One of the most impressive winners of the Gold Cup in recent memory was Royal Gait in 1988 – but his connections did not pick up the prize as the horse was sensationally disqualified for causing interference in the home straight to a weakening rival, before storming 5l clear of the rest.
Under current rules there is no doubt he would have kept the race, but in truth, even under the stricter regulations of the 1980’s it was difficult to understand the stewards decision. It was not the first major race of the decade where a high profile French winner had been thrown out of a big British race win – remember Nureyev in the 2000 Guineas?
The story of the race was that a decent field of 13 lined up with Guy Harwood sending out two fancied runners. Favourite Sadeem under Greville Starkey took up a prominent position, but it was stablemate El Conquistador who soon took up the lead. The horse got a real run on his rivals going down the hill towards Swinley Bottom and jockey Tony Clark was virtually riding a finish fully 6f out. Those exertions finally took their toll and the leader was reeled in on the home turn.
However the fast early pace was also stringing the field out in behind. Sadeem was getting into contention, but there was only one horse still on the bridle – Royal Gait. Cash Asmussen angled his mount off the rail into the staight and alongside the punch drunk El Conquistador, who was now running off a true line.
The two made contact as Royal Gait came through to challenge and jockey Tony Clark became unbalanced and came off with his horse already fading fast. By now Royal Gait was away and gone, and though Sadeem battled bravely he was no match for John Fellows charge. Royal Gait broke the track record by three seconds, but it would all be to no avail due to the decision of the stewards to disqualify him.
Ironically, Sheikh Mohammed was the beneficiary of the stewards decision as he owned Sadeem, and he was later to purchase Royal Gait to run with Henry Cecil. Persistent injury problems though meant Royal Gait was off the course for 1260 days until taking the unusual route of going hurdling, now with young trainer James Fanshawe. In March 1992 the horse landed the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham as a novice. Sadly on his next start the horse suffered a heart attack after finishing fourth at Leopardstown.
However arguably Royal Gait will always be best known for his scintillating performance in the Ascot Gold Cup – only for the race to be taken away from him. There was to be another sensation at Ascot, not only at the same meeting in 1988, but later that very same day – of which more to follow.