Royal Ascot Review
Five days of majestic magic made up an unforgettable Royal Ascot 2019.
The usual suspects featured on the middle platform of the podium à la Frankie Dettori, Ryan Moore, Aidan O’Brien, Charlie Appleby, John Gosden and Sir Michael Stoute.
Frankie, Ryan and Aidan in particular now seemingly not needing a last name with cult status attached to them, similar to the likes of Bart, TJ, CS and Lester. Along with the human heroes were their equine partners in battle with remarkable performances staged by the magnificent thoroughbred.
It all started grey. With gloomy, overcast conditions, the 16-strong field went to post for the traditional first race of the Royal meeting, the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes (straight 1600m), before 2018 winner Accidental Agent stayed in the barrier upon the starter’s release. Handled gingerly early by Daniel Tudhope, grey gelding Lord Glitters was saved for one late burst and managed to stave off $21 chances Beat The Bank and One Master.
Rain had hit the Berkshire course by race three but a track downgrade from good to good to soft wasn’t made until after race four. Then after race five, the track was further relegated to soft. While the weather was becoming very “English”, another two Group 1s took place, the King’s Stand Stakes (straight 1000m) and the St James’s Palace Stakes (round 1600m). The former, was shaping up to be a race in two between 2018’s quinella where Blue Point got the better of Battaash.
The two drew completely opposite ends of the straight course for 2019’s edition but the Charlie Appleby-trained and Godolphin-owned Blue Point came out on top with Battaash once more, for the second year running, runner-up. Shortly after the race, reports flooded through that the son of Shamardal would attempt to emulate Australia’s Choisir by going on to try and win the Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes-Diamond Jubilee Stakes (1200m) double on day five.
Also, Appleby quickly poured cold water over any hopes of Blue Point coming to Australia for a crack at The Everest worth $14 million in 2019. The three-year-old mile feature followed, and all eyes were on superstar two-year-old but out-of-order three-year-old Too Darn Hot for John Gosden and Frankie Dettori. The Andrew Lloyd-Webber-owned colt was travelling on turning and looked as though he would go past the Aidan O’Brien-trained frontrunner Circus Maximus, which himself kicked for home under Ryan Moore with blinkers attached for the first time.
But it wasn’t to be for favourite backers with Circus Maximus, dropping in distance from the Derby, holding off Too Darn Hot and his stablemate King Of Comedy, which flashed home late to run an eyebrow-raising second. Doubles were captured on day one by Group 1-winning hoops Daniel Tudhope and Ryan Moore while trainer Aiden O’Brien also picked up a two-timer. The other, not-mentioned O’Brien-trained winner is worth penning down heading towards his three-year-old year, a handy juvenile named Arizona, which took out the Group 2 Coventry Stakes (1200m).
Superstar Italian jock Frankie Dettori was just beginning to warm up. After only a single placegetter on day one, day two started off with a sharp win, for him, aboard speedy Slade Power filly Raffle Prize, for trainer Mark Johnston, in the Group 2 Queen Mary Stakes (1000m). The Prince Of Wales’s Stakes (2000m) was the Group 1 feature of day two and assembled a strong field of mile-and-a-quarter horses.
O’Brien and Moore partnered with the $2.50 favourite Magical, which was 3/3 in 2019 leading up to her fourth assignment of the season. Other previous Group 1 winners in the mix were Waldgeist, Sea Of Class, Zabeel Prince and Japanese raider Deirdre but the stage was set, in the driving rain for the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Crystal Ocean to capture his elusive maiden Group 1 under Dettori.
Given an uncomplicated ride, just off the speed, Frankie never really looked in bother even when Magical came to challenge in the straight, handing respective rider and trainer their fourth Prince Of Wales’s Stakes success. Crystal Ocean joins Grandera, So You Think and Highland Reel on the esteemed honour roll. Daniel Tudhope and Ryan Moore added to their respective tallies on day two with a win a piece, to take them both to the top of the table with three wins.
After race one on day three, where Frankie rode the Simon Crisford-trained A’Ali to Group 2 success in the Norfolk Stakes (1000m), you could sense that there was something special in the air. That something special went from the air to Dettori’s being. Synonymous with the effervescent Italian are his post-race celebratory flying dismounts off the back of his steed.
