'Passage' strikes Gold for Smullen
Dermot Weld, a trainer renowned for his pioneering ways, excelled himself at Royal Ascot yesterday by leading home an Irish 'one-two' in the Gold Cup with a horse which began his career landing a gamble in a Galway bumper.
Now Weld has his eyes on a third Melbourne Cup. Rite Of Passage, sent off at 20/1, displayed the grit of a true staying champion under Pat Smullen by overhauling Aidan O'Brien's Age Of Aquarius to land the two-and-a-half-mile Group One in record time. He held his rival by a neck, with a gap of six lengths to Purple Moon in third.
In his moment of triumph, Weld quietly explained his hopes and ambitions for Rite Of Passage, which is owned by Dublin-based Ronan Lambe.
"It's a race I've always wanted to win," said the Curragh trainer. "It's one of the great races of the world, and I've been second in this with my two previous runners, Vinnie Roe and Vintage Crop, both just getting beaten, and though there were some very good horses this year, I just thought he had an outstanding chance."
Rite Of Passage had last been seen on a racecourse when third behind Peddlars Cross in the Neptune Novices' Hurdle, over two miles and five furlongs, at Cheltenham in March.
The six-year-old is now 10/1 for the Melbourne Cup in November and 14/1 for next year's Champion Hurdle, but the trainer said: "We have two candidates for Melbourne, as we also have Profound Beauty, but we'll have to see what the handicapper does. It is a long way away."
Ask (fifth), Darley Sun (ninth) and Manifest (10th) failed to stay but there was a sting in the tail for Smullen, who was later banned for four days for causing interference when making his winning move. Johnny Murtagh received a three-day whip ban on the runner-up.
Kieren Fallon recorded his first Royal Ascot winner since 2006 as Afsare edged out Quadrille in a thrilling finish to the Hampton Court Stakes.
Sent off the 9/4 favourite, the three-year-old enjoyed a perfect ride from the six-times champion jockey. Quadrille would have been a popular winner for the Queen, but Afsare wore him down to score by a short head.
The Ribblesdale Stakes is quickly becoming one of Godolphin's most profitable races as Hibaayeb ensured the Group Two went to the team in all blue for the fifth time.
Following the example of Godolphin's Flying Cloud 12 months ago was Hibaayeb. She had mystified Sheikh Mohammed's team when second-last on her reappearance for Saeed bin Suroor in the 1,000 Guineas, but a third-placed finish behind French Oaks winner Sarafina in the Prix Saint-Alary was a much more accurate indication of her talents.
Frankie Dettori hardly had to break sweat as the 4/1 joint-favourite took command with a furlong to run and eased her way home. Highclere Thoroughbred Racing bagged the Norfolk Stakes through the William Haggas-trained 16/1 shot Approve, which erased the memory of a luckless defeat at Epsom to settle the five-furlong Group Two with a stellar turn of foot.
Ransom Note (9/1) took the Britannia Stakes to allow trainer Barry Hills and his son Michael another high point after the success of Equiano in Tuesday's King's Stand.
The improving three-year-old dominated proceedings down the far side and Hills junior believes he is a potential Group horse.
"This horse is just gorgeous to ride in the mornings and everyone wants to ride him," he said. "As long as I got the steering right, it was job done."