Tag Archive for: Royal Ascot

Witch Hunter earns Royal Ascot trip with Lockinge effort

Richard Hannon’s Witch Hunter has a Queen Anne aim after his gallant placed run in the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury.

The five-year-old is a reliable campaigner who scaled new heights when claiming a Group Two success last season, with that Hungerford Stakes victory likely inspiring a course and distance return at the weekend.

Fifth behind Charyn in the bet365 Mile on his seasonal debut at Sandown in late April, the gelding was then third at Listed level when contesting the Spring Trophy at Haydock.

In against proven Group One horses, he was a 22-1 chance under Sean Levey on return to Newbury for the Lockinge, where the market just favoured John and Thady Gosden’s Inspiral over Maurizio Guarnieri’s Big Rock.

The eventual winner was none of the above, however, as the Gosden and Cheveley Park second string Audience prevailed at 22-1, having run into an unassailable lead when trying to set the pace for his stablemate Inspiral.

Behind him was Charyn, who diligently gave chase, and in third was Witch Hunter, another 22-1 chance who notably outran his odds.

With another solid run over a mile under his belt, Witch Hunter will now be aimed at the Queen Anne Stakes over the same trip at Royal Ascot in June.

“He ran a super race, it was a bit of a strange race in the end but I was very pleased with him,” said Hannon.

“He was the best of the rest on his side of the race, he ran a super race and I’m sure his day will come.

“We’ll look at the Queen Anne for him, definitely.”

Commonwealth Cup now the big target for Relief Rally

Relief Rally is set for a drop back in trip, as sights turn to the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot following her run in the Fred Darling Stakes at Newbury.

A winner of four of her five starts last season, she was highly unfortunate not to be unbeaten as a juvenile, with her sole defeat coming at Royal Ascot when beaten a nose by American raider Crimson Advocate in the Queen Mary Stakes.

Having changed hands for 800,000 guineas in December, the daughter of Kodiac is now owned by Zhang Yuesheng and connections decided to test their filly’s stamina over seven furlongs on her first start of the new campaign.

Despite running with real credit and finishing an honourable fourth as the 7-4 favourite, her trainer feels she should now drop back to sprinting distances and will be targeted at achieving Royal Ascot redemption in the Commonwealth Cup in late June.

“I’m certain she didn’t stay and I said to Tom (Marquand) before the race, this will be the last time she runs over this trip, but I couldn’t not run in it,” said Haggas.

Relief Rally after running in the Fred Darling
Relief Rally after running in the Fred Darling (PA)

“Whether she is going to be a top filly, I don’t know, but she is going to run six furlongs next time, maybe at the Lockinge meeting against the colts.

“There is a race on the all-weather at Chelmsford (on May 2) for fillies, but that feels a bit hard on her and I don’t think she will go there.

“Tom said she was very weak in the last half-furlong, when he thought he had them covered, so I’m not sure, she may have just got tired as well, but she won’t run seven furlongs again and she’s not going to be running in the French Guineas.

“We’ll try to get her to Ascot if we can, with a run before.”

Reynier predicts exciting future for Deauville scorer Lazzat

Jerome Reynier’s Lazzat maintained his unbeaten record with a taking Group success at Deauville in the Prix Djebel.

The three-year-old came into the race with a record of three wins from three runs, all of which were at Cagnes-Sur-Mer earlier this year.

No horse had ever got within three and a half lengths of him ahead of the Deauville Group Three and he had a Listed victory to his name having taken the Prix de la Californie last time out.

In a field of seven he was the 4-6 favourite and justified that price when impressing with a straightforward two-and-a-half-length victory over the Aga Khan’s Keran, with the David Menuisier-trained Devil’s Point another five lengths away in third.

“It was a change of scenery with a seven-furlong straight course and he didn’t mind it at all,” said Reynier.

“He doesn’t need anyone, today he went in front and off he goes. He won in good style and the time was much faster than the fillies (in the Prix Impudence).

“He came back and he was not even blowing at all, he’s got plenty left in the tank. He’s a very exciting prospect for this year.”

On next targets for the Territories gelding Reynier added: “There are two Group Threes, either the Prix Paul de Moussac at Longchamp in early June or Royal Ascot for the Jersey Stakes.

“We will see depending on the opposition for the Group race in Paris, because he’s got the French premiums it could be easier to keep him in France and try the easiest option with him.

