ASCOT, BERKSHIRE, ENGLAND – Day Four of Royal Ascot is complete with only one day left. On Friday, we saw the filly Alpha Centauri look impressive in the Group 1 Coronation Stakes, as well as the American horse Gidu running an admirable sixth in the Group 1 Commonwealth Cup. See the full day’s recap below:
G3 Albany Stakes
Trainer Mark Johnston started Day Four of Royal Ascot 2018 as he finished Day Three – with a winner. Main Edition (7-1) came late to win the Group 3 Albany Stakes for the Middleham-based trainer.
“We came here knowing that she is a useful – she had two runs and two wins by her name. We have not got as many 2-year-old fillies as colts for some reason this year, but we’re very strong in the 2-year-old fillies’ department and this is one in the leading bunch,” said Johnston. “It is great to get her off the mark in a Group race and it says a lot for the others as well.”
Johnston, winning the Albany for the first time and recording his 43rd victory at Royal Ascot, discounted any thoughts regarding future Classic aspirations for the daughter of Zoffany.
“It is very early days to talk abut the 1,000 Guineas,” he said, before adding: “Though we were joking with the owner before this race that we’ll be back for the Coronation Stakes after she’s won the Guineas!
“The bookies will all start talking about that the (Guineas) now, but there are a lot of big 2-year-old races to think about before we come to that. Let’s get this year out of the way and see where we stand.
“We’ll take one step at a time, we are only in June and obviously we’ll think about the Cheveley Park at the end of the year, but there will be other races before then; we’ll just get her home first.”
Charlie Johnson, son of the winning trainer and assistant at the yard, added: “Our strongest chances were weighted towards the end of the week, so to have got Baghdad on the board yesterday knowing that we had this filly, Threading and Natalie’s Joy tomorrow still to come…yes we’re over the moon, looking forward to the rest of the day.”
G2 King Edward VII Stakes
Godolphin’s good week continued – as did that of Darley Stud – when Old Persian, a son of Dubawi, won the Group 2 King Edward VII Stakes.
The Charlie Appleby-trained winner (9-2) was given a fine ride by in-form William Buick, beating Rostropovich (7-1) and Giuseppe Garibaldi (15-2) by 1 3/4 lengths and a neck.
Appleby: “We had a great team of 2-year-olds last year, and I felt they all wintered well and came into the spring in great nick. This horse has done nothing but progress through the spring, and we felt this was the right race for him and that stepping up in trip would suit.
“We were confident and I told Will to go forward with him, and if someone wanted to take the lead, then we would be delighted.
“You saw William make a great manoeuvre after the first 2 or 3 furlongs. He just sat on Frankie (Dettori)’s quarters because we know Frankie on the front end is always dangerous, and when he looked through his legs and had everyone stacked up behind I knew William was in the right place.
“I was so pleased 1/2 a mile out with the way he was travelling and once this horse hit the front I was confident he would see it out well given the pace they had gone. He had shown a turn of foot over a mile and 1/4 so I knew what he could do.
“He’s a typical son of Dubawi – he’s improved from 2 to 3 and I’m sure he will progress from 3 to 4. We wanted to mind him because we liked him and felt he had the scope to become a good horse. It’s still a building stage. (Ex-jockey) Oscar Urbina rides him every day now, but Jen, who led him up, rode him as a 2-year-old but happily held her hands up and said he had become too much for her between 2 to 3 so Oscar popped on and it’s worked out well and produced him for today – it’s a real team effort.”
Asked if the William Hill St Leger could figure in Old Persian’s plans, Appleby said: “William said it could be something to keep an eye on, but I’m happy to stay at a mile and 1/2 given the pace he has shown at shorter trips. I’ve put him in the Grand Prix de Paris (run in July), and that is one for option.
“I am delighted for the whole team. This is what Royal Ascot is all about.”
G1 Commonwealth Cup
Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum’s Shadwell operation landed its second Group 1 Commonwealth Cup since the race’s inception in 2015, when Eqtidaar won the latest edition for trainer Sir Michael Stoute.
Eqtidaar followed in the hoofprints of Shadwell’s Muhaarar, who stepped up from his Royal Ascot victory in 2015 to become champion sprinter, unbeaten in a further three Group 1 contests, and now regarded as a very promising young sire at the Sheikh’s Shadwell Stud in Norfolk. His first crop will appear as 2-year-olds in 2019.
A home-bred, by the stallion Invincible Spirit, Eqtidaar has some way to go to match Muhaarar’s feats, but he is on his way following victory over his 21 rivals in today’s sprint. A 12-1 shot, ridden by Jim Crowley, he beat Sands Of Mali (15-2) and Emblazoned (12-1) by 1/2 a length and 1 length.
Sir Michael was not shocked by the victory, although Eqtidaar had not won on his three previous starts, following a winning debut as a 2-year-old.
