From torrential rain, the reversal of the Commonwealth Cup result to the immediate compensation for jockey Oisin Murphy in the Coronation Stakes, the penultimate day of Royal Ascot on Friday was packed full of drama.
The dramatics began several hours before racing kicked off as a deluge of overnight rain had turned the ground from firm to soft. As the volume of water continued to fall, officials called an impromptu inspection to assess if the track was safe to race.
After a lengthy deliberation, Friday’s card was given the green light with the Commonwealth Cup adding to the drama that had already unfolded.
Then Archie Watson’s progressive sprinter Dragon Symbol, contesting Group 1 company for the first time, had been first past the post ahead of American raider Campanelle after a sustained battle to the line.
But a steward’s inquiry was soon called with Oisin Murphy’s mount seemingly having carried Wesley Ward’s charge across the track and after an agonising wait the placings were reversed.
Ward said: “We are elated. Both horses ran fantastic, they dug down deep and there were only inches apart. I think it was a validated result – in the United States terms, he has taken her across the track. Archie Watson shook my hand after the enquiry, a true gentleman.
“This was Campanelle’s first run since the Breeders’ Cup. It was a gritty performance on heavy ground and, to come back from that, it is a true testament of how good this filly is.
“I actually thought the ground boded well for her chances. We weren’t sure about heavy ground, but we knew she liked soft ground.
“Winning at Royal Ascot is so special, especially with my children here from the onset in 2009, it has been so special. To have Campanelle ponied down by my first winner Strike The Tiger too means a lot.
“Royal Ascot has changed my life. If it wasn’t for Royal Ascot, my kids would be going to community college and instead my eldest son is going to law school in August.
“We’ll sit down with the owners. Campanelle worked well on the July Course, but the July Cup could come a bit quick. I have run horses in the Prix Maurice De Gheest in the past and I think she’ll do well whatever ground comes on the day. I think it would suit.
“Campanelle is going up the pecking order. Lady Aurelia was very special, but if she keeps delivering, she’ll keep going up!”
There was no time to digest the news for Murphy as he had to turn his attention to the Coronation Stakes to partner Alcohol Free and he gained immediate redemption when Jeff Smith’s filly could not be caught in the Group 1.
Murphy said: “I didn’t get a chance to stress ahead of Alcohol Free. I had a plan and I don’t know if Andrew agreed me, but he filled me with confidence when I told him what I was going to do.
“She jumped normal and what worried me was the clerk of the course decided to put the stalls on the far rail. That was fine, but then everyone wants to get to that rail, so it is congested and I was worried it was going to get congested.
“Alcohol Free relaxed, I stayed on the bit for as long as I could and given her pedigree, she was always going to handle the ground.”
On losing the Commonwealth Cup, the jockey added: “I am disappointed for the connections of Dragon Symbol. There was a massive Japanese interest, he finished the race in front, but it wasn’t meant to be.
“I didn’t give it much thought, I went in the stewards’ room, I told them I was on the best horse, Frankie said I was on the best horse, but it didn’t go my way.
“Sorry to the Japanese fans and to Archie Watson’s team, and well done to Wesley Ward.
“I said to my valet when he put his hand around me: ‘there’s no place for tears in here. There are far worse things going on in the world, we’re in the entertainment industry, and I’m steering these marvellous animals and keep looking forward to the next one’.”
Alcohol Free’s success provided Balding with a double on the day following the success of Sandrine in the Group 3 Albany Stakes that opened Friday’s card.
Most of the field opted to race in the middle of the track due to the nature of the ground and while Sandrine was initially denied a clear run from the bunch of horses in front of her, Probert waited patiently for a gap to appear.
Once it did, Sandrine moved through effortlessly to win by one and a half lengths from Hello You with a further half length back to Oscula in third. Even more impressive was that the victory came on Sandrine’s turf debut having made a winning start to her career on the all-weather prior to Friday.
Balding said: “I thought the meeting was sure to be off. We were only coming here to have lunch. I am so pleased for Kirsten, and she deserves a winner like this.
“Sandrine was impressive when winning on debut. It was a low-class race at Kempton, but the form worked out well and she worked nicely last week. We felt we were entitled to run. We were slightly worried about the ground as there were mixed messages on the pedigree.
“However, Bobby’s Kitten won well on soft ground on his only start in Ireland. There was no fluke about the win she was very impressive.
“I rang Kirsten a week ago and said ‘look, she’s worked so well, we are going to have to make an entry to the Albany’ And Kirsten, thankfully, was up for it.
“I am pleased for David Probert, who just gave her the most beautiful ride and really deserves it.”
Remarkably given her involvement in the sport that stretches back several decades, Sandrine was a first Royal Ascot winner for Rausing from a family that she has been involved with since the 1970s.
She added: “I bought this filly’s fifth or sixth dam as a yearling at Goffs in 1976 and the family has been with me ever since. Everything on her catalogue page from top to bottom, we have bred at Lanwades Stud.
“All my animals are homebred, so it gives me tremendous pleasure to keep the continuity. I also tend to support my own stallions, and this filly is Bobby’s Kitten’s first Stakes winner, first Group winner, so we are thrilled with that.”