“He is a gelding and we will see afterwards what we can do, we would be very excited to send him to Goodwood for the Sussex.

“We have Facteur Cheval aiming for the race as well, so we’re going to be like a French invasion coming across the Channel!”

Charlie Appleby’s Romantic Style cemented her French Classic credentials with victory in the Prix Imprudence.

The Night Of Thunder filly won twice as a juvenile, taking a Yarmouth novice and then finishing her season with success in the Listed Bosra Sham Stakes at Newmarket.

She was stepping up to seven furlongs in heavy ground in France, where she also faced a step up in grade when running at Group Three level for the first time.

Neither factor could hinder her, however, and under William Buick she prevailed by half a length from Christopher Head’s well-regarded filly Ramatuelle.

“I’m delighted, she’s a filly that we’d spoken about for this race for a while,” Appleby told Sky Sports Racing.

“Stepping up to a mile will be her maximum trip and we felt that if we had stayed at home and gone to Newbury for an English trial it would have been closer to an English Guineas, but I don’t think she’ll stay a mile over the English trip at Newmarket.

“We thought we’d be better coming here and it gives her more time between now and the French Guineas.

“William was delighted, said she was fresh but travelled sweetly in his hands.

“She did it all the right way round, she did travel but she travelled sensibly in behind a horse there and when she picked up I always felt they were going to be doing enough to stay in front.

“She’s a filly that’s got a natural pace in her pedigree, but she does give herself a chance to stay a mile. Coming back for the French Guineas will be our aim and that will probably be her maximum trip.”

Duty Of Care powers clear for emphatic Queen’s Prize victory

Duty Of Care booked his ticket to Royal Ascot when going one better than last year in the Virgin Bet Queen’s Prize Handicap at Kempton.

Second to Charlie Appleby’s Bandinelli in the valuable staying contest 12 months ago, Saffie Osborne left nothing to chance aboard her father Jamie’s six-year-old this time around as she tracked the strong pace set by James Owen’s Sweet Fantasy.

Entering the straight for the final time, the 6-1 chance had just Sweet Fantasy ahead and as that rival began to cry enough, Duty Of Care was relishing every yard as he bounded on to a comfortable two-and-three-quarter-length success over fellow race regular Sleeping Lion.

Owned by Pat Gallagher, Duty Of Care could next be seen at Ascot in the summer, with Osborne senior targeting the Ascot Stakes at the royal meeting for the son of Kingman.

The trainer said: “He just needs a true test and the last couple of runs we haven’t had that. We didn’t take any chances today and we stuck him on the front end, and if the pace was going to slacken, we were there, so it stayed true.

“Thankfully, we had a good lead and we didn’t need to do it ourselves and he’s a different horse once it becomes a two-mile race where you need two-mile stamina.

“Pat has been very patient and I have been telling him for a long time that this horse is alright and he keeps getting beaten.

“The Ascot Stakes over two-and-a-half (will be the plan). He will be fine on the turf and he probably won’t run again until then. That’s my plan and I will have to discuss it with the owner, but I think that would be a very obvious call for him now.”

Facteur Cheval camp keen to conquer America after Ascot

Facteur Cheval is likely to head to Royal Ascot after his Dubai World Cup night heroics in Meydan.

Jerome Reynier’s five-year-old has been the most consistent of operators when campaigning predominantly over a mile, finishing no worse than third in six starts in top company last season and ending the campaign by chasing home Big Rock at Ascot on British Champions Day.

Upped in distance to nine furlongs for a red-hot renewal of the Dubai Turf, the French challenger finally got his moment in the spotlight, revelling around the turns of Meydan to prevail by a short head in the hands of Maxime Guyon.

Further international assignments could be on the horizon once a trip to Royal Ascot for the meeting-opening Queen Anne Stakes is out of the way, with connections keen to explore more opportunities to race around a bend.

“I think the conditions favoured him and he’s more of an American type of horse to tell the truth,” said Barry Irwin, CEO of Team Valor, who own the horse in partnership with Gary Barber.

“I think he wants to run on a round track and with a pace to run at.

“He can handle any kind of surface, but I think he prefers a sounder surface and most of those races in Europe he ran in when he was finishing second and third, they were too tactical – especially in France, where they go so slow – and he doesn’t have that instant burst of speed.

“I think now we have figured out what he enjoys doing, we’re going to figure out a programme around that.

“We will go to Ascot probably and run in the Queen Anne because it’s an exciting race and people would like to see it, but after that I think we will focus on international races on a round course.”

