Ascot meets challenge in style – with royal approval

The Times, 20th June 2021

This year more than ever Royal Ascot needed to deliver. The final day, with 44mm of rain falling on Friday and more showers forecast, was always going to be a soggy challenge but Wonderful Tonight and Dream Of Dreams faced it with brilliant wins under the informed and clearly happy gaze of the Queen.

King’s Lynn’s close third when favourite in the Wokingham was the nearest we came to a royal victory but Her Majesty’s animated conversation with her jockeys and trainers before and after their races clearly stretched a lot further than her famous “aren’t you all meant to look as if you are enjoying yourselves” josh at the G7 leaders.

Wonderful Tonight’s success came in the Hardwicke Stakes, her first run since triumphing here on Champions Day. Wonderful Tonight is named after the epic Eric Clapton song, and both her trainer, David Menusier, and her music-mogul owner, Chris Wright, had stressed that the filly’s main target was the Arc de Triomphe in the autumn.

Some target, some prep race. William Buick kicked her clear off the final turn and Ryan Moore and the in-form Broome never looked like catching her.

Moore and Dream Of Dreams did run down the leaders, Glen Shiel and Art Power, in the Diamond Jubilee, which the gutsy chestnut seven-year-old had just failed to do in the past two runnings of the race.

Moore had won the first race on Broome’s younger brother, Point Lonsdale, who could have quite a future ahead of him. That can still be said of Moore, who ended the meeting on 66 Royal Ascot winners, and of Sir Michael Stoute, who in this record 82nd success showed he has lost none of his magic touch in his 50th year as a trainer.

As with all sporting events the supposed centrepiece does not always live up to its billing. How welcome it was, then, that this year’s Gold Cup also delivered.

Subjectivist’s from-the-front victory and the triple champion Stradivarius’s traffic-blocked defeat on Thursday had the classic story of the old wolf being taken down by the young pretender but it had much else. There was the irony that 50-year-old Frankie Dettori got outfoxed by the lower-key Joe Fanning, who is three years his senior. And there was the tantalising thought that there was enough bad luck in Stradivarius’s seven-length defeat to make the rematch in the Goodwood Cup an intriguing one.

There was also the always stimulating fact of a Mark Johnston big-race victory, to join the stream that will soon take him to a career 5,000 winners.

Most refreshing of all was to have one of the major races taken by an owner and a breeder both of whom operate on a minuscule scale compared with the big battalions. This season the four classics have gone to Godolphin, Coolmore and Jim Bolger, all owner-breeder operations that have hundreds of horses in training and hundreds of mares at stud. By contrast Dr Jim Walker is a distinguished Scotland-born, Hong Kong-based economist who has only half a dozen horses in training, and Susan Hearn but a dozen mares at her Mascalls Stud in Essex.

Of course neither is anywhere near poverty street but, for both, Subjectivist’s victory was the crowning moment of a long-time involvement in racing. Susan’s husband, Barry, is not one of the world’s most understated promoters but there was real sincerity as he joked, “To be fair she had 30 years of being an overnight success and days like today make it all worthwhile and I am very proud of her.”

Royal Ascot itself can take plenty of pride this morning. For this meeting can be regarded as the most important and, in the results, most successful renewal in all the course’s 320-year history. For it was a test event. It was challenged to show an escape-the-pandemic example about how to hold a complicated sporting occasion with thousands of spectators.

Subjectivist was only one of many who did it in style.

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