Holding Out For a Hero

The connections of Courage Mon Ami receive the Gold Cup from the King and Queen, who were also winning owners on the day | Racingfotos

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ASCOT, UK–Even before the action was underway on Gold Cup day, there appeared to be entertainment aplenty for the King and Queen. Sir Mark Prescott had managed to book the royal version of speedy boarding and was positioned in the first carriage with their majesties for the royal procession. This may well have been a strategic move from them in the middle of a week which requires plenty of stamina, with two processions still to come. It's a long ride by horse-drawn carriage from Windsor Great Park to Ascot Racecourse and who better to entertain the royal party than racing's finest raconteur, who also shares the King and Queen's love of hunting? Indeed, as the carriages came into view on the big screen it certainly appeared to be Sir Mark that was holding court, much to the obvious enjoyment of his carriage companions.

William Haggas had been in the royal procession on Wednesday and he put his name back on the invitation list for next year by becoming the first trainer to provide the King and Queen with a winner at Royal Ascot in the King George V S., named after the present monarch's great grandfather.

Bred by the late Queen, Desert Hero (GB) hails from a family which has been well represented at the royal meeting in recent years. His dam Desert Breeze (GB) (Dubawi {Ire}) is a full-sister to the G2 Hardwicke S. winner Dartmouth (GB), who appeared at Royal Ascot in three consecutive years, and both siblings were gifted to the Queen by their breeder Sheikh Mohammed. 

The 'new Ascot', as old-timers still like to call it, can feel a little devoid of atmosphere on occasion, even on the big occasion, but not so for a royal winner. Every step, every balcony and every tier was stuffed with racegoers cheering in Desert Hero and Tom Marquand, as the King and Queen, accompanied by the Princess Royal and her daughter Zara Tindall, arrived in the winner's enclosure.

“This is what it's all about for us, and when you are given the privilege of training some horses for the late Queen and The King and Queen, it's an honour,” said Haggas.

“They have been looking forward to Royal Ascot for a long time and they hoped to have as many runners as possible. I think they will be absolutely delighted. It's very important for horseracing, but it's also important that the King and Queen enjoy it, which they clearly appear to do. Long may that continue.”

It didn't take long, however, for the King to have his thunder stolen by the upstager-in-chief, Lanfranco Dettori. With the quality of horses on offer from Wathnan Racing, the breakthrough owners on the scene who have made quite a splash this week, Dettori will certainly be enjoying this new, albeit brief, association.

Wathnan Racing is the operational name for the horses owned by the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, whose brother Sheikh Joaan is already a familiar face on the international racing scene as the principal of Al Shaqab Racing and owner of Haras de Bouquetot.

First, Gregory (GB) gave the team the Queen's Vase, only for Courage Mon Ami (GB) to plunder an even bigger prize 24 hours later after an epic stretch battle with the plucky Coltrane (Ire) in the Gold Cup. What these hugely exciting emerging stayers have in common, as well as being trained by John and Thady Gosden, is that their Royal Ascot victories were both their first runs in the colours of Wathnan Racing. 

Courage Mon Ami was bred and raced until recently by Anthony Oppenheimer of Hascombe and Valiant Studs, who was also the breeder of Gregory's sire Golden Horn (GB). Gregory represents Philippa Cooper's Normandie Stud and a family which has been replete with quality stayers over the years. While the latter has the target of the St Leger, the four-year-old Courage Mon Ami, similarly unbeaten, has announced his presence at the top of the staying division having arrived in the Gold Cup straight from a Goodwood handicap. This he won a day after Gregory landed the Cocked Hat Stakes at the same course.

“It's a wonderful day for Hascombe and Valiant,” said Oppenheimer as he congratulated the horse's new connections by the winner's circle.

“We're very pleased. We've got plenty of the family. We very nearly retired him before he ran because he was so big, but he had those two fantastic races last year when he won by about ten lengths.”

As Oppenheimer watched the presentation, made by the King to Courage Mon Ami's new owners, he was joined by Jayne McGivern, who now owns Golden Horn, having bought him last year to stand at Overbury Stud, where he has covered 184 mares this season.

“Your horse is doing very well!” Oppenheimer said to McGivern with a grin. “I'm very pleased with Golden Horn, he's doing much better than ever before. I have a couple of really nice horses by him coming up.”

While Courage Mon Ami's victory means that the extraordinary Frankel (GB) has been represented by a Group 1 winner on every day of Royal Ascot so far, from a mile to two and a half miles, it cannot be overlooked that Oppenheimer has enjoyed great success in the past with another of his sons, Cracksman (GB). Now a Darley second-season stallion, Cracksman is responsible for one of the most exciting three-year-old colts of the season in the Prix du Jockey Club winner Ace Impact (Fr).

Olly Tait of Australia's Twin Hills Stud and his old friend Richard Brown of Blandford Bloodstock have been charged with the advising and buying duties for the Qatari-based Wathnan Racing, and both have passed with flying colours in delivering on their brief.

“I was asked to buy some proper horses who could go to the big meetings and compete in the big races, and this is as big as it gets,” said Brown. “Olly is the advisor for Wathnan Racing, which was the leading stable in Qatar over the winter. He approached me and said that they were interested in buying a few horses. I obviously jumped at the opportunity. I've know Olly for 25 years. We actually lived next to each other in Newmarket when we first there in about 1998. The opportunity to work with him was extraordinary. We haven't bought very many, we've been very selective, but there are a couple more to come out.”

There is just one part of the brief that Tait and Brown may struggle to adhere to if the current level of success continues. 

Brown added, “The owners want to be under the radar slightly, though I think the last two days has just blown that apart, but they are private people. It was just a case of getting started with a few horses and this has been a dream start.”

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