The trainer said: “We have always liked this horse. I thought things just didn’t go quite right for him the first time he ran here in the Pavilion Stakes. Then at Newbury last time, he was on the wrong side of the track and at halfway was too far out of his ground.
“He worked very well the other weekend under Jim Crowley, so we were hopeful.
“He just showed how talented (a sprinter) he is. We have had some good ones like Marwell, Ajdal, and Green Desert. He is progressing nicely.”
Eqtidaar was given a quote of 16-1 for the Group 1 Darley July Cup, but Sir Michael said he would have to discuss options with the Sheikh before making a plan for the colt.
GIDU SIXTH BUT VELAZQUEZ HAPPY TO BE HERE
Overseas visitor Gidu, trained by Todd Pletcher in New York State, came home a creditable sixth in the Commonwealth Cup.
Pletcher was not in attendance, but jockey John Velazquez, who rode the grey Frankel colt, commented: “I thought he went and ran well.
“It was a good effort. It was a tough race.
“I love to be here! You love to win. Winning is the most important bit but as long as they run and try hard, you can’t beat that. Especially here.”
Gidu ran a big race. Proud of him! We will take him home to the US and map out a plan for him with Todd. @ZayatStables will he back at Royal Ascot one day soon. What an unbelievable experience! Thank you Her Majesty for hosting us.
— Justin Zayat (@JustinZayat) June 22, 2018
G1 Coronation Stakes
Trainer Jessica Harrington broke her Royal Ascot maiden tag in style today, her Mastercraftsman filly Alpha Centauri, owned and bred by the Niarchos family, winning the Group 1 Coronation Stakes by 6 lengths and in a course record time of 1:35.89 from the Mark Johnston-trained Threading.
Winner of the Irish 1,000 Guineas, she was one of three Guineas winners coming into the race, and on paper it looked a hugely competitive renewal of the race over Ascot’s round mile. Alpha Centauri loomed upsides the leaders coming into the home straight and jockey Colm O’Donoghue kicked early, the pair put the race to bed in a matter of strides.
A beaming Alan Cooper, racing manager to the Niarchos family, said: “We always been happy with the filly and Jessie lets the horses do the talking, and there was nothing negative ahead of the race. She does the training and said everything was good and so you just have to take the chance. Going into the race we were very nervous, looking at the form of the others, but we’ve shown them all today.
“I don’t need to tell you anything about Jessie – her record and her achievements tell you everything. I saw the filly on Saturday and she looked wonderful. She travelled well and what happened today was amazing. It’s the Niarchos family’s third Coronation win and it is fabulous for our broodmares.”
Harrington, also a successful Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning trainer, said: “First, I am relieved; I definitely was very nervous today as I know she is a great filly. It was rather nice going into the Irish 1,000 Guineas as we were very much under the radar, she hadn’t run well on soft ground two runs before that – today we were there to be shot at.
“I suppose we were very disappointed when we were beaten here with Alpha Centauri last year when she was second in the Albany Stakes – but that’s racing, some things happen and some things don’t happen – it’s great when it does all come together.
Of the filly’s preferences, Harrington explained: “The ground is the key to her. As you see there, she is a very big filly – she weighs 520kg (approximately 1,146 lbs) – and I think when she is on soft ground she physically can’t get her feet out of the ground. She just floats on top of the ground. What she wants is good ground, what she doesn’t want is heavy ground.
“Colm was very confident on her, she jumped well and settled great and when Colm turned in I thought ‘jeepers, he has gone very soon,’ but the further she went the quicker she went.”
Of training her first Royal Ascot winner, Harrington said: “I have a lot of good people behind me and a lot of very nice owners who give me nice horses. It’s very special (to have a Royal Ascot winner). I have had Ascot winners but never Royal Ascot winners – it is absolutely fantastic. I had sort of been getting to the stage – with Torcedor going very near yesterday – of thinking ‘will it ever happen?’ She was my last runner this week, so I said to myself that it was now or never.
“I was getting more and more nervous because it was a very good race. She has a fantastic temperament and is very easy to train. Probably the key for her is that she is so relaxed – Colm said that was only doing a half-speed going up the hill. She is a big-striding filly and Colm didn’t want to break her stride at all.
“She only ever works on the bridle at home, but she did that sort of run in the Irish Guineas, when she had to go and catch the horse in front of her and then stayed on.”
As for future race plans, Cooper said: “I have to talk to Jessie and Maria and Electra, but there is a race at Deauville in the middle of August that the family sponsors, it might be an option.”
Harrington added: “I really have to sit down and talk to Alan and Colm, and try and make the right decisions for her. We can dream, plan and see where the owners would like to take her.”
When comparing the feeling of a top level success jumping compared with on the Flat, Harrington said: “Any winner is a great winner, and to have a Grade 1 winner over jumps or a Group 1 winner on the Flat, it is the same feeling, it is fantastic.
