Lady Aurelia wins at Royal Ascot for second year; Ribchester rolls
Bob Kieckhefer recaps Day One at Royal Ascot, with coverage presented by Fasig-Tipton’s Sept. 10 Turf Showcase auction in Lexington:
The first day of Royal Ascot was a glamorous, warm mixed bag with victories by favorites and outsiders, big stables and small but the biggest winners on the day were Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin and American raider Lady Aurelia.
Godolphin, which has struggled through internal turmoil this year, landed the opening race of the day as Ribchester took the Queen Anne (G1), continued with an impressive victory by Barney Roy in the St James’s Palace (G1) and rolled on to a 1-2 outcome in the day’s final event.
Archrival Coolmore, by contrast, had a miserable time in the heat of Ascot as Churchill failed in the St James’s Palace and Declarationofpeace was never in the mix in the Windsor Castle. Both were heavy favorites.
Her Majesty the Queen kicked off the festivities, riding the lead carriage on opening day in a lime green ensemble before observing a moment of silence for the victims of last week’s tragic London high-rise fire. Here’s how the racing went:
The King’s Stand
Lady Aurelia blitzed Royal Ascot for the second straight year, kicking away from some of the world’s top sprinters to win the King’s Stand Stakes (G1) by 3 lengths over Godolphin runner Profitable. The favorite, Marsha, rallied late to take third.
“It comes down to fast horses,” said winning trainer Wesley Ward, the pioneering American trainer who scored his eighth Royal Ascot win — second with Lady Aurelia.
Lady Aurelia came to last year’s Royal meeting and, in her second career start, won the Queen Mary Stakes (G2) by 7 lengths. Tuesday, she was facing older rivals and males. No matter. After breaking alertly from the stands-side gate, Lady Aurelia settled nicely into stride and after a half mile was well on her way. She dominated the final furlong and finished in 57.45 seconds, just 0.01 second off the course record.
“It worked out really well,” said winning rider John Velazquez. “She settled in the first part of the race and when I asked her, she responded right away with a great turn of foot. Very quick. It was a great feeling. When a horse is traveling so beautifully and responds right away when you ask, you can’t get better than that.”
Velazquez, subbing for the injured Frankie Dettori, circled Lady Aurelia a few times in the winner’s enclosure but finally eschewed an effort to emulate Dettori’s trademark flying dismount, settling for a less ambitious jump to earth.
“You never know,” said an obviously relieved Ward. “These are Group 1 horses, the fastest sprinters in the world. She’s a once-in-a-lifetime horse.”
Lady Aurelia, a Stonestreet homebred, is a daughter of the late Scat Daddy out of the Forest Wildcat mare D’Wildcat Speed. She now is a Group 1 winner in both England and France and Ward made it clear he plans to add to that record and expand its international scope.
“We look forward to a great summer and the Breeders’ Cup,” he said, adding the Coolmore Nunthorpe (G1) at York Aug. 25 could be an appropriate prep.
Ward also hinted that two wins at Royal Ascot might not be the limit for Lady Aurelia.
“The owners are sportsmen and sportswoman and I would say that as long as she keeps sound, she will carry on racing,” Ward said.
The Queen Anne
Ribchester ran to his notices in the opening race of the meeting, rallying on the back of a quick pace by Godolphin teammate Toscanini to take the Queen Anne (G1) by 1 1/4 lengths over Mutakayyef in course-record time of 1:36.60.
Deauville, representing Godolphin archrival Coolmore, finished third. The stewards looked into some close quarters in the final yards but let the result stand.
Trainer Richard Fahey said the win was particularly impressive as Toscanini may have gone too fast early, folded too soon and “probably didn’t lead Ribchester far enough.”
“He travels so well,” said winning rider William Buick. “He’s an absolute jockey’s dream.”
Fahey said the Sussex Stakes (G1) at Goodwood is a likely target for Ribchester.
“William doesn’t feel that the tank is empty with him and that he is getting stronger the whole time,” Fahey said. “Mentally, he is also getting better which is a great attitude to have in a racehorse. He is starting to think he is good.”
Ribchester won the Jersey Stakes (G3) at last year’s Royal Ascot and a Group 1 in France. He started his 4-year-old campaign running third in the Dubai Turf (G1) at Meydan on World Cup night, going a furlong past his ideal 1 mile, then proved the easiest of winners when returning to the mile in the Al Shaqab Lockinge (G1) at Newbury.