Facteur Cheval could also be seen plying his trade on dirt before the end of the year, having impressed in his trackwork on that particular surface out in the Middle East.

Although no concrete plans are made, that would bring some valuable prizes in America into the equation, including the season-ending Breeders’ Cup, which this year takes place at Del Mar in November.

Facteur Cheval at Goodwood last summer
Facteur Cheval at Goodwood last summer (Andrew Matthews/PA)

“Another thing is, he trained great on the dirt over there in Meydan and I think we will try him on that also,” continued Irwin.

“I wouldn’t run him in the Breeders’ Cup Mile because that is two turns and at Del Mar it is too tight a turf course and he’s too big a horse to adapt to that.

“Santa Anita would be a little better but a mile and a quarter on dirt is something we will take a good look at. We haven’t planned anything yet after Ascot, but after that every option is open.”

Irwin also reserved special praise for the son of Ribchester’s handler, who he credits with formulating the successful Dubai Turf plan.

He added: “I’ve got to give all my credit to my trainer and he figured the whole thing out.

“He took a chance not prepping the horse beforehand and he knew what he had. For a young guy, he is quite the thinker and a very impressive individual.”

Cunha has Royal Ascot ambitions for Zminiature

Dylan Cunha is keen to strike while the iron is hot with Zminiature, with securing a trip to Royal Ascot the objective for the pint-sized Brocklesby hero.

The Newmarket-based handler is a Group One winner in his native South Africa, but is beginning to make his mark in the UK.

Stable star Silver Sword’s exploits last term advertised Cunha’s talents as a trainer, but Zminiature’s triumph in the first two-year-old turf race of the season served notice of his intentions to become a regular visitor to the winner’s enclosure in 2024.

The son of Territories was not for stopping at the conclusion of his Town Moor debut and his trainer plans to fully take advantage of his precociousness, with Chester’s May Festival or Royal Ascot Trials day on the agenda before a possible outing at the royal meeting.

Cunha said: “It was lovely to get the first two-year-old off the mark. He did pretty much as expected, we expected a first four result and he was tough when he needed to be.

“We have a lot more babies who are a lot nicer than him, but there just not as forward as him. He’s forward and he’s honest and really tough. He’s come out of Doncaster even better than he went into it and he’s just one of those early types.

“To win a historic race like the Brocklesby is massive for us, it’s such a meaningful race in the programme.

Zminiature could be seen at Royal Ascot later in the summer
Zminiature could be seen at Royal Ascot later in the summer (Nigel French/PA)

“He’s come out of it well, he’s only tiny – his name is Zminiature because he is that small. I’m not sure if he will go through with it through the year as the other ones catch up to him, but he will definitely be competitive until June or July and then we will know a bit more if he grows a bit.

“We will probably look at something like the Lily Agnes (May 8) or Ascot Trials day (May 1) and get another run into him before hopefully trying to go to Royal Ascot with him.”

The standout performer in Cunha’s growing string is of course Silver Sword who found the scoresheet three times in 2023 and has the Phantom House Stables trainer harbouring big-race ambitions for the new season.

The four-year-old – who carries the same silks as the legendary Secretariat – was last seen finishing second in the Group Three Darley Stakes in a season that saw him strike a telling blow in a competitive handicap during York’s Ebor meeting.

He is gradually seeing his workload increased ahead of a slated reappearance in Ascot’s Paradise Stakes and he will then return to Group-race company at Epsom on Derby day before also having Royal Ascot possibilities later in the summer.

“Silver Sword in good form and he’s just about to have his first real grass gallop soon,” continued Cunha.

“He’s aiming at the mile Listed race at Ascot on May 1 and after that it will be the Diomed Stakes at Epsom on Derby day. Those are his two immediate plans and after that we will either go up in grade or back down depending on what happens.

“Basically if he wins the Diomed he will go up in grade, but if he runs disappointingly he will probably go back into handicaps and we will try to find him something at Royal Ascot or something.”

Regally-bred Kikkuli one to note in the Juddmonte ranks this year

Kikkuli could be Juddmonte’s “dark horse for the year” as he prepares for the early stages of his three-year-old season.

A half-brother to the mighty Frankel and by the owners’ Classic-winning sire Kingman, he is the last foal out of Kind and is fittingly trained at Beckhampton by Harry Charlton, the training facility from which Kind blitzed her way to two Listed victories during her on-track career.

