Ben Linfoot looks back on the five fantastic days of Royal Ascot 2021 by discussing the best horse and human participants of the week.
THE GOLD CUP. It’s always tempting to go for a thrilling finish with this one and while the Gold Cup didn’t have that, it had everything else.
We had the attempt at equalling Yeats’ record of four Gold Cups from Stradivarius – and the drama as his bid for history crumbled under a hapless Frankie Dettori on the turn for home.
We had the next chapter in the remarkable story of Tony Mullins’ Princess Zoe, runner-up here at 28/1 almost exactly a year on from being beaten in a Navan handicap off a mark of 64.
And we had the passing of the baton, from the old guard in Stradivarius to the new kid on the block, SUBJECTIVIST, a relentless galloper, who dusted himself down from some grazed knees following a fall at home at Middleham last week to win going away under veteran jockey Joe Fanning, who was winning the race for the first time.
It was a fourth success in the contest for trainer Mark Johnston, 26 years on from Double Trigger’s victory, and now Subjectivist will try and do a Double Trigger by going for the Goodwood Cup – a race Johnston’s original staying king won three times.
Subjectivist is the one to beat now, but a potential rematch over two miles in Sussex with Stradivarius – who will be going for an incredible fifth successive Goodwood Cup - already sets the pulse racing a little faster. The staying division is alive and well.
RYAN MOORE ON LOVE. After more instances than he would like of being on the wrong Ballydoyle horse recently, the pressure was on Ryan Moore aboard LOVE in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes, but he responded by giving her a peach of a ride to win from the front.
It’s difficult to argue this was a vintage renewal – especially with last year’s winner Lord North being withdrawn on the morning of the race – and you wouldn’t say Love was at last year’s brilliant best, either, but she received maximum assistance from the saddle.
Reverting to front-running tactics that she got used to as a juvenile, Moore set the perfect fractions for his filly up front, making it enough of a test of stamina while keeping some petrol in the tank for a strong finishing effort.
She needed it, too, as Audarya loomed up on her outside in the final quarter mile, but Moore had kept enough in reserve to win by three-quarters-of-a-length.
This bare form isn’t enough to have you running to the betting shops to back her for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at odds of around 5/1, particularly as there remains a doubt about her ability to go on softer ground, but as platforms for the season go, especially considering this came on her first go against the colts after 300 days off, this was as good as it gets.
And the economical and controlling ride from Moore was to thank for that. It turns out all he needed was Love.
ANDREW BALDING. John & Thady Gosden ran ANDREW BALDING close. They came into the meeting with a self-confessed ‘worst Classic crop in living memory’ and went away with four prizes, including the Ribblesdale thanks to three-year-old filly, Loving Dream.
That form looks about as trustworthy as Dominic Cummings, though, but at least Team Gosden went back to Clarehaven with the top trainer(s) award (on countback) and there were signs of green shoots of recovery amongst the youngsters – thanks to Dhabab’s unlucky sixth in the Coventry Stakes and Reach For The Moon's credible second in the Chesham.
But the Coventry, the second race of the meeting, was won by Balding’s BERKSHIRE SHADOW and it set the tone for the week for the Kingsclere handler.
Another previously-once-raced juvenile, SANDRINE, landed the Albany Stakes in fine style, belying her 16/1 starting price, but the best was yet to come on the rain-sodden Friday card as ALCOHOL FREE sailed home in the Coronation Stakes as she turned the Guineas form on its head.
On Saturday FOXES TALES progressed from his Dee Stakes education to land Golden Gates Handicap glory for Balding, Oisin Murphy and King Power, a significant success for the Thai owners that have put so much into the sport over the last few years.
And Balding’s grand total of four winners for the week is reflective of his standing in the game now. It was his best ever Royal Ascot by some distance – beating his 2019 tally of two, the only previous occasion he had achieved more than one victory at the meeting.
OISIN MURPHY. The low point of OISIN MURPHY’s week came when he lost the Commonwealth Cup in the stewards’ room.
First past the post on Dragon Symbol, he deserved to have the race taken off him after carrying Campanelle across the track but it was touch and go for the stewards and time may well tell he was on the best horse. Hopefully he can prove it on faster ground in the July Cup.
If he did feel aggrieved he channelled it in the most positive of directions. Murphy is good when he’s angry and he bounced back from the disappointment by winning the very next race, the Group One Coronation Stakes, aboard ALCOHOL FREE, his potentially tricky wide draw immediately negated as the whole group stayed towards the far rail under the trees.
He got cover quickly and that helped her travel tremendously well deep into the contest – sparking a wonderful moment just inside the final furlong where Murphy had the time to leisurely whip off his goggles for his finishing kick.
Not content with that, he won the next race, as well, aboard QUICKTHORN, taking his tally to four for the week following his earlier wins on BERKSHIRE SHADOW and PEROTTO, who benefitted from a sumptuous straight-course ride from the champion in the Britannia.
Pure class from Murphy and he finished the week as leading jockey with five winners thanks to that Golden Gates victory aboard FOXES TALES for his old ally Balding - a late but extravagant drift across the track not costing him this time given he was so far clear.
POETIC FLARE. If the jury was still out on Jim Bolger’s POETIC FLARE heading into the St James’s Palace Stakes there was a unanimous verdict afterwards.
Ladies and gentleman, this is a top notch three-year-old miler, alright. Good to Firm ground could be key to him showing his best, as he bounced off the fast turf on day one to record an authoritative victory in a brilliant time and his rivals simply couldn’t live with him.
