ASCOT, BERKSHIRE, ENGLAND – Day Three of Royal Ascot will be one to remember as we saw a thrilling Group 1 Gold Cup and another Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series race at Royal Ascot. See the full day’s recap below:
G2 Norfolk Stakes
British racing’s finest American import, Wesley Ward, had not enjoyed the best Royal Ascot until Shang Shang Shang landed the Group 2 Norfolk Stakes.
Victory for the filly against colts – the first such success since Superstar Leo beat male rivals in 2000 – was particularly sweet following the defeats of strongly-fancied Chelsea Cloisters and Lady Aurelia earlier in the week, although Shang Shang Shang did not make things easy for her trainer when prevailing on the nod by the smallest of margins. A 5-1 chance, she beat 20-1 shot Pocket Dynamo from Robert Cowell’s stable, with Land Force at 7-1 a further 1/2 a length down in third.
With the win, Shang Shang Shang became the first horse this year to earn an automatic berth into the new Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint through the international Breeders’ Cup Challenge.
The Breeders’ Cup Challenge is an international series of 82 stakes races, whose winners receive automatic starting positions and fees paid into a corresponding race of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, which will be held at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, November 2-3.
As part of the benefits of the Challenge series, the Breeders’ Cup will pay the entry fees for Shang Shang Shang to start in the Juvenile Turf Sprint at 5.5 furlong, which is an open race for both 2-year-old males and fillies. Breeders’ Cup will also provide a $40,000 travel allowance for all starters base outside of North America to compete in the World Championships.
Ward said of the Joel Rosario-ridden winner: “To do this with a filly is quite unbelievable. I come here every year, but we were kinda scratching our heads for a few days and felt like we were back at the beginning and wondering if we were in the wrong place or not.
“We had done all the planning just as before but it wasn’t coming through – thank God it did today. Barely!
“I thought she had just done it, but you are never sure and I wanted to wait until the [photo finish] announcement before believing it.
“I felt this filly was better than Chelsea Cloisters on firm ground, but not on soft ground. Unfortunately Chelsea Cloisters just didn’t get a breather (during the race) like this filly did. I feel good right now.”
The American then paid tribute to all his staff, emphasising their work in getting his team fit and ready to cross the Atlantic, and gave credit to Rosario, saying: “I have got to tell you something about this jockey. He is fabulous. He has put the time and effort in, which is why he is here. He has won Derbys, World Cups, yet he was in every day breezing my 2-year-olds all winter long.”
Ward has been popular with the press for the interviews he has given ahead of and during his annual visits to Royal Ascot, but today he turned the tables, expressing his thanks, with feeling, for the reception given to him by the media.
The importance of his achievements – this was his 10th Royal Ascot winner – then seemed to hit home and he became slightly emotional before adding: “This really is the best, and everybody has been so gracious.”
Tomorrow Ward runs Stillwater Cove in the Group 3 Albany Stakes, while on Saturday he is represented by Bound For Nowhere in the G1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes, Moonlight Romance in the Listed Windsor Castle Stakes and Undrafted in the Wokingham Handicap.
G3 Hampton Court Stakes
Ryan Moore rode his 50th Royal Ascot winner for one of the meeting’s most successful partnerships when Hunting Horn landed the Group 3 Hampton Court Stakes over 10 furlongs.
Moore, who wore the all-navy silks synonymous with Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith, drove the Aidan O’Brien-trained colt to victory by 4 1/2 lengths, an emphatic win that made up for his sixth in the recent G1 Prix du Jockey-Club. The 5-1 winner beat 16-1 chance Crossed Baton, who was 1/2 a length clear of Zaaki, 14-1.
QIPCO’s Royal Ascot top jockey in seven of the last eight years, Moore also holds the post-war record of nine winners at any one Royal Meeting, a feat he achieved in 2015.
Following his second win at this year’s meeting, Moore said: “Hunting Horn has progressed with every start this year.
“The race today went nice and smoothly for him. He got there and had a little look around. It wasn’t until I got after him in the last furlong that he started stretching.
