Royal Ascot Postscripts, Day 2: Free Eagle, loyalty & trainer confidence
Loyalty can be a hindrance in handicapping, but sometimes it's rewarded, and so it proved when I stuck with Free Eagle in Wednesday's Prince of Wales's.
To be sure, this was hardly a profile in courage since he was the favorite. But the Dermot Weld trainee had been off since October, and after missing his intended prep, his price was short enough in a competitive field. This would have been a natural spot to play "beat the favorite." But I've been in love with this son of High Chaparral since his debut, and made the case to keep the faith.
Free Eagle received a perfect trip poised off the flank of the pacesetter, courtesy of Pat Smullen. The Grey Gatsby didn't, as he was held up in traffic. That was the difference as Free Eagle held on by a diminishing whisker. You could fairly say that The Grey Gatsby was bitterly unlucky.
Yet from another perspective, Free Eagle deserves credit for quite an achievement. Despite the protracted layoff, the interrupted preparation, and striking the front sooner than Smullen wanted to, he displayed admirable courage. He dug deep and found just enough to last from a race-fit, multiple Group 1-winning rival. Smullen hailed Weld's training job, while the master horseman praised Free Eagle and his rider. With this under his belt, it's onwards and upwards for Free Eagle, who will likely take in the September 12 Irish Champion en route to the Arc.
Loyalty did not pan out so well in the day's opener, the Jersey, when my Ivawood went down in flames. The Richard Hannon trainee threw in an absolute clunker behind Dutch Connection, whom he'd left well behind when they were third and seventh, respectively, to Gleneagles in the 2000 Guineas. Basically everyone franked the Newmarket classic form in the Jersey except Ivawood: the filly Fadhayyil (fifth in the 1000 Guineas) and Bossy Guest (fourth in the 2000 Guineas) were the placegetters behind Dutch Connection here.
Although there were sensible reasons to contend that Ivawood was worth taking on as the favorite (including the short price and the high weight), he was still the best horse in the race -- a fact reiterated by a nonplussed Hannon afterward. And he'd never run anywhere near this badly in his life.
The trainer later commented on his website that Ivawood's "two tough races against Gleneagles seemed to have taken their toll." Also, in hindsight, I wonder about Ivawood's final major work in company with Night of Thunder, who was likewise uncharacteristically off form in the Queen Anne. Might the pair have worked a little too well together and left their race on the gallops? Or is that post facto grasping at straws?
While trainer confidence was betrayed in the Jersey, it was upheld in spectacular fashion in the Queen Mary: Acapulco more than lived up to Wesley Ward's glowing enthusiasm. The $750,000 OBS March purchase indeed proved her dirt debut all wrong and decimated this five-furlong dash for two-year-old fillies, a race that appeared inscrutable on paper. The British racing analysts were bowled over first by her sheer size and scope, then by her speed as she blasted clear. Easton Angel, the pride of the North, can hold her head up high for a game second, and she'll be winning a big prize herself. My hope, Besharah, couldn't match the pace of the top two and settled for a creditable third. Off this evidence, she may be helped by a sixth furlong.
The least logical result was Amazing Maria's upset in the Duke of Cambridge. Euro Charline didn't take part after taking a while to load, exhausting the starter's patience; defending champion Integral was a shadow of herself, in an omen of a brutal week for Sir Michael Stoute; and the most rational alternative, Rizeena, suffered her first career Ascot defeat -- at the hands of a filly who hadn't won since her juvenile days! Even worse, Amazing Maria had been classified as a horse who needed a kinder surface, and in the past she'd been scratched on account of firm ground. Now here she was barreling to victory down a firmish course. The switch to David O'Meara this season has obviously worked the oracle.
Amazing Maria became the second Group/Grade 2 winner to flatter Brooch. She was coming off a third to Brooch in the Lanwades Stud at the Curragh, with Waltzing Matilda -- the next-out New York winner at Belmont -- back in fourth. Look out for Brooch (an unbeaten daughter of Empire Maker) in the June 28 Pretty Polly back at the Curragh.
But perhaps the most lasting memory of day two was Frankie Dettori's dramatic score aboard Osaila in the Sandringham H., giving him his 50th career win at Royal Ascot. Aside from the drama of the trouble in running, Osaila just prevailed in a photo over the wayward Godolphin filly Always Smile. How many subplots! The ex-Godolphin jockey beats Godolphin in the silks of his new employer, Sheikh Joaan's Al Shaqab Racing; Qatar versus Dubai...
The other Royal Ascot retrospectives can be found at these links: