Records, tears and royals take centre stage at Ascot

Lady Cecil - Quick to train Ascot winner

Lady Cecil - Quick to train Ascot winner

The first three races at Ascot this afternoon had all sorts of notable achievements from horses, trainers and owners.

First up in the Norfolk Stakes was a record time for two year olds over the five-furlong trip. And in putting up that record, No Nay Never went some considerable way to restoring the record of American challengers, which was badly dented when Animal Kingdom ran so poorly in the first race of the meeting two days ago.

Both those achievements looked unlikely when No Nay Never banged into the stalls as the horses broke, but as his trainer Wesley Ward explained, the horse is not the best of starters. He said, “He broke slowly on his first start and he broke slowly again, but he came through for us. We put a lot of time and effort into this. My staff at home do a lot of work, we start breaking them in early in November and they never miss a day.”

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That was followed by the most emotional moment of the week. A wave of warmth swept over the course when Riposte cut through the Ribblesdale field to score a two and a half length success for Lady Cecil and owner Khalid Abdullah. Again the winner started slowly, but once she got into her stride Tom Queally looked well in control of events, and so it proved. He spoke for many when he said afterwards, “It's been a tough time but this will help. I'm sure he's looking down on us, helping us along. Any Royal Ascot winner is special and it's great to ride a winner for Warren Place and it's great, but bittersweet in a way. It means an awful lot to everybody. So many people have worked so hard. It's been a tough, tough week. I know a lot of people are struggling, emotionally as well everything else. She did it very well and I'm sure Henry is looking down.”

In the annals, Riposte will go down as a first Ascot winner for Lady Cecil, but everyone will recognise that in many respects it was winner 76 for Sir Henry. His widow said all that needed saying as she held back the tears. “We knew we were coming here with one of our strongest teams for a while and it's such a shame that Henry isn't here to enjoy it, but this is for him. It's been hard, but keeping busy helps. Henry loved Ascot, not just the fashion, but the racing and everything about it.”

The Ascot Gold Cup resulted in the opportunity for a new racing quiz question, “Why did a prince have to step in as a late substitute to present the Gold Cup trophy?” Because his Mum owned the winning horse, Estimate. I lost count of the number of times Clare Balding told us that this was the first time a reigning monarch had won the Gold Cup, although this one has certainly tried a few times in her 60 years. Up stepped the Duke of York to present the awards, just the right person, as one of his predecessors owned Banker, one of the first winners of the race way back in 1821.

Winning trainer Michael Stoute had only held a trainer’s licence for six years in 1978 when he sent out his only previous winner of the race, Shangamuzo.

All three horses were well fancied, and I dare say many of you will have backed one or more of them, so it’s celebrations all round. I don’t know how much more I can take.

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