Oriental Fox fought off Thomas Hobson in the finale of another enthralling yet frustrating week of racing at Royal Ascot. The favourite could not be beat in the last according to most, me included, and in a fine summary of the week the 10/1 shot was a surprisingly game winner. There were many outstanding performances, in combination with some huge disappointments. New stars emerged, and many stars we have become accustomed to delivered on the biggest stage.
The Stars of the Show
On the opening day Lady Aurelia showed her Queen Mary romp a year ago was no one off. She was in another league to her rivals, and why it might not be considered the deepest King’s Stand it included the Abbaye winner and runner-up, Goldream, Priceless and last years winner, Profitable. She went to the front on the bridle, as the others toiled in behind and as soon as she was given a kick she exploded into action. Her options remain open and nothing has been mentioned with much conviction; the Nunthorpe would be a brilliant race for the neutral if Wesley Ward decided another trip to York could be on the agenda.
The Gold Cup was the race of the week and Big Orange only furthered his reputation amongst racing fans. It looked as if, just like last year, Order Of St George would hunt down the leader close to home and claim victory for Ballydoyle. But this is Big Orange, and to the delight of connections and most EW punters the 6YO stayer kept on finding when defeat looked a certainty. What a race, what a horse.
The Commonwealth Cup was dubbed the race of the week in the build up and the big three all arrived at the party as was hoped. The Godolphin pair of Harry Angel and Blue Point more than ran their race, and Caravaggio looked threatened for the first time in his career. But there can be no doubting Caravaggio now, who through some traffic picked up like the monster he is and was driven home by a smooth Ryan Moore in some finish. All three horses would put it to the older sprinters and a July Cup rematch could be on the cards. I think Harry Angel may drop down to 5F and a clash with Lady Aurelia would be fun for everyone. Here’s hoping.
I want to highlight three horses that emerged onto the scene throughout the week. September is an obvious place to start, now unbeaten in two starts and both as easy as each other. She’s already as short as 5/1 in some books for the 1000 Guineas and already looks like a step up in trip will bring out more improvement. It’s early days, but she could still be anything.
Le Brivido put up one of the most under rated performances of the meet. Firstly, she won up the middle of the track – find me another horse that did this all week. On paper she may have only got up by a neck, but that distracts from just how good a run it was. Full of unexposed and talented horses, she showed her ability and potential, while backing up the French form of Brametot that continues to strengthen. The drop down to 7F helped her, but she’ll easily stay a mile and looks a versatile and still improving filly for master trainer Andre Fabre to work his magic with.
Heartache ran amok in the Queen Mary and quickly put favourite backers back in their box with an impressive win over Wesley Ward’s odds-on Happy Like A Fool. Clive Cox’s juvenile backed up his 6L win on debut at Bath in the best way possible. Racing up the stands side, defeat never looked on the cards and Ward’s ‘banker’ of the week never got into the race. Cox is very much under rated when it comes to producing high quality horses, especially sprinters, and the syndicate that own the horse will be receiving plenty of offers in the coming weeks. She’ll get further and there are a host of options out there depending on just how much confidence they have in this filly.
ITV produced the bet coverage of the Royal meeting for a number of years. Yes, the fashion got very, very repetitive – but it’s open and relaxed presentation of the event was enjoyable without losing the sense of occasion around Ascot. Nick Luck was brilliant as the main host, but was never going to draw in people from outside of the sport. Ed Chamberlain holds many of the positives Luck brought us, but is more accessible and brings more fun to the mainstream coverage of the sport. There’s still work to be done on ITV and there were still many awkward moments. Sir AP McCoy hates flat racing and it’s blindingly obvious in his presenting. Francesca Cumani brings an international flavour to the show that is needed at meets like Ascot, but not so well suited to a weekend at Haydock and that balance needs to be found. I’ve warmed to Harvey and Weaver, and Oli Bell does a sterling job on the Opening Show considering a lot of the drivel he’s forced to present. Hayley Turner shouldn’t be near a screen or microphone and as soon as the producers cotton onto this, the better.
The draw bias, or no bias, was the most frustrating part of the week for me and many punters. The watering didn’t help, but the ground staff had no choice to avoid stupidly quick ground. It was the inconsistency from day to day that ensured we never quite knew where we stood. I have no doubt Ascot is about as fair a track as you can get and a lot depends on the pace in any split, but something wasn’t quite right with it this week. Not knowing if there was bias in the draws or whether it simply boiled down to pace makes it even harder to just accept during such an important week of racing.
The international aspect of the week also shouldn’t be forgotten. Wesley Ward came over with a team of ten raiders and flies back to the US with two trophies. Not many trainers leave Ascot with a 20% strike rate, all the more remarkable when you consider these horses have been flown halfway across the world. His contribution adds an extra layer of excitement to proceedings and we should congratulate him for his commitment and dedication to Ascot year on year. The French also had three winners, with Qemah winning her second race in two years at the meeting. There were also runners from South Africa and Argentina that show how appealing this meeting is across the world.
Just another year to wait until it all gets underway again. Oh well, only nine months till Cheltenham.