The Queen Anne victory confirmed Ribchester’s status near the top of the world’s horses and provided an excellent start to the meeting as Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, in top hat and tails with a red cravat, watched his 4-year-old son of Iffraaj charge to the lead in the final 100 yards and rather easily hold off Mutakayyef, owned by Sheikh Hamdan.
Sheikh Mohammed noted his first horse, Hatta, defeated a favorite at Brighton 40 years earlier to the day. “From that day, we have moved forward and we are really enjoying it,” said the Ruler of Dubai. “In life there is no winning post. You have to keep going otherwise the rest will catch up with you.”
Neither of the American starters had any impact in the Queen Anne. American Patriot, trained by Todd Pletcher, finished 11th. Miss Temple City, conditioned by Graham Motion, was 13th.
The St James’s Palace
Barney Roy closed best of all on the outside to win the St James’s Palace Stakes (G1), giving Godolphin another top-level victory over Coolmore. But it was not the heavy favorite, Churchill, finishing second for the Irish team but, rather, 12-1 outsider Lancaster Bomber who tracked the early pace and held on stubbornly for second. Godolphin also took third with Thunder Snow, the UAE Derby (G2) winner who famously declined to run in the Kentucky Derby.
Churchill was one of the top prospects for all of Royal Ascot 2017, with some comparing him to the legendary Frankel. Barney Roy finished second to the Galileo colt in the Qipco 2000 Guineas (G1) and Thunder Snow was right behind him in the Tattersalls Irish 2000 Guineas (G1).
But with temperatures soaring Tuesday at Ascot, Churchill walked down to the stalls at Swinley Bottom sweating heavily. He fell in behind rivals midway through the race and never made progress when asked, finishing fourth.
Barney Roy, by contrast, responded beautifully when James Doyle asked the question and just did get past Lancaster Bomber. The Excelebration colt, a grandson of Galileo out of Alina, posted his third win from four starts — the sole loss that second behind Churchill.
“We’ve got a lot of confidence in this horse,” said winning trainer Richard Hannon. “We just wanted to give him a chance to prove himself. I don’t believe he had that chance in the Guineas.”
And Hannon said Barney Roy is not limited to the mile — so much so that he might contest the Continent’s top event later this year.
“I’m sure our horse will get further,” Hannon said, noting he’s entered in the 10-furlong Eclipse Stakes (G1) and the 1 1/2-mile Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1). “He takes time to pick up and he’s very relaxed, but a horse having just his fourth race, and to beat a Guineas winner, is very good,” Hannon said.
“We’ll take him home, see how he is, and talk to Sheikh Mohammed. He’s done nothing wrong over a mile, so don’t get me wrong, but he will get further.”
The major players took a back seat in the Coventry Stakes for 2-year-olds as Rajasinghe found his best stride in the final yards and nipped Headway for the victory.Murillo landed a second straight third-place finish for Godolphin.
Rajasinghe, owned by the unheralded Rebel Racing and trained by Richard Spencer, covered the 6 furlongs in course-record time of 1:12.39 under Stevie Donohoe, who was nursing dislocated fingers. The Choisir colt had only one previous run, that a victory on the all-weather course at Newcastle a month before Royal Ascot.
The Windsor Castle Stakes
Two-year-olds were back on the course for this 5-furlongs dash and Coolmore’s expensive War Front colt, Declarationofpeace, was the heavy favorite. But Declarationofpeace came up empty, finishing last of 22. William Buick scored his second victory of the day for Godolphin, getting Sound and Silence home first, a neck in front of Roussel. James Garfield was third.
Two well-backed Ward charges, Elizabeth Darcy and Nootka Sound, were prominent early in the Windsor Castle but absent from the frame at the end. Elizabeth Darcy stayed on to finish sixth, beaten 3 3/4 lengths. Nootka Sound, however, faded through the field to get home 17th.
The Ascot Stakes
Ryan Moore, who shared Coolmore’s disappointments, found a bright spot in the day’s marathon, a 2 1/2-miles journey. Moore produced Thomas Hobson in the stretch run and the 7-year-old Halling gelding quickly put paid to 17 rivals, winning off by 6 lengths as the 4-1 favorite.
Winning trainer W.P. Mullins said there is a chance Thomas Hobson might run right back on the closing day of Royal Ascot on Saturday in the Queen Alexandra at a furlong and a half longer, depending how he exits the Ascot Stakes.
Longer range, he said, he hopes to take Thomas Hobson “down under” for the Melbourne Cup (G1) in November.
“It’s very hot here,” Mullins said. “But we’ll forget about the heat now.”