The latest major 2018 racing festival has now been ticked off the list as Royal Ascot goes into the record books for another year. And what a week in Berkshire it was!
Here we take a look back at the big stories from the week’s major Group 1 contests from one of the best meetings of the year: Royal Ascot.
Queen Anne Stunner As Agent Strikes
Anyone hoping for a gentle opening to the festival was to be sadly disappointed as we witnessed one of the biggest shock results of the week in the very first race.
All looked to be going to plan as we approached the business end of the race with the well fancied Rhododendron, Benbatl and Recoletos all in contention. And then it all began to fall apart for those on the front end as Lightning Spear, Century Dream, Lord Glitters and Accidental Agent came swooping through to fight out the finish. It was the Eve Johnson Houghton runner, Accidental Agent who stayed on best of all to cause the 33/1 upset. Having not won at above handicap level in the past, this was a huge career best from the horse and the biggest win of the likeable Johnson-Houghton’s career.
Godolphin Paint King’s Stand Blue
The major sprint on the opening day didn’t quite go according to plan either. Billed as the second big clash between Battaash and US star, Lady Aurelia, in the end it went the same way as their supposed head to head in last seasons Nunthorpe Stakes, with neither of them winning.
Whereas a below her best Lady Aurelia could manage only seventh in the end, Battaash did put up a bold show. Leading the field for much of the way, the lightning quick Charles Hills gelding looked to have them nearly all burnt off headed into the final furlong.
Unfortunately if there was one horse supporters didn’t want to see running him down it was the Godolphin sprinter, Blue Point. Proven over six furlongs, he was always likely to see this out well and in the end pulled away for a 1 ¾l success. The July Cup looks set to be next on the agenda for this one, with Bet365 making him their 5/1 favourite for the race.
Parole Plunder’s Palace Prize
We didn’t have all of the 2000 Guineas winners lining up for this years St James’s Palace Stakes, with only Irish 2000 hero Romanised going to post on the day. With close up finishers from Newmarket and France also in the field though it was far from being a weak renewal.
In the end though the prize went to a runner who didn’t take part in the Classic’s. John Gosden’s Without Parole was an intended runner in the 2000 Guineas only to miss out due to a set-back. Seemingly held in the highest regard by connections, he nevertheless headed into this with his best previous effort being a narrow success at Listed level.
There’s no doubting he is up to this class now though. Sent in pursuit of the leader U S Navy Flag as they turned for home, the mount of Frankie Dettori soon wore him down and put two lengths between himself and the field. The winning margin was reduced to a half length at the line as Gustav Klimt closed. The Sussex Stakes at Glorious Goodwood would be the next obvious port of call for this one. A race for which he is now the 2/1 favourite with 888sport.
Stoute Strikes As Cracksman Cracks
The big race on the Wednesday card featured the horse who the majority of punters viewed as being the banker of the week as John Gosden’s Cracksman went for glory in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes. A mightily impressive winner on his previous run over course and distance when hacking up in the Champion Stakes last season, he was backed as if defeat was out of the question to be sent off a prohibitive 2/5 favourite on the day.
This was not to be Cracksman’s day though. Never looking particularly happy, Frankie Dettori was busier in the saddle than most from a very early stage. Cracksman did still take up the running in the straight though, briefly threatening to pull away. Lurking ominously in behind though was the Sir Michael Stoute runner, Poet’s Word. Travelling smoothly to the lead under a confident James Doyle he soon pulled clear to record a 2 ¼l success, comprehensively reversing that Champion Stakes form with Cracksman.
A significant win for Sir Michael Stoute. Being his 76th in total it put him out in front on his own as the most successful trainer in the history of this meeting.
Gold For Gosden With Star Stayer
It may not have been quite as dramatic as last season’s epic duel between Big Orange and Order of St George, but the staying marathon of the Ascot Gold Cup once again lit up the Thursday card with another thriller.
2016 hero Order Of St.George, French raider Vazirabad and Ireland’s Torcedor were all in with a chance headed up the run in, but so too was the John Gosden trained, Stradivarius. Order Of St.George was the first to fold, and whilst Vazirabad and Torcedor stuck to their guns, they were no match for the younger legs of Stradivarius.
Third in last season’s St. Leger and an extremely impressive winner of the Yorkshire Cup first time out this season, he always looked to have the potential to light up the staying scene this season, and duly delivered on the biggest stage of all here.
A sixth Gold Cup for a jubilant Dettori who also registered his 60th Royal Ascot success at this year’s meeting.
Eqtidaar Equal To Commonwealth Challenge
The co-feature on the Friday once again saw the very best of the three year old sprinters lining up to do battle in the Commonwealth Cup.
With favourite Sioux Nation and talking horse, Equilateral, nowhere to be seen, it was left to Frankie Dettori to make his bid for glory on John Gosden’s Emblazoned. Hot on his heels though was the Sir Michael Stoute runner, Eqtidaar. Drawn on the wrong part of the track when fourth at Newbury last time out, this son of Invincible Spirit really showed what he could do with a more favourable berth here. Hitting the front inside the final 100 yards, he held on from the fast finishing Sands Of Mali to hand Stoute a third winner on the week.
Awesome Alpha Queen Of The Milers
The week’s big one mile event for the Classic generation of fillies produced the standout performance of this year’s festival.
We had all the right horses in this year’s Coronation Stakes field, with the winners of the English, Irish and French 1000 Guineas all lining up, but in the end this was turned into a procession.
The filly to blow the field apart was Jessica Harrington’s Irish 1000 heroine, Alpha Centauri. Beaten when heavily fancied in the Albany here last year, the step up to this one mile trip looks to have been the making of her. Travelling supremely well throughout she showed a simply stunning turn of foot to win by an easy six lengths. Merely allowed to coast home in the end, she still knocked over a second off the track record in what was a sensational performance.
Navy Sails Away With Diamond Prize
Arriving at Ascot by way of Australia with a stop off at Aidan O’Brien’s Ballydoyle operation it was the speedy Merchant Navy who claimed the closing Group 1 contest of the week in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes.
Not enduring the clearest of passages under Ryan Moore the youngest runner in the field really began to motor inside the final furlong. He wasn’t the only one flying at the finish though as French raider City Light sprouted wings to emerge as a serious challenger. As is so often the case in these Group 1’s it was the O’Brien runner who landed the spoils. Merchant Navy clinging on by a short head.
The July Cup is an option for the winner, but comments from connections suggest it may well be straight to stud for the son of Fastnet Rock.
An excellent end to the week for Moore who recorded a landmark 50th winner at this festival.