With such a regal bloodline, there was plenty of excitement surrounding the colt’s Newmarket debut towards the end of last season, where Kikkuli showed plenty of promise to keep on for second behind subsequent Listed scorer Zoum Zoum.

The third from that seven-furlong maiden, Balmacara, has recently given the form a timely boost and connections are hopeful there is plenty of untapped potential still to be seen from Kikkuli this term.

“Harry is happy with the horse and feels like the horse has done well from two to three, he has got a lot stronger and is training nicely,” said Juddmonte’s European racing manager Barry Mahon.

“His debut is good form and I think Kikkuli was ready for a day out that day. Harry had said he was far from the finished article.

“It’s good form and we would like to think there could be some improvement to come, so he could be a dark horse for the year.”

Harry Charlton will oversee Kikkuli's three-year-old campaign
Harry Charlton will oversee Kikkuli’s three-year-old campaign (Mike Egerton/PA)

Kikkuli is set to stick to calmer waters for the time being with the goal of shedding his maiden status in the early stages of the campaign, while the hope from his team is that he could blossom into a big-race contender by the time Royal Ascot arrives later in the summer.

“We will probably start off low key with him and go for a maiden or a novice and then just see how we go,” continued Mahon.

“If he is going to make into good horse, then it will be probably from Royal Ascot time onwards he will be stepping into those good races.

“But if we can get a maiden or a novice done in the next six weeks or so it would be great and we can just move up slowly from there.”

Arrest pencilled in for John Porter return

Newbury’s John Porter Stakes has been identified as a possible starting point for Arrest, with connections confident last year’s St Leger runner-up can become a high-class middle-distance operator this term.

John and Thady Gosden’s son of Frankel was sent off the 4-1 favourite for the Derby in 2023 after an impressive three-year-old debut when claiming the Chester Vase.

Although he failed to handle the Epsom undulations on lightning fast summer ground, he showed his true colours towards the end of the campaign where he came close to both correcting his Classic record and providing Frankie Dettori with a swansong success at Doncaster.

Arrest was a brave second in the St Leger
Arrest was a brave second in the St Leger (Tim Goode/PA)

The four-year-old colt is now poised to return to Newbury – the scene of his Group Three Geoffrey Freer Stakes victory last season – with the Arrest team hoping the mile-and-a-half John Porter on April 20 is the first step of a season that will encompass plenty of high-ranking targets.

“He was consistent all year apart from the Derby, which I think was our own fault,” said Barry Mahon, European racing manager for owners Juddmonte.

“John, Thady and myself got wrapped up a little bit in it being the Derby and we probably shouldn’t have run as the ground was a bit quick and the track obviously didn’t suit.

“He showed his true form on his next couple of starts and has wintered very well. John and Thady were very happy with him when speaking to them last week and the current plan, all being well, is to start in the John Porter.

“I think we will start off at middle distances and see how we go and if he shows us in the middle of the summer he wants a bit further, then we will try it. But I think he has shown enough class at a mile and a half to suggest he can be competitive in those top mile-and-a-half races throughout the year.”

Juddmonte also have high hopes for the Gosden-trained Laurel as she returns to training after an interrupted campaign last year.

The five-year-old impressed when winning Kempton’s Snowdrop Stakes last April which teed-up a shot at the Lockinge the following month and although that tough assignment proved a step too far, she was amongst the leading contenders for Royal Ascot’s Duke of Cambridge Stakes before injury curtailed her season.

Laurel will return to the track this season
Laurel will return to the track this season (Steven Paston/PA)

An appearance in that Royal Ascot Group Two will be Laurel’s main aim in the early part of 2024, with connections keen to get the daughter of Kingman to the summer showpiece in peak condition.

“Laurel is back in training and John and Thady are happy with her,” continued Mahon.

“She’s just having a slow preparation with a view to getting her to Royal Ascot later in the year, so we will probably just give her a prep run at the end of May or the beginning of June and then it will be straight to Royal Ascot if all is well with her.

“She is in good shape and seems to have got over her little injury, so with a bit of luck, if she stays injury free she could be an exciting prospect for the year.”

Haggas working towards Hardwicke goal with Desert Hero

A Royal Ascot repeat will be on Desert Hero’s agenda when he returns to the track this summer, with William Haggas keen to head to the Hardwicke Stakes in peak condition.

The son of Sea The Stars entered the record books at last year’s Royal meeting when his last-gasp King George V Stakes success provided the King and Queen with their first Royal Ascot champion and prompted joyous scenes in the royal box.

