Royal Ascot Postscripts: Solow & Gleneagles the stars of Day 1
Since this was my worst Royal Ascot in three years (when it took a couple of legends named Frankel and Black Caviar to rescue me), there were a lot more lowlights in terms of my handicapping.
But the beauty of Royal Ascot (like so much else) is that it's not about me. Right or wrong judgment, good or bad luck for my rooting interests aside, these five days offer such a magnificent spectacle -- racing of the very highest order, memorable celebrations for some of our sport's greatest personalities, and insights into the noble creatures we call Thoroughbreds.
We'll comment with a day-by-day retrospective over the next few posts, beginning with Tuesday:
The hoped-for fireworks in the Queen Anne ended up being a damp squib. When Able Friend never looked like doing himself justice, pouring sweat beforehand and beaten a long way out, the showdown with Solow didn't materialize.
Winning trainer Freddie Head was the soul of generosity afterward, complimenting Able Friend's connections for making the bold journey from Hong Kong. Even better, he wished that Able Friend had run second. Head thus graciously recognized that his main rival didn't really turn up.
As a fan of both, yet forced to put only one on top for the Brisnet daily selections, I had given the slight edge to Able Friend, only because Solow might have been vulnerable to a superior turn of foot at a mile. And Solow was indeed outpaced at one point, but he found more in the closing stages to rack up an amazing seventh straight win.
Able Friend wasn't the only one to throw in a subpar effort, for Night of Thunder also disappointed in fifth, by far his worst career performance at a mile. Not that I think he would have beaten Solow on the day, but Night of Thunder should have gone a lot closer. The very fact that the placegetters were a pair of outsiders -- the mare Esoterique (who finished behind Night of Thunder in last year's Prix du Moulin) and the Aidan O'Brien improver Cougar Mountain -- underscores the point.
Solow probably won't come for the Breeders' Cup Mile, with Head saying that he wouldn't be suited by the Keeneland course. And considering that he won the Queen Anne more by virtue of stamina than rapier-like speed, his trainer might have a point: Solow may not want a two-turn mile.
In any event, Solow is now likely bound for the July 29 Sussex, and another clash that this time will hopefully live up to billing, with star three-year-old miler Gleneagles.
Gleneagles was the prohibitive favorite for Tuesday's St James's Palace. If I can make a strong, logical case for an alternative in these cases, I will, and I did so here in what was in hindsight a fool's errand.
The Andre Fabre-trained Make Believe seemed at the time like a worthy opponent, given how well his French 2000 Guineas win was holding up. And after Solow and Esoterique ran one-two for France in the Queen Anne, I was harboring notions that I might be onto something. But that was just "make believe." The French colt was basically eased (perhaps failing to cope with the quick ground).
Meanwhile, Gleneagles delivered a sparkling turn of foot off a steady pace to win handsomely. As a Ballydoyle blueblood, he would usually be the type I'd rave about. Yet until Royal Ascot, I consistently undervalued him, even though he kept winning, and entered this race as a dual Guineas hero. Perhaps that's my overreaction to the stream of hyperbole emanating from Ballydoyle.
Gleneagles has finally converted me. Between his instantaneous acceleration and the significant weight concession he'd get from Solow, Gleneagles figures to have the edge in the Sussex.
As far as the two-year-olds went in the Coventry, I had misplaced confidence in Jim Bolger's Round Two, who came up surprisingly empty. His non-effort was all the more mystifying when the colt who had chased him home at the Curragh, Washington DC, captured the Windsor Castle in the Tuesday finale.
Coventry winner Buratino has made terrific progress for Mark Johnston, but I'm still not persuaded that he's the best juvenile we'll see this year. Either Round Two will dust himself off and get back in the ring, or an unraced prospect is waiting in the wings. Coventry runner-up Air Force Blue surely has more to give for O'Brien, and third-placer Eltezam remains a smart prospect who will likely step up in trip. War Department, who was nearly brought down by interference, is worth another crack in good company.
In the King's Stand, it wasn't a great surprise that Sole Power couldn't complete the unprecedented three-peat. Harder to find were the top two -- the rebounding Goldream and nine-year-old Medicean Man. Muthmir raised my hopes briefly before stalling in a close third, beaten about a half-length, and we'll hear a lot more from this progressive five-year-old.
The other Royal Ascot retrospectives can be found at these links:
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 4: The human dimension, Moore Aloft & Muhaarar
Royal Ascot Postscripts, Day 5: Undrafted, Brazen tactics & the chances of Snow