Royal Ascot Postscripts, Day 5: Undrafted, Brazen tactics & the chances of Snow
Hopes were high that an Australian would lift Saturday's closing day feature, the Diamond Jubilee -- specifically, the brilliant Brazen Beau.
Mostly that's in recognition of the world-class sprint scene Down Under. Logic was supplemented by feeling, however, when news broke Friday evening (U.S. time) that past Australian speed king Takeover Target was euthanized after a paddock accident. Takeover Target, the bargain buy turned globetrotter, won marquee races in Australia, Singapore, Japan and at Royal Ascot. Hero of the 2006 King's Stand, he also placed in that race in 2008 as well as two editions of this contest (2006-07).
The timing was so poignant as to foreshadow a new Australian hero. Brazen Beau appeared to bring more persuasive credentials than compatriot Wandjina, and indeed the favorite looked like obliging most of the way. But he was just denied late by another "colonial" shipper, the Wesley Ward-trained Undrafted, who surged under a well-timed ride by Frankie Dettori.
The horses had hardly flashed across the line when recriminations flew on Twitter regarding the ride on Brazen Beau. Drawn nearest the stands' side in post 15, jockey Craig Williams stuck to that outside path as the others congregated, and Brazen Beau turned in a massive run, despite racing in isolation, to come up a half-length short of a rival he never saw. Opinions differed virulently over whether that cost him the race: if he angles over early, does he get cover and therefore finish better? Conversely, did he save more for the finish by running straight and true rather than losing ground with a slight diagonal move early?
Brazen Beau was set a tougher task, from a race dynamics standpoint, by going it alone. But instead of criticizing Williams (who also noted that he was racing on the better strip of ground), perhaps it's fairer to cite the draw. Post 15 was the root cause of the tactical decision making. We can be gutted by the near-miss in the circumstances, and wonder if the result might have been different if he'd joined the group. At the same time, there's no guarantee that the alternative option would have worked, and it took a tremendous effort from Undrafted to beat him.
Once again, the human interest element came to the fore. Ward had been with his daughter in the hospital all night, making this a rollercoaster 24 hours for his family. He thanked Derrick Smith (of the Coolmore partnership) for dispatching a "wonderful doctor." Ward and his family were thus able to be on hand for what he called his biggest career win, and to be given a "Group 1 trophy by the Queen."
Interestingly, Undrafted was bred by Catesby Clay Investment. Clay is the patriarch of Runnymede Farm, together the breeders of top sophomore turf filly Lady Eli. Had she gone to Friday's Coronation, they might well have bred two Royal Ascot winners.
Undrafted and Brazen Beau could get a rematch in the July Cup at Newmarket. Waiting for them there could be Friday's dazzling Commonwealth Cup winner Muhaarar, who would receive a six-pound weight concession as a three-year-old.
As far as the day's other stakes races, the Chesham and Hardwicke, studying the form book was of little help -- or I would say even a detriment.
The Chesham does feature unexposed juveniles, but even allowing for the challenge of comparing formlines and ever-shifting rates of development, it would have been tough to zero in on Suits You as the likeliest winner. Sure, he was among those who looked good in a maiden, and I liked the way he barged free from the pocket. Yet his beaten foes at Maisons-Laffitte were a pretty questionable lot. That didn't do anything to raise the profile of Suits You compared to the Irish raiders Tonkinese and Ballydoyle.
But in this case, Tonkinese's eye-catching form (and upcoming entry in a Group 1) meant nothing. The Godolphin colt was already under a ride when he was chopped off, and jockey James Doyle took care of my rooting interest as he trailed in last.
Ballydoyle had the reputation of her name, her pedigree (full sister to Misty for Me), and her fancy entries, but the Aidan O'Brien trainee still isn't quite race-savvy. Her greenness proved to be just as conspicuous as her momentum, and it cost jockey Ryan Moore what would have been an unbelievable 10th win. After wandering into the path of Tonkinese, she just missed in a photo to the more professional Suits You. Ballydoyle's the primary one to follow out of this race.
Suits You will likely be seen next in a stakes at Deauville, with a longer-range goal being a return trip to England for the Royal Lodge.
Mark Johnston's Sixth Sense, a blueblood by Shamardal, also deserves a mention for holding third after blazing a trail early. He was yet another useful horse coming out of the May 16 "Olympic Glory Conditions" race at Newbury, which was responsible for the third and fourth in Tuesday's Coventry as well as the fourth in Thursday's Norfolk.
In the Hardwicke, the form was well and truly shredded as Snow Sky -- who had been comprehensively beaten by both Eagle Top and Postponed last summer -- exacted revenge in a front-running master class by Pat Smullen. As Postponed and Eagle Top scrimmaged with each other in the stalking role, Snow Sky was left to his own devices on the lead, stole a march, and stayed on powerfully.
To me, this turnaround from Snow Sky was unforeseeable because he simply didn't shape up as an elite 1 1/2-mile horse. At best the second string (behind the disappointing Telescope, Moore's chosen partner), Snow Sky was on course for a Cups campaign over longer trips. Indeed, the Juddmonte homebred seemed to have found a home in the stayers' division when capturing the 14-furlong Yorkshire Cup last out.
Stoute even told Channel 4 beforehand that he was only running here because there was nothing else for him between that and his program building up to the two-mile Melbourne Cup. The clincher is that Stoute didn't even enter Snow Sky in the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth, for which the Hardwicke is the course-and-distance stepping stone.
Needless to say, those plans are now likely to be revised, and we can classify Snow Sky as a "typical Stoute improver," albeit for a rather surprised trainer who didn't forecast it himself. And after Stoute's miserable week, which hit a tragic low with the loss of Stravagante, he deserved a change of fortune.
One King George VI entrant did win on Saturday -- John Gosden's unbeaten Mahsoob, who could have been in the Hardwicke, and also sported an entry in Wednesday's Prince of Wales's. But instead he took the listed handicap option in the Wolferton and extended his record to four-for-four. As Gosden pointed out, Sheikh Hamdan's homebred did well to overcome both a wide trip and his inexperience, and he's one to watch.
The previous Royal Ascot retrospectives can be found at these links: