It was third time lucky at Royal Ascot for talented sprinter Battaash as he utilised his devastating speed to run out an impressive winner of the Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes on Tuesday.
Always so effective when racing over the minimum trip, Battaash found the now retired Blue Point too strong in the 2018 and 2019 renewals.
With Blue Point having taken up stud duties at Darley’s Kildangan Stud in Ireland, Battaash’s old rival was out of the picture and that left Sheikh Hamdan’s charge with the Group 1 contest at his mercy.
Showing no signs of the fractious attitude that has often affected his performances, Battaash broke smartly from the stalls and was always to the fore under jockey Jim Crowley.
There was no stopping the six-year-old gelding and he sealed victory by two and a quarter lengths from his Charlie Hills-trained stablemate Equilateral, with a short-head back to three-year-old filly Liberty Beach in third.
Hills said: “He was really on his ‘A’ game today. He was beautifully relaxed before the race and as soon as the gates opened you could see he was going to be very hard to beat. He has been quite relaxed in his work at home, until Saturday when Jane rode him, and he was really quite strong in the first half of the gallop.
“I think he’d got to the point really when we needed to get a race into him. The race will do him the world of good, we can train him off today.
“Obviously we will have to speak with Sheikh Hamdan, but I am really looking forward to going back to Goodwood to try and win the King George for the fourth time – I think that would be some achievement.”
Battaash was one of three winners on the day for Sheikh Hamdan and his retrained rider Crowley having claimed the opening race of the 2020 meeting, the Buckingham Palace Handicap, with the Richard Hannon-trained Motakhayyel.
Their other winner came in the shape of Nazeef, who got the better of Agincourt to win the Group 2 Duke of Cambridge Stakes.
Circus Maximus prevails again
Just as he had done in the St James’s Palace Stakes in 2019, Circus Maximus’ gutsy qualities came to the fore as he ground out victory in the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes.
The four-year-old, who races for Flaxman Stables and the Coolmore partners, was making his first start of the season having last been seen finishing fourth to Uni in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Mile in November.
As Marie’s Diamond set the early pace, jockey Ryan Moore was closely following his rival’s progress along with Frankie Dettori, on board the John Gosden-trained Terebellum.
Having raced in two distinct groups initially, the field grouped back into one on the stands’ side rail and as the pace picked up, it was Circus Maximus and Terebellum who fought out the finish.
Terebellum looked to have got her head in front but she was not able to stop the staying-on Circus Maximus, who found plenty to take victory in the final strides to claim a head success.
It was a winning start for trainer Aidan O’Brien and after the race he said: “We were delighted with that performance. Circus Maximus is very tough, he travels with a lot of speed, then quickens and then toughs it out. It was unbelievable, really. Ryan gave him an unbelievable ride and we are delighted.
“It is very exciting to have a winner. Royal Ascot is usually a very busy week for us as we go back and forth, so it is brilliant to be able to see all the preliminaries. It is great for us and we get to see a lot of stuff that we otherwise wouldn’t.”
Gosden seals 50th Royal Ascot success
Having created an impression on her debut earlier this month, Frankly Darling continued her upward trajectory as she sealed a runaway victory in the Group 2 Ribblesdale Stakes in the colours of owner-breeder Anthony Oppenheimer.
For Oppenheimer, it was the second year in a row that a homebred of his landed the contest having won the 2019 running with Star Catcher.
Frankly Darling’s success sealed a landmark 50th win at the Royal meeting for trainer John Gosden and it is likely the Oaks at Epsom next month is now on the agenda for the daughter of Frankel.
Gosden said: “Frankly Darling is a lovely filly. She ran only once last year, at Chelmsford. She was a big, rangy girl and a bit unfurnished who needed time to develop. She luckily got in on the first day at Newcastle and won well.
“She’s still learning; as you can see, she was a little wild, there’s a bit of Frankel about her – ‘I want to run and it’s my business if I want to run, not the jockey’s’ – but she showed an awful lot of class today.”
Her dad Frankel dazzled us all at Royal Ascot in 2012
And Frankly Darling is most certainly a chip off the old block!
— Ascot Racecourse (@Ascot) June 16, 2020
Pyledriver causes a stir
All eyes were on Mogul to see if he could enhance his Derby credentials in the King Edward VII Stakes, but his hopes were dashed by the performance of Pyledriver, who stayed on strongly under Martin Dwyer to cause an 18-1 upset in the Group 2 contest.
For Pyledriver’s trainer William Muir it was a second success at the Royal meeting, coming 18 years after Zargus took the Balmoral Handicap.
Muir said: “This horse is still a big, weak baby, he has progressed and progressed. It is only in the last three days that he has come alight. I went to feel his legs the other night and he reared up on top of me, and I thought, ‘You’re coming now, you’re getting your strength up’. I knew he’d stay, and he’s got a turn of foot.
“I suppose we will have to think about the Derby. We have got two weeks and a bit longer. He’s had an easy run there today – he has gone round in the slipstream and just picked up. I thought we would run a big race, but there was one or two horses in here that were well-touted, well-talked about.”
What an amazing story in the King Edward VII Stakes
Bought for just £10,000, Pyledriver quickens up really smartly to leave his rivals toiling and deliver a fairytale win for jockey Martin Dwyer and trainer William Muir 😍#RoyalAscot pic.twitter.com/ZBqx4ogNAu
— Ascot Racecourse (@Ascot) June 16, 2020
Owned by Guy Leach, Guy’s brother Hugh and Roger Devin, Chairman of William Hill, Pyledriver was bred by the trio out of the Le Havre mare La Pyle and was led out unsold at 10,000gns at the Tattersalls December Foal Sale.
Revealing more of how the colt ended up staying with the partnership, Muir added: “They sent Philip Hobbs to buy a jumper in France and he came back with his dam La Pyle. She had a setback and was sent to stud.
“She went to Harbour Watch and produced Pyledriver. They took him to the sales, and he didn’t even make the minimum bid so he was put into training with me. We had a few bids after his first win at Salisbury and at Haydock.
“They said if one of them owned him they’d have to say yes but as it’s three of them they decide they’d enjoy the journey. Thank God they did because I am too. They also took La Pyle to New Approach, Oasis Dream and Frankel. She’s in foal to Kingman too so I’ll have to keep training for a few more years.”
In the closing race of the day, the 2m4f Ascot Stakes, it was the Alan King-trained Coeur De Lion who stuck on gamely to deny favourite Verdana Blue.