Love had to battle hard for a triumphant return in what proved to be an epic renewal of the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot.
Aidan O’Brien’s dual Classic heroine was back on a racecourse for the first time in 300 days, since completing a clean sweep of three 2020 victories when she added the Yorkshire Oaks to her 1000 Guineas and Oaks successes.
In the absence of Lord North, who would have been her market rival but was pulled out of his attempt to defend his crown here because of fast ground, 11-10 favourite Love made all – but had a fight on her hands all the way up the straight as James Fanshawe’s Breeders’ Cup winner Audarya launched a persistent challenge.
But Love would not be denied and was on top at the line by three-quarters of a length from Audarya, who was also having her first run since last year, with O’Brien’s second-string Armory third.
Ryan Moore had the winner settled in front, with Audarya and My Oberon pulling hard behind, and Love’s relaxed demeanour – on the fast ground which suits her so well – helped her keep enough in hand when she needed it in the final two furlongs.
O’Brien was full of praise for Love’s tenacity, as a daughter of Galileo – and Moore’s successful tactics.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said.
“We were a little bit worried coming here today, because she was prepared for a few runs and didn’t get to run.
“To come into a race like this without a run was a big disadvantage.
“She has all the attributes of a Galileo. When you really want them – I knew watching Ryan’s body language, the mare was galloping with her head on the ground, and she was only waiting for Ryan to say ‘come on’.
“I knew when he did that, she would find for him – and that’s exactly (what happened). She gives all, this filly.
“That’s an unbelievable trait, and probably the most important trait in any thoroughbred – and she has it in spades, multiplied by 10.”
Love lived up to all her trainer’s expectations.
He added: “She gives everything. There’s nothing left, nothing spare – whatever you want she’s there to answer all the time.
“She was vulnerable today, at the distance – and making her own running, as the race came together there was no pace in it.
“Ryan did a great job, doing enough for her to win and at the same time not doing (too much) because he knew Armory was going to be coming from the back, and was prepared for the race.
“It was brilliant really. He gave her a great ride, and it’s a pleasure and a privilege to have her.”
A return to Ascot for next month’s King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes appears to loom large for Love – although the shorter Eclipse at Sandown is also a possibility.
“The lads (owners Coolmore) will decide what they want to do,” said O’Brien.
“Obviously she has all the options, the King George, an Eclipse, all those kind of races.
“You’d think hard about the King George, see how she is. If the ground was nice, high summer – after being round the track here – they are the type of races to suit her.
“She definitely has to be in the reckoning for a King George – but we’ll see shortly.
O’Brien does not discount a meeting later this year with this year’s Oak winner Snowfall.
“Obviously, come the autumn, if they decided to do that it’d be unbelievable – and we’d be delighted, really,” he said.
Love was O’Brien’s 75th Royal Ascot winner, putting him level with the great Sir Henry Cecil.
He was characteristically humble about the achievement, with a filly who has already reached great heights and has potential for much more.
“We feel very privileged to be in that position – we’re a small part of a big team, and very grateful to everybody for everything,” he said.
As for Love’s possible future status as one of Ballydoyle’s all-time best, he said: “I think she could (be).
“She’s fresh now – and probably to her advantage, she hasn’t had the miles in that bad ground early on in the year, which can often affect them late.
“So she’s probably had an ideal preparation into the summer and autumn – she’s very versatile and genuine. Anything is possible with her now.”
Fanshawe was equally proud of Audarya, who looks set to be major player again this season wherever she goes.
The Newmarket trainer said: “We were absolutely thrilled with the way she ran. It was a very solid run and proves she’s progressed again.
“Love is a very good filly, but it looked at the furlong pole like we were going to give her a race. William (Buick) reported the pace wasn’t that strong. We may head for the Romanet or the Nassau, and keep her to her own sex.”