The best bits from another memorable, truly international, Royal Ascot
Of the 295,007 people who went to Royal Ascot last week, it's unclear how many intended to vote Brexit in the EU referendum.
Given that the five-day extravaganza is a uniquely British occasion that doffs many top hats to a bygone era, the answer might well be a lot.
On the other hand, many aspects of Ascot’s appeal and charm cock a snook at the inward-looking independence so favoured by the referendum’s Leave campaigners. The course actively encourages equine raiders from overseas and positively promotes the meeting as a truly international brand.
Royal Ascot embraces global inclusion, rather than in-house isolation. And, as last week’s successful renewal proved, it is immeasurably better for such an enlightened approach. Horses from Japan, the USA, Australia and even Mongolia mingled with familiar challengers from Ireland and France, creating competition that no other racing dynasty in the world can match.
Their success rate was pretty high too. Of the 15 Group One or Group Two prizes, no fewer than eight left these shores. Of the other seven, curiously, four were shared by just two UK trainers, the indomitable Sir Michael Stoute and the under-rated Clive Cox.
Spearheading the alien assault was, as ever, the genius that is Aidan O’Brien whose week was marked by his 50th Royal Ascot success, courtesy of EVEN SONG in the Ribblesdale Stakes. Of the 30 races on offer, O’Brien saddled seven winners, four seconds and four thirds, forming one half of a formidable alliance with jockey Ryan Moore, whose 29 rides yielded the remarkable return of 20 top-four finishes and whose tally of six winners would have been even better but for desperately bad luck aboard ALICE SPRINGS in the Coronation Stakes and KING’S FETE in the Duke Of Edinburgh Handicap.
Let’s not forget the influence of Coolmore’s supersire, Galileo, either. The week’s 30 winners were sired by 24 different stallions, but Galileo was responsible for five winners, five seconds and a third. Astonishing.
The O’Brien/Moore/Galileo phenomenon is likely to light up many more royal meetings to come. But what of the 2016 model? What were the best performances and best stories to emerge from a week of riveting racing? Here are my personal gongs:
DAY ONE (TUESDAY)
BEST PERFORMANCE: Aidan O’Brien fielded the winners of three of the week’s five juvenile races, but none was as impressive as CARAVAGGIO, strong, imposing grey, who quickened well away from the pace to power home in the Coventry Stakes. The son of Scat Daddy is bred to be even better on quicker ground.
BEST STORY: the American wondermare TEPIN defied a string of negatives to land the Queen Anne Stakes, including one barely mentioned -- namely the first time she had not raced round a bend. But, as was graciously acknowledged by owner Robert Masterson, her victory, most importantly, sent a message to racing in the States that glory can be achieved without the anti-bleeding drug Lasix, upon which she, like too many of her compatriots, had come to rely on to enhance performance.
DAY TWO (WEDNESDAY)
BEST PERFORMANCE: shades of the mighty Frankel were evoked when LADY AURELIA blitzed her Queen Mary Stakes rivals with a front-running display as electric as any by a two-year-old filly that the royal meeting has ever popped out its eyes at. American Wesley Ward’s filly, another offspring of Scat Daddy, barely came off the bit to streak home by seven lengths on ground feared unsuitable.
BEST STORY: guiding sprinter PROFITABLE to victory the previous day was memorable enough, but bagging his second Group One for trainer Cox on one of the week’s few winning outsiders, MY DREAM BOAT, in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes was beyond belief for Adam Kirby in the same week that partner Megan gave birth to their first child. It lent a whole new meaning to the phrase, ‘Who’s The Daddy?’
DAY THREE (THURSDAY)
BEST PERFORMANCE: those of us who doubted he would stay the marathon trip were made to look silly by ORDER OF ST GEORGE in the Gold Cup. Not only did he eat the 2m4f for breakfast, he somehow extricated himself from torturous traffic trouble to bolt up. He is special.
BEST STORY: evidence once more of unheralded trainer Jamie Osborne’s ability to land big-race targets, particularly at Royal Ascot, as DEFROCKED delivered the Britannia Handicap. Jeremy Noseda proved, via the runner-up ABE LINCOLN, that he steers a similar ship.
DAY FOUR (FRIDAY)
BEST PERFORMANCE: another superb renewal of the Coronation Stakes bolstered the reputation of fillies’ races and yielded another sparkling triumph for Frenchman Jean-Claude Rouget, one of THE great European trainers. QEMAH was too keen but also far too good.
BEST STORY: a beautifully-judged ride of coolness personified on Commonwealth Cup winner QUIET REFLECTION by Dougie Costello, one of several Royal Ascot protagonists with links to Jumps racing to make the podium this year.
DAY FIVE (SATURDAY)
BEST PERFORMANCE: Ryan Moore vying with Costello and also Mickael Barzalona on Duke Of Cambridge Stakes winner USHERETTE for ride of the week, thrusting late to get TWILIGHT SON up in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes and land trainer Henry Candy his first royal winner since 1979.
BEST STORY: the best is saved to last as DARTMOUTH wins the Hardwicke Stakes for The Queen, ardent, admirable supporter of racing. He is also a record-equalling 75th Royal Ascot winner for that colossus of the training ranks, Stoute.
Lucky to escape a mudbath as the weather gods smiled kindly
Luck plays a massive part, for punters, racegoers, owners, trainers and jockeys alike, in creating a successful week at Royal Ascot. Just ask trainer Ralph Beckett, who lost two big races in stewards’ enquiries last year and was very fortunate to survive the hat-trick after KINEMA’S controversial victory in the Duke Of Edinburgh Handicap, which would have robbed him of his first winner at the celebrated shindig in 17 years of trying. However, not even Beckett’s good fortune could match that which graced the meeting as a whole. Horrific forecasts of raceday rain conjured up visions of unprecedented Heavy ground and the royal processions having to be scrapped to protect the turf. Yet somehow, the course escaped all the storms and most of the showers.