We’ve just been through five days of the most wonderful racing – and, until Saturday, flawless weather – at Royal Ascot, but for many the experience was incomplete, writes Tony Stafford. For my part, I don’t think I managed to make a single phone call on my mobile on any of the four days I attended.
Others fared better but the internet, and especially punters attempting to put on bets via their devices, proved a generally difficult and frustrating process.
One friend not in attendance said: “It’s just the same at West Ham. As soon as you get to half-time 60,000 people take out their phones and it’s just impossible.”
But going to a Premier League football match is nothing like spending six hours watching the racing and fashion and arranging to meet up with friends. You might be able to suggest a point to gather, but when as on Saturday there is a crowd of more than 69,000 that’s not so easy. Surely it’s not beyond the wit, or the finances, of Ascot to improve communications.
I described my feelings as the week progressed – not improved on Saturday when my glasses disappeared while eating lunch – as being in solitary confinement. Not that I ever have been!
The racing started with a bang with world best Baaeed in the Queen Anne, quickly followed by a performance full of promise from Bradsell and Hollie Doyle for Archie Watson in the Coventry, and it went on from there.
Quite by chance I had the ear of Chris Waller for a little while before racing started on Tuesday and, as well as appreciating his confidence in the chance of Nature Strip in the Group One King’s Stand Stakes, which he won as a champion should, I also got some interesting stuff on the post-racing life of his great mare Winx.
Owners of many outstanding racemares have found that life in the breeding shed has not been as straight-forward as they might have hoped. Winx has had her setbacks, losing one foal, following which she had a tough time according to Waller.
If I understood him correctly, he believes extreme activity on the racecourse often inhibits the development of the reproductive systems making such mares immature in that regard. Winx deserves to get a foal or two to pass on her magical ability.
Then there was the narrow success of Coroebus in the St James’s Palace Stakes, William Buick bringing him with one of many well-timed challenges during the week.
Buick competed toe to toe throughout with Ryan Moore just as Godolphin did with Coolmore and while it was honours even in terms of good rides and victories for the two major powers, Ryan had the edge numerically. His riding this season is as good as it ever was.
Over recent seasons we had become accustomed to Ryan vainly trying to make up ground in the latter stages of Royal Ascot races after Frankie Dettori had made the first move. This year he seemed much more intent on riding closer to the front.
Once the field gets round the home turn at Ascot there is not much more than two furlongs for a rider to develop a winning run and, with crowding often to be expected, jockeying for position is more important there than on many tracks.
I did think Ryan’s riding of Kyprios in the Gold Cup was a masterpiece. It’s one thing making sure you keep your main rival boxed in when you can. At least twice as Dettori searched for a gap to start his move on Stradivarius, Moore, level and on his outside, kept the door shut.
But when Frankie’s race as far as winning was run, Moore still had saved enough on Kyprios for the Coolmore/O’Brien horse to deal with the dangerous challenge of Mojo Star around the outside. Last year’s Derby and St Leger runner-up, resuming for the Richard Hannon team after a long break, loomed up in the Amo Racing colours, looking sure to prevail.
Sadly for Amo boss Kia Joorabchian – in the paddock on Saturday with a football-oriented entourage that included Rio Ferdinand – none of his 16 runners at the meeting could win. This fastest-growing team in racing will win some big ones, that’s inevitable. How long, though, the emotional Kia can balance expectation with the inevitable disappointments that racing at this sort of level brings, is the interesting question.
Amo Racing’s support was a major factor in George Boughey’s rapid advance in the first couple of years of his career so it came as quite a shock for me to discover that of the 82 horses to have run from his Hamilton Road stable in Newmarket this year, only three have been in Amo Racing ownership.
Already successful at Classic level with Cachet in the 1,000 Guineas this year, Boughey now has two Royal Ascot wins to his name. Inver Park won Thursday’s concluding handicap, but a much more impressive winner showed the trainer’s sure touch on Saturday.
The Golden Gates Handicap, a three-year-old contest over ten furlongs, is a recent addition as Ascot went to a full five days of seven-race cards. Boughey’s Missed The Cut could not have been a more convincing winner.
I have mentioned before how significant it was for the UK racing and breeding industry that so many potentially high-class horses from the Shadwell stable were made available because of the economies needed after the death of Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoun.
Missed The Cut, a son of the top US sire Quality Road, never raced as a juvenile and went to the February sale at Newmarket where he was snapped up by former jockey, Ed Babington. A successful businessman in garden furniture, he is also developing his racing interests, having involvement in the Roger Varian stable as well as with Boughey.
Missed The Cut cost 40k, which might not have looked a bargain when he first set foot on the track running fourth at the Craven meeting. But easy wins by eleven and then five lengths in two novice contests brought an opening mark of 95. He was heavily backed, as many of Boughey’s horses are – down to 5-2 on Saturday - and defeat never looked a possibility.
He stormed to the front two furlongs out and stretched the margin to almost five lengths, He’s already at least Listed class as we’ll see tomorrow when the new ratings appear. I reckon he’s a Group horse and maybe a top-level one.
Dettori did get some joy from the returning win of one-time 1,000 Guineas favourite Inspiral in the Coronation Stakes, but most people found his public “calling out” over the Stradivarius ride by joint-trainer John Gosden left a sour taste. You would think the number of winners the prince of racing has ridden for the stable, many at the top level, would have deserved a little more understanding in the face of one less than perfect ride on a horse for whom he has so much affection.
Nobody will ever worry in the fulness of time that Stradivarius, already a three-time Gold Cup winner, did not make it four. It was a shame for owner Bjorn Neilsen and no doubt Gosden senior would have liked another Gold Cup to his name, but that’s racing and for once Ryan rode the socks off Frankie.
Gosden was much more positive about the winning ride on Nashwa – like Inspiral a daughter of Frankel – in yesterday’s Prix De Diane at Chantilly. The Oaks third took the quick turn-around well when winning nicely under Hollie Doyle, who thus became the first female jockey to win a major European Classic.
I must say I have been dismayed all year once it became known of the departure of Tony Nerses from his role as the long-time manager of Nashwa’s owner. Initially for Saleh Al Homaizi, then for the partnership between Saleh and Imad Al Sagar, to Imad’s outright ownership when Al Homaizi bowed out a few years ago
I always believed Tony had a big input in the suggestion that Hollie might become the retained jockey for the team. Now we learn it was Mr Gosden’s idea all along. Just as it was when William Buick first went to the US, no doubt!