Royal Ascot delivered on so many levels, with thrilling finishes, heroic performances, and a few shock defeats along the way. Ballydoyle and Godolphin flexed their muscles and again proved dominant, whilst Wes Ward, James Fanshawe and Michael Bell landed their own outstanding victories during a truly glorious Royal meeting.
Richard Fahey and Team Godolphin, got the ball rolling, with success for Ribchester in the opening Queen Anne Stakes. He’d comfortably taken the Lockinge in May, and was duly sent-off favourite to confirm his status as top-miler. Mutakayyef came with a promising challenge late-on, but when asked for maximum effort by pilot William Buick, Ribchester found plenty to finish more than a length to the good. “He’s an exceptional miler,” proclaimed the thrilled jockey.
Another useful Godolphin miler is three-year-old Barney Roy, trained by Richard Hannon. He was tasked with reversing Guineas placings with Ballydoyle’s latest sensation Churchill. O’Brien’s dual Guineas winner was a short-priced favourite to add the St James’s Palace Stakes, though Barney was also well-backed, and a thrilling duel was anticipated. Unfortunately, an expectant crowd were to be disappointed, as Churchill put in a below-par performance, leaving Hannon’s colt to take the spoils. A hard-fought victory left connections considering a step-up in trip for the talented three-year-old, with the Eclipse a likely target.
One horse that did put-in a dazzling opening day performance, was American filly Lady Aurelia. A year earlier she had romped to victory in the Queen Mary, and Wes Ward was hoping for more of the same. She certainly didn’t disappoint, quickening clear approaching the final furlong for a three-length success. Last year’s winner Profitable, along with the Abbaye winner Marsha, were both put firmly in their place.
Another filly with a look of invincibility is Aidan O’Brien’s Winter. The dual-Guineas winner added the Coronation Stakes with the minimum of fuss, and though she’s been busy, her trainer hinted that the Falmouth in just a few weeks, could be the next target. She appears to be thriving for racing, and is a relaxed and powerful performer. The team will hope to get Churchill back on track, but his demise in the St James’s may have an impact on future targets for this filly. She has the potential to hold her own against the boys, should O’Brien take that route.
Ballydoyle had further major success along with a high-profile defeat, in a trio of wonderfully thrilling Royal Ascot renewals.
Highland Reel has become a phenomenon in recent years, and his globetrotting success has taken earnings towards the six-million mark. His gutsy victory in the Prince Of Wales’s typified his qualities. Ridden prominently throughout, he forged ahead in the latter stages and fought off all-comers before stretching clear late-on. This trip looked on the short-side to me, but Highland Reel was not for passing. “He's an incredible horse. He has pace, courage, tactical speed,” said a thoroughly satisfied trainer.
With the yard’s senior citizen doing the business, it was the turn of one of the youngster stars to shine. Caravaggio did exactly that in winning a thrilling Commonwealth Cup. Godolphin provided the main challenge with the lightning quick Harry Angel, and powerful travelling Blue Point forming a dual-assault. For much of the six-furlongs O’Brien’s charge appeared to have plenty to do, and indeed approaching the two-furlong pole he looked in a spot of bother. However, his finishing burst was exceptional, and the Godolphin pair were unable to hold on.
Caravaggio is an exceptional horse, but I remain convinced that he is vulnerable at this trip, especially on a flat track. Nevertheless, it will take an exceptional performance to end his current unblemished record.
Caravaggio was the Royal meeting banker for many, but Ballydoyle had another near-certainty running in the Gold Cup. Order Of St George was defending his crown, and sent-off a short-priced favourite to do so. Turning for home, Ryan Moore had plenty of ground to make up, but would undoubtedly be confident that the favourite had time to get on top. Unfortunately for Moore and his team, Big Orange was on the front end, and with James Doyle kicking-on at the two-furlong pole, Moore and his charge were suddenly on the back-foot. Order Of St George closed to within a nose, but Big Orange refused to fold. In a stunning finish, Michael Bell’s popular stayer held on for a famous victory.
It was arguably the highlight of a terrific week, which saw so many wonderful performances at one of the World’s most famous sporting events.