Stradivarius Out of Tune for The Ascot Gold Cup
The Princess Royal Princess Anne with her husband Admiral Tim Laurence were the Royals on duty today in place of H.M. The Queen who again was not present. After the blisteringly hot and humid day two at Ascot, day three dawned cloudy and with light rain at the course. Gold Cup day, the feature race of the whole week in many people’s eyes; the weather looked to become a factor for the rest of the week with thundery downpours anywhere across the country. So far Ascot missed the worst with just a small amount of rain compared with some, and not enough to change the day’s going from good to firm, the same as the first two days.
Like day two, there was only one Group 1 race on the card, The Gold Cup, but also similar, there were three other Group races. The Norfolk Stakes (Group 2), for 2 year old colts, the equivalent to the fillies’ Queen Mary run yesterday, over five furlongs; the Ribblesdale Stakes (Group 2) for 3 year old fillies only over 1 ½ miles, (the Ascot Oaks) and the Hampton Court Stakes (Group 3), again for 3 year olds only over 1 mile 2 furlongs.
The Gold Cup
This is a race with a great history. It was first run in 1807, and is the most prestigious stayers race in the racing calendar. The 2 mile 4 furlong race is open to 4 year olds and older, and has been won consecutively by only a very few horses, including one of today’s runners, Stradivarius. Already winner of the last three renewals, and today was bidding to become only the second horse ever to win the race four times, along with Yeats who achieved this incredible feat from 2006 to 2009 inclusively. The most winning jockey is Lester Piggott with eleven wins and the winning most trainer is Aidan O’Brien. It is always very emotional for those connections who win the race, particularly in 2013 when Sir Michael Stoute trained Estimate to win for The Queen.
This year Stradivarius faced twelve rivals to take his crown and some had some decent credentials to expect a good if not winning run. It was always going to be a nervous day for Frankie Dettori, The Strad’s jockey and trainer John Gosden. The first of the considered rivals was Trueshan trained by Alan King and ridden by Hollie Doyle. He took the long distance race at the Champion’s Day at Ascot last October with ease. However, the ground was soft that day. Mark Johnston, known for training longer distance horses, sent two down from Middleham. The first was Subjectivist, winner of Prix Royal Oak in Longchamp, a Group 1 two mile race, but the ground was ‘heavy’. The inform Andrew Balding had an interesting runner in Spanish Mission who was successful last season over 2 miles 2 furlongs on similar ground today in the Yorkshire Cup. No Group race at Ascot would be complete without an O’Brien runner, and this race has two from Aidan, and one each from his son’s Joseph and Donnacha. Aidan had the 2020 Epsom Derby winner Serpentine in the line-up and Joseph had maybe a better chance with Twilight Payment – winner of the 2 mile Melbourne Cup last year. One other mention, the only mainland Europe raider from Germany – Rip Van Lips sent over by Andrea Suborics.
Early in the afternoon, Alan King chose to withdraw Hollie Doyle’s ride, Trueshan, one of the expected star performers in this race. Alan King just felt that the ground was too hard for the horse as he was hoping and expected a considerable amount of rain before the race, particularly as it was forecast. During the preliminaries, Stradivarius was quieter than usual. He usually has shout or two at his rivals, but today seemed a little quiet. At the off, the O’Brien contingent took them along with Subjectivist ridden by Joe Fanning.
The race was panning out as was expected, but watching it one had to be worried that Frankie Dettori was being too boxed in on the rail by Princess Zoe ridden by John Sheridan for Irish trainer Tony Mullins. Just as the runners were starting to turn into the straight, Dettori was trying to get out but with little or no luck, and he was even nearly brought down in the rush to be able to produce Stradivarius for his run up the straight. The bump to the horse finished off any chance of a fourth win. The O’Brien runners faded away leaving the Johnston runner in the lead and able to push on towards the line being chased hard by Princess Zoe. As the line came, Stradivarius was running on well once he was able to, but the bird had flown with Subjectivist winning the race with some comfort with Princess Zoe coming second. Third home was Andrew Balding’s Spanish Mission ridden by William Buick. Stradivarius came in fourth.