“Flat racing is over quicker, which is great, jumping you’ve got to go 3 miles and 2 furlongs and over fences and it’s an awful lot of time and you’ve got to have an awful lot of heart jumping out of the mud.
“My yard is now about 50-50jumping horses to Flat horses. I have a great team and lots of family work for me – both daughters work for me and I am about to get my son in law too. I hope we’ll get on well together!”
Lambourn trainer Ed Walker gained a well-deserved first Royal Ascot success in his eighth season with a licence when Agrotera romped home in the Sandringham Handicap.
The filly became a second winner this week for racehorse owner and breeder Bjorn Nielsen, who owns the Kingsdown Stables where Walker is based, and who yesterday enjoyed the thrill of a Group 1 Gold Cup victory with another home-bred horse, Stradivarius. Agrotera (11-2 favorite) won a good bit more easily than that colt, scoring by 2 3/4 lengths from Ortiz (66-1), and there was another length and a neck to Escape The City (66-1) and fourth-placed Desert Diamond (10-1).
Now in his second season at Nielsen’s base, having started his career in Newmarket, Walker, who trains about a dozen horses for his landlord, said: “That’s epic. We’ve been hitting the crossbar in the past three weeks, left, right and centre, with lots of fancied horses getting beaten. We’ve run 30-odd horses without a winner coming into this meeting, and it’s been dreadful.
“As a trainer you are a constant worrier, and it doesn’t do your confidence any good coming here to take on the world’s best. However, we knew we had a very good filly and she was on a very good mark of 88, and she proved that today. I was full of confidence about her, even though the horses had been running well but not winning, which was almost worst.
“She got a bit hot in the preliminaries today, and that worried me a bit, but she was fine. That will be her last handicap run, but I don’t know what her next target will be.
“Bjorn Nielsen is a great guy and it’s a wonderful set-up. He’s been a great supporter of ours over the past 18 months; he breeds magnificent horses like this filly and Stradivarius, and while he’s a relatively small breeder he’s very good at it and thinks about it a lot. He’s got a great team working with him and advising him.
“Every year my assistant says, ‘What’s the target this year?’ and I always say a Group 1 winner and a Royal Ascot winner. This means everything. The whole world is watching and it’s so hard to win here.
“I remember it took (trainer) Ralph (Beckett) 17 years to gain his first Royal winner, and Marco Botti is a great trainer who has been around a while and only trained his first winner yesterday. It’s tough, because everyone is trying their hardest and bringing their best horses.”
Duke Of Edinburgh Handicap
An emotional David Elsworth, with a few tears behind his dark glasses, welcomed the 7-2 favorite Dash Of Spice back to the winners’ enclosure after victory in the concluding Duke Of Edinburgh Handicap. The 4-year-old son of Teofilo is the trainer’s 16th Royal Ascot winner and first since 2007 – his first-ever winner coming in 1980.
Elsworth said: “Despite the hike in the weights since Epsom and going up 11 pounds, Dash Of Spice seems to be ahead of the handicapper. I thought he was a certainty – I’d have been pissed off if he did not win today!
“No, really one only hopes as it’s a tough place to come and win. He has pleased us, and it seems a few years since I last had a winner here. He got across from the outside draw and got a kick in the belly from Silvestre and won well.
“Dash Of Spice has only run seven times, but he is a good horse, a lovely horse, he is still very lightly-raced.
“It is great for (owner) Jeff Smith, who is a top supporter. He puts 15 or 20 horses in training every year and it is good for him to win here. I think it is only about our fourth winner at Royal Ascot together. With increasing years, I thought that was it! It’s nice to win for someone who supports you so well.
“You need someone to support you as Jeff does, he says ‘whatever you think Elsie, I am with you’; I can’t tell you how important that is when training horses. Jeff is a great man to have on your side and he’s had horses with me for about 20 or 30 years.
“The Ebor or the John Smith’s Cup are considerations, this is an improving horse and would suit. I’d love to win the Ebor, I am not a Yorkshire man, but to win the Ebor again would be great.
“Then, of course, and you have to be rated 100 or something, but if the gods are shining on old Elsie and Jeff, well we went to Melbourne with Persian Punch a couple of times, and if it could happen, we’d love to take this horse to Melbourne.
“But I think I am galloping away with emotion, this is only a handicap win after all!”
An equally emotional owner-breeder Jeff Smith said: “That was Royal Ascot winner number nine – and I must be 109 now! This is a good horse and to win at Epsom and then come here, it is wonderful. He has just taken a long time to come to hand, but we know the family backwards, we’ve had lots of success with it.”
Of Desert Skyline, who disappointed in the Gold Cup yesterday, Elsworth said: “That was not his running, he blew the house down after and did not finish his race out. We’ve taken bloods today, but he was working well with this horse beforehand.”
Source: Ascot Racecourse