Royal Ascot 2015 belonged to jockey Ryan Moore as he broke the long-standing, modern-day record for the number of winners at the meeting.
But what of the equine heroes who helped to make the five-day extravaganza a staggering success?
Headed by the magical miler GLENEAGLES, the week oozed quality and class, with superb performances illuminating virtually every one of the 30 races. What a pleasure it was to watch racing of the highest standard on genuinely fast ground without any hint of a draw bias.
Those lucky enough to be there revelled in Ascot’s unique ambience. Those who enjoyed the action at home were treated to polished coverage by Channel 4 that was rewarded by very encouraging viewing figures. In an average week, the minority channel commands only 20% of the BBC’s share of the audience. Yet its Royal Ascot coverage attracted more than 50% of the Beeb’s figure when it last showed the meeting.
It’s all about the horses mainly, though, so here is my selection of Royal Ascot eyecatchers well worth following for the rest of the season:
ACAPULCO 2yo filly (Wesley Ward)
The juvenile races were of a dizzily high standard all week -- but none reached the level of Wesley Ward’s American raider, whose display matched her imposing physique. It is unheard of for maidens to win the Queen Mary, yet she blitzed a tremendous field, powering from the pack with a blistering turn of foot. She is now to take on the older sprinters in the Group One Nunthorpe at York’s Ebor meeting off a featherweight.
AIR FORCE BLUE 2yo colt (Aidan O’Brien)
It is surely only a matter of time before the opening two-year-old race of the week, the Coventry Stakes, attains Group One status. This was another richly competitive renewal and although Aidan O’Brien’s lengthy, athletic colt was no match for the more experienced winner, he did nothing wrong, quickening appreciably. The form of his maiden win at The Curragh last month has worked out remarkably well.
AREEN 2yo colt (Kevin Ryan)
Talk of scrapping the Windsor Castle Stakes for two-year-olds will surely be binned after this year’s red-hot renewal. Kevin Ryan’s son of Kodiac bounced back to form with smooth progress from rear and a telling challenge that was only a head away from glory. He’s very smart, and a banker to progress as he grows and matures.
ASHADIHAN 2yo filly (Kevin Ryan)
Kevin Ryan was one of the few Northern trainers to make an impact at the royal meeting this year -- most notably with juveniles, who included this powerful, heavy-topped filly. Despite fears about the fast ground, she ran a blinder to chase home an impressive Richard Hannon winner in the Albany Stakes and looks sure to collect a Group prize or two as the season progresses.
BALIOS 3yo colt (David Simcock)
It takes a very useful three-year-old colt to pocket a Group Two prize at Royal Ascot on only his third career-start. So make sure you continue to monitor the progress of David Simcock’s son of Shamardal, who came from a long way back with a sustained turn of foot to collar a rival who’d very much got first run. It wasn’t the strongest of King Edward VII Stakes renewals, but this horse has Group One potential over middle-distances.
BESHARAH 2yo filly (William Haggas)
Considering he’s developed into one of the finest trainers in the business, it was a disappointing, winless meeting for William Haggas. However, this up-and-coming filly was one of a handful who ran above par. In a cracking Queen Mary, she travelled supremely well before easing through rivals to throw down her challenge. She was beaten only by two top-class fillies.
BURATINO 2yo colt (Mark Johnston)
Middleham maestro Mark Johnston is renowned for not wrapping his horses in cotton wool, and his policy of piling experience into them paid off handsomely with this sparkling winner of a hot Coventry Stakes. Dramatically reversing previous form, Godolphin’s new purchase rubber-stamped striking improvement he had had found to bolt up in the Woodcote Stakes at Epsom on Derby Day.
EASTON ANGEL 2yo filly (Michael Dods)
I bow to few in my admiration of the skills of Darlington handler Michael Dods, who deserves a top-class horse and may well have found one in this powerful bull of a filly. The grey daughter of Dark Angel produced a flawless performance in a warm Queen Mary and was unlucky to bump into a freakish winner. I have little doubt she is a Group One winner in the making.
ERVEDYA 3yo filly (Jean-Claude Rouget)
The long-standing Coronation Stakes has always been a great race, and this year’s renewal was a vintage contest with three fillies of the highest quality fighting out the finish. The French 1,000 Guineas heroine barely stays 1m, but underlined the terrific improvement she has found in recent weeks by reversing juvenile form and formlines to come out on top, unveiling a scintillating turn of foot and giving Christophe Soumillon his first royal meeting winner at Ascot.
FOUND 3yo filly (Aidan O’Brien)
The fingers of many punters have been burned by the unexpectedly slow start to the season of Ballydoyle’s outstanding juvenile filly from last term, plus the reluctance of connections to step up to a trip that reflects her pedigree. She was beaten again in this vintage Coronation Stakes, and by a rival whose colours she lowered comfortably last autumn, but her classy performance proved she is back to her best and ready to fire on all cylinders from now on.
FREE EAGLE 4yo colt (Dermot Weld)
The skills of seasoned duo Dermot Weld and jockey Pat Smullen were advertised by the winner of a fascinating, global renewal of the Group One Prince Of Wales’s Stakes. But what a horse they have in Moyglare Stud’s son of High Chaparral! It got tight at the death, but to land a race of this magnitude after a long 242-day absence, a training setback in the build-up and on only the fifth outing of his career demonstrates why he has always been hyped up and why he is now heading for more top prizes en route to Longchamp and the Arc.
