Just how you know the difference between Royal Ascot and any other Flat festival is the reactions of jockeys at the winning line and owners in the parade ring. The jumping, shrieking, bear hugs and pumped fists that are common in the jumps sphere, are not so prevalent on the level, but you get a lot of it in Berkshire in June.
his applies to the big guns too. Coolmore supremo John Magnier has been a very rare presence on any racetrack since pre-Covid times, but was in attendance on Friday when his trainer Aidan O’Brien recorded a remarkable 80th Royal Ascot triumph, as the ultra-tough Changingoftheguard gutsily bagged the King Edward VII Stakes.
It was a double on the day for O’Brien and Ryan Moore. The first leg was recorded by the professional Meditate in the Albany Stakes, bringing her rider to the 70 mark and he finished the week with seven winners and another leading rider award .
Yesterday, he was on board as the admirable six-year-old Broome galloped to a resounding success in the Hardwicke Stakes. This was a 900th group/graded win for O’Brien. It was enough for the Ballydoyle trainer to plant a kiss on Paul Smith, son of joint owner Derrick. Believe me when I say that this is not something you see every day from the 52-year-old (yes, that’s all he is). His five winners was enough to be leading trainer.
Godolphin have been a resurgent force in recent years and just touched off Coolmore on places to be leading owner. Coroebus was their big winner in another fruitful week, following up on 2000 Guineas glory in the St James’s Palace Stakes. The Dubai racing operation’s boss Sheikh Mohammed was not there but that was perhaps not surprising in the wake of the British High Court ruling that he had abused his former wife Princess Haya to “an exorbitant degree” and subjected her to “a campaign of fear and intimidation,” as well as on the balance of probabilities “orchestrated the abductions and confinement” of two of his daughters, Princess Latifa and Princess Shamsa — the latter from the streets of Cambridge. But there weren’t too many more heavy hitters absent.
Speaking of heavy hitters, Willie Mullins made his customary assault on proceedings in the last, Stratum going back-to-back in the Queen Alexandra Stakes under an inspired ride from the back by William Buick.
There was one other major landmark reached at the top end. John Gosden hit 60 Royal Ascot winners as a trainer, though he now shares the licence with his son Thady. He also ruffled the feathers of jumps legend AP McCoy by criticising Frankie Dettori for his “overcomplicated ride” on history-seeking Stradivarius in the Gold Cup, won by O’Brien and Moore with Kyprios, and also leaving it so late on Saga in the Britannia.
One thing Gosden can’t be accused of is not supporting Dettori. The weigh room’s Peter Pan had been sacked by Godolphin at the end of 2012 and then served a six-month ban after testing positive for cocaine when teaming up with Vincent O’Brien’s former assistant. It has been a mutually beneficial partnership and as the brilliant Inspiral illustrated in the Coronation Stakes, they will have plenty more big days.
Shane Crosse and Shane Foley were two Irish riders with beaming smiles after recording their first successes with excellent displays of horsemanship. Crosse had been subject to some finicky criticism after State Of Rest finished third in the best Tattersalls Gold Cup in years but he judged the pace brilliantly from the front to score in the Prince Of Wales’ Stakes.
Remarkably, given all he has achieved in his second career, it was Joseph O’Brien’s first Royal Ascot success as a trainer. It won’t be his last. Meanwhile, with a fourth Group/Grade 1 in as many countries, State Of Rest finally gets the kudos he deserves.
Foley has had a tremendous career with Group 1s and a couple of Classic successes into the bargain. Since he linked up with Jessica Harrington, he has consistently dined at the top table, but Covid restrictions meant he had to watch Dettori steer Alpine Star to victory in the Coronation Stakes two seasons ago. He finally scratched an itch as Magical Lagoon bagged the Ribblesdale.
The Galileo filly began to drift when Foley gave her a back-hander. The Graignamanagh rider put his stick down immediately and restored his partner’s balance, even as Sea Silk Road moved ahead inside the final furlong. His restraint was rewarded by a late burst that sealed the deal by a half-length on the line.
Sometimes you do the right thing as a jockey and don’t get that reward. Danny Tudhope’s efforts to stop Grand Alliance from heading for the gate in the aforementioned King Edward VII are a case in point.
But too often, the way the rules are applied, you can do the wrong thing and still get the pay-off. That was certainly the case in the Norfolk Stakes, where Paul Hanagan allowed The Ridler to continue to drift and by continuing to use the whip on the right side, encouraged him to do so.
In the process, he took out an accelerating Crispy Cat, and may well have taken down Brave Nation but for the swift reactions of James Doyle. After having his significant momentum halted, Crispy Cat rallied again to be third.
Opinions differ as to whether Crispy Cat would have given Michael O’Callaghan a maiden Royal Ascot triumph. Jockey Silvestre de Sousa was adamant that would have been the case. But the way the rule is framed, the perpetrator of the crime in racing gets the benefit of the doubt. That’s some strange law of justice.
There is also clearly an issue surrounding what constitutes dangerous riding, and the reluctance of British stewards to apply this rule. It is 13 years since a jockey was charged with dangerous riding across the water. The five riders charged in the past five years in Ireland — with one winning on appeal — looks extremely vigilant by comparison.
The language is irrelevant, though, and you can couch it all under careless if you want. That’s just aesthetics. Where the rule falls down is in the feebleness of the deterrents.
In the course of collaborating with rugby World Cup final referee Alain Rolland on his autobiography, he continuously emphasised the referee’s job as changing player behaviour if required. It is clear that the current interference rules, how they are applied and any deterrents that go with their application, are not sufficient to prevent the encouragement of a horse to interfere with a rival or to persuade a rider to take preventative measures once a horse starts to drift. And there are plenty of jockeys who will tell you that themselves.
For all the disappointments, context is only ever around the corner and one had to feel for John Queally and his wife Miriam, who lost Arcadian Sunrise due to a rare medical issue on Thursday morning, two days after their pride and joy finished a slightly unlucky third in the Ascot Stakes.
Queally, best known for the multiple Grade 1-winning hurdler Al Eile, is a shrewd operator whose small yard had been reinvigorated by the gelding that finished ninth in a point-to-point maiden three years ago but went on to win in Carlisle, Thurles, Leopardstown, Punchestown, Galway and York, and ran so well at Chester and Royal Ascot. He had built a gallop especially for the eight-year-old.
Racing is a game that would tame lions. All the more reason to revel when it’s your turn in the limelight.