Brough Scott, Ascot
Saturday June 24 2023, 9.30pm, The Sunday Times
Nerve comes in many forms, but in race riding Jamie Spencer takes it to another level. He is prepared to wait unconcerned at the back of the field and to then catapult through to nail things on the post. That’s what he did on Khaadem in the Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee Stakes — and backers were rewarded at 80-1.
Twelve jockeys have ridden Khaadem in his 30 races over the past six seasons, six have won on him and Spencer’s only experience was when the gelding reared in the stalls and got rid of him at the start of the King’s Stand Stakes last June.
Khaadem has always been quirky as well as talented. What’s more, although he had logged notable victories in races like the King George Qatar Stakes and the Stewards’ Cup, he had failed eight times in the highest class like yesterday. What a moment for Spencer to try his luck.
As 15 of the 16 runners rocketed out of the stalls, with the Australian hopeful Cannonball rearing and losing his jockey, Spencer steadied Khaadem and for the next three furlongs, he looked as if all he wanted to be was an interested spectator. Up ahead on his far side was the Australian sprinter The Astrologist, while the favourite, Highfield Princess, was in command on the stand side.
As Highfield Princess continued to dominate her group it was clear the far side looked superior, and over there Frankie Dettori and Kinross appeared a possible threat until Tom Marquand, in the scarlet silks of Cheveley Park on Sacred, swept through as the likely winners. But we had not counted on the Spencer slingshot.
“I followed Frankie and Tom just like it was a cycle race and let them do the work,” said the 43-year-old jockey, who rode the first of his 27 Royal Ascot winners in 2001, three years after he had become the youngest rider to win an Irish Classic.
“I hoped when I pulled out I had a little bit to go on,” he added.
He had. In the very last strides of the 72-second blitz, he took Sacred with a neck to spare, with Highfield Princess still clear of her group, but one-and-a half lengths off the others.
At 80-1, we were all amazed, but not Khaadem’s trainer, Charlie Hills. “I’ve always had massive faith in this horse and that’s why I have kept him for so long,” he said. “The horse is very, very fast. He’s got his quirks, but most good sprinters do and he’s just taken time to come to himself. It’s been a great team effort and really is the icing on the cake. We’ve been trying to win this for a while and had some good chances over the years and to win it is fantastic.
For his first four seasons, Khaadem was in the hands of his Shadwell Stud breeders, but Spencer’s great supporters, Jim and Fitri Hay, bought the gelding at the beginning of last year and he has proved not the least of this astute pair’s many successful business decisions. Connections of that bonny little horse, Pyledriver, took an equally bold choice when their then five-year-old colt was sidelined after taking his career to a new high by winning the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on this track last July. Their perseverance, and the skills of trainers Willie Muir and Chris Grassick, came to the fore when Pyledriver returned to outgun Changingoftheguard and West Wind Blows in the Hardwicke Stakes. In a class field it has to go down as the training triumph of the meeting.
This final day of Dettori’s last Royal Ascot did not see him bow out with a winner but, after a stuttering start, he has lit up his favourite track to make one wonder how we, let alone he, will manage without him. What we do know is that we are likely to have continued royal support. For the King and Queen have been notably enthusiastic, heading the royal procession each day and allaying earlier fears that our new monarch was unlikely to show much of his late mother’s passion for the game.
Mind you, it would have taken a heart of stone not to be stirred by Desert Hero and Marquand’s last- stride victory on Wednesday. A brave chestnut horse your mother bred weaving his way through a big field and coursing down the leader in the shadow of the post. That was nerve for a royal occasion.