The Weekly Wrap: Happy and Glorious

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The Queen, back at her beloved Royal Ascot, chats to the meeting's leading jockey Oisin Murphy | PA Media

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On each day of Royal Ascot, there was at least one result truly to savour, if not more. Moreover, the meeting in its entirety felt at last like a return to some sort of normality. Even the British weather played its typically quirky part: boiling one day, rain of biblical proportions the next.

One regrettable absence was the buzz of the crowd. The maximum number of 12,000 attendees per day is of course low by usual standards. With the late announcement that even this number would be permitted, not to mention the complications surrounding Covid-testing, it is perhaps no surprise that there was not a capacity crowd, but those who opted not to go missed out on an extremely special occasion. 

One of the relatively few international visitors, Mariam Zerehi, the Californian part-owner of the G2 Queen Mary S. winner Quick Suzy (Ire) (Profitable {Ire}), perhaps summed it up best when she said, “We had Sharing last year in the Coronation Stakes and she placed second but none of us were able to be here to witness that so I am just happy to be here.

“This is a really big moment because we are in a very different place today than we were just a year ago. I think this Royal Ascot represents a lot of hope and optimism that we are all moving in the right direction, so that's special to be a part of–it's not just an ordinary Ascot for me.”

Indeed, ordinary it was not. For a start, Her Majesty the Queen did not make an appearance at her own racecourse until Saturday, but when she finally arrived–by car this time, rather than horse-drawn carriage–the reception she was given was properly rousing even with fewer people on course on normal. And after all, there can be no party without the host, especially one who has done more than most to ensure that Britain retains its reputation as the foremost racing nation, even though it is very much now a pauper compared to some of its ostentatiously rich neighbours.

Honours Even

There was a pleasingly egalitarian feel to the results of the week. The eight Group 1 contests went to eight different trainers, with John and Thady Gosden setting the tone in the first race of the meeting with a victory for the world's current top-rated horse, Palace Pier (GB) (Kingman {GB}). The Gosdens would end the week as leading trainers–the first time that accolade has gone to a partnership but surely not the last. Their four winners equalled the tally of Andrew Balding but the Gosdens secured the title on countback for placed horses.

Balding and the Kingsclere team can look back on the week with immense satisfaction, however. As well as the victory of Alcohol Free (No Nay Never) in the G1 Coronation S there were two juvenile group-race winners in Berkshire Shadow (Ire) (Dark Angel {Ire}) and Sandrine (GB). The latter provided a first group success for her sire Bobby's Kitten and the first winner at the Royal Meeting for her owner/breeder Kirsten Rausing, who also stands the stallion and has nurtured Sandrine's family for five generations since her purchase of the filly's fourth dam Sushila (Ire) (Petingo {GB}) in 1976.

It was particularly enjoyable to see Oxted (GB) (Mayson {GB}) bounce back to form for Roger Teal, just as it was pleasing to see Sir Michael Stoute back in the winner's enclosure after a Group 1 race with the 7-year-old Dream Of Dreams (Ire) (Dream Ahead), who had been beaten a head in the G1 Diamond Jubilee S. in the past two seasons.

Campanelle (Ire) (Kodiac {GB}) continued Wesley Ward's love affair with Royal Ascot, albeit only after a fairly lengthy stewards' enquiry following interference from first-past-the-post Dragon Symbol (GB) (Cable Bay {Ire}). The eventual winner continued an excellent season for her breeder Tally-Ho Stud, which also bred the G2 Norfolk S. winner Perfect Power (Ire), as well as his first-season sire Ardad (Ire), who, like Campanelle, is by their resident stallion Kodiac.

Without doubt, however, breeder of the season at this stage–and it's hard to see him being beaten–is Jim Bolger. Poetic Flare (Ire) (Kodiac {GB}) may have won the Guineas by a short-head and lost the Irish Guineas by a short-head to his stable-mate Mac Swiney (Ire) (New Approach {Ire}) either side of his comparatively lacklustre French Guineas attempt, but his victory in the St James's Palace S. was nothing short of emphatic.

It is still rather extraordinary to think that we first saw Poetic Flare in public when he won the first 2-year-old race of the season in Ireland in 2020. This was also the final meeting before Irish racing went behind closed doors, and that is where it has remained. Fortunately, this brilliant colt has been tested far and wide beyond his own shores by his trainer/breeder who had the sense to know when to back off last season when Poetic Flare went through a growing spell. After winning his maiden on Mar. 23 we didn't see him again until the G1 Dewhurst S on Oct. 10. At the time his reappearance may have seemed as if Bolger was tilting at windmills, and his tenth-place finish behind the winner St Mark's Basilica (Ire) (Siyouni {Fr}) that day initially appeared to back that up. But time has taught us never to underestimate his trainer. Poetic Flare went to his winter quarters on the back of a Group 3 victory at Leopardstown just a week after the Dewhurst and he has since developed into the pre-eminent colt of his generation ahead of St Mark's Basilica, who has only enhanced his own reputation by taking both colts' Classics in France.

Lots To Love

The long-awaited comeback of last year's sensational 1000 Guineas and Oaks winner Love (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) proved to be one of the highlights of Royal Ascot and, despite the defection of Lord North (Ire) (Dubawi {Ire}), the G1 Prince of Wales's S. turned into a battle royal between Coolmore's golden girl and the returning GI Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf heroine Audarya (Fr) (Wootton Bassett {GB}).

