Royal Ascot Reflections

June 20th, 2016 | Marten's Current Racing Diary

Looking back at Royal Ascot last week, in my view the results reflected very favourably on the condition of the ground. Despite the heavy showers and steady rainfall, there were not really any ‘freak’ results and the quality horses were, for the most part, able to cope.

In fact the very first race of the meeting suggested as much, when US turf champion mare Tepin beat mudlark Belardo in the Queen Anne Stakes. I argued beforehand that on the three occasions Tepin had raced on anything but fast ground – twice on good and once on soft – she had won. In fact the only occasion on which she encountered soft ground was in a Grade 1 at Keeneland in October, 2015, where she won by seven lengths – her widest-ever winning margin.

Ryan Moore and Aidan O’Brien had some very nice things to say about Caravaggio after the Coventry Stakes, where Mehmas ran very well on ground that didn’t suit him. Richard Hannon’s runner-up has a tremendous attitude and I expect him to win at a high level when he is back on quicker going.

As for the winner, he is related to American sprinting dirt winners and may not get a mile. By the end of the week I came to the conclusion that O’Brien’s best 2,000 Guineas prospect is Churchill, who fulfilled the high expectations held for him when landing some hefty bets in Saturday’s Chesham Stakes. The son of Galileo is out of a Storm Cat mare, from the family of Airwave, and the word for him beforehand was that he was O’Brien’s banker of the week.

To quote the oft-used adage, Churchill looked like a ‘work in progress’. Physically imposing, but less visually impressive in the race, he won in workmanlike fashion having had to overcome signs of inexperience once he hit the front.

Aidan O’Brien tends to follow a tried and tested path with his top-class two-year-olds, so expect to see Churchill tackle the Phoenix Stakes, National Stakes and then the Dewhurst if he is deemed to be their best prospect for the Guineas. I am, though, sure there will be plenty of others coming along in the interim.

The result that gave me most personal pleasure over the week was Dartmouth, who gave Sir Michael Stoute his 10th winner of the Hardwicke Stakes and the 75th Royal Ascot winner of his career.

Ryan Moore favoured stable-companion Exosphere, who had sprung a minor surprise – though not to the trainer – when beating Simple Verse by four lengths in the Jockey Club Stakes. The four-year-old was rated 5lb superior to Dartmouth but he was never travelling that well – apparently due to the ground – while Olivier Peslier was always moving smoothly on the winner.

Earlier in the week I would have been concerned about Dartmouth handling the ground, but as I said above results over the first four days had shown that the conditions were not proving an unsurmountable problem. Furthermore, the progeny of his sire Dubawi are predisposed to handling give underfoot.

Dartmouth had improved by an official margin of 12lb in his two races and after this he will be raised another 4 or 5lb. I see, by the way, that Sir Michael has entered him for the Irish St Leger and with three siblings that have won over that trip, or further, he has every chance of improving further for the step up in distance.

I was also pleased to see Twilight Son win the Group 1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes.

His trainer Henry Candy is one of the nice men of racing, with an incredible record at the highest level given that he does not have the patronage of the game’s wealthiest owners. The easy ground swung things the winner’s way. On faster ground Magical Memory will probably reverse the narrow margin of defeat.

On Friday Across The Stars gave the Derby form a timely boost by winning the King Edward VII Stakes. Judging by Sir Michael Stoute’s post-race comments I formed the impression it had been the owner’s wish to run the colt at Epsom, rather than the trainer’s, and Kieren Fallon looked after the horse accordingly once it was apparent that he wasn’t handling the track.

That kindness was repaid in spades here, although Kieren missed out on the mount leaving Frankie Dettori to benefit.

Across The Stars is unlikely to be asked to race beyond a mile and a half, but whatever he achieves this season will be surpassed next year, when I expect him to prove a top Group 1 middle-distance performer.

I will be away for a fortnight next week but upon my return it will be all hands to the pumps for the Weekend Card, which makes a welcome return after a couple of years away from the scene.


Bye for now