By Tony Stafford
After five consecutive days’ driving around the M25, I spent all yesterday morning wondering why I wasn’t doing the same again until realising Royal Ascot was over for another year. The presence of some Druid-like people around Woodford on my way home from a family barbecue where my children and all bar one of the grandchildren attended, reminded me that, from today, the nights are getting longer again.
Almost half a century of Royal meetings must have offered up plenty of spectacular performances, but Lady Aurelia in the Queen Mary Stakes on Wednesday almost defied belief. She streaked clear in the last furlong, having already set a fast pace, and stopped the clock at a time two seconds and change better than Profitable – told you – on the opening afternoon.
We always learned in the time/lengths equation that at five furlongs, a length is worth 3lb and five lengths represent a second. So Lady Aurelia, winning by seven lengths and up from her rivals, was a full 21lb superior to French-trained runner-up Al Johrah, and two stone and more better than the remainder.
Lady Aurelia was the latest Wesley Ward speedster to grace Ascot and, like Acapulco, last year’s sensation, and No Nay Never, is by the late Scat Daddy who would have been covering his mares at Coolmore’s Ashford Stud in Kentucky this year at $100,000 but for his much-regretted death late last year soon after the fee announcement.
I was lucky enough to bump into Wesley Ward a couple of times after Lady Aurelia’s victory and he contented himself with a measured reaction to the win. “Yes, she’s special” was as far as he wanted to go, but having gone a full second – 15lb - faster than Friday’s Norfolk field he could have been excused for a little more extravagance.
Wednesday was the chosen day for Mrs S to accompany me to Berkshire and naturally we had to endure the showers as we traditionally waited on the front row outside the far side of the paddock for the other (and first) procession of the day.
This was a very hot contest. In the first of four carriages there was the Queen and Prince Philip, in the second Charles and his Duchess. Edward and Sophie were in the third, and after a clearly staged gap, the eagerly-awaited Prince William and Kate saved the best for last.
Magically, as with everything that’s happened in the year of the Queen’s 90th, the weather cleared minutes before the coaches turned under the stands and bright sunlight accompanied their arrival. For the first time, the boss didn’t have her proper camera, contenting herself with a phone, like the rest of Ascot, on which she recorded the event on video.
The result was a nice moment, captured on the above still of William reacting to some good-natured calls from a couple of Brummies just behind us. “Up the Villa!” can just be heard on the You Tube clip before a louder repetition from his mate caught Wills’s ear, whereupon he grinned, turned round and pointed to the pair.
[Photo and video credit: Ekaterina Stafford Photography]
I thought it was encouraging that a future monarch can be relaxed enough to confirm his affection for his football club – even if Aston Villa were relegated. On Saturday I took the chance to congratulate Claudio Ranieri for his achievements with champions Leicester adding that “we’re Arsenal fans and so is Ryan <Moore>”. To which he replied: “He told me!”
Wednesday involved a quick departure to get home in time for the viewing of boss Ray Tooth’s Acclamation filly Climax’s debut at Ripon and she ran a blinder, three-parts of a length second to more-experienced Rosebride. Mark Johnston expects her to go one better very soon.
Friday also involved an abbreviated stay, this time a mid-afternoon, three-hour limp up to Newmarket for Dutch Law in a seven-furlong 0-95 handicap. He looked sure to win what was the best race he’s contended yet until nabbed on the line by a filly that since her winning debut had never previously raced in anything other than Listed or Group 3 class.
Last time, over a mile and a half in a Haydock Group 3,she was fifth of seven, highly-creditable considering all her opponents, including the pair she beat comfortably, were (and still are!) rated in the 100’s. The handicapper’s reaction was to drop her 1lb, allowing her in this race. If it had been anywhere but on his local track, trainer James Tate might not have entered her at the absurdly-shorter trip of seven furlongs, but he did and Namhroodah did the business battling to a last-stride win.
Jockey Luke Morris was at his strongest and it was not until the last stride that William Twiston-Davies was denied. Willie, delighted with his Ascot win, was a late and very effective replacement for Jamie Spencer, who failed to get to HQ after his helicopter, also due to transport Messrs Moore and Dettori, was unable to take off. They should have used the M25/A1 like the rest of us!
I wonder how long the Goffs London sale will continue. It’s lovely to partake of champers and canapes in the grounds of Kensington Palace the night before Royal Ascot opens, but quite how long can the punters be found to pay what is always a hefty premium for runners at the meeting?
Jet Setting, the 12k Julie Wood cull from Richard Hannon’s stable last October, was the obvious star of the show. Trainer Adrian Keatley transformed her over the winter and spring into a three-year-old capable of beating Minding, later impressive in the Oaks, in the Irish 1,000 Guineas.
Adrian was bullish going into the week with Jet Setting apparently guaranteed the type of easy ground she encountered at The Curragh, so it was no surprise when the China Horse Club coughed up £1.3 million for her. The Coronation Stakes did not bring an immediate return for the new owners, though, as while the celebrating syndicate were popping the corks on Friday, Jet Setting could do no better than a share of sixth place.
There were a few horses around the place for the first of so far three auctions in Kensington, but this time just one in-foal mare gave evidence this was something to do with horses. I probably would still have gone along if the weather hadn’t been so awful on Monday, but I bet most of those who bought horses with Ascot entries that night will be wishing they hadn’t bothered.
This week will be steady until Friday when the boss potentially has three to run, possibly Climax at Doncaster, newcomer Stanhope, a home-bred two-year-old Equiano colt trained by Mick Quinn at Yarmouth and Harry Champion at Newmarket on Friday night.
Later today I’ll find out if Cousin Khee is likely to get in the second half of the Northumberland Plate on Saturday. The old boy has not been on all-weather since running a close sixth in last year’s Lingfield Marathon or on the level since his staying-on eighth of 22 in the November Handicap. Hughie’s trained him for it, but we need 12 of the 51 above him to come out. As more than 20 of them ran principally at Ascot last week, there’s a chance they might not be in shape for another stamina test so soon after slogging through the Berkshire mud.