosden’s Eagle Top won the King Edward VII Stakes, the race they call the ‘Ascot Derby’, so easily that jockey William Buick had to take a pull two furlongs out to stop him getting to the front too soon. John Gosden also won the Chesham Stakes for two-year-olds with the home-bred Richard Pankhurst. He is named after the suffragette Emily’s husband and is owned by the busy Rachel Hood, aka Mrs Gosden. Rachel now has so many roles in racing politics that at least one fellow Newmarket trainer has taken to calling John Gosden ‘Denis’, but none, I suspect, will give her as much pleasure as the future career of this exciting prospect.
The victories of Wow Factor, Toronado and Baitha Alga in Qatari colours reminded us all of the new force in racing and a string of successes by other Emerald Isle raiders reminded us that Aidan O’Brien isn’t the only Irishman who can train racehorses. With a much smaller operation Edward Lynam won the two top sprints with Sole Power and Slade Power and for good measure took the Queen Mary Stakes too with Anthem Alexander, supplementing successes too for Charles Byrnes, Willie Mullins and for the canny veteran Dermot Weld.
For me, as a friend and biographer, the veteran success of the week was that of John Gosden’s Newmarket neighbour Clive Brittain, now 80, who won the Coronation Stakes with the classy Rizeena 40 years after his first Ascot victory. She, too, had disappointed in the 1,000 Guineas and missed the Irish equivalent after a setback but he had this strong and handsome filly, previously one of our Twelve to Follow, back to her very best.
There must be something this year in the Bury Road water because Sir Michael Stoute’s yard is on the other side of Clive’s to John Gosden, and Newmarket’s other much-respected senatorial figure came out once again as Ascot’s top trainer, winning with four favourites: Integral, Arab Spring, Cannock Chase and Telescope. It brought his total of Royal Ascot victories to a formidable 72. He may be a little heavy-topped in equine terms but the modest and camera-shy Sir Michael is still a very sharp mover when it comes to nipping away from pressmen who would like to discuss his winners with him. The only pity of the week was that two of Sir Michael’s second places were with horses owned by the Queen, including Estimate, her Gold Cup winner of the previous year. Getting caught briefly in a pocket on Estimate must have been the only moment all week when the ultra-professional Ryan Moore, the meeting’s champion jockey, didn’t have his mount in a perfect position.
All in all, it was a stupendous Royal Ascot, although I may be prejudiced. For once I came out with a healthy profit having backed the Lynam pair as well as Rizeena, Pique Sous, Wow Factor and three of Sir Michael’s winners. But what really made it for me was keeping faith with Baccarat, who was in our Twelve to Follow for two years. Richard Fahey has always insisted he was going to win a big one and so he did, taking the Wokingham Handicap at 9-1. Mrs Oakley’s birthday required that I missed his victory on the day, but I had taken the 20-1 ante-post. Claridge’s, I discovered, do a very good dinner!
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