Royal Ascot 2016 was extraordinary, for the first time since the 1970s the meeting began on soft ground. That threw a curved ball to punters trying to assess the merits of runners who had never experienced testing ground. Here is our review.
The first day was a bookies’ benefit. The success of Tepin, the American super mare and long term ante-post favourite, in the Queen Anne Stakes did not even hurt them. The ground was a concern for her and it was Belardo, Roger Varian’s hooded mud lark who was sent off as the 9/2 joint favourite. Tepin never looked happy but her class enabled her to hold off Belardo’s challenge with half a length to spare. The joint favourite, Jean-Claude Rouget’s light-bodied filly Erveyda never looked dangerous and was beaten four lengths into fifth.
The Royal Ascot betting market spoke volumes about the confidence behind Ballydoyle’s stunning Scat Daddy colt, Caravaggio, in the Coventry Stakes. He was sent off the 13/8 favourite and retained his unbeaten record, winning in style under Ryan Moore (pictured).
There was much more form to assess for the King’s Stand and everything suggested that Michael Dods’ mare, Mecca’s Angel the 6/4 favourite, ought to be a good thing. Despite getting her ideal conditions she faded tamely, finishing with only one horse behind her. Clive Cox’s appropriately named Profitable triumphed at 4/1 under an emotional Adam Kirby, he had just become a father. The 33/1 shot, Cotai Glory, was runner-up, beaten a neck.
Three Guineas winners lined up for the St James’s Palace. The runaway French Guineas winner, Ballydoyle’s The Gurkha, attracted a flood of support and was the shortest priced favourite of the day at 4/5. Awtaad, the winner at The Curragh (5/2) was viewed as his most serious threat. Hugo Palmer’s Galileo Gold (6/1) had won at Newmarket but was beaten by Awtaad in Ireland.
Frankie Dettori, Galileo Gold’s regular jockey, knew he had a couple of lengths to find with Awtaad but thought he could reverse the placings. He was right. His positive tactics helped Galileo Gold beat The Gurkha by over a length leaving Awtaad to take third.
On Wednesday the value of the Newmarket Guineas form was confirmed in the opener. Richard Fahey’s Ribchester (who finished third behind Galileo Gold), took the Jersey Stakes at 7/1 for Godolphin.
The most memorable performance of the day was the breath-taking triumph of Wesley Ward’s 2/1 favourite, Lady Aurelia, in the Queen Mary Stakes. Not many five furlong sprints are won by seven lengths. This sizeable, striking daughter of Scat Daddy was never headed but the turn of foot she produced when asked by Dettori was extraordinary. The commentator’s voice went up an octave as he struggled to find words to describe it.
Ward had said that Lady Aurelia breathed different air to the horses she worked with. Even on the soft ground she looked to be a filly from another planet. The French filly, Al Johrah (9/2), was her closest pursuer. She beat the rest of the field over two lengths.
The second Group 2 contest for fillies of the day, the Duke of Cambridge Stakes, was won by another favourite, the Andre Fabre trained Usherette at 9/4. Owned by Godolphin, her two length margin of victory over John Gosden’s Furia Cruzada (20/1) looked rather ordinary.
The feature race was supposed to be the Group 1 Prince of Wales’s Stakes. It had attracted the world’s highest rated horse, the Japan based A Shin Hikari. This son of Deep Impact had made a considerable one on his European debut. He took the Group 1 Prix D’Ispahan by ten lengths at Chantilly.
A Shin Hikari was sent off as an 8/13 near certainty to give Japan its first Royal Ascot winner. The only other horse in the field of six at a single figure price was Aidan O’Brien’s filly, Found (4/1). A Shin Hikari’s jockey, Masanori Sakaguchi, was a hero at home but, harried by The Grey Gatsby (10/1) and Western Hymn (12/1), he looked as if he was knitting rather than settling his horse.
Found took the lead two furlongs out and looked to have the race won until My Dream Boat (16/1) ran on strongly in the closing stages to beat her a neck under Adam Kirby. Trained by Clive Cox, the winner carried the navy and yellow quarters of the Rooneys better known to National Hunt enthusiasts. A Shin Hikari finished last.
Thursday was pretty good day for Aidan O’Brien and Ballydoyle but not for the bookies. O’Brien saddled his 50th Royal Ascot winner in Even Song, the 15/8 favourite in the Ribblesdale. He followed up by taking the more prestigious Gold Cup with the hotly fancied Order Of St George (10/11) who had won the Irish St Leger in style.
The Galileo colt gave his supporters plenty of anxiety over the longer distance of two and a half miles, encountering considerable trouble in running amongst the 17-strong field. Ryan Moore paid tribute to his class and was short of breath after his exertions. He won by three lengths, beating Luca Cumani’s Mizzou (10/1) in a messily run race.
Ballydoyle took the opener on Friday too but not with their 2/1 favourite Cuff who finished fifth. It was Brave Anna, owned and bred by Mrs Stockwell who triumphed at 16/1 under Seamie Heffernan in the Albany Stakes. She beat Ralph Beckett’s Bletchley (16/1) and a more fancied daughter of Frankel, Queen Kindly (13/2) trained by Richard Fahey. Fahey looked disappointed with her performance.
Sir Michael Stoute’s Derby runner, Across The Stars, did not handle the hill at Epsom but redeemed himself in the King Edward Stakes. Sent off at 7/1, Across The Stars beat Ballydoyle’s Beacon Rock, the 7/2 favourite, by over a length.
In the Group 1 Commonwealth Cup Karl Burke’s stable star, Quiet Reflection the 7/4 favourite, rewarded her supporters by beating her closest pursuer, Tom Dascombe’s slightly wayward Kachy (14/1) a length.
On Saturday Ballydoyle got off to a flying start on the ‘good to soft’ ground. In the Chesham Ryan Moore rode Churchill, the 8/11 favourite to victory for his bosses and followed up in the next, the Wolferton Handicap, on Sir Isaac Newton (7/1) for them.
The crowd pleaser of the meeting was the Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes. The Queen’s Dartmouth (10/1) won under Olivier Peslier, beating Ballydoyle’s Highland Reel (6/1) a head. Seamie Heffernan had dropped his whip two furlongs out on the runner-up, giving Sir Michael Stoute his 75th Royal Ascot winner, equalling the late Sir Henry Cecil’s total. After enduring all her birthday celebrations the Queen more than deserved something to smile about. She entered the paddock beaming, undeterred by the announcement of a Stewards’ inquiry. Dartmouth had nudged Highland Reel slightly but the result stood. Stoute’s 6/4 favourite Exosphere failed to fire, delighting the bookmakers too.
The final Group 1 of the meeting, the six furlong Diamond Jubilee Stakes, provided a thrilling blanket finish. The Hong Kong based Gold-Fun (7/1) was just foiled by Henry Candy’s Twilight Son (7/2) under man of the day, Ryan Moore. It was Candy’s first Royal Ascot winner since 1979. Two veteran trainers and a 90-year-old owner had something to celebrate.