Monday 1 July 2013

Reflections on a Right Royal Ascot

Right from the off, this year’s Royal Ascot was a highly charged and emotional event. No sooner had there been a poignant minute’s silence in memory of Sir Henry Cecil than the meeting kicked off with the appropriately named Declaration Of War scooting home in the Queen Anne for the Magnier clan and their Florida-based new partner Joseph Allen, who owns the sire, War Front. (By the way, that splendid mare Zenyatta is now in foal to him.) This collaboration is all part of the battle for supremacy in the global bloodstock market, and was richly rewarded again when War Command slammed his field in the Coventry to become 5/1 favourite for next year’s 2000 Guineas. There must have been added pleasure for Sheikh Mohammed therefore when his Dawn Approach bounced back from the disaster of the Derby to win the St. James’s Palace Stakes. I doubt if Jim Bolger is flavour of the month at the moment with the Coolmore mafia, since he has allowed the Sheikh access by the back door to their magnificent Galileo bloodline. The mix of owners in the St. James’s Palace though hammers home why Flat racing is such a challenge for the average owner who can rarely aspire to the top rank: nine runners, with the owners being Godolphin, Khalid Abdullah, Mrs. John Magnier (with Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith) (x 3 horses), Ahmad Abdullah Al Shaikh, Mrs. Bolger and Sheikh Joaan Bin Hamad Al Thani (x 2). Having said that, later in the meeting it was a delight to listen to the co-owners of Clive Cox’s Lethal Force after they had won the Diamond Jubilee Stakes with a horse that only cost them €8,500 (which is about the same amount that we paid for our Aran Sky at the same sale in Ireland a couple of years later. No pressure on Karl & Elaine Burke, then!)

But without any doubt this year’s Ascot was a bad time to be a republican. Estimate’s hugely popular win for the Queen in the Gold Cup on Ladies’ Day will long be remembered as the highlight of the meeting. Obviously royal involvement has been a striking feature since the whole spectacle started in 1711, but the Queen’s enthusiasm for racing has rarely been so well rewarded, as she became the first monarch ever to have a Gold Cup winner, and it was her first Group 1 win in Britain since Dunfermline won the St. Leger in 1977. I well remember that race since it was the first Classic that I ever went to, and unfortunately for me lost a packet on Alleged, the horse Dunfermline beat. Alas he didn’t stay, although he was a terrific horse who won the Arc twice for Vincent O’Brien (and as an aside produced Shantou, the sire of our Shantou Magic).

It probably shouldn’t have come as a surprise that Estimate possesses the stamina needed to win this marathon Flat race. Her half-brother Enzeli also won it, and her sire Monsun throws many staying types. I’d love to have one of them in the Owners for Owners National Hunt portfolio, and will definitely be keeping an eye out for Shirocco stores. Wasn’t it great though for racing to be on the front pages for all the right reasons. I suspect it is only a matter of time now before John Warren, the Queen’s racing adviser and buyer of the Highclere horses, is elevated to the peerage. It was unbelievable to see the Queen so excited throughout the final couple of furlongs of the race – just like any other owner, in fact. Mind you, John looked as though he was about to get really carried away and embrace her at one point. It could have been a fine line between a peerage or the Tower.

I know we have the self-styled Champions’ Day at Ascot in the Autumn, but surely the only genuine Flat champions’ meeting in the UK is this one. Increasingly, international racing at the highest level is a real asset of the sport, with huge potential to raise racing’s profile and bring in much-needed revenue. Wouldn’t it be better if the racing authorities worldwide agreed on a proper World Series that tied together, in a sensible and coherent way, the top races in the UK, Ireland, France, Dubai, Hong Kong, Japan, Australia and the USA? At the moment, for example, if you run a horse at Champions’ Day you are really ruling out your chances of competing at the Breeders’ Cup. That can’t make much sense.

Finally though it is only appropriate to say a few words about the other immensely popular winner of the week. Anyone who watched the post-race interview with Lady Cecil after Riposte’s victory in the Ribblesdale couldn’t help but be struck by her grace and poise as she struggled to describe what the win meant. It definitely felt as though it was the 76th Royal Ascot win for Sir Henry. How sad then that the Cecils’ horse Thomas Chippendale, having won the Hardwick, collapsed and died.

Highs and lows of racing often follow in rapid succession. Yes, our sport is certainly a helter-skelter of emotions.


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