Murphy wins again
There was still more for Murphy to celebrate on Friday as he combined with Hughie Morrison to great effect aboard Quickthorn to win the 1m4f Duke Of Edinburgh Stakes.
Murphy said: “Hughie is a family friend and he’s been very good to me since I started riding. I am thrilled to ride him a Royal Ascot winner.
“Hughie is a top man, such a character, and I get on great with him. I know this was a very cleverly thought out plan. The lads in the yard work extremely hard and I know they fancied him, so they’ll be having a big party.
“Lady Blyth [owner-breeder] is a huge supporter of lots of trainers and I know this will mean the world to her. She loves her horses and she’s here, which is fantastic.
— Ascot Racecourse (@Ascot) June 18, 2021
“This horse is gorgeous – a big mover with a massive stride. He settled into a beautiful rhythm and gave me a lovely ride – I really felt at one with him the whole way round. He was chilled out. I thought he was very well handicapped, but you never know coming to Ascot.”
Morrison added: “Last year, Quickthorn just wasn’t quite right. We took a very brave decision and turned him away for six months and look what we got.
“The few times I have won this race before, we have always got beat in our run up, but he’s obviously a very good horse.
“We have always tried to keep him to ground which isn’t too quick, but as long as he takes his racing well, we might be a bit braver.
“I suppose we can dream about the Ebor maybe, but Oisin said he’s plenty quick enough at a mile and a half, so I wouldn’t worry about that. We might go for a Group race or something.”
Alenquer stamps his authority in King Edward VII Stakes
The rain-soaked ground and the step up to 1m4f was relished by the William Haggas-trained Alenquer as he followed up his victory in Sandown’s Classic Trial in the Group 2 King Edward VII Stakes.
Tasman Bay came with an eye-catching run in the home straight, but it was Alenquer who collared Sir Mark Todd’s charge inside the final furlong before powering through to win by a length.
A second winner of the week for William Haggas, following Mohaafeth’s success in the Hampton Court Stakes on Wednesday, assistant trainer Maureen Haggas said: “Alenquer is turning into a really nice horse.
“He didn’t do much wrong last year, but he was probably a bit immature still. He surprised us a little bit at Sandown – the manner in which he won – but he’s more grown up this year. He’s a bit of a boy at home, but at the races this year he’s been really professional and focused, and he’s definitely going the right way.
“I think he was a bit fresh though, a little bit keen the first furlong, but once Tom had him in behind and settled, he was great. He could easily be a St Leger horse, but it’s hard to know really. He wasn’t stopping here, so I think we will just see how it goes.
“We can’t control the weather – we just have to get on with it. If it suits, it suits, and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. To be honest, today, we didn’t know whether it would suit or not, but this horse is German and German horses often go in the slow ground, so we thought we’d give it a go and find out.
“I think he is pretty versatile – just a thoroughly nice, tough, genuine horse and a good guy to have around. He’s got a pretty good action on him and stayed well today – I wouldn’t say he was ground-dependent.”
Murtagh becomes a winning trainer
Johnny Murtagh was a familiar visitor to the winner’s enclosure as a jockey, recording a total of 48 victories, and on Friday he returned as a winning trainer when Create Belief ran away with the Sandringham Stakes by five and a half lengths.
Murtagh said: “I was very successful at this track as a jockey – I love the place. To come back as a trainer now, this means the world. It means the world to me, means the world to my wife, means the world to all the staff back home. It’s a special place, it’s a magical place, and it’s a magical day.
“Training is a much tougher game. You’re with the horses all the time, I’m responsible for 25 staff and huge thanks to them. The horses were in good form coming over and ran well.
“We liked Creative Belief at the start of the year. She didn’t get the distance over a mile and a quarter and then scored last time out. She got an 8lb penalty and that is not ideal coming here. But her work had really improved, and the rain helped her chances, as she likes to get her toe in.
“This is where I want to be. I’m a winner, a born winner. I want to be on the big stage. I give all the horses a chance to be good. I knew coming here, when the rain came this morning, I knew she had a big chance.
— Ascot Racecourse (@Ascot) June 18, 2021
“We have had a few fillies like that, when they start improving you don’t know where they’re going to go, so it’s hugely satisfying. It’s a racing club. A lot of people are going to get a lot of pleasure out of this. It means the world to us.”
It was also a maiden Royal Ascot win for jockey Ben Coen who added: “I grew up watching Johnny ride winners here, now I’m riding winners for him, it’s a dream come true.
“You couldn’t ask for a better mentor, especially coming here for my first time. He has filled me with confidence the whole time and it’s nice to pay him back with this.
“Coming here, I thought this was probably my best chance if the rain came, so I was happy this morning when I woke up and saw the rain. But I was a bit itchy when it was a bit touch and go. I was looking forward to this one all week, she’s brilliant.”
Clifford Lee was another jockey on the mark for the first time at Royal Ascot as he guided the Karl Burke-trained Significantly to victory Palace Of Holyroodhouse Stakes.