He would go on to land the Gordon Stakes at Glorious Goodwood on his next start which teed-up a shot at the St Leger, where Desert Hero would finish an honourable third in the presence of his owners.

Initial talk of a Melbourne Cup bid was soon curtailed and with the Somerville Lodge handler electing against taking him to Australia this side of the new year, he is pleasing Haggas at home as he builds towards the start of his four-year-old campaign.

The King and Queen with Desert Hero after winning at Royal Ascot
The King and Queen with Desert Hero after winning at Royal Ascot (David Davies/PA)

The earlier part of the season will have a Royal Ascot focus, with the Hardwicke Stakes currently nominated as Desert Hero’s target for the summer showpiece.

“He’s done really well and I’m really pleased with him,” said Haggas.

“We cut (gelded) him over the winter and took the view he was unlikely to make a stallion, or a stallion that would be popular for anyone, and that he still had plenty of mileage as a racehorse. I think he will be better for being gelded and hopefully he will have a good season.

“He will have a run or two, probably only a run, and it would be very much the Hardwicke. It would be lovely to go back to Ascot with a chance for him.”

For his Royal Ascot tune-up, Desert Hero could tread a similar path to 12 months ago by appearing on Lockinge Day at Newbury on May 18.

The four-year-old reappeared in the London Gold Cup on that card in 2023 and Haggas has tentatively suggested that the Al Rayyan Stakes, previously known as the Aston Park, could be the ideal spot to return to action.

“It will depend how quickly he comes to hand, but the obvious race is the Aston Park,” he continued.

“He ran in the London Gold Cup last year at Newbury and the Aston Park is on the same day, a valuable Group Three race.

“He will be penalty free for that and if you are asking me in March where he will go, then off the top of my head that is what I would say.

“It’s very possible he will start there. That to me looks the perfect place to start him with a nice gap until Royal Ascot.”

Varian plotting Royal Ascot route for King Of Steel

The Prince of Wales’s Stakes is King Of Steel’s main objective in the first half of the new Flat season, with Roger Varian lining up one run before a tilt at a second Royal Ascot triumph.

The Champion Stakes hero thrived at the Berkshire venue during his Classic season, with both of his victories coming at the track.

He followed up his brave second to Auguste Rodin in the Derby by winning the King Edward VII Stakes at last year’s Royal meeting and although having to settle for third in the King George back at the Berkshire venue in July, he then triumphed on British Champions Day.

King Of Steel won for the second time at Ascot on British Champions Day
King Of Steel won for the second time at Ascot on British Champions Day (John Walton/PA)

The Amo Racing-owned colt finished his campaign with a fifth-placed effort in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita and after a well-earned winter break is back at Carlburg Stables tuning up for the season ahead.

“He’s in great form and has wintered very well. He looks a picture and we’re very happy with him,” said Varian.

“He looks stronger and he’s entitled to be – he’s a big horse with low mileage so he’s entitled to be getting stronger. It looks that way and hopefully with strength comes some improvement, so we will see.”

With Varian eyeing just one outing for King Of Steel before returning to Ascot in June, the Newmarket handler has identified either the Curragh’s Tattersalls Gold Cup on May 26 or a trip to Sandown for the Brigadier Gerard Stakes three days earlier to tune-up for Prince of Wales’s Stakes action.

He continued: “We will be very much looking at the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot with one run before, either in Ireland or here. That will be his primary target for the first half of the season.

“We wouldn’t be looking to get him started before May and I guess closer to the time we will make a decision between going to Ireland for the Tattersalls Gold Cup or staying closer to home and going for the Brigadier Gerard at Sandown.

“The Prince of Wales’s Stakes is the obvious early season race for him, he’s been successful twice at the track and the only time he wasn’t he was a fine third in the King George.”

Although there is still a while for racing fans to wait before King Of Steel makes his return, Varian’s star stayer Eldar Eldarov is set to reappear in the Group Two Dubai Gold Cup at Meydan on World Cup night.

Eldar Eldarov won the Irish St Leger when last seen
Eldar Eldarov won the Irish St Leger when last seen (Damien Eagers/PA)

The Classic winner was last seen adding the Irish St Leger to the Doncaster version he landed during his three-year-old season and the son of Dubawi is reported to be in rude health ahead of his slated overseas comeback.

