Royal Ascot ended with a hugely popular success for the Queen, as the Sir Michael Stoute trained Dartmouth took the Hardwicke Stakes in a nail-biting finish.
Cruising into contention on the heels of the leaders, Olivier Peslier made his move inside the two-furlong pole, challenging alongside the Aidan O’Brien trained Highland Reel. The two slugged it out throughout the final furlong with Peslier a head to the good at the post. Seamie Heffernan had dropped his whip at the two pole, forcing him into a hands and heels drive to the line on the runner-up. Such misfortune probably had a bearing on the finish.
Nevertheless, the result proved popular with the crowd, and of course with Her Royal Highness watching from the Royal Box. Connections had to endure a stewards’ inquiry after Dartmouth leaned into his opponent during the final furlong. However, an amendment of the result would probably have seen officials heading to ‘The Tower’, and it came as no surprise when the result remained unchanged.
The victory brought up winner number 75 for Sir Michael Stoute at Royal Ascot, equalling the record of another Knight of the Realm, the late and great Sir Henry Cecil. It also brought up an incredible 10 Hardwicke victories, five of those in the last seven years.
After the win, a rather jovial looking Sir Michael said: “It's a great mark to reach [75 winners] but I hope it doesn't stop there! He's a lovely, quality horse and everybody in the yard is very fond of him.”
The Queen's bloodstock advisor, John Warren, was also thrilled with the success, saying: “It's been a long wait with a few little ups and downs but he's a very smart horse. Michael is such a master at training horses just to their peak and it means a lot to the Queen. Michael had it firmly in mind that this would be the objective and he's such a genuine horse. The Queen got such a thrill watching him stick his neck out.”
Exosphere had been sent off a short-priced favourite, and travelled strongly for much of the race, but failed to pick-up when necessary and may have found the ground too tacky, finally trailing home in eighth place. He’s certainly worth another chance on better ground having looked so impressive on seasonal debut at Newmarket.
Royal Ascot’s final Group 1 went to Henry Candy, with his Twilight Son getting the better of a desperate finish to the Diamond Jubilee Stakes. Ryan Moore had the colt in a prominent position throughout, and the four-year-old responded well to his urgings inside the final furlong. The Hong Kong trained Gold-Fun ran a cracker, running on well to finish just a neck shy of the winner, with the French-trained Signs Of Blessing back in third.
Magical Memory had been sent off favourite, and was held up at the rear by Frankie Dettori. As the field kicked for home at the furlong pole, Dettori made his move, and the favourite looked to have every chance, but his run flattened out nearing the line, and he had to settle for fourth.
Candy was enjoying his first Royal Ascot winner since 1979, and said: “We've been close a few times and it's marvellous to get the job done finally. I was looking at Frankie steaming up on the stands side and thinking he [Twilight Son] was probably going to be third, but our horse really dug deep and the jockey on top dug deep. He [Ryan Moore] is a top man.”
Ryan Moore, who clinched the top jockey award added: “I always felt that when I was going to ask him he was going to win. He travelled very strongly and the pace wasn't strong enough for him. It would have been better if they'd gone quicker. He's a very good colt and is getting more confident.”
Twilight Son is likely to head for the Darley July Cup, though his trainer has warned that fast ground could scupper such plans. Speaking to At The Races on Sunday he said: “He's a horse with a huge amount of ability and Ryan was of the opinion he will improve again for that and I think that's absolutely right. He suffers from cracked heels very easily and my head lad did a fantastic job getting him there. He doesn't want firm ground and we'll go for the July Cup all being well.”
Though the weather did its best to dampen spirits during the Royal Meeting, few could have been left disappointed after such a terrific week of top class action.