The sight of mud-splattered runners at Royal Ascot, following a period of heavy rain that produced conditions in Berkshire better suited to the National Hunt sphere, added an unusual twist to the five-day spectacular. Despite this, I believe that this year’s meeting was the best I have ever seen.
As well as a popular winner for The Queen, there was a cascade of outstanding stories from the week’s racing – captured superbly by George Selwyn – and it started with the very first race, the Queen Anne Stakes.
American-trained mare Tepin is a superstar at home but the task of running a straight mile at Ascot on testing going, without the aids of Lasix or her usual nasal strip, under a jockey making his British debut, looked daunting, to say the least. In seeing off all challengers with a performance that displayed class, guts and determination, we should be in no doubt that the daughter of Bernstein is a truly special animal.
Tepin’s compatriot, Lady Aurelia, is trained by Wesley Ward, who has singlehandedly changed the perception of British racing in the States. His latest star two-year-old delivered an astonishing front-running effort to win the Queen Mary Stakes under a jubilant Frankie Dettori, who exclaimed that he had never experienced anything like it before. Certainly not on a juvenile – although I remember a filly called Lochsong being pretty good on her day…
Adam Kirby has not always enjoyed the best of luck at Ascot, having been strongly criticised at the 2015 Royal meeting for his riding of Postponed, which led to him losing the ride on the subsequent King George winner, yet surely he is now in love with the place.
With Adam Kirby we saw the kind of sacrifices elite sportsmen must make to succeed
A treble, including a Group 1 double on My Dream Boat and Profitable, was an outstanding return – yet his best result of the week was the news that he had become a father, with his baby, Charlie, born whilst daddy was booting home a big-race winner.
The thought of missing the birth of your first child would be unthinkable for most men in Kirby’s position, yet it shows the kind of sacrifices elite sportsmen must – or are prepared to – make in order to succeed at the highest level. Certainly there would have been no shortage of takers had Kirby opted not to take his rides.
Having made his name over jumps, Dougie Costello would have found the wet surface at Royal Ascot no bother whatsoever, and he duly delivered the perfect ride on the Karl Burke-trained filly Quiet Reflection to beat the boys in the Group 1 Commonwealth Cup and secure his biggest prize on the Flat.
Quiet Reflection, an inexpensive breeze-up purchase, produced the kind of result that the TBA and BHA will hope entices more people to look favourably on fillies at the sales, explained in this month’s feature entitled ‘This Filly Can’ (pages 52-56).
Robert Havlin has spent a long time chasing a Royal Ascot winner – 25 years or so – and it arrived this year on Ardad, trained by his boss John Gosden, in the Windsor Castle Stakes. That wait made the result all the sweeter and Julian Muscat’s outstanding interview with the Scottish rider (pages 58-62) delves deeper into his transformation from wild child to model professional.
The words model professional could have been coined for trainer Henry Candy, who also struck gold at this year’s Royal Ascot with his ace sprinter Twilight Son, galvanised by Ryan Moore to edge a thrilling finish to the Diamond Jubilee Stakes.
Candy, this month’s ‘Talking To’ (pages 46-51), may have been training racehorses since 1973 yet he has not been training the same type of racehorse for all those 43 years. When the traditional owner-breeder stopped supplying the homebred middle-distance pedigrees that could win King Georges and Eclipses, the trainer decamped to the sales ring for something swifter and eminently more affordable.
His success with the likes of Eveningperformance, Kyllachy, Airwave, Amour Propre, Markab, Limato and now Twilight Son shows his remarkable ability to adapt as required to a changing bloodstock world.