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Bill's Columns
ROYAL ASCOT 2018
Date: June 28th, 2018
This article originally appeared in BloodHorse Daily.
By Bill Oppenheim
Fillies in the Pre-Parade ring before being saddled for the G3 Albany S.
Photo by Emily Plant
There is a famous American folk song, dating to the early 20th century, called “Frankie and Johnnie”. It’s one of those you-done-me-wrong-so-I-had-to-shoot-you ballads, and bears no relation whatsoever to Royal Ascot 2018’s version, Frankie Dettori and John Gosden. Frankie and Johnnie had a treble on Royal Ascot’s opening day last Tuesday, June 19, and at that point it looked like they were poised to dominate the whole five days of what is, without the slightest question, the world’s number one horserace meeting.
By the end of the week, Frankie and Johnnie had added just one more victory, but it was a doozie: arguably the best race of the week, Thursday June 21’s G1 Gold Cup, resulting in a great three-horse finish after just the 2 ½ miles. Frankie and Johnnie won it with Stradivarius, a 4-year-old colt by Sea The Stars, for owner-breeder Bjorn Nielsen – who himself made it a double for the week when Agrotera, a filly by Mastercraftsman trained by Ed Walker, Nielsen’s tenant at Kingsdown Stables in Upper Lambourn, won the Sandringham H. for 3-year-old fillies. The Aga Khan’s high-class Vazirabad, a 6-year-old gelding by Manduro, made a serious charge to finish second, while another tough 6-year-old, Torcedor, a Fastnet Rock gelding trained by Jessie Harrington, stuck on grimly for third, with previous winner Order of St. George (Galileo) fourth. It was truly an epic race.
By the end of the week, it was another Fastnet Rock, the Southern Hemisphere 3-year-old Merchant Navy, who propelled Aidan O’Brien and Coolmore to the top of the Trainers’ and Owners’ list with his game win in the G1 Diamond Jubilee over two Northern Hemipshere 4-year-olds, French-trained City Light (by Siyouni) and American-trained Bound For Nowhere, from the first crop by The Factor. Aidan tied with Gosden and the great Sir Michael Stoute with four winners each, but Aidan got the rosette by virtue of also having had another 11 placings, four seconds and seven thirds. Stoute, who had been tied with the late great Sir Henry Cecil with 75 Royal Ascot winners each, is now the sole record-holder, with 79 Royal Ascot winners. Ryan Moore rode all four of Aidan’s winner plus Crystal Ocean (the biggest certainty of the week at 3/5 in the depleted five-runner G2 Hardwicke S.) for his old boss, Sir Michael, so won the rider’s prize with five; Frankie won four, and Godolphin’s number one rider, William Buick, won three.
Jessie Harrington’s Travelling Head Lad Niall ‘Bubba’ Almond and Alpha Centauri’s groom Debbie Flavin, with Colm O’Donoghue up, in the paddock before the G1 Coronation S.
Photo by Emily Plant
There was near-unanimous agreement among the judges and scribes that the most impressive winner of the week was the Niarchos Family’s Alpha Centauri, a Mastercraftsman filly who had won the G1 Irish 1000 Guineas and took apart what had looked beforehand like one of the hottest contests of the week with a six-length demolition job in Friday’s June 22 G1 Coronation S. It was a first Royal Ascot win for her trainer, Jessie Harrington, better known as one of Ireland’s leading jumps trainers but whose flat string has grown and grown until, partly by design and partly by accident, she is now training about as many flat horses as jumpers. Alpha Centauri was assigned a Racing Post Rating of 122 and a Timeform rating of 127, very high ratings for a 3-year-old filly, but the ratings seem fair enough, because it’s no exaggeration, it was the single most impressive performance in a 30-race, five-day week that is just one highlight reel after another.
All three of Frankie and Johnnie’s June 19 treble winners were by Juddmonte sires, two by the incomparable Frankel and the other from the first crop by Kingman. They won the G1 St. James’s Palace S. with the unbeaten Without Parole, a half-brother by Frankel to the G1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Tamarkuz (Speightstown) bred and raced by the father-daughter team of John and Tanya Gunther, whose Glennwood Farm is of course the breeder of 2018 US Triple Crown winner, Justify. Frankel also sired their third winner of the day, the 4-year-old gelding, Monarch’s Glen, in the Wolferton S. (Listed). Frankel also had the King George V. H. winner Baghdad, in that 12-furlong handicap of 3-year-olds. In all Frankel had three winners, two seconds, and five thirds, including Cracksman’s second to Stoute’s Poet’s Word in the G1 Prince of Wales; and thirds by Veracious in the G1 Coronation, and by Sun Maiden and Nelson in the G2 Ribblesdale and G2 Queen’s Vase, respectively.