FUN MAC 4yo gelding (Hughie Morrison)
For a horse who beat the top-class Eagle Top on his seasonal bow last season, the wait for Hughie Morrison’s four-year-old to fulfil his potential has been too long. But a gelding operation has been the making of him, and his new-found status as a stayer with immense promise was underlined by this runner-up display in the 2m4f Ascot Stakes Handicap. He’d make one hell of a hurdler but, for now, a step-up into Cup contests on the level wouldn’t go amiss.
ILLUMINATE 2yo filly (Richard Hannon)
Champion jockey Richard Hughes had to wait until the fourth day before piloting the first winner of his last Royal Ascot. But Richard Hannon’s strong and lengthy filly was well worth the wait when justifying favouritism in the Albany Stakes. She settled, travelled, quickened and battled in a complete package that also franked the form of stablemate GREAT PAGE, who must also be followed for the rest of the campaign.
INTERCEPTION 5yo mare (David Lanigan)
Having backed big-priced winners Goldream and Amazing Maria at 33/1 earlier in the week, I was in punting heaven when David Lanigan’s rapidly-improving sprinter rewarded my 25/1 gamble in the Wokingham Handicap. Significantly heavily supported in the hour before the race, the daughter of Raven’s Pass made a mockery of a big, competitive field, storming from the rear to win in the style of of a mare heading for Pattern company.
KINGFISHER 4yo colt (Aidan O’Brien)
The Ballydoyle/Coolmore boys have won a stack of Gold Cups, and would have bagged the 2015 version too with any luck in running. The son of Galileo might not be in the same league as Yeats, Fame And Glory and Leading Light, but he did finish second in last year’s Irish Derby and improved markedly for his first pop at a severe stamina-test. I don’t want to take anything away from the slick winner, Trip To Paris, who is a similarly progressive type, but this is a proper Cup horse for the future.
LUCIDA 3yo filly (Jim Bolger)
Wily Irish handler Jim Bolger must have been spitting feathers after all three of his Royal Ascot hotpots went under. But while Round Two resented the fast ground in the Coventry Stakes and Pleascach pulled too hard early on in the Ribblesdale, his 1,000 Guineas runner-up did at least confirm she is five-star material. In a vintage Coronation Stakes, she was given plenty to do by jockey Kevin Manning and then took a bit too long to find top gear before flying at the death.
MUHAARAR 3yo colt (Charlie Hills)
A sensationally good field lined up for the inaugural running of Royal Ascot’s new Group One race, the Commonwealth Cup for three-year-old sprinters. So, after Hamdan Al Maktoum’s colt had blown his rivals away so emphatically, it was little wonder that Charlie Hills was lauding him as the best horse he has trained so far in his albeit brief career. Handling the return to 6f amazingly well, he looks something to bet on in the July Cup at Newmarket in two weeks’ time, providing the ground remains on the fast side.
OSAILA 3yo filly (Richard Hannon)
Although her limitations appeared to be exposed at the highest level in the 1,000 Guineas, trainer Richard Hannon insisted Al Shaqab Racing’s filly was better than that -- and she proved it by winning the Sandringham. OK, it’s only a handicap, but she defied top weight in a decent renewal and also recovered from serious interference just as she was making her run. She’s primed for the rest of the summer now.
TEMPTRESS 4yo filly (Roger Charlton)
In big fields that race in two groups, it’s almost suicidal of a jockey to make an early switch from one to the other. But James Doyle’s exaggerated move failed to hamper the chances of Roger Charlton’s lightly-raced filly in the Royal Hunt Cup. Not only did she still pick up late on, after snaking up the far rail in an eyecatching burst, she also went within a whisker of winning. Such an effort in a richly competitive handicap suggests she’s a Group miler in the making.
TIME TEST 3yo colt (Roger Charlton)
“Not many win as easily as that at Royal Ascot!” gasped the rejuvenated Frankie Dettori after he had been carried to victory on Khalid Abdullah’s classy son of Dubawi in the Group Three Tercentenary Stakes. How right he was, and the manner in which the colt sluiced clear when Dettori let him down, having travelled a bit too freely in the early stages, marks him down as a Group One winner in waiting, probably over 10f, although he has the speed for 1m too.
UDODODONTU 3yo gelding (Richard Guest)
The 1m Britannia Handicap for three-year-olds was conspicuous, to my eyes, for the performances of two beaten horses, from small yards, who looked as if they will improve markedly for a return to 7f. AMAZOUR, trained by Ismail Mohammed, was one and this gelded son of Lope De Vega, from the stable of Grand National-winning jockey Richard Guest, was the other. On only his sixth career-run, he travelled like a dream and quickened to the front stylishly before running out of gas late on.
WASHINGTON DC 2yo colt (Aidan O’Brien)
While Waterloo Bridge benefited from two Richard Hannon hotpots burning each other out in front in the Norfolk Stakes, the other juvenile winner for the week’s most successful trainer, Aidan O’Brien, did it all off his own bat. The sturdy son of fast-emerging sire Zoffany tanked through the best Windsor Castle Stakes I can remember, eased to the front and battled gamely to repel a cluster of useful challengers. Unlike many from the yard, he’s all speed.