ROYAL ASCOT 2011 has come and gone, and here’s an interesting review of the week by travelling writer LIESL KING, who also snapped the photos.
She reports: As has been the tradition for 300 years, the Royal Procession made its way down the Straight Mile to the tunes of God Save The Queen. Royal Ascot, 2011 was officially underway on Tuesday, 14 June.
After watching Canford Cliffs just beat a gallant Goldikova in the opening race, it was time for the King Stand Stakes, where Sweet Sanette, a daughter of Jallad, was lining up for trainer Tony Millard.
It wasn’t all moonshine and roses for the temperamental mare. Sweet Sanette refused point blank to let the jockey mount in the parade ring and Jamie Spencer wisely followed her out of the ring on foot. After leading her handlers and Jamie a merry dance all over the track, he finally managed to reach the saddle.
She broke cleanly and sat just behind the early leaders for most of the race. With 200m left to run, Jamie took Sweet Sanette to the front and for a while it seemed as if the Hong Kong raider had stolen a march on the field. But the rise at the end of the 1000m mark just got the better of her and the plucky mare had to settle for third, with UK sprinter Prohibit and Star Witness passing her close to the line.
Sweet Sanette (yellow, red silks), big run in third.
A much relieved Millard was delighted with his mare’s performance, saying: “She has always had a few tricks up her sleeve and is not the easiest of rides.” He commented that although she had learnt a few more tricks at Ascot, she was absolutely magnificent when it mattered most.
The day however belonged to unbeaten superstar Frankel. The unimposing bay colt by Galileo certainly caused a few heart stopping moments for all concerned, slowing down in the final stages before winning the St James Palace Stakes by a mere 0.75-lengths.
Sir Henry Cecil, whose knighthood was announced last Saturday, admitted that he would have chosen different tactics if he could have a rerun of the race, commenting that his star colt got bored. “He looked as if he was going to win a bit more easily today and I think he thought he had done enough, so he was really idling at the end, he wasn’t tired at all!”
On a cold day and drizzly Wednesday, trainer Aidan O’Brien’s So You Think set out to prove that he really was unbeatable over 2000m. Bart Cummings, his previous trainer, had derided the standard of European racing after his first two wins at the Curragh, stating that his champion had met far better horses Down Under.
The bookies had So You Think as favourite and the parade ring was packed. And yet the attention was not on So You Think but rather on Rewilding, the Godolphin runner. Was it the charismatic Frankie Dettori or was it the horse?
Both horses needed a fast pace and both trainers had taken no chances. Jan Vermeer was sent out as the hare for So You Think, while Debussy was doing duty for Godolphin. So You Think looked unsettled in the early stages and fought Ryan Moore for his head, but once slotted in behind the pacemakers he seemed to settle.
A driving finish between So You Think (railside) and Rewilding.
Then came the final 300m. Moore sent So You Think to the front. Around me the Australian media breathed a sigh of relief. Off a fast pace their erstwhile champion was surely unbeatable. But what So You Think did not know and what Moore may not have considered, was the steep rise over the final furlong.
It came down to a nail biting finish. Moore desperately asking a tiring So You Think for an almighty effort, with Rewilding reeling him in with every stride. With just 10m to go both horses were matching strides, side by side. But in every battle there has to be a loser and Rewilding, under a driving Frankie, found the line first, winning by a neck.
Frankie was uncharacteristically exuberant, raising his whip in salute as he crossed the line. A fine tribute to a gallant horse and an epic battle. O’Brien, gallant in defeat, admitted that he had not worked So You Think hard enough at home. “It was more my fault than anyone else’s and all I can say is sorry. I think I just didn’t have him fit enough on the day.”
Thursday – cold, wet and miserable – and it is Ladies Day at Royal Ascot. Only in England will the fairer sex dress in brightly coloured, flimsy summer outfits when it’s freezing cold and pouring with rain! The day constantly changed with each brief window of sunshine being followed by a cloud burst which sent racegoers scurrying for the safety of the grandstand.
The centre piece of the five day meeting is the Ascot Gold Cup. Carrying £250 000 in prize money, it is a far cry from the inaugural running in 1807 when three horses faced the starter for a princely sum of 100 guineas.
The talk during the week was whether the favourite, Fame and Glory, 2009 winner of the Irish Derby and runner up in the Epsom Derby could complete the double. Some viewed Fame and Glory’s participation in the Gold Cup as a demotion for a horse that had once competed with the crème de la crème, but he was actually following in some illustrious footsteps.
Yeats, winner of four Gold Cups, is arguably Ascot’s greatest equine legend and a statue of the horse with the look of eagles now graces the parade ring. While not completing the double, Yeats had won Ireland’s two Derby trials at three and the Coronation Cup at four. But Fame and Glory had never tackled a race beyond 2800m and the 4000m must have seemed a daunting task. With the course being declared soft, the task became even harder.