Five sires had two winners each during the week, three of them Coolmore’s. World number one Galileo had two winners, as well as two seconds and two thirds, and both Mastercraftsman and top European second-crop sire Camelot had two winners each. Camelot sired impressive G3 Hampton Court S. (3-year-olds, 10 furlongs) winner Hunting Horn, and Arthur Kitt, winner of the seven-furlong Chesham S. (Listed), for 2-year-olds. Two other sires had two winners each: one is Darley’s Shamardal, who had G1 King’s Stand S. winner Blue Point (who had been third last year in one of the best sprint races I’ve ever seen, the 2017 G1 Commonwealth Cup, won by Caravaggio [Scat Daddy], with Harry Angel [Dark Angel] second, and Blue Point third) and G2 Duke of Cambridge S. winner Aljazzi. Sea The Stars, also now solidly established as one of Europe’s top five sires, also had a Group 1 (Stradivarius) and a Group 2 (Crystal Ocean) winner. Class will out, and it certainly does at Royal Ascot.
There were plenty of other notable performances by young sires. For sires whose first foals were born in 2012, their first 2-year-olds raced in 2014, so matings of 2015, foals of 2016, and 2-year-olds of 2018 are the result of matings made after their first 2-year-olds had raced. Whitsbury Manor’s F2012 Showcasing now has six 2-year-old winners from that fifth crop, including Ascot Windsor Castle S. (Listed) winner Soldier’s Tale and G2 Coventry S. second Advertise.
The top European F2013 sire is Coolmore’s Zoffany, whose fourth crop of 2-year-olds are racing this year. From his first crop his 5-year-old mare Wilamina ran third in the G2 Duke of Cambridge (4yo & up f/m, 1m), and from his fourth crop he also has six 2-year-old winners, two Black-Type Winners, including Ascot G3 Albany S. victress Main Edition. Considering sires’ fourth crops are often their weakest, the fact that Zoffany now has 10 Group winners and figures to be on a steep upward curve as his better-bred crops start to appear augurs well for his future. He looks like a horse to bet on.
There was plenty of form among third-crop F2014 sires whose first foals are 4-year-olds. Former Lane’s End sire The Factor, who stood in Japan this year, sired G1 Diamond Jubilee third Bound For Nowhere. Among European F2014 sires other than Frankel – the meet’s leading sire – European cumulative #3 Nathaniel had the 2-year-old Nate The Great run second in the Chesham S. (Listed, 7f); #8 Mayson had the 2-year-old colt Sabre run second in the Windsor Castle S. (Listed); #12 Rio De La Plata had the winner of the Royal Hunt Cup, a tough 1-mile handicap, in his first-crop 4-year-old gelding Settle For Bay; and #13 Delegator, who unfortunately died quite young, had the shock winner of the G1 Queen Anne (4yo+, 1m) in the 4-year-old colt Accidental Agent.
Among F2015 sires whose first crops are 3-year-olds, there was plenty of action too. American Ashford sire Shanghai Bobby had Wesley Ward’s only winner of the week when the filly Shang Shang Shang beat the colts in the G2 5-furlong Norfolk S. Among European second-crop sires, we’ve already mentioned cumulative and 2018 #1 Camelot, who had two winners, 3-year-old Hunting Horn and 2-year-old Arthur Kitt. Leading 2017 European Freshman Sire Society Rock, who is now cumulative #2 but unfortunately died before he ever had a runner, had the second in the G3 seven-furlong Jersey S. in the colt Society Power; and second-crop sires Havana Gold and the hugely upwardly mobile Cityscape had the two-three on the Sandringham H. (3yo fillies, 1m), which was a Listed Race until this year.
As mentioned, Juddmonte’s Kingman had Calyx, the winner of the G2 Coventry to get his sire off to a rocket start among F2016 first-crop European sires. Coolmore’s leading European first-crop sire No Nay Never had Land Force run third in the G2 Norfolk; while the Irish National Stud’s Gale Force Ten, with a crop of just 32 foals, had Dom Carlos run third in the Windsor Castle (Listed). Ironically, Scat Daddy, sire of No Nay Never and so many other stars, including 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify, didn’t have a Royal Ascot 2-year-old winner this year. His Sergei Prokofiev was third in a very hot-looking G2 Coventry, while the filly Gossamer Wings was second in the G2 Queen Mary.
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