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Royal Ascot big guns misfire

O'Brien wins four but overall verdict is 'disappointing'


Aidan O’Brien at Royal Ascot in more normal times. This time around he had to be content with watching the action from his home base

Aidan O’Brien at Royal Ascot in more normal times. This time around he had to be content with watching the action from his home base

Aidan O’Brien at Royal Ascot in more normal times. This time around he had to be content with watching the action from his home base

Aidan O'Brien had a good Royal Ascot, with a winner on each of the first four days all ridden by Ryan Moore, but by his high standards there were a few questions marks.

He only won one of the eight Group 1 races, hit the crossbar a few times, and had quite a few disappointments including a pretty awful last day.

It was a very strange Royal Ascot occasion, shorn of all the usual ceremony, glitz and glamour by the coronavirus protocols. Preparations were hindered by the recent lockdown, but that was the same for all trainers.

Aidan had a strong team of 30 runners over the five days, but quarantine rules meant he stayed at home and kept in touch with events from Ballydoyle, no doubt with the mobile phone glued to his ear even more than usual.

No Irish-based jockeys travelled over either.

However, Ballydoyle's number one, Ryan Moore, was the main pilot and his report card will show mixed results, perhaps with the comment 'did well but could have done better'.

On Tuesday, he picked up the only Group 1 of the week in the Queen Anne Stakes on Circus Maximus (4/1) after an epic battle with Frankie Dettori to pip John Gosden's Terebellum by a head.

Dettori and Gosden got their own back in the Ribblesdale Group 2 race for fillies with the very impressive Frankly Darling, O'Brien having to settle for second and third with Ennistymon (11/1) and Passion (13/2), Moore's choice.

One of the Ballydoyle disappointments was in the Group 2 King Edward 7 Stakes when £4.5m purchase, Mogul (10/11), ran poorly and could only finish fourth of six, behind Pyledriver (18/1) for William Muir, which could not attract a bid of just £10,000 as a foal in 2017.

The breeders and still the owners brought him home and held on to him, a real fairytale for them. Dettori had a good spin to finish second on Aidan's Arthur's Kingdom.

On Wednesday, Moore and O'Brien broke royal English hearts in the Group 3 Hampton Court Stakes.

He came with a sustained run from the back on Russian Emperor (10/3), but Dettori was also coming from behind on the Queen's horse, First Receiver (9/4f), and led close home but Moore forced his mount back up by half a length with a great effort.

In the Wednesday feature, the Group 1 Prince of Wales Stakes, Moore missed the break on Japan (6/4f) after the horse banged his head in the stall (6/4f), and then inexplicably rushed the horse up to the front at a frantic pace and unsurprisingly the horse had nothing left at the business end and was fourth of seven. Not a ride for the scrapbook.

Thursday's winner in the two-year-old Chesham Stakes was relatively straightforward.

Moore took it up a furlong out on Battleground (11/4f) and stayed on stoutly to win by a comfortable two and a half lengths.

This day's talking point was Sir Dragonet (15/8f) which Moore held at the back end of a 16-runner field. By the time he began to make ground, James Doyle had slipped the field with Mountain Angel and though Sir Dragonet did finish out the ten furlongs strongly, he could not win from that position.

Monarch of Egypt (4/1 from 8/1 in the morning) was another who was slow to break in the Group 3 Jersey Stakes but got back into contention to lead close home. Hanging right did not help and he could not repel Jim Crowley on Molatham (11/2).

On Friday, Aidan had a team of eight horses in five races, and he had to wait for the last one to claim his daily winner, in the Group 2 Queen's Vase which he was winning for the seventh time.

Santiago (10/3) was impressive in the 14-furlong contest under Moore, winning by two and three-quarter lengths. This one has been put into the betting for both the Epsom Derby and the St. Leger.

The Friday disappointment was last year's Epsom Derby winner Anthony Van Dyck (9/4f) who could only finish fifth of eleven runners in the Group 2 Hardwick Stakes.

He had a far from clear passage up the home straight.

He has not been the luckiest horse and has failed to win since Epsom 2019, but his earnings have topped €2 million, so perhaps it's churlish to complain.

Aidan ran four in the Group 1 Commonwealth Cup six-furlong sprint and did not figure. Favourite Lope Y Fernandez (10/3f), who can share the 'disappointment of the day award' with Anthony Van Dyck, was the last of them in eleventh, with Southern Hills best in seventh.

Saturday was one of the biggest days of the year in British racing, including five Group races. The concluding Queen Alexandra Stakes has the distinction of being the longest race of the year in Britain at two miles, five and a half furlongs (a fact for the pub quizzers).

Aidan had seven runners spread over four races and it was a day he will not treasure in the memory.

In the Queen Mary fillies' sprint, his More Beautiful (1/1f) faded badly into ninth in the final furlong.

In the colts equivalent, the Coventry Stakes, his Admiral Nelson (5/2 favourite), missed the break and was never in contention, finishing eighth.

The race was won by Irish-owned Nando Parrado, at 150/1 the longest-priced ever winner at Royal Ascot.

In the Group 1 St. James's Palace Stakes, Ballydoyle had three of the seven runners, and they ran a tactical race but to no avail.

Wichita (9/4) under Moore led until the final furlong when he was passed by Dettori on Palace Pier (4/1), and Pinatubo (11/8f) which edged him out by a head.

The other two, Arizona and pacemaker Royal Dornoch, filled the last two places.

The seven-runner Group 1 Coronation Stakes was won in fine style by Frankie Dettori on Jessica Harrington's Alpine Star (9/2), Jessie's second time to win this race in three years.

John Gosden was leading trainer with six winners, and Dettori edged out Jim Crowley for leading jockey on countback with six winners and four seconds.

He almost completed the fairytale success on Denis Hogan's €2,800 Godolphin cast-off, Skeptical, being half a length back in third after leading close to the line.

The final tally for 30 Ballydoyle runners was four wins, four seconds and two thirds, moving Aidan on to a total of 74 Royal Ascot winners.

This would be pretty acceptable for most racing operations, but with the quality and quantity available to Ballydoyle and Coolmore, the overall verdict is 'disappointing'.

Gorey Guardian