“He is a progressive horse and that was obviously a big jump up on what he has done before. He is getting better and hopefully will carry on that way.”
On behalf of the owners, Derrick Smith said: “He ran very well today and was a little unlucky in France where he got a bit impeded. They can often bunch up [in races] in France, but he put it right today.
“This is a double whammy for us because he’s a son of Camelot (the Derby winner owner by Smith, Magnier and Tabor), which makes the win even more pleasing.
“People say we had a bad day on Tuesday, but we had the second in the Coventry Stakes and the third in the St James’s Palace Stakes – I suppose we expect to be in the winner’s enclosure every time, but it wasn’t a bad day from our point of view.”
Asked about the secret of O’Brien’s ability as a trainer, Smith replied: “The question is always asked and everyone knows the answer – he’s a genius, pure and simple.”
G2 Ribblesdale Stakes
Magic Wand’s Group 2 Ribblesdale Stakes victory provided trainer Aidan O’Brien with a quick-fire 25-1 double, following immediately on the heels of Hunting Horn’s Hampton Court Stakes success.
The Ryan Moore-ridden filly, a daughter of Galileo, was sent off at 10-3 and beat the Charlie Appleby-trained 9-4 favorite Wild Illusion into second.
Magic Wand was always prominent throughout the mile and 1/2 race and came to the front after rounding the turn into the home straight. She quickly drew clear of the field and won impressively by 4 lengths in 2:28.52.
It takes O’Brien to the top of the QIPCO Royal Ascot Top Trainer Award with three wins for the week, and means he has now trained a total of 64 Royal Ascot winners.
He said: “We were very happy with Magic Wand after the Oaks (she finished fourth to stablemate Forever Together) – the ground went unusually soft in Epsom – and she came out of it well in every sense. Jamie who looks after her and Yvonne, who rides her every day, and Seamus, who rides her in her work, were very happy with her. We are delighted.”
Asked about future plans for Magic Wand and Forever Together, O’Brien replied: “Forever Together might go back to the Pretty Polly, and this filly might go to the Irish Oaks, and then they both might head for the Arc or something like that.
“Nothing is set in stone but we did feel the ground was a factor in Epsom. That doesn’t mean that if it comes again she might not act on it but I think it was a factor. We were hoping that on good ground she’d be the filly we saw in Chester (where she was an easy winner of the Cheshire Oaks, beating Forever Together).”
G1 Gold Cup
One of racing’s greatest trainers landed his first Group 1 Gold Cup at Royal Ascot today.
The famous race was a rare omission from the illustrious CV of Newmarket-based John Gosden, but the 4-year-old colt Stradivarius, owned and bred by Bjorn Nielsen and ridden by the inimitable Frankie Dettori, filled the vacancy in style. Stradivarius tracked his 7-4 joint-favorite, Order Of St George into the straight, but when that rival appeared to be emptying and Torcedor (14-1) went on, Dettori was alert to the danger and headed in pursuit.
He drove his mount past Torcedor and then had enough in reserve to hold the late-challenging French runner Vazirabad (9-2), who loomed as a danger, had every chance, but was fighting a losing battle near the line as the winner began to inch away. Vazirabad, ridden by Christophe Soumillon, took second, beaten 3/4 of a length, and there was a head back to Torcedor in third. Order Of St George, who won the Gold Cup in 2016 and was second last year, had to be content with fourth.
Gosden said: “It was an extraordinary race. Frankie said they didn’t go that quick, and his heels were definitely down early on, which meant the horse was taking him on.
“Frankie got himself out of a pocket, which was essential with the pacemaker coming back, and got himself in the perfect position. But as usual, Mr Soumillon was waiting like all good Frenchman to pounce late and frustrate us.
“What an exciting finish that was – and look at the line-up as they headed to the line. That’s a pretty smart front four.
“It was a fascinating tactical race, because if Frankie had gone too soon there was the danger that Vazirabad would nail him – if he had committed to kill off a rival at the furlong pole the French could have come along to collect the prize so he had to be careful of that.”
