Tuesday 20 February 2018

Moore edges Murtagh for title

Harbinger ridden by Ryan Moore. Photo: Getty Images
Harbinger ridden by Ryan Moore. Photo: Getty Images

JA McGrath

NEVER has there been a week like it for punters at Royal Ascot in the modern era, and you are left wondering whether it can ever happen again.

Bookmakers were reeling as 11 favourites and two joint-favourites went in over the five days, but the lethal knockout blows were saved until last. First, the Michael Stoute-trained Harbinger sluiced in at odds-on in Saturday's Hardwicke Stakes, looking like a budding superstar over middle-distances.

Then, the Australian-bred Starspangledbanner came galloping up the stands' rail under Johnny Murtagh to land the Golden Jubilee Stakes as 13/2 favourite in the most truly international race ever run at Ascot.

But the most devastating performance, for punters at least, came from the Murtagh-ridden Laddies Poker Two, who defied a 602-day injury lay-off to capture the Wokingham, having been backed as if defeat were out of the question. Those lucky enough to have secured 16/1 early in the week were laughing as the mare's price tumbled to 9/2.

Rails bookmaker Geoff Banks admitted: "Taken over the five days, this has been the biggest total loss for the ring since Frankie Dettori went through the card (in September 1996). It has been terrible."

Jeremy Noseda, who trains Laddies Poker Two, should be put forward as a contender for 'best training performance of the meeting'. Admittedly, his mare had bags of class, but he still had to produce her spot-on for the big day.

Richard Hannon, with his three winners, and Aidan O'Brien -- who bounced back to saddle three on the final two days -- should also be contenders, as must Dermot Weld. The Gold Cup was sweet for Weld, triumphant with Rite Of Passage, which came to the staying ranks on the Flat circuitously via bumpers and novice hurdling.

Ryan Moore pipped Murtagh - who rode four winners at the meeting after his double on Saturday - for top jockey honours by landing the finale, the Queen Alexandra, aboard his father Gary's Bergo. Critics were sniping at Richard Hughes for getting beaten on Paco Boy in the opening Queen Anne Stakes, but Olivier Peslier may just have stolen it by kicking for home earlier than even the great mare's trainer Freddie Head was expecting.

For the future, the Hannon-trained Memory should not be forgotten. She won the Albany Stakes like a filly with the potential to be a 1,000 Guineas prospect, but it is her stablemate Canford Cliffs who could challenge for the ranking 'best of his generation.'

Canford Cliffs was brilliant in winning the St James's Palace Stakes, and could well dominate the remainder of the season. He is ready for the older horses, and a step up to 10 furlongs. His star shone brightest in a memorable racing week. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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