A Royal Line Thriving

Royal Applause, 28, pictured last Friday at The Royal Studs | Emma Berry


Near the entrance to The Royal Studs at Sandringham is a magnificent bronze commemorating the Prince of Wales's homebred Persimmon (GB) (St Simon {GB}), whose racing record highlights the fact that things were done a little differently back in the 1890s. Very differently, in fact.

The Coventry S. winner of 1895 went on to win the Derby and the St Leger and, kept in training, he returned to Royal Ascot to win the Gold Cup, which had been his principal 4-year-old target.

Exactly a century later, the horse who was prophetically named to triumph at the meeting, Royal Applause (GB) (Waajib {Ire}), landed the Coventry S.–then a Group 3–on his second start and continued unbeaten through his juvenile season, adding victories in the G2 Gimcrack S. and G1 Middle Park S. 

The Derby would certainly not have been on the mind of Royal Applause's trainer Barry Hills, who was correct in his publicly-aired doubts following the Middle Park that his colt would even see out the mile of the 2000 Guineas. A son of the 1988 Queen Anne S. winner Waajib, himself representing Try My Best's branch of Northern Dancer's male dynasty, Royal Applause has a thoroughly speedy bottom line which prevailed not just in his own genetic make-up but also in his precociously fast elder sister Lyric Fantasy (Ire) (Tate Gallery). Known as the 'Pocket Rocket', she became the first 2-year-old filly to win the G1 Nunthorpe S. in its then 70-year history in 1992.

With her own triumph at the Royal Meeting coming in a record-breaking romp in the Queen Mary S., Lyric Fantasy prompted the transfer of her dam Flying Melody (GB) (Auction Ring) to the broodmare band of Sheikh Maktoum Al Maktoum's Gainsborough Stud while carrying Royal Applause. If he'd been born these days, Royal Applause would have been an obvious candidate for the G1 Commonwealth Cup at Ascot but, having finished tenth in the 2000 Guineas, he was then sixth to Pivotal (GB) in the G2 King's Stand S. and managed just one win that season in a conditions race at Doncaster.

Happily, the imperious nature of his debut season was recaptured at four, with Royal Applause adding the Cammidge Trophy and G3 Duke of York S. to his winning record before landing the G3 Cork and Orrery S. back at Royal Ascot. The following year the race was upgraded to Group 2 status before becoming a Group 1 with a name change in 2002 to make the Golden Jubilee. Currently known as the Diamond Jubilee S., the race will presumably undergo a further rebranding to mark The Queen's Platinum Jubilee next year.

Sent off as favourite for the G1 July Cup, Royal Applause couldn't match the finishing burst of 50/1 outsider Compton Place (GB), but he bounced out of his second place at Newmarket to land his second Group 1 success in the Haydock Sprint Cup, prevailing by a length and a quarter over Danetime (Ire).

One hundred years after Persimmon retired to stud, Royal Applause made his way to Sandringham, replacing the retiring Derby winner Shirley Heights (GB) on the royal roster. He lives there still in retirement, at the age of 28 but looking a decade younger, with his last two registered foals having been born in 2017. In 19 crops, he only hit the 100-mark five times, with his 110 foals of 2006 being his largest output. But nevertheless, Royal Applause is becoming an increasingly significant influence in a modern-day breeding world which values precocity over more Classic attributes, notwithstanding the fact that speed is a vital component of a top-class racehorse irrespective of the distance at which he competes.

The GI American Oaks and GI Queen Elizabeth Challenge Cup winner Ticker Tape (GB) remains Royal Applause's sole winner at the top level. Battle Of Hastings and Whatsthescript also excelled in America, and they are two of his nine Group/Grade 2 winners, along with Acclamation (GB), his stand-out son from his first crop, who is doing most to keep the line not just alive but thriving. 

Almost a quarter of the field for Tuesday's Coventry S. are male-line descendants of Royal Applause, the quartet being by his grandsons Dark Angel (Ire) and Mehmas (Ire), both by Acclamation. Another of the latter's sons, the late Harbour Watch (Ire), was responsible for an unusual double on Oaks day when Pyledriver (GB) won the G1 Coronation Cup at Epsom and Baron Samedi (GB) claimed the GII Belmont Gold Cup in New York.

Acclamation and Dark Angel will of course both be well represented this week, and more notably so will last season's record-breaking freshman sire Mehmas, who has maintained his lead in the second-crop sires' table and has eight group entries at Royal Ascot. Dark Angel has a growing number of sons at stud, with freshman Birchwood (Ire) currently topping the list for 2-year-old winners in France. It's not hard to imagine that sons of Mehmas will soon follow.

Another of Acclamation's sons, the dual G1 King's Stand S. winner Equiano (Fr), has recently moved to the Irish National Stud but has played his own part in extending the success of this line at the Royal Meeting in particular through the G1 Diamond Jubilee S. winner The Tin Man (GB). Equiano is also the sire of GI Breeders' Cup Turf sprint winner Belvoir Bay (GB).

Birchwood is not the sole representative of Dark Angel's branch in France as Gutaifan (Ire) is now at that country's most reliable source of fast horses, Alain Chopard's Haras des Faunes. The July Cup winner Lethal Force (Ire) is another to have relocated and is now at Haras de Grandcamp, while his smart juvenile son and G1 Commonwealth Cup winner Golden Horde (Ire) is at Haras de Montfort et Preaux under Nurlan Bizakov's Sumbe banner. 

A reliable broodmare sire, Royal Applause also features in that category for the young stallions Blue Point (Ire) (Shamardal), Adaay (Ire) (Kodiac {GB}) and Cappella Sansevero (GB) (Showcasing {GB}), and for the G3 Winter Derby winner Forest Of Dean (GB) (Iffraaj {GB}), who is set to run in Tuesday's Wolferton S.

As Royal Applause himself closes in on his third decade, he lives in splendour at Sandringham, alternating between the stallion box he has inhabited since 1998 and his sizeable paddock within the shelter of the walled garden.

His eyes are as bright as they have ever been, and if his slightly flat, unshod feet don't relish a momentarily rough surface, as soon as he's on the grass he walks with a swagger indicative of the supreme athlete that he once was. Best of all though is his temperament. There's not an ounce of sourness in the old stallion.

“He's never been the type of horse who has to have the same person look after him,” says David Somers, manager of The Royal Studs. “Everyone here loves him because he's so easy, he's an absolute gentleman.”

The esteemed old gentleman is no longer troubled by the hubbub of a race meeting or the covering shed in his quiet corner of Norfolk. His excitement these days is in working out which of his visitors has a packet of Polos in their pocket. But there will be plenty of royal applause ringing out at Ascot this week, and no doubt some of it will once again be for his descendants. Long may they run, and long may he reign.

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