Jamie Spencer loves Fame and Glory!
But the son of Montjeu is all class and all heart. Sitting comfortably in fifth on the first run past the post, he was travelling well despite the going. Tastahill took up his usual front running position and led the field along through Swinley Bottom. As they turned for home, Duncan and Manighar briefly loomed, but with 300m left, Jamie Spencer sent the big bay on his way and it was race over.
Fame and Glory made it look easy as he extended his lead to win by three lengths. Opinion Poll, who was chasing hard, finished ahead of Brigantin, a further four and a half lengths back.
After the drama of So You Think’s shock defeat and Aidan O Brien’s apology for not having the horse fit enough, the courageous win by a class horse must have gone a long way to soften the blow.
On a day when the rain did not heed the Royal decree to stay away from Ascot and the wind lifted skirts and sent hats flying, the main race was the Coronation Stakes for three year old fillies. Founded to commemorate the crowning of Queen Victoria, it was first run in 1840 and has been known as a race that is often won by fillies that go on to become equine legends. Pretty Polly is perhaps the best known, completing the 1000 Guineas/Coronation Stakes double and retiring having won 22 of her 24 starts.
Although Group 1 form is usually essential coming into a key race at Royal Ascot, the Coronation Stakes seems to have bucked the trend with only five of the winners in the last ten years having been successful at the highest level. And today was no exception with the winner’s best effort coming in the Group 2 Prix de Sandringham at Chantilly. So who was the winner you ask? Ah therein lies an interesting story going back some 25 years.
In 1986 French trainer Robert Collet arrived at Royal Ascot with a three year old colt by the name of Last Tycoon. His aim was the King’s Stand Stakes, a Group one race over a 1000m. The colt started at odds of 9/2 and with Cash Asmussen in the saddle he duly notched up Robert Collet’s first win at Royal Ascot.
Fast forward to Friday 18 June 2011 with Robert Collet saddling a three year old filly called Immortal Verse for the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot. Her dam, Side of Paradise, is none other than the half sister to Last Tycoon!
So Robert returned 25 years after his last victory with a filly from the sister of his last winner and just to make doubly sure his son Rodolphe Collet was the trainer of the second French entrant, Nova Hawk. It’s the stuff that fairytales are made of, but in racing fairytale endings are few and far between as reality often intervenes.
The happy connections of Immortal Verse.
Yet on a miserable Friday, when the Queen saved Ladbrokes at least £50 000 by turning up in yellow a day late, the impossible became possible. Immortal Verse charged away from the field in the final furlong to win the Coronation Cup going away and second you may ask? Nova Hawk of course! So father and son celebrated a wonderful one two for France, while Immortal Verse did her uncle Last Tycoon proud!
On Saturday, the last day of Royal Ascot the Queen once again made her way up the Straight Mile in an open carriage to declare the day officially open. Considering the torrential downpours, freezing cold and windy days that encompassed much of this week, this in itself is an amazing feat.
First up was the Chesham Stakes, a Listed race for two year olds over 1400m. With the heavy going, the race was considered a tall ask for such young horses. And yet the winner made it look easy. Unbeaten Maybe, the tote favourite and one of only five fillies in the 16 horse field, ran away with the race to such a degree that the field was strung out over almost 20 lengths at the finish. Aidan O’ Brien confirmed that she was something very special and that a lot more is expected of this daughter of Galileo.
In true Coolmore Style, O’ Brien delivered a quick double for Mr Michael Tabor and Mrs John Magnier when Await The Dawn followed in the footsteps of his stablemate to capture the Group two Hardwick Stakes over 2400s. Again a difficult task in the heavy going and again the son of Giant’s Causeway made it look easy, stringing the field out over 13 lengths. This despite facing the likes of Harris Tweed, who finished a gallant second and globetrotting Drunken Sailor, who finished in third.
Another great week of Royal Racing!
To round off a magnificent week the last race can only be described as a true test of courage, determination and stamina. Only the English can run a race such as the Queen Alexandra Stakes over 4300m in what was by now very heavy going. A field of 18 runners lined up to take on the marathon challenge and it was left to the out and out stayer, Swingkeel, to show just how it should be done.
Five days of great racing had come to an end. The cream of the thoroughbred crop had come from far and wide to decide who would be the next champions. Nothing is ever certain in racing as erstwhile champions lost and new champions were crowned. But one thing is cast in stone. In 12 months time we will all meet again, standing to attention as the Royal Procession winds its way down the Straight Mile and Royal Ascot is declared officially open.