'It Couldn't Be Better': Living the American Dream at Ascot 

Villanova Queen with her American and Irish connections | Racingfotos.com

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ASCOT, UK–There's plenty of red, white and blue draped about this most patriotic of race meetings, but the Union Jack had to give way for the Star-Spangled Banner during the early rounds of Royal Ascot's Wednesday fare. First Crimson Advocate blazed a trail in the G2 Queen Mary S., and even through she was all out at the line in an attempt to repel the fast-finishing Relief Rally (Ire), her nose was down where it mattered, providing the 27 owners who had travelled from America in support with a day they will never forget. 

The daughter of Nyquist has been well travelled in her short career, racing in Kentucky, Florida and now England in the last two months. From a debut third at Keeneland, she landed the Royal Palm Juvenile Fillies' S. at Gulfstream Park, a win-and-you're-in qualifier for the royal meeting. 

Among the combined ownership group is Jake Ballis's Black Type Thoroughbreds, who bought into the George Weaver-trained Crimson Advocate after her first start.

The Lexington-based syndicator said, “George really liked the filly on debut at Keeneland and I have a lot of horses with him. She ran third and George called me up after the race and said 'We've got to put some people together to buy this filly. She's very, very fast'. The people who owned her originally buy to race and then sell.”

He continued, “George said he was going to put her on the turf at Gulfstream and then we're going to Royal Ascot. When we bought into her, that was the dream, but plans in this sport don't always work out. This one did, and we brought all our friends and families here; it couldn't be better. I've brought two people here who have never owned a horse before and they're my good luck charm–they're two for two.”

Of the tight finish, in which his filly held on by a nose, Ballis added, “From my vantage view I had zero idea who had won and I just said 'Please one time just give me the photo', and then my phone started ringing.”

The Kensington Palace S. which followed the Queen Mary may not have carried black type but it was no less celebrated for myriad reasons. The Crager family, who own the 25/1 winner Villanova Queen (Ire), have horses in their native America with Graham Motion, but the daughter of Mastercraftsman (Ire) was a special Royal Ascot winner for Jessica Harrington in the joyful week that she was given the all-clear following recent treatment for cancer. It was also a first win at the meeting for Ireland's champion jockey Colin Keane.

“We have a few in training with Mrs Harrington in Ireland and a few with Roger Varian in England. We also keep a few mares at Baroda Stud,” said New York-based William Crager, whose father Bill, the CEO of Envestnet, missed out on their first Royal Ascot victory but is due to join the celebrations in England later this week.  

He continued, “We really love racing over here especially. We get treated so very well and this is just incredible. The Harringtons are incredible–they are so good at what they do. We felt hopeful about what the filly could come and do but I don't think we could have expected that. And Colin–what a ride! All in all, what an experience. We're very thankful.”

Joining the celebrations in the winner's circle was Ben McElroy, who is no stranger to success at Royal Ascot thanks to the dual winner Campanelle (Ire). The agent also bought Villanova Queen, for €60,000, at the Goffs Orby Sale and she has gone on to win twice in Ireland, as well as being Group 3-placed and finishing eighth in last year's Irish 1,000 Guineas. Bill Crager also tasted success at last year's July meeting at Newmarket with his first homebred Miss Carol Ann (Ire) (Kingman {GB}) but this was the family's first runner at Royal Ascot.

“We've gone in right on top but we're in for the long ride,” William Crager said. “Dad and Paul Hondros are flying over later in the week and we'll all be celebrating. 

“Ben bought this filly at Goffs; he's a phenomenal agent. [Eventually] She'll be back at Baroda and bred here [in Europe].”

There were plenty of first-time winners at Royal Ascot on Wednesday, one of those being Wathnan Racing, a name we will surely hear plenty more if their high-profile purchases continue apace. The G2 Queen's Vase winner Gregory (GB) was bought by Wathnan Racing, the leading owner in Qatar this season, after his victory in the Listed Cocked Hat S. for owner-breeder Philippa Cooper. Similarly, the group now owns Isaac Shelby (Ire), runner-up in the Poule d'Essai des Poulains and fourth in the St James's Palace S., while on Thursday Wathnan Racing will be represented by Courage Mon Ami (GB) in the Gold Cup. If their colours look familiar it is because they are only a shade away from those made famous by Germany's Gestut Rottgen.

As Gregory was led in triumphant, Frankie Dettori aboard, the inevitable roar from the crowd turned to cries in some quarters of, “Jump, Frankie, jump.”

Jump he did. How could he not? As Dettori beamed from the rostrum he was joined by Thady Gosden as the latter's father John, co-trainer of two group winners on the day ,watched on from the sidelines. Two doors about to close, perhaps, as one is pushed open, strengthened by new foreign investors in British racing. 

 

The Royal Ascot 'firsts' continued with George Weaver being joined on the trainers' roll of honour by Tom Clover, who saddled Rogue Millennium (GB) to win the G2 Duke of Cambridge S. for The Rogues Gallery syndicate.

The story of the Dubawi (Ire) filly was widely reported last year when she ran in the Oaks as she was bought by Billy Jackson-Stops for 35,000gns as an unraced two-year-old from her breeder Shadwell during that operation's reduction of stock.

Any lingering regrets that the Shadwell team may have had about 'one who got away' will soon have been erased by the barnstorming victory of Mostahdaf (Ire) in the day's feature, the G1 Prince of Wales's S. His half-sister Nazeef (Ire) (Invincible Spirit {Ire}) is already a dual Group 1 winner for the operation and now Shadwell has another enticing stallion prospect in the form of Mostahdaf, who has appeared at the royal meeting in each of the last three years and is bred on the same Frankel-Dubawi cross as Adayar (Ire), whom he beat into third, half a length behind the runner-up Luxembourg (Ire).

Sheikh Hamdan was the leading owner during what would transpire to be his final Royal Ascot in 2020. It is easy to imagine that he would be delighted to see the foundations he laid being built upon by his daughter Sheikha Hissa with many of the same trusted lieutenants at her side for wise counsel. 

Since Sheikh Hamdan's passing in March 2021, Shadwell has been represented by no fewer than six Group 1 winners in Baaeed (GB), Hukum (GB), Eshaada (GB), Minzaal (Ire), Anmaat (Ire), and now Mostahdaf: four homebred, and two bred by the remarkable team at Ringfort Stud. That those results have been provided by four different trainers spreads the enjoyment further still. Sometimes the red isn't needed: the white and blue has been doing just fine for Shadwell. 

 

 

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