Old order reigns supreme at Ascot
Ballydoyle's Gleneagles the star performer under an inspired Ryan Moore
Published 22/06/2015 | 02:30
Royal Ascot has thrown up some memorable occasions in recent years and last week gifted another five days of thrilling racing to match any of those that went before.
A record-equalling tally of eight Irish-trained winners for a fourth year in a row constituted a fantastic yield. Of course, the haul was dominated this time by our traditional powerhouses, with Aidan O'Brien's elite Ballydoyle contingent coming alive in timely fashion to plunder five triumphs.
Among others, Coolmore was also responsible for David Wachman's rapidly progressive Ribblesdale heroine Curvy, while Dermot Weld worked his unique magic with Free Eagle.
The indomitable champion jumps trainer Willie Mullins again teamed up with Ryan Moore to devastating effect, with Clondaw Warrior's brilliant victory in Tuesday's Ascot Stakes the fourth time in three years that they have successfully combined at the royal festival.
Unlike last year, then, when five different Irish-based trainers made a successful foray east, this was a return to the more established order of things. With just two of the eight-carded Group Ones among our eight wins, we also failed to replicate 2014's return of three top-level wins from just seven opportunities.
However, the duo that did prevail, Gleneagles and Free Eagle, are racehorses of the highest calibre, so it would be churlish to focus on the negatives. All told, it was a week that had a bit of everything. Here's a breakdown of the talking points, starting with the most obvious.
Star of the week - Ryan Moore. There has been a sense that his more formal association with Coolmore would enable both parties to maximise the staggering respective talent at their disposal.
If three Guineas wins either side of the water hadn't already confirmed as much, this did. A post-war record of nine wins befits an exceptional jockey who will define his - or maybe any - generation.
Equine star - Gleneagles. Lots of contenders and he probably didn't have to do anything more than he has done before, but he is an exceptional three-year-old miler. Now to see how he measures up against his elders.
Disappointments - Sole power and forgotten rules. While neither was remotely disgraced, for different reasons we expected and hoped for a little more from both. No doubt they will be back.
Delusion - People should know better. That a juvenile - namely Round Two - might ever constitute a banker of any variety, let alone in a Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot.People should know better by now!
Inalienable truth - That the annual international challenge hype is a bit of a charade. Irish, English and French horses compete effectively across the board, while the Australian and Americans excel in the sprints. After that, there is a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing, notwithstanding it was a shame not to witness California Chrome in action.
Able Friend was the talking horse this time, but, until horses like him and Just A Way compete seriously in this part of the world, we reserve the right to scoff wholeheartedly at the disingenuous nonsense that is the annual international rankings.
Ride of the meeting - Pat Smullen's turn on Snow Sky edges the verdict over his effort on Free Eagle and that of Moore aboard Clondaw Warrior. Smullen dictated Saturday's Hardwicke to a nicety from the front. It was the only way Snow Sky could win, and he was helped by Postponed pestering and hindering Eagle Top throughout, a point that prompted a rare outburst of sour grapes from John Gosden.
Training performances - honourable mentions for Willie Mullins' unerring Ascot accuracy and David O'Meara's miracle-working, but Dermot Weld and Aidan O'Brien produced Free Eagle and Aloft to win at the Flat's equivalent of the Cheltenham Festival on their respective first runs since October. Kudos.
Hard-working heroes - Dane O'Neill, Graham Lee and Martin Harley. Each enjoyed Group One success, which is no more than they deserve. Proper rides all.
Most exciting prospect - Free Eagle. To do what he did in a Group One on his comeback was remarkable. The Juddmonte International and the Irish Champion Stakes will now be considered en route to a mouth-watering tilt at the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.
Recurring theme - hard luck stories. The Grey Gatsby, Found, Lucida, Pleascach, Eagle Top and Kingfisher were among those that might have won had events transpired a little differently. The margins are fine at this level.
Sire - Zoffany. Best known as the horse that came closest to ruining Frankel's flawless record as a result of Tom Queally's brain fade in the 2011 St James's Palace Stakes, the Coolmore stallion's first crop produced three royal winners, emulating New Approach's 2012 achievement.
