'The Best Thing on the Planet': Who Are We To Disagree?

The King and Queen arrive at Royal Ascot | Racingfotos.com


ASCOT, UK–Some of us get slower as we get older. Bradsell (GB) is getting faster. So much so that, instead of treading the more obvious three-year-old sprinter route to the Commonwealth Cup, trainer Archie Watson talked the colt's owner Shaikh Nasser Bin Hamad Al Khalifa into supplementing him for the King's Stand S., and what an inspired move that turned out to be.

It takes a good horse to win at Royal Ascot once, but a proper horse to return triumphant, dropped back in trip to the minimum and with a little to prove as his comeback from the injury that curtailed his juvenile season gathered momentum.

Watson will have dreaded the sound of stewards' klaxon not long after Bradsell passed the post in front after he drifted a little towards the runner-up and last season's crack sprinter Highfield Princess (Fr). The trainer had the 2021 Commonwealth Cup all but snatched from his clutches when Dragon Symbol (GB) bumped Campanelle (Ire) in running and was demoted to second. Tension was writ large on Watson's face as he awaited the outcome of a prolonged stewards' enquiry, already in the winner's circle but reluctant to say too much in interviews being conducted as if he had won. Just half an hour earlier, Watson, his stable jockey Hollie Doyle, and Shaikh Nasser had had to settle for second with Army Ethos (GB) in the Coventry, a great run in itself for the Shalaa (Ire) colt who had made just one previous winning start. 

Finally able to relax when it was confirmed that Bradsell had given him his third Royal Ascot victory and, more importantly, a second Group 1, he said, “I know we're seen as a big yard, but for a yard like us to be winning a Group 1 here is the best thing on the planet. There was dread when that bing-bong happened, especially having just been chinned in the Coventry.”

When Watson spoke to TDN last week, he was effusive in his praise of bloodstock agent Tom Biggs, the youngest member of the Blandford Bloodstock team with whom he has formed a strong partnership. Biggs, who appears far too self-effacing for his chosen profession, was another one blowing his cheeks out with relief as the trainer went to collect his trophy.

“We don't have huge budgets, we work hard at the sales and these days don't come along very often. He's just a very fast horse,” he said.

Biggs and Watson bought Bradsell, who became the first Group 1 winner for his Shadwell sire Tasleet (GB), from last year's Goffs UK Breeze-up Sale from Mark Grant for £47,000. He then changed hands privately following his nine-length debut success to make his first start in the Victorious Racing colours in the Coventry S. One run later a mid-race stumble in the Phoenix S. and subsequent leg fracture put paid to the rest of his juvenile campaign.

“It was quite a nasty injury but his temperament is so fantastic,” Biggs added. “When he breezed I loved his action and the way he got his head down and he got better the further he went. He's just a great horse to be involved with.”

Bradsell was bred by Deborah O'Brien, who has moved up two generations in the sire-line for this year's mating for his dam Russian Punch (GB) (Archipenko). The mare is now in foal to Oasis Dream (GB).

Bradsell's successor in the Coventry roll of honour, River Tiber (Ire), was a member of the final French crop of Wootton Bassett (GB) conceived at €40,000 before he joined the Coolmore ranks. It is hard to imagine that there are not bigger and better things to come from this stallion given the line-up of mares he has covered since moving to Coolmore, where his fee has jumped to €100,000 then €150,000. As an extra vote of confidence in Wootton Bassett, MV Magnier and Peter Brant paid 480,000gns last year for the subsequent Coventry winner at Tattersalls October Book 1. His breeder Ger Morrin of Pier House Stud would have been celebrating then, but this is where it's really at, and Morrin was all smiles as he accepted congratulations from the Coolmore camp and many others alongside the winner's circle.

“Fabulous,” he said. “He was always a fabulous-looking horse. He nearly died as a foal and thankfully we were able to save him. These are great people and he was good-looking yearling so they came and bought him.”

Morrin added that River Tiber's dam Transcendence (Ire) (Arcano {Ire}) is now back in foal to Wootton Bassett. 

The Tabor colours carried by River Tiber were soon back in action aboard Paddington (GB), who made it a memorable day for the group of Coolmore owners by handing out a comprehensive defeat to Juddmonte's Chaldean (GB) (Frankel {GB}) in the battle of the Guineas winners in the St James's Palace S. Relatively rarely for these two superpowers of the breeding world, neither colt is a homebred. 

For Aidan O'Brien, Paddington's victory was particularly significant as it took him past Sir Michael Stoute as the most successful trainer at Royal Ascot with 83 wins to his credit, nine of which have come in the St James's Palace S.

While Ryan Moore, with three winners on the day, stole the limelight from the retiring (eventually) Frankie Dettori, the leading owner-breeder honours unquestionably went to Sheikh Mohammed Obaid Al Maktoum. His Triple Time (Ire) (Frankel {GB}) got the meeting off to a great start with victory in the Queen Anne S. for Kevin Ryan and Neil Callan, and a double was completed in the Wolferton with the Roger Varian-trained Royal Champion (Ire) (Shamardal).

The importance of a royal champion to British horseracing cannot be understated and it can only be hoped that the sport now has two. We have grown accustomed over many decades to the welcome message in the front of the racecard being in the name of 'Elizabeth R'. This year, for the first time, a joint message was signed 'Charles R' and 'Camilla R'. 

Significantly, the new King and Queen led the royal procession for the first day of the meeting and will do so throughout. Joining them in the carriages, perhaps symbolically, was Ralph Beckett, their first trainer back in 2008 of a homebred filly bred in the January after they married. Fittingly, she was a daughter of King's Best, named Royal Superlative (GB). The colours of the royal couple have changed now to those distinguished purple and red silks made famous in the modern era by the runners of Queen Elizabeth II. 

This year's royal welcome message was concluded by acknowledging the owners, breeders and trainers who make this meeting possible. The King and Queen said, “It is a huge and rare achievement to have a runner at Royal Ascot and we very much hope that you all enjoy the experience.”

Judging by the scenes of revelry around the bandstand and in the car parks post-racing, a good day was had by many. One down, four to go. 

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