The five-year-old has been partnered throughout his career by David Egan, but there will be a new man in the saddle out in the Middle East with James Doyle beginning what Varian hopes will become a fruitful association with the yard aboard the dual St Leger hero.

Varian added: “He’s scheduled to ship on Saturday and has done all his work now. He’s training well and looks a picture and we’re looking forward to getting his season started out there.

“James Doyle will ride him and a lot of our horses this year when available and when it works out for us and for him. He will be riding Eldar at Meydan and we’re looking forward to that.”

Vandeek pencilled in for Sandy Lane return

Vandeek is set to start off his season in the Sandy Lane Stakes at Haydock in May.

The unbeaten Simon and Ed Crisford-trained colt carried all before him in his juvenile year, with his four wins featuring Group One strikes in the Prix Morny and Middle Park Stakes.

He is seen very much as a sprinter rather than one for the mile of the Classics and Haydock will be his destination before his first major target, the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot.

Vandeek on his way to victory in the Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket
Vandeek on his way to victory in the Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket (Tin Goode/PA)

“He’s looking super, he’s trotting and we’ll probably start him off in the Sandy Lane at Haydock at the end of May. One run before Royal Ascot,” Simon Crisford told ITV Racing.

“Commonwealth, July Cups – those sort of races we’ve got up our sleeve. The idea of not starting off in the Pavilion (Stakes, at Ascot) is we’d have to start training him a month earlier. Quite frankly, with the weather we’ve got at the moment, we’re wrapping him up in big, thick blankets.”

He added: “He was a little bit on the leg as a two-year-old. He was tall and lanky and never really looked like a sprinter physically. But now he’s beginning to take shape as a sprinter. His temperament is great and there’s so much to love about him.

“He’s done exceptionally well over the winter and fingers crossed he’s got a big season ahead.”

Haggas delighted to have saddled a royal hero at Ascot

William Haggas has won many of racing’s biggest prizes, but there is one triumph he will treasure forever after Desert Hero became the King and Queen’s first Royal Ascot champion on an afternoon that will go down in history.

Only a year after his charge Baaeed embarked on a brilliant journey to superstar status, the Somerville Lodge handler could have helped secure racing’s future by ensuring royal success at the meeting many hold most dear.

Throughout the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, racing could sit back and bask in the comfort of knowing the royal family had its back. Royal Ascot was always the first event entered on the late Queen’s calendar and that in turn ensured the summer showpiece remained at the top of public consciousness.

The King and Queen roar on Desert Hero at Royal Ascot
The King and Queen roar on Desert Hero at Royal Ascot (Jonathan Brady/PA)

However, her death marked a time of uncertainty for the sport, as rumours of the royal string being disbanded and the new King failing to share his mother’s love and enthusiasm for racing circulated.

It was essential that racing put on a show for its newest patrons and that is exactly what Desert Hero did as the ice-cool Tom Marquand threaded the eye of a needle to deliver a thrilling victory, to the delight of a jubilant King and Queen watching on from the royal box.

“It was a tremendous day for obviously lots of reasons, not least us having a winner at Royal Ascot, which is always a lot harder than it sounds,” explained Haggas.

“We made history a couple of times this year, but that was one of the good ones.

“This was very special for us personally, and for everyone involved with the horse in the yard. To win on such a big stage like Royal Ascot for the King and Queen was just fantastic.”

He went on: “We’ve been so used to the ruling monarch being a passionate supporter and follower of racing and when Queen Elizabeth II passed away, there was a seed of doubt that His Royal Highness wouldn’t be as involved as her.

“From what we can see, he is every bit as enthusiastic and obviously there has been a bit of trimming, but I can’t tell you the joy it appeared to give both of them, certainly after the race and the excitement beforehand, it was great.”

To many, Desert Hero’s success came somewhat as a shock. He was fairly unheralded, having finished out of the money in his only previous start at three, and the son of Sea The Stars was among the outsiders at 18-1 for the King George V Stakes handicap.

However, Haggas was always confident the best of Desert Hero had not yet been seen and, with a real urge amongst the royal trainers to be the one to provide a first Ascot triumph for the newly-crowned King, this race was always a central part of the Newmarket handler’s masterplan.

Haggas said: “He didn’t appear to be that fancied by the pundits, but we thought he would come on for his first run in the London Gold Cup and I suppose he was trying this trip for the first time.

Desert Hero the Royal Ascot champion
Desert Hero the Royal Ascot champion (John Walton/PA)

“I’m not that clever, but that was always the race. All of us, all of the trainers and John Warren, were all keen to have as many runners with a chance for the King and Queen at Ascot, because they were going to be there for five days.

“So, it was an obvious target from quite a way out.”

Even the best-laid plans often need a stroke of luck to pay off and Desert Hero needed plenty when handed a nightmare starting position in stall 21.

From there, Marquand had no option but to sit tight and take his medicine, but fortune favoured the brave when, rounding the turn for home, the pacesetters turned into stragglers and the expert pilot was able to weave his way to the front with the winning post fast approaching.

A photo finish was called to add nerves to the excitement, before the grandstands erupted when horse number five was announced the victor.

“I actually think in the race itself, they went so fast and he was drawn so wide – he was drawn 21 of 20 if you can believe that – that Tom had no option just to give him a chance and you can only win doing that if they go a proper gallop,” explained Haggas.

“All the leaders fell apart between the two-furlong marker and the furlong marker and he stayed on with a few others and fortunately it was his head that was in front on the line.

“They were fading and coming back on top of him and he needed a bit of luck and he got it and it was great.”

That result was only the beginning of the Desert Hero story, as the colt marched on to Goodwood to land the Gordon Stakes and tee-up a shot at the final Classic of the season, the St Leger.

It was at Doncaster the royal silks were last carried to success in one of racing’s crown jewels by Dunfermline in 1976, and the momentum built up from both Desert Hero’s Ascot and Goodwood triumphs ensured there was a real sense of anticipation heading to the final Classic of the season.

The King shakes hands with William Haggas after their Royal  Ascot triumph
The King shakes hands with William Haggas after their Royal Ascot triumph (David Davies/PA)

With both the King and Queen in attendance, it was a day racing could look back on with pride and although Desert Hero could only muster a gallant third behind an imperious Continuous, there was a feeling that the unbreakable bond between monarch and the Sport of Kings had been firmly secured once more.

“He won nicely at Goodwood and unfortunately neither the King or Queen could be there,” continued Haggas.

“However, they did indicate a while out there was a chance they might go to Doncaster and I thought it was fantastic for racing that they went. While the horse didn’t win, I thought he ran with great credit.”

In the immediate aftermath of that Town Moor third, a tilt at the Melbourne Cup was mooted.

However, with that tentative idea failing to reach fruition, attentions now turn to 2024, when a return to the Royal meeting in quest of another historic victory appears top of Haggas’ wishlist.

“The obvious target for him in the early part of the season is the Hardwicke,” he added.

“We have just got to decide whether we take him to Australia, it has not been discussed and I think everyone is just waiting for us to indicate the horse is in good shape or ready to do it, and then a decision will be made which is out of our hands.

“If he doesn’t go to Australia, he will be prepared for the Hardwicke, with one or two races beforehand, I suspect.

“It is a very special week and it is helped if the ruling monarch is present every day, which he was this year. It is a week where everyone wants to be involved, not just the King and Queen.”

Gold Cup winner Subjectivist retired

Subjectivist, an impressive winner of the 2021 Gold Cup at Royal Ascot, has been retired.

The six-year-old stormed to a five-length victory at the Berkshire track two years ago, supplementing previous successes in the Prix Royal-Oak at ParisLongchamp and a Dubai Gold Cup verdict at Meydan.

However, he suffered a career-threatening tendon injury after that success – an issue which kept him on the sidelines for 618 days before returning to action in Saudi Arabia back in February.

After finishing third in the Dubai Gold Cup, Subjectivist went on to fill the same position in the Gold Cup back at Ascot, in what transpired to be his final start after his old issue flared up again.

Initially trained by Mark Johnston before he transferred the licence to his son Charlie, who saddled him this term, Subjectivist retires as a six-times winner with over £890,000 banked in prize money.

Johnston senior, who is now assistant trainer to his son, said: “We have known this was coming, it’s been difficult keeping him going.

“I had slightly mixed feelings about his run at Royal Ascot as while he ran a good race, I didn’t think it was as good as his best of two years ago.

“The objective was to get him to Ascot and then we hoped we might get him to Goodwood, but it has always been there, rumbling away.

“His Gold Cup win was the highlight, but he won three races on the bounce, two at Group One level and one at Group Two, with his win in Dubai being very impressive – you could say that was his purple patch, those seven or eight months.”

Subjectivist is now set to embark on a stallion career and Johnston added: “We hope he will go to stud now.

