Surreal 1st Day at Royal Ascot – some Excellent Racing.

Well the first major sporting event of the world since the global lock down has arrived – and very surreal it is, with the whole meeting being held entirely behind closed doors!  Royal Ascot begins. However, No Queen or Royal procession, no owners and none of the usual 60,000 crowd. Very odd!! This is the first year for 68 years that The Queen has not attended.

Empty Stands for Royal Ascot this year

Today’s meeting served up seven races, two Group 1s, three Group 2s and two handicaps. The order of racing has been changed this year, firstly to allow for an extra six races to be run over the five day meeting and secondly to allow for a decent break for horses which have either recently run, or who are due to run soon. For example, the King Edward VII Stakes (known as the Ascot Derby) was run today, whereas it is normally run on the Friday of the meeting. This will give an extra three days for runners to enter and run in the Epsom Derby to be held on July 4th, usually already run three weeks before the Royal Meeting, and over the meeting there are several other races moved for the same reason.

The going for the day was good to soft as the meeting opened with a handicap, a new race just for this year, The Buckingham Handicap for 3 year olds and up over seven furlongs. There were 24 runners and was won by the Richard Hannon trained Matakhayyel ridden by Jim Crowley.

Circus Maximus – winner fo The Queen Anne.

The second race was the first of the Group 1 races, The Queen Anne Stakes, which is normally the opening race of the meeting. This race had 15 runners over the straight mile for 4 year olds and up. The favourite for the race was Circus Maximus, the first of the week’s big guns for Aiden O’Brien. Another well fancied, particularly after Circus Maximus sweated up well before the off, was John Gosden trained Terebellum with Frankie Dettori in the saddle. They broke well and were soon into two groups before moving to the nearside rail. The two fancied horses pulled away from the rest to have a real ding dong of a battle before Circus Maximus ridden by Ryan Moore, just piped Terebellum and Frankie Dettori on the line.

Third on the menu was The Ribblesdale Stakes, a Group 2 race over 1 ½ miles for three year old fillies only. Again this 11 runner contest would have been run on the Friday but has been moved. Frankly Darling was the early fancy. She has already won this season for John Gosden and Frankie Dettori. In the race, Harry Dunlop trained Golden Lips took the lead and remained in the front until the straight, only two furlongs from the finish when Frankly Darling under Frankie Dettori swept passed and was never going to beaten. It was John Gosden’s fiftieth winner at Royal Meetings.

The second of the Group 2 races The King Edward VII Stakes over 1 ½ miles for 3 year olds only, was next with only six runners.  O’Brien’s Mogul was the hot fancy for this one but the inform Andrew Balding had Papa Power, also fancied by many. The yearling price difference for the runners was enormous, with a price tag of 3.4 million guinea for Mogal down to Pile Driver who was unable to get a single bid of just £10,000. At the level break off, Sound of Cannons took the lead and went well clear at a past pace before slowing right down five furlongs from home backing the field up behind. In the straight Pyldriver took the lead and just kept going – and won with Arthur’s Kingdom coming second. Pyldriver is trained by Willie Muir and was ridden by Martin Dwyer.

Battaash – wins King Stand at the third time of asking

Many considered the next race, a Group 1 contest for sprinters over 5 furlongs to be the race of the day, The King Stand Stakes. Six year old Battaash was the stand out runner of the eleven 3 year olds and up who went to post for the five furlong contest, despite having never won at Ascot and that he has not had a run since early October 2019.After a very even break, there was nothing for Battaash to get behind which is his usual want – so he strode on in an unusually calm way for him! And he just kept going, he won with ease with his stable mate Equilateral, also trained by Charlie Hills in second. The race bought a double for Jim Crowley with James Doyle riding the second. The third horse home was Liberty Beach, the only three year old in the race with Jason Hart riding and trained by Jason Quinn.

The final Group 2 race of the day was The Duke of Cambridge Stakes, a 1 mile race for 4 year old and up for fillies and mares. There were ten runners for the starter to greet. Sir Michael Stoute, The Royal Meeting’s winning most trainer had his first big shot for this one with the very warm favourite Jubiloso with Ryan Moore in the saddle. Invitational tried to win from pillar to post and did well until the two furlong marker when Jubiloso, Agincourt and Nazeef swept past with Nazeef, ridden by Jim Crowley winning, just, as Jim had to grind out the win, with Agincourt in second. Gosden was the winning trainer. The win put Jim Crowley at the top of the jockey’s championship so far with three wins. Not expected!

The final contest for the day was The Ascot Stakes, a handicap over 2 ½ miles. There are few races of this length in the flat calendar and so it is usually has horses normally more closely linked with National Hunt racing. This year was no exception with ten of the nineteen runners coming from National Hunt stables. For the eleventh year in a row, the race was won by a National Hunt trainer, Alan King whose apprentice jockey, Thor Hammer Hansen took Coeur de Lyon into the winners enclosure with Verdana Blue in second and Summer Moon in third.

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