One Frankie star jump turned into two after winning the Group 3 Hampton Court Stakes on smart Kingman colt Sangarius for Sir Michael Stoute. The hype started to build as punters began to home in on whatever Frankie was riding. He then gave filly Star Catcher a peach of a ride in the Group 2 Ribblesdale (2400m) for his third consecutive victory of the day. Then came his best ride of the afternoon, best ride of the week even.
It was Stradivarius in the centrepiece race of the Royal Ascot meeting, the Group 1 Gold Cup (4000m). Quoted saying before the race “I hope I haven’t used all my luck”, the Italian-born genius made his own when finding a gap at the 300m mark before steering the son of Sea The Stars to back-to-back Gold Cups as well as claiming the tag of undisputed champion stayer of the world. 4/4 on day three. Could it continue? Could he ride the card at Ascot again just like he did on September 28 1996? Surely not. Maybe? “Of course he can”, said punters, backing Frankie’s race five mount Turgenev $12 into $4.50 favourite for the Class 2 Britannia Stakes under handicap conditions.
Turgenev, a noted pacesetter, was kicked to the front by Dettori and booted clear by four lengths with 500m to go. Punters and onlookers screaming alike for Frankie to go on and win. Bookmakers not so much with a stack being punted on Frankie. But with 100m to run, he was reeled in by Harry Bentley on Biometric. A big gasp followed by the majority, even bookies, but for different reasons. The King George V Stakes for three-year-olds was the last of day three and was trifecta’d by an Aiden O’Brien-trained trio.
The only other Royal Ascot day outside of day one to have more than one Group One is day four. And it started well for trainer Roger Varian who prepared Daahyeh to win the fifth two-year-old race of the Royal meeting, the Group 3 Albany Stakes (1200m). Despite being at Group 2 level, arguably the most exciting performance of the week came from three-year-old Japan, which is out of Aidan O’Brien’s Ballydoyle yard.
After running a mighty third at Epsom in the Derby, the son of Galileo appears to have taken the next step required to be considered as top line. Winning rider Ryan Moore said post-race “he’s better than a Leger horse” which could mean he targets open age races like the Eclipse, King George, Irish Champion Stakes and maybe even an Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.
It was a struggle to keep Frankie out of the spotlight, winning the Group 1 Commonwealth Cup (1200m) for three-year-olds on the Martyn Meade-trained Advertise. Advertise was back to 1200m for the first time since last year as a two-year-old when he won the Group 1 Phoenix Stakes. The fillies then took the stage in the Group 1 Coronation Stakes (1600m) where dual 1000 Guineas-winning heroine Hermosa was expected to pick up her third mile Group 1 for the season being sent out as an even-money favourite.
But it was a French renaissance of sorts with Watch Me claiming victory. Given a lovely trip by Pierre-Charles Boudot, the Francois Graffard-trained filly defied her $21 tag after a luckless run in the French 1000 Guineas to win like there was more to come. Watch Me was her sire Olympic Glory’s first Group 1 winner as a stallion.
The other magnificent storyline to come out of Royal Ascot was the win of Thanks Be in the Sandringham Stakes for female jockey Hayley Turner. The first female rider to claim success at the Royal meeting since Gay Kelleway in 1987.
Could Blue Point do the double? Yes, according to the punters who backed him into $2.30 and favourite. The entire was settled and relaxed heading to the start while owner Sheikh Mohammed appeared nervous as he looked on trackside. A true professional, he jumped well and sat not far off pacemaker Kachy before jockey James Doyle made his move at the 400m mark.
With 200m to run, Blue Point hit the lead and was left out in front alone for what seemed like an eternity before the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Dream Of Dreams came flashing late. The line beat the latter to hand Blue Point a history-making win. A rare Group 1 double for Blue Point at Royal Ascot. Godolphin tasted other success and heartbreak during day five.
They picked up the Chesham for two-year-olds with a handy type named Pinatubo but were put on the back foot after the long-awaited return of 2018 English Derby winner Masar was soured by him stumbling and nearly unseating rider James Doyle. The rollercoaster that is racing…
Frankie Dettori took riding honours for the week with seven wins including three Group Ones while Aiden O’Brien won five races throughout the week and in doing so notched up his 70th Royal Ascot success.