Royal Ascot Postscripts, Day 4: The human dimension, Moore Aloft & Muhaarar

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

June 20th, 2015

Illuminate, a smashing winner on her Salisbury debut when upsetting stablemate Great Page, duly followed up with a convincing score in Friday's Albany.

But over and above stamping herself as a proper two-year-old, the Richard Hannon pupil gave retiring jockey Richard Hughes a coveted winner in his last Royal Ascot. "Hughesie" must have been worrying as the days rolled on, especially with the flame-out of his "banker" Ivawood.

Hannon, his brother-in-law, was struggling to hold back the tears in his interview with Channel 4's Clare Balding -- so overcome was he at the moment. It's a cliche, but that shows just how much it means to have a winner at Royal Ascot. And it's also a salutary reminder of the interpersonal relationships at the heart of racing.

Illuminate was also capping a dream Royal Ascot for freshman sire Zoffany, who's responsible for two other winners in Waterloo Bridge (Thursday's Norfolk) and Washington DC (Tuesday's Windsor Castle). And don't forget about her aforementioned stablemate Great Page, who came back to romp in the Naas Fillies' Sprint and will likely be seen at Newmarket's July Festival.

The human dimension of our sport was again highlighted in the very next race. Jockey Jamie Spencer, who unretired early this year, engineered a last-to-first victory aboard Balios in the King Edward VII. Any win would have meant a lot for a rider whose career was thought to be over after losing his retainer with Qatar Racing at the end of last season. This was especially welcome, however, following The Grey Gatsby's near-miss in the Prince of Wales's. Spencer was blameless for that, but it was a tough beat nonetheless.

Balios is well regarded by trainer David Simcock, and the well-bred Shamardal colt has potential. At the same time, this renewal of the King Edward strikes me as rather weak, made weaker by the sickening injury suffered by favorite Stravagante (who was sadly put down in the hospital). In other words, Time Test's performance in the 1 1/4-mile Tercentenary Thursday was much more compelling.

Of course, the jockey story of the day was once more Ryan Moore, who broke the modern record for most winners at a Royal meeting with number nine, Aloft, in the two-mile Queen's Vase.

Considering that Aloft had been sidelined since his runner-up effort in last October's Racing Post Trophy, this was some training performance from O'Brien. This son of Galileo was not bred to be a plodder. His dam, multiple Group 3-winning sprinter Dietrich, is a Storm Cat mare from the deep family of Chimes of Freedom, Aldebaran and Spinning World. While he holds several high-profile entries (Irish Derby, King George VI & Queen Elizabeth, Irish St Leger), England's final classic, the September 12 St Leger at Doncaster, is a natural port of call.

Continuing the jockeys' theme, Christophe Soumillon earned plaudits all around for his handling of Ervedya in the Coronation S. for three-year-old filly milers. Holding his fire until the last possible moment, he turned the French 1000 Guineas heroine loose, magically got a seam, and arrived in time to deny Moore aboard Found.

Ervedya was thus gaining belated revenge for her loss at Found's hands in the Prix Marcel Boussac on Arc Day. Found was better able to handle the mile around Longchamp then, but come summer, the Ballydoyle filly probably wanted more ground. Lucida flashed home from last for an eye-catching third, her poor early position the result of a wayward start from the far outside post.

There's satisfaction in that the lone classic winner in the field edged the two classic runners-up (Found and Lucida had been second in the Irish and English 1000 Guineas, respectively). And there's also satisfaction in the tremendous fourth-place effort turned in by the Graham Motion-trained Miss Temple City.

Much less satisfying, however, is the thought experiment regarding Lady Eli, who easily beat Miss Temple City by 2 1/2 lengths in the Appalachian. If Miss Temple City can ship across the ocean and go down by all of two lengths in the Coronation, what would Lady Eli have done here? Alas, she never got the chance. But we'll always have the Belmont Oaks, right?

The performance of the day was Muhaarar in the Commonwealth Cup. The inaugural running of this six-furlong dash for sophomores was ferociously competitive, featuring the likes of Hootenanny, Tiggy Wiggy, Anthem Alexander, Limato, Adaay, etc., but Muhaarar proved in an altogether different league. Who would have imagined that anyone would bolt up by almost four lengths? Muhaarar did in blistering fashion, announcing himself as a new force in the sprint division.

Yet Muhaarar's romp served as a painful reminder of two of my losses earlier in the week. He was shortening up after a better-than-appears eighth (from a horror draw) in the French 2000 Guineas, so that form's been boosted by several, but not by Make Believe in the St James's Palace. In his prior start, Muhaarar had set a course record in the Greenham. And who was third in that Greenham? Ivawood. Oh, well.

The other Royal Ascot retrospectives can be found at these links:

Royal Ascot Postscripts: Solow & Gleneagles the stars of Day 1

Royal Ascot Postscripts, Day 2: Free Eagle, loyalty & trainer confidence

Royal Ascot Postscripts, Day 3: Ryan Moore, Gold Cup & Time Test

Royal Ascot Postscripts, Day 5: Undrafted, Brazen tactics & the chances of Snow