“There were a couple of people interested after his Gold Cup win and one of those has kept in touch, so we will see what happens.”

Dubai Mile to drop back in trip with autumn aims on the horizon

Co-trainers Martyn and Freddie Meade will drop Dubai Mile back in distance and wait for soft ground in the autumn as they bid to secure his future as a stallion.

Having purchased a half-share in last year’s Criterium de Saint-Cloud winner from owner Ahmad Al Shaikh, the horse has left Charlie Johnston’s care to join the Meades’ Manton Park roster.

“He is here and the idea is clearly he has to do a bit more to be a stallion yet,” Martyn Meade confirmed.

Bought for €20,000 as a yearling by the Johnston team, he made swift progress as a juvenile and finished second in the Group Two Royal Lodge Stakes before taking a top-level victory in the Criterium de Saint-Cloud.

Fifth in the 2000 Guineas on his three-year-old bow, he did not appear to stay a mile and a half in the Derby, finishing ninth of 14 to Auguste Rodin.

He again flattered to deceive over the same trip in the King Edward VII at Royal Ascot, when beaten eight lengths by King Of Steel.

Meade said: “The idea is we will campaign him for the rest of the season and maybe even next season if we need to, because he preferably needs to win a couple more, at least one and maybe two Group Ones.

“That’s what we will be targeting him for, but at the moment we will be giving him a break.

“He’s had quite a tough sort of campaign, with three races at the top level and inevitably that takes it out of them. You can’t race in those Group Ones all the way through.”

Meade feels autumn targets may be ideal for Dubai Mile, who won his Group One on deep ground.

“The little I know about him, he will be pretty good on soft ground, as he showed in France,” he said.

“If we can campaign him towards the back end of the season, I think that would be our preference.

“It is all to do with distance. I don’t think he proved himself as well as he might have done over a mile and a half and our thoughts will be to drop him back.

“On the face of it, while we have to assess him, we are thinking of changing his trip, shortening it up. A mile and a quarter will be his trip.

“Hopefully we can get a bit of soft ground at the end of the year and find a suitable race for him.”

Martyn Meade will plot a back-end campaign for Dubai Mile
Martyn Meade will plot a back-end campaign for Dubai Mile (Adam Davy/PA)

Manton Park Stud currently stands Aclaim and Advertise, both of whom were Group One winners for Meade, with the trainer well aware Dubai Mile needs to enhance his page before embarking on a breeding career.

“It is lovely to have him, we’re very pleased,” added Meade. “He looks a nice horse.

“It is a strategic move as far as we are concerned and let’s see how we go, but he needs to put a bit more on his CV before we can stamp him.”

No plans just yet for historic Royal Ascot winner Desert Hero

William Haggas says he is in no rush to make a plan for the King’s Royal Ascot winner Desert Hero.

A son of Sea The Stars, the three-year-old earned a third success in five career starts when recording a famous victory under Tom Marquand in the King George V Stakes.

The head victory over Valiant King gave the King and Queen their first success at the meeting.

The Newmarket handler feels he will not make a quick return to the track, however.

The King greets Desert Hero
The King greets Desert Hero (David Davies/PA)

He said: “It was a great day. He’s fine, but I don’t know quite what we will do.

“He would have had a very hard race there, so we are not in any rush to make a plan.

“We will have to see how we go. There’s nothing in mind long-term, not really.”

Meanwhile, Tiber Flow, who won Newcastle’s Group Three Chipchase Stakes on Saturday, could prove difficult to place, according to the handler.

Marquand’s mount beat Spycatcher in the six-furlong all-weather contest by neck to make it four wins from five starts on artificial surfaces.

Haggas said: “It was nice for Jon and Julia Aisbitt, they bred him. His half-brother (Godwinson) won at Hamilton on Thursday to become their 100th winner, which is a fantastic achievement.

Tiber Flow (right) in winning action at Newcastle
Tiber Flow (right) in winning action at Newcastle (Tim Goode/PA)

“Then the older brother wins a Group race at Newcastle, so it is fantastic.

“We wanted to run him in the Wokingham, but he needs cut in the ground.

“So, the Chipchase was a very nice option, too. I don’t know yet where we’ll go. He would be in the Hackwood (Newbury) with a penalty.

“There are penalties everywhere now. That’s a crime for winning a Group race, but we’ll see. He has won a Group race off a rating of 106, so life could be tough with his penalty.”