While Broome (Ire) (Australia {GB}) couldn't claw back the sweeping surge of Wonderful Tonight (Fr) (Le Havre {Ire}) when taking second in the G2 Hardwicke S., his full-brother Point Lonsdale (Ire) backed up his impressive Curragh debut to give Aidan O'Brien a sixth win in the Chesham S. The trainer was polite enough to apologise in the post-race debrief for beating the Queen's Reach For The Moon (GB) (Sea The Stars {Ire}) by half a length, but the 95-year-old monarch almost certainly knows by now how to take racing's rough with the smooth and will surely have been pleased with a second and a third from her runners on the day she attended the meeting. 

The previous evening at Newmarket, her homebred Wink Of An Eye (GB) (Dubawi {Ire}) had won his second race in eight days, with William Haggas having increased his chances of becoming racing's next knight by saddling the 3-year-old to win his first race on what would have been the late Duke of Edinburgh's 100th birthday.

Pure Gold

The Queen had not been in attendance to present the Gold Cup on Thursday, as is her usual custom, but the great staying race nevertheless provided one of the best moments of the week.

Stradivarius (Ire) (Sea The Stars {Ire}) was odds-on to win the race for a fourth time and to set a new record for five consecutive wins at the meeting, but instead we witnessed the coronation of a new staying king, Dr Jim Walker's Subjectivist (GB) (Teofilo {Ire}).

Gratifyingly, it was a race that had everything: the reigning champion, the up-and-coming star, last year's Derby, Irish Derby and Melbourne Cup winners, and the remarkable Princess Zoe (Ger) (Jukebox Jury {Ire}). The latter's jockey Joey Sheridan must be congratulated for riding an astutely tactical race, keeping the master tactician Frankie Dettori firmly in an unenviable position, and bringing the mare home in second. But it was Subjectivist's day, and it will be staggering if his dam Reckoning (Ire) (Danehill Dancer {Ire}) is not Broodmare of the Year in Britain in 2021. 

Third to Hukum (GB) in last year's King George V S., Subjectivist then won the listed Glasgow S. and the G3 March S. by a whopping 15 lengths before landing his first Group 1 in the Prix Royal Oak at Longchamp last October. A warm up in the desert in March in the G2 Dubai Gold Cup proved to be the perfect, if lengthy, lead in to his Gold Cup success. 

Since his victory at Meydan, his half-brother Sir Ron Priestley (GB) (Australia {GB}) returned from a 571-day absence to win first the listed Further Flight S. and then the G2 Jockey Club S., beating Pyledriver (GB) at Newmarket on Guineas weekend. 

The brothers are both with Mark Johnston, as is their stakes-placed half-sister Alba Rose (GB) (Muhaarar {GB}) and the mare's 2-year-old, a full-sister to Sir Ron Priestley who was retained by her breeder Susan Hearn of Mascalls Stud.

This may have been a fourth Gold Cup victory for Johnston, following Double Trigger (GB) in 1995 and Royal Rebel (GB) in 2001 and 2002, but it was no less enjoyed by the team at Kingsley House Stables, especially the trainer's wife Deirdre, who still had tears in her eyes 48 hours later when recalling the round of applause given to Subjectivist as he appeared in the yard the following morning.

“It just meant so much to the whole team at home,” she said.

It was a memorable week for Deirdre Johnston as she is also the co-owner of the hugely promising eventer JL Dublin, who won the CCI4* at Bicton International Horse Trials with rider Nicola Wilson the previous weekend.

All The Young Dudes

Age is merely a number, as they say, but there was a youthful feel to plenty of the winning trainers and jockeys at Royal Ascot. Among those scoring a first-time success was the 40-year-old David Menuisier, whose Wonderful Tonight posted one of the most visually impressive performances of the week on her favoured soft ground and will surely be a force to be reckoned with again this autumn.

Gavin Cromwell is perhaps not the youngest of bucks but he is incredibly versatile and increasingly prominent as a trainer. In the last three months he has saddled the winner of the G1 Stayers' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival and now the smart juvenile Quick Suzy, who is arguably his standout Flat performer in a stable in which the jumpers outnumber the Flat horses three to one.

The filly, who became the first group winner for her first-season sire Profitable, also provided a Royal Ascot first for Gary Carroll. The Irish rider was joined in this regard by Cieren Fallon, Ben Coen, Hector Crouch and Clifford Lee, as well as Marco Ghiani and Laura Pearson, two of the most impressive apprentices riding at present in Britain. 

The last tip of the top hat should go to Dave Evans, who is not young but is certainly a dude and arguably hugely underrated as a trainer. Rohaan (Ire), one of two Royal Ascot winners for the similarly underrated Cheveley Park Stud stallion Mayson (GB), was picked up by Evans at last year's Horses-in-Training Sale for 20,000gns having made two underwhelming starts as a 2-year-old. Awarded a rating of 55 after his first run for his new stable, he has progressed through the ranks, winning seven times since last December, including the G2 Sandy Lane S. and the Wokingham S. 

The fact that he was gelded before he made his debut precluded Rohaan from running in the G1 Commonwealth Cup, but it will not stop him from attempting to emulate his sire in the G1 Darley July Cup on July 10. From 55-rated handicapper to Group 1 winner in the space of eight months would be quite something, and Evans would surely be vying with his son-in-law Adam Kirby for having provided the feelgood racing story of the season.

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