Light leads way to gold for O'Brien
Leading Light thwarted the Queen's 2013 victor Estimate and Mick Winters' gallant 40/1 shot Missunited in another epic edition of the Gold Cup to cap a memorable Ballydoyle double at Royal Ascot.
Aidan O'Brien's season has been a veritable rollercoaster so far, but Bracelet had dug deep to get him off the mark for the week under a determined drive from his son Joseph in the Group Two Ribblesdale Stakes 35 minutes earlier.
That change in the stable's fortune prompted a boost in confidence ahead of the week's marquee Group One, with the champion jockey duly declaring that the 2013 St Leger winner would be hard to beat if his stamina could stretch to two-and-a-half-miles.
The Montjeu four-year-old claimed this afternoon's Queen's Vase on his inaugural visit to this uniquely glamorous affair 12 months ago, but he is out of Dance Parade, which won the Queen Mary here over five furlongs as a juvenile in 1996. Yesterday's inherently dour affair was new territory, and Leading Light didn't shirk the issue when the gloves came off half-a-mile out.
O'Brien had enough horse to force Ryan Moore to switch the Michael Stoute-trained Estimate inside Missunited shortly after they began the final punishing climb home.
At that stage, Missunited still held the initiative that she seized under Jim Crowley from the off, and Mick Winters' versatile Galway Hurdle winner refused to yield as her two more regally connected rivals loomed either side.
They slugged it out to the line, with Leading Light eventually emerging on top in an absorbing spectacle. Having not run since October, Estimate's neck reversal constituted a stellar turn.
She scraped home from Simenon in 2013, but this was arguably a career-best performance even in defeat. The same could accurately be said of the brave Missunited, whose dogged determination saw her denied just a short-head for second.
Indeed, each of the men responsible for saddling the first three excelled.
O'Brien has found it hard to establish any momentum all year, but victory for his 10/11 favourite here saw him become the most successful trainer in the history of the festival's oldest race, following his five previous wins with Yeats (2006-09) and Fame And Glory (2011).
Earlier in the month, he earned the distinction of becoming the first trainer to win the Derby three times in a row with the mighty Australia.
The Wexford-born wizard had gone ominously close in the previous two marquee Group Ones this week, with Verrazano and Magician, so this was further conclusive proof that his elite team is beginning to emerge from its slump.
"Your heart was in your mouth for that one," admitted O'Brien as the 10th Irish-trained Gold Cup winner stood spent in the hallowed circle.
"He was just lazy when he got there. I think Joseph did very well. I am so lucky to have the horses I have and to work with the people I am working with. From even before these horses are conceived, it is an unbelievable team all the way up."
In contrast to his father, this was 21-year-old Joseph's first Gold Cup triumph. As is ever the case on the big day, he proved more than equal to the task.
"If you win, it's always a good ride, there's no such thing as a bad winning ride," the brilliant rider said in an effort to deflect praise.
However, having initiated his 20/1 brace aboard the back-to-form Bracelet (10/1), there was a sting in the tail as he received a £3,000 fine and seven-day ban for his use of the whip on Leading Light. He was then handed a further two-day suspension for a similar infringement on the unplaced Carlo Bugatti later on, meaning that he will miss the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown on July 5.
The polar opposites responsible for the two horses that played such heroic roles without winning the Gold Cup were equally magnanimous in defeat, and Winters didn't mind admitting that he thought Missunited might be about to pull off a famous coup.
"There was a moment down the back straight when I thought she might have given them the slip but it was a super run and a great ride," he said.
"I'll chat to the owners now but, all being well, we'll head back to the Galway Festival. I'm glad we decided to come here and we've come so near but so far.
"If she continues in the same sort of form, we'll all have a chat back home and could well come here again next year."