Royal Ascot was restored to something like normality this year with crowds of around 12,000 allowed each day, but there was the traditional eight Group 1 contests to highlight the meeting spread across the five day fixture.
As usual Tuesday had three of the top level contests. PALACE PIER went off the shortest priced favourite of the week (2/7), and whilst victory never looked seriously in doubt, he was not quite as impressive on fast ground as he had been recently under softer conditions. Nevertheless, he is clearly the top miler around and he could look even more impressive if connections opt to step him up to 10f in time (he has entries in the Coral Eclipse next month, and International Stakes at York in August).
There were plenty of punters going in for a short priced double with Palace Pier and BATTAASH, but the latter, on seasonal debut, was sent to the front too soon and got tired, eventually dropping to fourth in the Kings Stand Stakes. He is now 1-5 from Ascot and will be seen to better effect at the likes of Goodwood and York, where his natural speed can be greater utilised. Instead OXTED, already a Group 1 winner over 6f brought his proven stamina into play with a power packed finish under Cieren Fallon.
For me the most impressive winner of the week was POETIC FLARE in the St James’ Palace. A narrow winner of the English Guineas, he took the unusual step of running in both the French and Irish versions too (losing both). I thought those exertions might take their toll, but as usual trainer Jim Bolger knew best and Poetic Flare made full use of the strong pace set by the Aidan O’Brien pacemaker. Cruising to the front 2f out, he was never threatened and pulled almost 5l clear of Lucky Vega. Whilst this year’s 3yo milers are clearly not a great bunch, Poetic Flare is the best of them and he can certainly be a major threat to the senior milers later in the year.
It was great to see LOVE back on track and she provided trainer Aidan O’Brien with his only Group 1 winner of the week in the Prince of Wales on Wednesday. Forced to make her own running in a small field, her rivals threatened to swamp her on the turn for home. However she was not for passing as she held off the sustained challenge of Audarya. This augurs well for the year as Love will hopefully have targets throughout the year that could include the Arc and Breeders Cup. A step back up to 12f will be no issue to last year’s Oaks winner.
Much of the talk in the Gold Cup was around the failure of STRADIVARIUS to land his fourth consecutive win – and whether getting hampered on the home turn cost him victory. Ultimately though the best horse on the day SUBJECTIVIST surely won. Another non Aidan O’Brien trainer runner to benefit from a pacemaker from that yard, Subjectivist hit the front prior to the turn for home. Whilst this was his first attempt beyond 2m, stamina was clearly no issue and he repeated the style of his win in the Dubai Gold Cup back in March by running all the way to the line, increasing his margin of superiority throughout. Still only four, he is clearly improving fast and could be another candidate to become a multiple winner of the Blue Riband event in staying circles.
The biggest drama was reserved for Friday. Firstly was the doubt whether the card would even take place due to the deluge of rain. Fortunately we did go ahead and the Commonwealth Cup saw the Japanese owned DRAGON SYMBOL first past the post, beating CAMPANELLE the American raider by a head. However it was clear that the winner had taken his rival across the track for quite some way in the closing stages. Whilst he went on again once straightened in the final 50 yards, the damage had been done and in my opinion the correct decision was made to reverse placings.
Things were a bit more straight forward for jockey Oisin Murphy in the next, the Coronation Stakes. Having lost the previous race in the stewards, he composed himself and rode a cracking race to deliver the doubtful stayer ALCOHOL FREE fast and late to land the prize. SNOW LANTERN caught many people’s eye in second having suffered a troubled passage and the fact connections think she is a fast ground horse means she looks a filly to follow throughout the summer.
Saturday’s Group 1 saw two 7yo’s fight out the finish to the Diamond Jubilee. GLEN SHIEL made a bold bid to make all and follow up his course and distance win in the Champions Day sprint, but he ultimately had to give best to DREAM OF DREAMS who was on his best behaviour under Ryan Moore. In truth the sprinting division looks a little devoid of stars at present, but Michael Stoute’s charge could do no more than defeat what was put in front of him.