Stradivarius had not run over today’s stamina-testing trip of 2 1/2 miles, although he had won the Goup 1 Goodwood Cup last year over 2 miles, as well as being placed in the Group 1 St Leger. Fears about his stamina for the Gold Cup began to evaporate inside the final furlong as he ran to the line tenaciously.
Gosden said: “He did see it out and he was going away at the finish. He’s a proper little staying horse that we call Mighty Mouse because he’s not very big – he looks a bit like a mini Trigger with his four white feet, but he is a gorgeous horse. He’s done it really, really well, and loves this ground as he can flick off it and quicken well.
“It’s lovely to win the Gold Cup – I’ve had horses placed in it a few times.”
Stradivarius is a son of the great racehorse Sea The Stars, and Gosden said: “Mr Nielsen has bred horses for years, but it’s interesting, you try to breed a Derby winner and end up with a Gold Cup winner.”
Stradivarius is now on track to land the W H Stayers’ Million, a £1m bonus designed to encourage breeders and owners to produce and/or buy staying horses. He won one of four designated prep races in May and now needs to win the Group 1 Qatar Goodwood Cup and York’s Weatherbys Hamilton Lonsdale Stakes to land the prize.
Gosden said: “He will go back to Goodwood next – he won the race last year – and then try for the Lonsdale Stakes. I’ve heard the bonus is well insured . . . ”
Britannia Heritage Handicap
Simon Crisford stood in the Royal Ascot winner’s enclosure many times during his years as Godolphin’s racing manager, but today he stood there for the first time as a victorious trainer.
3-year-old Ostillio, ridden by Silvestre de Sousa, made all the running down Ascot’s straight mile in the 30-runner Britannia Handicap to win by a length and 1/4 from Curiosity at odds of 10-1.
Crisford said: “Do you know something, I’m just so thrilled. It’s an unbelievable feeling. I came here with Godolphin; we’d always have four favourites on the first day, second day, third day – we’d win two, be beaten in the other two, 65-odd winners at the highest level, but I have to say, we never won the Britannia! So I’ve ticked that box now. Fantastic, and what a lovely horse; improving.
“I thought the handicapper had underrated him; when he was second at Yarmouth to (St James’s Palace Stakes winner) Without Parole, I said to (owner-breeder) Sheikh Mohammed Obaid, we were beaten by a good horse there. He said yes, we definitely were, but we were well clear of the third; the sectionals told us that we were much better than the horse that won the first division of that race and, without wanting to put a curse on the horse, I really fancied him and thought he would go well.
“Sheikh Mohammed Obaid is a great traditional owner-breeder who supports racing through thick and thin and has had some wonderful horses. My association with him goes back to the Dubawi days. Hence when I started training, he supported me and has been a great supporter.
“It was not the plan to make all. I said to Silvestre, ‘He could be a bit gassy, just hold on to him a bit, he’s got a turn of foot – just try and stalk the best. Anyway, I thought he was going far too quick in front and that about halfway we had cooked our goose. But he knows what he’s doing.”
Crisford was also congratulated in the winner’s enclosure by Sheikh Mohammed, the founder and driving force of Godolphin, and his family.
King George V Handicap
Mark Johnston rarely leaves the Royal Meeting without a winner, and his victory in the highly competitive 18-runner King George V Handicap with Baghdad was his 42nd Royal Ascot success.
The Frankel-sired Baghdad, a 9-1 chance, beat the Hughie Morrison-trained Corgi (Jim Crowley) by a neck under Andrea Atzeni. First Eleven, trained by John Gosden and ridden by Frankie Dettori, was third by a nose. Baghdad is owned by Mohammed bin Hamad Khalifa al Attiya.
Johnston said: “Turning for home, I think we had the first four! We said beforehand (eventual 14th) Communique was the favorite and he looked like he was going to be the one who was going to do it. But full credit to Baghdad and Andrea – they’ve stuck on dourly and stayed every inch of it (12 furlongs).
“That was great. He’s a real tough little horse. I thought he was maybe a bit more exposed than some of my others, but clearly not.”
Source: Ascot Racecourse