Royal Ascot continues to deliver excitement

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TwinSpires Staff

June 22nd, 2017

by Dick Powell

Royal Ascot has been run since 1711 and the five-day festival never fails to deliver. Based on the first half of 2017, the only question seemed to be “How many winners will trainer Aidan O’Brien have?” but after Day 1 the answer was in doubt.

Arch rival Godolphin won three of the six races on opening day, including a shocker in the St James’s Palace Stakes (Eng-G1) when their BARNEY ROY (Excelebration) upset odds-on favorite CHURCHILL (Galileo). Barney Roy was second choice at 5-2, but what made the result shocking was Churchill finishing out of the money in fourth.

Barney Roy lost to Churchill by a length in the English Two Thousand Guineas (Eng-G1) and was trained up to the St James’s Palace while Churchill went on to the Curragh where he won the Irish Two Thousand Guineas (Ire-G1). With only three starts under his girth, Barney Roy still had some room for improvement and he came through for the Boys in Blue, who have taken on a soap opera dimension with public airing of internal grievances.

But all was well on Tuesday as they started the day off with a win by RIBCHESTER (Iffraaj) in the Queen Anne Stakes (Eng-G1) for older horses going a mile. Winner of the Lockinge Stakes (Eng-G1) prior to Royal Ascot and almost $2 million in earnings going in, he broke that barrier with ease by 1 1/4 lengths.

The two American entrants, AMERICAN PATRIOT (War Front) and MISS TEMPLE CITY (Temple City) finished 11th and 13th, respectively, as they were not able to take advantage of the ground being firm this year.

But, any thought that the Americans were going to be denied were quickly dispelled in the King’s Stand Stakes (Eng-G1) going five furlongs. LADY AURELIA (Scat Daddy), winner of the Queen Mary Stakes (Eng-G2) here last year by seven breathtaking lengths, and the only three-year-old in the race, made mincemeat of her older rivals with a three-length win that was a tick off the course record.

Frankie Dettori was injured last week so Johnny Velasquez got the last-second call to ride and Lady Aurelia was as dominant as ever. The plan is to bring her home and then trainer Wesley Ward will return for the Nunthorpe Stakes (Eng-G1), also run at five furlongs but open to horses of any age.

So the tally after Day 1 was Godolphin: 1; Coolmore: 0.

Day 2 was going no better for Coolmore until they got on the board in the 4TH Race and they did it in a big way.

HIGHLAND REEL (Galileo) is one of the world’s great horses. He has raced and won all over the world and is not your typical international turf horse. He thrives on firm ground and is able to race uncovered so he doesn’t need to tuck in behind runners.

In last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), Seamie Heffernan opened an insurmountable lead and he held on willingly to beat FLINTSHIRE (Dansili) and FOUND (Galileo). From there, he was second in the Hong Kong Vase (HK-G1) at Sha Tin then could not handle the soft turf in Dubai for the Sheema Classic (UAE-G1) in March. Highland Reel returned in the Coronation Cup (Eng-G1) at Epsom and he made every step a winning one to hang on gamely through the run up the hill.

On Wednesday, he was back on 19 days rest and shortened to 10 furlongs. Highland Reel’s speed is more effective going longer but jockey Ryan Moore, who has been aboard ever since Hong Kong, was content to stalk as SCOTTISH (Teofilo) went to the front. The pace seemed strong and, when the outside closers came on, Moore had to time his move to avoid hitting the front too soon. But Moore is as good as it gets and he got Highland Reel home by 1 1/2 lengths in a finish that was much closer than it looks.

Finishing second and third were DECORATED KNIGHT (Galileo) and ULYSSES (Galileo), so it was a sweep for offspring of Galileo, just like in last year’s Prix de l’Arc de Triopmhe (Fr-G1).

American racing executives travel the world looking for new ideas and many have tried stringing together big-race days. They always fail to realize that there are only six races each of the five days of Royal Ascot.

Thirty races in five days. How simple. And it works. But we insist on running 11 and 12 races on most Saturdays in the nice weather.

The American racing industry certainly suffers from Ascot envy but will continue to run too many races on big days.