The Other Races
The Norfolk Stakes for 2 year old colts was a total lottery in trying to predict the winner. Wesley Ward, from the USA had two runners including Lucci, a winner on his only start in the States on the dirt. Others from Aidan O’Brien was Cadamosto, also with one win under his belt; Clive Cox’s Instinctive Move, again with one run and one win and an interesting runner from the little known trainer David Loughnane from Shropshire, Go Bears Go, a distance and course winner on his only run. There were 16 runners lining up for the judge.
At the off, there was a withdrawal as Instinctive Move reared in the stalls and was taken out and did not run as a precautionary move. Once the gates opened, the 15 remaining runners quickly split into two groups and as they charged up in a fairly straight line with Go Bears Go and Perfect Dante in the lead. Just behind was Perfect Power who was driven through to take it on the line just ahead of the other two. The winners is trained by Richard Fahey and was ridden by Paul Hanagan who was lucky to be riding again after his bad accident when falling at Newcastle a few months ago where he broke his back in three places.
The Ribblesdale Stakes, the second Group 2 of the day, saw another big field of 13 runners taking on the 1 mile 4 furlong task. Sir Michael Stoute’s Noon Star was one of the more fancied ones here, second in the Musidora Stakes at York last time out behind Snowfall, recent winner of the Epsom Oaks. Roger Varian’s Eshaada had only had two runs in her life, but won both including a listed race at Newbury recently. This probably was not the strongest of renewals. In another roughish race with several of the fillies fighting for their heads; the pace settled as they came up the hill between the 10 to 4 furlong markers. At the turn, several were in a hopeless position including Noon Star who ended up out with the washing. The Gosden trained horse Lovers Dream came to the front and there she stayed to win quite comfortably ridden by Robert Halvin. Even Gosden remarked that he was surprised by the filly’s performance. Second home, was another Shadwell filly, blitzing up the near side with Jim Crowley riding like a daemon on Eshaada for trainer Roger Varian. Third home was Donnacha O’Brien’s Nicest ridden by Gavin Ryan.
The Hampton Court Stakes was the final Group race on today’s card and a Group 3 over 1 mile 2 furlongs, again for 3 year olds only. There were nine runners for this one including the three time unbeaten this season, Mohaafeth from William Haggas, and who was actually taken out of the Epsom Derby a couple of weeks ago as the ground went all wrong for the horse at the time. A lovely looking horse in the preliminaries, and one which we at Horse View UK really fancied was sent off favourite for this contest. As the race set off, they ran a breakneck speed for the first couple of furlongs with one of the O’Brien runners Matchless leading strongly. The race behind him turned into a rough time. Frankie Dettori was nearly brought down riding Snapraeterea in the mêlée. At this stage, Mohaafeth was out the back and out of trouble. As the nine runners rounded into the straight, Roman Empire, the other O’Brien runner took the lead with Ryan Moore with Secret Protector in close second.
In the final furlong, Mohaafeth with Jim Crowley on board came on the outside and took the lead but at the same time Mohaafeth cut in front of Roman Empire in what looked like careless riding from the leader as he made no effort to change hands of his whip to keep the horse straight. There was a steward’s enquiry where the result remained unchanged as Mohaafeth beat the second home by more than two lengths. In third was Secret Protector ridden by James Doyle and trained by Charlie Appleby. A footnote was that Jim Crowley was banned from race riding for six days for careless riding in the steward’s enquiry.
The big handicap of the day was The Britannia Stakes, another 30 runner cavalry charge over the straight mile. The race split into two early on and the winner was Perroto trained by Marcus Tregoning ridden by Oisin Murphy with Liffey River ridden by Shane Crosse trained by Joseph O’Brien coming second. In third was Quintillus for Charlie Appleby and William Buick.