Most needed wins - After watching three of his horses be pulled up - one fatally injured - Michael Stoute was a relieved man when Snow Sky triumphed, while Jamie Spencer atoned for three seconds when Balios won on Friday. Good news for their cats!
Quote - "He's not Ruby, but he is very good." Patrick Mullins keeps Ryan Moore's feet on the ground with a back-handed compliment.
Wow moment - Acapulco's Queen Mary demolition left many viewers gaping in bewilderment, given that she had been thrashed eight lengths on her track bow in America in May. It was some gamble.
Realisation - that Frankie Dettori's renaissance will run some yet. Godolphin, in contrast, can only look on wistfully, Space Age's handicap win's all they could muster.
O'Reilly completes the courses
At a time when the serious injuries suffered by Davy Condon, Jonjo Bright and Robbie and JT McNamara are fresh in the mind, Peter O'Reilly deserves credit - and financial contributions - for yesterday's fundraising endeavour.
A former amateur rider, O'Reilly set out before 5.0 in the morning in his bid to ride at each of the country's 26 tracks in 24 hours.
Starting at Downpatrick, he was helicoptered around the country during daylight hours, embarking on a circuit of each course - including Laytown - before aiming to finish up at dusk in Dundalk.
O'Reilly set his fundraising target for 'The Longest Ride' at €25,000. All proceeds will go to the Irish Injured Jockeys Fund and he has a mycharity.ie page on which contributions can be made.
Rarely has the jockeys' fraternity been in such need of support in this regard. Across the water, meanwhile, Brian Toomey, a native of Manister in Co Limerick, has defied the odds by receiving his riding licence again.
The 26-year-old is a cousin of the McNamaras. After a horrific fall at Perth in July 2013, Toomey spent two weeks in an induced come and 157 nights in hospital, having been described by the paramedics who attended him as being dead for six seconds.
He suffered serious head injuries, requiring part of his skull to be removed and a titanium plate be inserted in his head.
Despite such a ghastly experience, Toomey has long been determined to ride again. He has passed the full range of British Horse Racing Authority tests (BHA) and hopes to be back in competitive action in weeks. Whether he's brave or stupid, we wish him luck.
Bay sails in with spoils for O'Briens
There was a whiff of nostalgia about Botany Bay's win in Saturday's Ulster Derby at Down Royal.
Trained by Vincent O'Brien's son Charles, the Galileo three-year-old was a maiden making its handicap debut on its fifth start in the €100,000 contest.
Botany Bay was bred by the trainer's mother Jacqueline, who owns him in partnership with John Magnier and Michael Tabor.
Mrs O'Brien was in attendance, which was a tip in itself, as Botany Bay duly justified a tidy gamble from 12/1 into 7/1 to deny none other than Aidan O'Brien's favourite, Fields Of Athenry.
"I'm thrilled," the great lady admitted after watching Niall McCullagh land the money. "We called him Botany Bay as it is an Australian place where all the emigrants come in and I'm Australian.
"Vincent won a number of Ulster Derbys. He always liked coming up here."
"MV" will have looked down approvingly on such a coup.
Tweet of the weekend: Cathy Gannon (@cathygannon353)
Fair play to @LeveySean today 5 winners in a day amazing.
Gannon, who bagged her fourth winner of the month on Saturday, acknowledges her colleague's feat, which comprised a Redcar four-timer followed by a fourth win of the day for his boss Richard Hannon at Haydock. Many here will remember the Swaziland-born 27-year-old - who rode his first Irish winner since 2010 when landing a Naas Listed race on Hannon's Great Page earlier in the month - making an impact during his formative years at Ballydoyle.
40 The anniversary being celebrated by the Tattersalls Derby Sale this week. Recently extended to three days and now encompassing a select horses-in-training section, the auction, which begins on Wednesday, includes among its graduates equine giants such as Imperial Call, One Man and Moscow Flyer.