Judge can pip Sky at Ascot
Charlie Hills, who goes into his second Royal Ascot as a trainer on Tuesday week, already has much for which to thank Just The Judge. A fortnight ago the filly gave him his first Classic when winning the Irish 1,000 Guineas.
Next week she will spearhead a team of 15 Ascot horses from Faringdon Place and of all the heavyweight clashes at the meeting, her rematch with the 1,000 Guineas winner Sky Lantern in the Coronation Stakes is one of the most exciting.
Few horses have been a better barometer of the seasons than Just The Judge. Throughout the spring she was reluctant to let her winter coat go but, last week, it appeared both she and summer had finally decided to coincide with each other. "Another week of this and she'll be bang there," Hills said.
A plaque on her stable door points out that the filly stands in the box previously occupied by Ghanaati, his father Barry's last Classic winner and winner of the 2009 Coronation. It is part superstition, part practicality. Because Ghanaati had a propensity to pull her shoes off at night the walls are lined with rubber – in equine terms it is the nearest thing to a padded cell.
"Winning a first Classic was fantastic," said Hills, 35, who took over from his father midway through the 2011 season.
"Our first Classic runner, Grey Pearl, broke her back diving under the stalls in a one-in-a-million accident. Just The Judge was only our second Classic runner and I thought she was home and hosed at Newmarket but she was done on the line. The rematch with Sky Lantern is what Royal Ascot should be all about, determining the best of the generation. You can never be confident but I think Ascot will suit her very well, she'll handle fast ground and we can ride more of a race on her there."
Though he is yet to saddle a Royal Ascot winner and it often coincided with a dip in his father's horses' form, Hills feels it is a 'good place' for him. "I actually felt much more pressure when we took Ghanaati there than I do with Just The Judge," he said. "Dad was extremely ill in hospital and I was overseeing it. She hadn't run in Ireland, so hadn't been out for six weeks, I was younger, there was a lot of emotion because of the uncertainty over dad and my brother Richard was riding, so it was a family thing. We had three winners, so we were champion trainer at the meeting."
Last year, in his first full season, Hills had 55 winners but he is already up to 31 this season. "Last year the horses never seemed quite there . The weather was awful – though that was the same for everyone – but I never felt we could get them 100 per cent to where we wanted them."
His other main Ascot hopes include Kiyoshi in the Albany, Shropshire in the Wokingham, Market Town in the Britannia and Model Pupil in an open-looking Gold Cup which his father won twice with Gildoran while Charlie was still a boy.
Much has been made of Just The Judge's Classic win taking him out of his father's shadow. He admits the hardest aspect of taking over from the great man was the change in their relationship.
"It turned our relationship on its head," he said. "It was hard for Dad, one day in charge and the next day, well, not so in charge. Time's been a big thing. It's a lot better now and we're both much more comfortable with it."
Given the way her owner, Sheikh Fahad Al Thani, for whom it was also a ground-breaking first Classic, works supporting the young and those who are successful for him then the Hills yard could be rewarded with another big performance from Just The Judge next week.