The Times, Thursday 18 June
Maybe the cynical old sage had it right. “Many horses,” he famously said, “most trainers, and all jockeys, would be better for being gelded.” Jockey James Doyle and father of four John Gosden are still intact, but Lord North’s brilliant win in the Prince of Wales Stakes was the latest proof of the dictum.
In May of last year, the colt behaved badly at the start before finishing last at Sandown and trainer John Gosden took the sternest of views. When Lord North reappeared in September he was minus both tackle and tantrums and after a promising second, was a brilliant winner of The Cambridgeshire. This season’s winning debut 10 days ago has now been followed by this career best in his first start at Group One Level. Focus can be a beautiful thing.
But not everybody believed in him yesterday. Frankie Dettori deserted for stablemate Mehdaayih and punters had Lord North at 5-1 in a seven strong field headed by Japan whom many had tipped as the star of the season. In fact, Japan compromised his chance by missing the kick at the stalls and so having to be rushed up close to the pacemaking Bangkok and Addeybb to try and exploit his stamina. At the same time James Doyle took Lord North back to preserve his finishing kick. His was the weapon that worked.
For hard though Japan tried in the straight, he could never reel in the lead which Bangkok held until ceding to Addeybb at the furlong marker only for that horse to be swept away as Lord North winged up from the back to be almost four lengths clear at the post. Barney Roy ran on honourably to be third ahead of Japan who from the look of him will be fitter next time and is anyway better suited by the mile and a half of the Arc de Triomphe, his end of season target.
Mehdaayih was so badly behaved before the start that Frankie Dettori had to make much of his way there on foot, and she then wasted a bit of energy pulling hard into the race. The massive Headman pulled even harder and was so alarmingly impetuous early on, that it was no surprise to see him drop away and finish last. “The race panned out in Lord North’s favour” said James Doyle who was later to ride his first Royal Ascot winner for the Queen, “but it was certainly no fluke and he can be a strong force in these races. Once the gaps opened, he surprised me at just how he quickened. He was a joy to ride.”
Lord North is now favourite for next month’s Eclipse Stakes to be run on Sunday July 5th at Sandown; the Derby is at Epsom on the 4th. John Gosden will have to check his condition first but need no longer worry about his behaviour. “Testosterone is the most dangerous drug in the world,” he said of Lord North’s youthful hooliganism, “and it was certainly driving him completely mad. Since he has been gelded, he’s been a very content, still very playful horse but not crazy like he used to be.”
Half an hour later Dark Vision’s victory in the Royal Hunt Cup was such a brilliant return to infinite juvenile promise after a whole season of apparently worsening performances, that many of us assumed that the massive horse had also needed the unkindest cut of all to sharpen his performance. After all, this was the colt whose win at Goodwood in July of 2018 was impressive enough for Sheikh Mohammed to pay his lucky owners many, many times the 15,000gns with which Mark Johnson originally secured him. In the Godolphin silks Dark Vision promptly blew out next time and descended down the ranks last year with 11 consecutive failures, the final six wearing headgear.
Dark Vison was blinker-less when he reappeared a fortnight ago at Newcastle and was only chinned in the last fifty yards by the fast finishing Sir Busker who duly won yesterday’s opening Consolation Hunt Cup giving the most obvious pointer to Dark Vision in the real thing. After Newcastle, most of expected to see the initial “g” for “gelding” after the name but “colt” was not a misprint.
It was yet another Royal Ascot triumph for Mark Johnston, Britain’s winning-most trainer, whose first success at the meeting was with Double Trigger’s Ascot Gold Cup in 1995. But, as ever, there was no allusion to some inspired change or routine or diet. “He’s been working brilliantly at home,” he said of Dark Vision, “so we were not surprised by it. It’s just been a frustration waiting for it to come and so I feel great for Sheikh Mohammed who bought the horse as a two-year old and has had nothing but frustration until today. It is a drop in class to handicap company, but the best of handicaps and he has done it well.”
James Doyle’s Royal winner, and the Queen’s 24th at Royal Ascot was on the Andrew Balding trained two-year old Tactical who ran on very stoutly to justify starting favourite in the aptly named, Windsor Castle Stakes. Tactical shows great promise but then so too did Lord North. He should remember that he is a racehorse not a would-be stallion. Otherwise a royal command may come from nearby Windsor Castle which sounds strikingly similar to “off with his head.”