Below form in the French Guineas on very soft ground, he ran a cracker in similar conditions in the Irish equivalent but this was a cut above even his Newmarket Guineas success, the disparity between himself and Lucky Vega, beaten on both occasions, telling us that.
He looks the best three-year-old miler on this evidence, with only St Mark’s Basilica, who beat him at Longchamp in the Poulains, looking a likely rival for that crown if he drops back in trip following his Prix du Jockey Club win.
A match-up between the two on fast ground looks unlikely given Aidan O’Brien has steered St Mark’s Basilica away from such conditions, so a crack against older miler Palace Pier in the Sussex Stakes looks a more likely clash to look forward to.
That all depends on if John & Thady Gosden are prepared to take him on, though, as Palace Pier would have to give Poetic Flare 8lb at Goodwood and he has other options in France.
They look two high-class milers. Both have breathed new life into a division that looked to crumble a little when last year’s Sussex Stakes didn’t work out as hoped. This year’s Sussex Stakes could be a race to savour – and I’m sure there will be a divided court when it comes to predicting the outcome if the big two do turn up.
DAVID MENUISIER: WONDERFUL TONIGHT. Yes, soggy Friday - when 44mm fell at Royal Ascot on a day of unprecedented rainfall - worked in David Menuisier’s favour.
But this was still a fantastic training performance to prepare WONDERFUL TONIGHT for Hardwicke Stakes success on her first start for 235 days.
The Le Havre filly made rapid strides as a three-year-old, winning the Prix de Royallieu and Fillies & Mares on Champions Day for an October Group One double, but she looks even better at four on this evidence.
She travelled beautifully throughout under William Buick, but it was the turn of foot to seal the contest late in proceedings that marked this out as a special performance. This was also a very solid renewal of the Hardwicke, despite the five non runners that left a field of 10.
And Menuisier reckoned beforehand that she was only 85 per cent fit for her seasonal reappearance.
Ominously, she improved with each run last season. On this evidence, if she does the same this campaign, she’s a very realistic contender for Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe glory in October.
PAUL HANAGAN. “I am lucky to be here at all never mind riding winners,” said an emotional PAUL HANAGAN moments after winning the Norfolk Stakes by a whisker aboard PERFECT POWER for his old boss, Richard Fahey.
“The period after my accident was a character building few months. I fractured my T3, T4 and T6 vertebrae and the T6 was properly crushed. With the operation and the physio there were a few dark days. To make it back here and ride a winner tops everything I have done.”
More than most, Hanagan has perspective. Considering he’s been crowned Champion Jockey and has won the Oaks and King George on Taghrooda – and the July Cup and Champions Sprint on Muhaarar, when he rode for the late Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum – this statement carries weight.
After that horror fall at Newcastle, it could’ve been all over for Hanagan. To make it back and win on the biggest stage, he considered it the greatest achievement of his career. Now that’s Perfect.
FRANKEL and DARK ANGEL. Three wins apiece for FRANKEL and DARK ANGEL who were tied at the top of the sire standings.
Frankel’s Classic crop continue to impress and Mohaafeth (11/8) was his most high-profile winner in the Hampton Court, closely followed by the rejuvenated Juan Elcano (14/1) in the Wolferton and Amtiyaz (33/1) in the Copper Horse Stakes (Frankel had the one-two in that race, with Dubious Affair finishing second).
Dark Angel got off to a flyer with Berkshire Shadow winning the Coventry at 11/1 and all three of his progeny’s successes came at big prices, with Indie Angel (22/1) in the Duke of Cambridge Stakes and Real World (18/1) in the Royal Hunt Cup adding to his haul.
Night of Thunder also deserves a mention, his fillies Lola Showgirl (12/1) and Highfield Princess (18/1) completing a big-price-big-handicap double for the Darley stallion.
PROJECT DANTE. Bryan Smart has never won the Gimcrack at York but he might have his best ever chance this year with PROJECT DANTE who was an unlucky loser in the Norfolk Stakes.
Repeatedly denied a run towards the stands’ side from two furlongs out, he kept on well on the rail once in the clear but the split second he had to wait proved crucial as he was denied by a quarter of a length.
His maiden win at the Dante meeting worked out well with the second, third, fourth and fifth subsequently winning and he confirmed that promise in this performance, which was a serious improvement on his York victory.
He’s bred for six furlongs and this is good evidence that he should appreciate the sixth furlong already, so it would be no surprise if Smart is now working back from the Gimcrack at the Ebor Festival in August. Project Dante? Project Ebor.
WILLIAM HAGGAS: MOHAAFETH. Strictly speaking the key decision surrounding MOHAAFETH came when William Haggas pulled him out of the Cazoo Derby hours before the Epsom showpiece on the first Saturday in June.
At the time it was disappointing, there’s only one Derby, after all, but it’s a call that’s hard to argue with now given he drifted significantly to his right under pressure in the closing stages of the Hampton Court, hampering Roman Empire - but not enough to affect the result considering the winning margin.
Jim Crowley received a six-day careless riding ban for cutting across Roman Empire and, while that was well deserved, it does make you think that it wasn’t just the 1m4f trip that Mohaafeth might have struggled with at Epsom.
Some Hampton Court winners have flattered to deceive and Haggas will be hoping Mohaafeth develops in a more positive way than the likes of Sangarius and Russian Emperor have in recent years.
The good thing is he’s still progressing and considering his wayward finish you have to think there’s more to come. Before that he had travelled beautifully and it’s not really a surprise to hear Haggas mulling over the possibility of dropping him back in trip.
Perhaps he can be the one from leftfield to give Poetic Flare a thing or two to think about at some stage of the season.