Ascot's Victoria Cup proved a tough puzzle to crack, with the front three coming home at odds of 20/1, 28/1 and 40s. Yet the trends for the race remain pretty much intact, with seven of the first eight carrying less than nine stone and the first seven home aged four or five.
Having hung up her whip in 2015, Hayley Turner once again proved she has plenty more to offer from the saddle, as she navigated her way through the field with a beautifully timed run, to snatch victory on the David Elsworth-trained Ripp Orf. Last year’s third, Zhui Feng, looked likely to hang on for a stunning success under the burden of 9 stone 10lbs. But as the post approached Turner’s mount kicked in the overdrive, and with just 8 stone 1lb to hold him back, swept to victory.
Clearly delighted, the winning jockey told ITV Racing: “That was amazing. What a legend of a horse. They gave me some good orders to ride the horse with confidence. The big field suited him and a strong gallop. He just liked weaving through them. I'll be looking forward to my dinner.” Of her return to race riding, she added: “It’s been tough, but Michael Bell, Tom Dascombe and Marcus Tregoning – the old boys who used to help me – have given me a leg up and I appreciate it. Hopefully I’m not letting them down.”
Keyser Soze was sent off the 9/2 favourite but lost all chance of success with another shocking exit from the stalls. Rooted at the back of the field in the early stages, Jamie Spencer began to weave his way through the pack, yet always had far too much ground to make up. The horse is on a winning mark, and if he gets the start sorted, he’ll be winning big before too long.
In my Friday piece I’d given Firmament my confident backing. Sadly, the draw was unkind, and though he ran a solid race, he was always up against it on the stands side of the track. He too looks to be on a tasty mark and should be followed, especially when the ground is rattling quick.
Earlier in the day Roger Varian’s Barsanti put in a strong performance to fend off Sir Michael Stoute’s Mirage Dancer in a mile-and-a-half listed event. Runner-up in last year’s Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot, it’s hard to imagine he’ll improve substantially from five to six, but he’s undoubtedly a solid Group Two performer. Varian arguably has a slightly classier sort in Defoe, though I’d fancy both are just shy of top class.
I’d be slightly more interested in the prospects of Mirage Dancer. He’s a lovely big colt by Frankel, out of a Green Desert mare, and looks sure to improve during the campaign, especially when encountering ground with a little more give. Stoute has a reputation for transforming his four-year-old middle-distance runners, and this fella could be interesting when lining up at Royal Ascot next month. The Hardwicke is a favourite of Sir Michael’s, having landed seven of the last dozen renewals.
In France yesterday, Aidan O’Brien’s US Navy Flag came home a slightly disappointing fifth in the French Guineas. Drawn widest of all, Ryan Moore was keen to get a good position, driving the colt to the front, and possibly doing a little too much in the process. He faded slightly in the final furlong, as Olmedo finished strongest to win. Jean-Claude Rouget's colt is without doubt a classy sort, though this looked a step in the right direction for Ballydoyle’s charge. Moore proved himself human, and should he get the fractions right next time we may yet see this son of War Front capture another Group One.